I'm walking too far ahead
You're calling to me, I can't hear
What you've said
Morristown New Jersey, October 1984…
Two figures stood almost toe to toe in the middle of the living room. One tall and impressive-looking; the other slight and almost elfin. The man stood with arms akimbo like a super hero, but his expression left little doubt that his intentions were not meant to be a hero or a savior to the boy. He laughed cruelly as he pounded his left hand with his right fist in threat. The boy hadn’t meant to be defiant, but his mere presence was almost an act of defiance to his stepfather. He looked over at the paperback he had been reading; torn apart at the spine and cast aside just like the boy in a way. The Two Towers.
“Are you done?” Jamie glared at him. The man grunted and slapped the boy; knocking him into the floor lamp next to the recliner.
“Fuck no, kid. I’m just getting started.” The man reached under the edge of his flannel shirt and pulled his belt off slowly. Jamie bit his lip and smiled weakly; the last act of defiance against the cruelty of his world. Jack doubled up his belt and began hitting the boy’s bare arms. Jamie wanted more than anything to be strong enough to not cry. He was strong; more than he would know, but still too human to resist the onslaught of the abuse and the complete dismissal of who he was. He fell to the floor and covered up as best he could as the blows from the belt rained down on his head and shoulders.
In a few moments Jack had walked out of the room and Jamie lay prostrate wedged between the recliner and the hearth; weeping. It was hard enough to be hurt as badly as Jack had harmed him, but his inability to be stoic seemed to make things worse. But then his bravery would come in other ways at other times in a completely different place….
A few days later….
“Can I get a ticket? One way to the city?” He leaned against the short counter in front of the caged ticket booth. The guy on the other side laughed.
“Sure thing….Miss," the man teased. Jamie cringed; more out of a fear of discovery than embarrassment over the intended insult. The city, of course, meant Manhattan and her sister boroughs, but the ticket would be Hoboken and then take the tubes to the city. Around a half-hour later, the boy was on the train and had fallen asleep; his head pressed against the window by the last seat on the left….
A while later….
“Hey kid? You look a little lost?” A voice called from behind. Jamie ignored the man and walked calmly down the street. He spotted a Subway entrance and practically bounded down the stairs. He didn’t know what he was looking at, so to speak, in the long run, but he knew where he was going, and a few moments later he was on an uptown train headed toward his future. His mother likely already had an idea where he was, given her vantage point from above. He sighed; recalling her last words.....
“Be, honey, okay?” Agnes had said weakly. Over a seven week period interrupted daily with pain and confusion, the woman had faced her end with as much dignity while she fought to stay alive only for the sake of her son. He could hardly bear her pain and she bore his sorrow completely like the mother she was. Guilt had plagued her for a long time; poor choices made in haste left Jamie on the verge of losing his mother while being forced to accept the indifference and abuse of his step-father. Agnes never sought forgiveness for that grave error in judgment, but the boy offered it freely nonetheless.
“Mommy? Please?” He begged; the bargaining stage of grief already begun before the loss. She shook her head as tears spilled freely off the boy’s cheek and onto her face. She would have moved heaven and earth to stay alive had it been in her power if only for Jamie’s sake. But her bargaining had failed months before with her surrender to the inevitable.
“I’m so sorry, Jamie. But you have to be.” That word again. The idea of being rather than doing. As good a son as he had acted, in a way, his being was so much more important to his mother; and now more than at any other time, since her influence would come from memories and keepsakes from then on. She squeezed his hand weakly and gently pulled him closer.
“In the bottom drawer of the desk in the spare bedroom; under the pile of Christmas cards.”
“Mommy, please.” Jamie struggled to keep from sobbing; it had to be all about her and his time with her had to include whatever she wished even if the pain of her impending death ripped at his heart. He leaned closer as she beckoned him to listen one last time.
“For you, my sweet boy. Be, Jamie?” Agnes kissed his cheek and fell back softly into her pillow; a gentle rest mimicking the one soon to come.
“I can’t Mommy. What will I do?”
“Not do, honey. Be….” She sighed and smiled weakly. The idea of being started to press against his heart. Too many days of trying to do the right thing. To be there for his mother. To be the good son his stepfather required. To be strong enough at fourteen to be all ‘grown up?’ He kissed her forehead and looked over at the open doorway. The spare room seemed to beckon, and he shook his head no.
“Go, Jamie. I’m still here….for now….” She sighed again and watched as he walked slowly across the hall to gather the beginning means of his future. He turned back to see her resting against the headboard. She was almost half-asleep but she smiled and mouthed, ‘I‘ll be waiting….’
After my picture fades and darkness has
Turned to gray
Watching through windows
If I'm OK
Secrets stolen from deep inside
The drum beats out of time
The buildings were nothing like the pictures he’d seen in books or the reports on television. The neighborhood was quiet with only a few stores and the houses were strung along for nearly the whole block and most were three or four stories instead of the skyscrapers he had expected. He stared at the Christmas card in his left hand; street and apartment numbers scrawled in pencil on the face; one more bittersweet reminder of his mother’s love. The grayish brown apartment building on the left almost shouted at him in welcome. 331 East 90th, Apartment 3? He glanced down at the card and then at the numbers in three dimension on the sign and nodded. He went to ring the bell for entry, but a woman met him at the doorway and ushered him into the small foyer by the stairs.
“Yes?” The woman smiled at him in greeting. She was in her late forties, but still attractive.
“Uh….I think I’m…. Sorry,” Jamie said as he began to back away from the door. The woman reached out and gently took his hand. A few moments later, they were at the doorway of her apartment three floors up. He shook his head no in disbelief as she unlocked and opened the door.
“No, honey. This is the place. Please? Come in?” She left him little choice, even if her demeanor was kind and caring, as she pulled him through the open doorway and into the apartment.
“I’m sorry, Miss….”
“Oh you can call me Aunt Jo,” she said in a near whisper.
“I’m your father…your real father’s sister, honey. Your mother let me know everything about you. I’m here to help.” She used her arm in a broad gesture to point around the room.
“Your father and mother loved you very much, Jamie. I’ve been waiting for so long to meet you, and now here you are. This can be your home, honey, but only if you choose.”
“I’ve got money. I can pay….” The boy opened the envelope in his hand, revealing several travelers’ checks and several bills of varying denominations.
“Oh no, honey. That’s yours. Your Mom left that for you. I am not rich by any means, but I’m well off enough to welcome you without any worry on either of our parts, okay?” She nodded at him and he mirrored her expression; albeit slower and with the hesitation that can only come from believing it couldn’t be true.
“Mommy….” He stammered, and then began to cry. She stood back even as her arms beckoned him closer. He stood still and she nodded.
“It’s okay. You don’t even know me other than what you may have heard about me from your Mom and Dad when you were little. I don’t blame you if you don’t trust me. And you can trust me if you wish. If not, I can make arrangements for you to go live with a nice couple your parents knew when they were dating. I trust they would understand how special you are, but I am family after all. Either way, you need to understand that you are the child your parents hoped for, and the person whom you were destined to become. What your father may have whispered when you were in your crib and what your mother told you with her last breath, I’d expect.”
The boy winced at the sharp if well meant jab at her recent memories, and he began to cry. In a split-second he had stopped and his face was etched with a mixture of pain and resolve. Jo stepped only another foot closer; enough to demonstrate care while respecting both the moment and his space.
“I’m sorry, honey, but you must know that your mother wanted you to believe in yourself. That your father hoped even before you were born…” Jo hesitated and began to cry as well; the memory of her brother’s passing still as new and painful and wonderful nearly twelve years later. She smiled and wiped her tears with her sweater sleeve; the tears that helped Jamie resume his own crying, if subdued.
“From this point on, there’s only what you want to be…and who you’ve hoped to be in the quiet of your room after the hurt subsides. The dreams that only your mother knew and that your father would accept and cherish. You’re the blessing you’ve always been, even if life has never once shown you. Agnes wrote this, honey, and it’s part of her gift to you.” Jo pulled a card out of her sweater pocket.
“This was written to you, but for my eyes as well, you know? So that I’d know how to help your Mom see your hopes come to life. Please forgive me for intruding on this moment, but I’m here to help and I want to love my brother’s child as if you were my own. Jack cut off all ties with my family when he moved into the house, and your mother was under his thumb for so long. Please remember that as you read?” Jo handed Jamie the envelope and watched as he carefully removed the card. Jamie began to read the card aloud; haltingly at first, and with more than a few tears and pauses.
“My baby. I am so sorry and I can’t tell you how ashamed I am that I let you be hurt. I am believing the best for you, and I trust that by reading this, you know how much I love you, and that you’re not alone. Your father, God rest his soul, left too soon, but loved you as much as any man could. He was gone before you could get to know him, but you are so much like him in so many ways. You’re as gentle and caring as him, even if you turned out quite different from him in the ways that matter most to others.
“You are my heart. My pride and joy, and you have your future before you. Jo will help you in your journey. She knows more than anyone what you’ve faced and will continue to face. “
He looked up at Jo and saw her smiling even as her tears fell freely. She nodded and used a glance at herself along with another nod; evoking a deep sigh from the boy as his eyes darted back and forth between his aunt and the card in his hands. He resumed.
“Give Jo a kiss for me? She’s always wanted to be a Mom, and I can’t think of anyone I would ever trust my sweet baby with but her. I love you. Your father loves you. And I hope that in becoming, you’ll be able to love yourself as well. Be well. Be safe. Be you, my sweet girl. Love, Mommy.”
Jamie barely got through the final words before he…she began to sob. Jo pulled Jamie into an embrace.
“Your father would have understood and I understand because I’m just like you.” She grinned and Jamie’s eyes widened in surprise and then recognition. Jo patted her chest and spoke.
“I don’t know how it works out, but I guess it’s something some families are blessed with more than once? I didn’t get the chance when I was your age, honey, but as God is my witness you will. Your mother told me to catch you if you fall, you know? And I’ll be with you every step of the way, okay? But here and now? If you’re lost and you look? Just like the song, honey, you’ll find me.
“Me? Really?” Jamie let her guard down as she began the slow if wonderfully inevitable process of coming out and into herself. Jo laughed softly.
“Just like the song, Jamie.” The newish girl tilted her head in confusion until Jo sang...
If you're lost you can look - and you will find me
Time after time
If you fall I will catch you - I'll be waiting
Time after time
Time after Time
Words and music by
Cyndi Lauper and Rob Hyman
As performed by Cyndi Lauper
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