A Honeysuckle Home
Eight year old Aaron woke expecting the smell of his grandma cooking breakfast. Grandma Rose had been his primary care giver all of his life. His mother was rarely home and even then rarely showed any interest in him. Grandma Rose was in reality his great-grandmother. Aaron’s mother, Kathy, had lived with Grandma Rose since she was 14. Kathy’s mother was an alcoholic and was killed when she hit a tree while driving drunk.
Aaron, still dressed in his pajamas, turned on the TV to watch Saturday morning cartoons and wait for his Grandma Rose to wake up and cook his breakfast. After about an hour his hunger got the best of him and he went to see if Grandma was awake. She was still sleeping and Aaron decided he would let her sleep. After another hour when his grandma still didn’t wake up, Aaron decided that he would have to wake her.
“Grandma, are you awake?” Aaron quietly asked as he opened the door. When she didn’t answer he moved to her bedside and gently shook her and asked again, “Grandma, are you awake?”
Aaron realized that something was terribly wrong with Grandma Rose. He picked up the phone that was on her nightstand and dialed 911 as she had taught him. “911, what is your emergency?” The 911 operator asked.
“Something is wrong with my grandma,” Aaron said. “I can’t wake her up.”
“Is your grandma breathing?” The operator asked.
“I don’t know,” Aaron said. “I can’t tell. Please send someone, please hurry.”
“An ambulance and the police are on their way,” the operator said. “When they arrive can you let them in?”
“Yes,” Aaron answered.
“Stay on the line with me until they arrive,” the operator instructed him. “Tell me your name.”
“How old are you, Aaron?”
“I’m almost nine.”
“How old is your grandma?”
“I think she is 75. I think I hear the siren now.”
“You probably do, they were just a few blocks away. You may go let them in.”
Aaron opened the door to two EMTs with a gurney loaded with equipment, followed by two police officers. “Where is she?” The female EMT asked.
“In there,” Aaron pointed to his grandma’s room.
When Aaron started to follow the EMTs into the bedroom, one of the police officers stopped him and said, “Why don’t you stay here with me. The room will be a little crowded and you can help me by giving me some information.”
“Okay,” Aaron reluctantly agreed.
“I’m Sam Torres, what is your name?” Sam asked.
“Aaron Decker,” Aaron said.
“What is your grandma’s name?” Sam asked
“Rose Decker,” Aaron answered.
“Does anyone else live here with you?”
“My mom, but she isn’t here very much.”
“Where does your mom work?”
“She doesn’t work. She’s a whore.”
“How do you know that?”
“That’s what Grandma calls her.”
“What is your mom’s name?”
Officer Torres recognized the name since he had arrested Kathy several times for prostitution. “Do you have any other relatives?” Sam asked.
“I don’t think so,” Aaron said. “I don’t even know who my dad is. Is my grandma dead?”
“I don’t know, but the EMTs will do all they can to save her.”
Aaron began to think of how his grandma had taken care of him. She had cooked for him, tucked him in at night, and read bedtime stories to him. She was too old to play ball with him, but Aaron knew she had always loved him. He began to cry when he realized that the only person that loved him was probably dead. Sam put his arm around Aaron and let him cry into his chest.
In all of his life, Aaron had never been comforted by a man. It felt good to have the strong arms of Sam comfort him.
“What’s going on here?” Aaron hadn’t noticed that his mother had come home. “Is grandma okay?”
“The EMTs are in there now,” Sam said. “Your son found her and called 911.”
“Oh my poor baby,” Kathy said as she outstretched her arms to Aaron.
Aaron wasn’t about to release his grip on Sam and go to the woman he really didn’t know and actually didn’t like.
“I’m going in there,” Kathy said after the rejection by her son.
“No you’re not, Kathy,” Sam said. “Sit down and let the EMTs do their job.”
“How do you know my name?” Kathy asked before she realized that he had arrested her in the past. “Oh!” She added before he could answer.
After what seemed like ages, the EMTs came out of the room with an empty gurney. “She didn’t make it,” the male EMT said. “Are you her daughter?” He asked Kathy.
“I am her granddaughter,” Kathy said with crocodile tears.
“Do you have a funeral home you want to use?” He asked.
“She has a prepaid funeral policy with Kirkland Funeral Home,” Kathy said. “She kept all of her papers in her nightstand.”
The funeral was attended by Kathy, Aaron and a few neighbors. After the funeral Aaron went straight to his room and cried himself to sleep. “Sweetie, you need to get up and eat something,” Kathy said as she woke Aaron.
“Sweetie?” She had never called him sweetie before, Aaron thought as he woke from his nap. “I’m not hungry,” he said.
“You have to eat something,” Kathy said. “The neighbors brought over some food for us.”
Aaron ate a little of the food and pushed most of it around on his plate before giving up and going back to bed. “Honey, it is time to wake up and get ready for school,” Kathy said the next morning when she woke Aaron up.
“I don’t want to go,” Aaron protested.
“You have to go,” Kathy said. “It’s the law. Now take a shower and get dressed. I’ll fix your breakfast.”
“I eat breakfast at school,” Aaron said thinking that his mother knew almost nothing about him.
“Alright then just take your shower and get dressed,” Kathy said as she went to the kitchen for coffee.
The next few weeks Kathy was home when Aaron arrived home from school. Meals were usually a hotdog or a microwave dinner. Eventually she began to go out evenings and leaving Aaron home alone. “Don’t open the door for anyone,” she warned him.
Soon Kathy began to bring men home and take them directly to her room. Some of the men would say hello to Aaron as they followed Kathy to her room. However, most of the men simply ignored him.
Eventually Aaron was microwaving his own meals. When he ran low on food he would tell Kathy and she would bring more. “I’m almost out of clean clothes for school,” Aaron said one morning as he was getting ready for school.
“When you get home from school I’m going to show you how to do your own laundry,” Kathy sharply said. “You’re old enough to do that. Grandma spoiled you rotten and I’m not doing everything for you now.”
In time Aaron was taking care of himself. Kathy brought in groceries when Aaron reminded her, but otherwise he was on his own. A steady stream of men was brought home. Most often Aaron would retreat to his room to read a book or watch the little TV that his grandma had given him for Christmas.
One evening Kathy brought home a man that was different than the others. “Hi, what is your name?” He asked when he saw Aaron in the kitchen taking a hotdog out of the microwave.
“ Aaron,” Aaron said without looking away from his task.
“That isn’t much of a supper for this boy,” the man said to Kathy.
“He is fine,” Kathy said showing her annoyance.
“Let’s take him to a restaurant for a good meal,” he said.
“Alright,” Kathy surprisingly relented.
“Aaron, I’m Eric,” Eric said. “Where would you like to go to eat?”
“I don’t know,” Aaron said. “We don’t eat out.”
“How about going to a buffet, and then you can select whatever you like?” Eric asked.
“Okay,” Aaron said not knowing for sure what a buffet was.
During the meal Eric learned that Aaron liked to read and was intelligent for his age. He also surmised that Aaron was pretty much on his own. He made an impulsive decision to do what he could to help and protect Aaron. That night he paid Kathy for service that he never used and slept in Grandma Rose’s room.
“I’ll pay your rent and help you take care of the boy if you’ll let me move into your spare room,” he had said to Kathy.
“I don’t need your help with my boy,” Kathy snapped.
“Oh but you do,” Eric countered. “The state will be taking him from you and charging you with neglect if you’re not careful.” Kathy realized that Eric was right and reluctantly agreed.
Aaron woke to the smell of bacon cooking. “Grandma is cooking breakfast,” he thought before he realized that she was gone. After going to the bathroom he went to the kitchen and was surprised to see Eric cooking breakfast.
“Good morning sport,” Eric said. “How about some bacon and pancakes for breakfast?”
“Oh boy!” Aaron exclaimed.
“Have a seat then,” Eric said as he poured a glass of orange juice for Aaron. “After breakfast we’ll go get my things. I’ll be renting your grandma’s room. You can help me move in.”
“Alright!” Aaron said with excitement.
“You can watch TV while I pack my things,” Eric said when they arrived at his house.
“Do you live here alone?” Aaron asked when he saw the nice home where Eric lived.
“I do,” Eric said.
“Why would you want leave here to live with us?” Aaron asked wondering why Eric would leave a nice home like this to live with them in a house that wasn’t half as nice.
“Because my buddy doesn’t live here,” Eric said. “Do you want to watch TV or would you like to help me?”
“I want to help you,” Aaron responded. He was enjoying the company of his new buddy.
After loading the Expedition Eric said, “I need to drop one box off at my office.”
“Okay,” Aaron agreed. He wasn’t sure what kind of office Eric was talking about, but he was happy just to spend time with him.
“This is it,” Eric said as he parked in front of his office.
“Eric Cooper Insurance,” Aaron read the words painted on the window.
“Yeah, I sell insurance,” Eric said as he opened his door. “Come on in. I want you to meet Tina.”
“Who is Tina?”
“Tina runs the office for me. I couldn’t run the place without her.”
After returning home Aaron helped Eric put his things away. It was the first time he had been in his grandma’s room since her death. They later went grocery shopping, and Aaron even got to help decide what to buy. “We’ll have spaghetti for dinner,” Eric said as they put away the groceries. “I hope you like spaghetti.”
“I sure do,” Aaron said with a big smile.
Soon after Eric moved in Kathy went back to her old ways of disappearing for days. She no longer brought her male clients home though. On one rare occasion that she was home Eric said to her, “Kathy, I have some legal papers I need you to sign.”
“What legal papers?” Kathy asked in perplexity.
“Just some papers that give me guardianship of Aaron,” Eric said.
“You’re not getting my kid,” Kathy screeched.
“No, you wouldn’t be giving him up,” Eric explained. “It would allow me to do things like taking him to the doctor or signing his school papers when you’re not available. You know things like that.”
“Alright, where are the damn papers?” Karen conceded.
“At my lawyer’s office,” Eric said. “We’ll go there and then you can go about your business.”
Aaron didn’t understand what was really going on, but he believed it was a good thing. After returning home he picked up the important looking papers and asked, “What does this mean?”
“It means that I can now do some of the things that I could do if I were your dad,” Eric tried to put in plain words.
“Then can I call you dad?” Aaron asked.
“Of course you may,” Eric said as he hugged Aaron. “That would make me very happy.”
For the second time in his life Aaron enjoyed the embrace of a man, only this time it was better. He felt as though he actually had a dad. The smile told Eric that Aaron was very happy too.
“I’ll pick you up from school early today,” Eric said as he dropped Aaron off at school a few days later. “You have a dental appointment.” Eric had been surprised when he learned that Aaron had never seen a dentist.
“Will it hurt, Dad?” Aaron wanted to know.
“We don’t know yet,” Eric said. He was determined not to lie to Aaron. “I don’t think they will do anything today except to examine your teeth. If we don’t take care of your teeth you will end up with false teeth when you get older.”
“Would I have to have false teeth like Grandma had?” Aaron asked.
“If we don’t take care of them now you might,” Eric cautioned.
“Then I’ll go,” Aaron agreed.
“This is a new policy and will only pay for the prophylaxis during the first six months,” the receptionist said when Eric was registering Aaron.
“I know,” Eric agreed. “I wrote the policy, I’m an insurance agent. I’ll pay for anything the insurance doesn’t cover. I also made a copy of the document giving me guardianship of Aaron for your records.”
“Thank you, go ahead and have a seat and Heather, our dental hygienist, will take him back in a few minutes,” the receptionist said.
“Aaron Decker,” Heather called out to the waiting room.
“Can my dad go with me?” Aaron asked as he followed Heather toward the exam room.
“Sure, if you want him to,” Heather smiled. “We’re going to take some x-rays of your teeth, and then I’ll clean them before Dr. Ortiz sees you.”
After doing the x-ray exam, Heather set about cleaning Aaron’s teeth. “His dental health is surprisingly good since he has never seen a dentist,” she said. “He also has nice straight teeth and probably won’t need braces.”
“That good news,” Eric said. “Does he have any cavities?”
“I can only see one, but Dr. Ortiz will have to confirm it,” Heather said. “I’m almost finished and then Dr. Ortiz will come in and do his part. He will talk to you about the cavity.”
“Well young man, Heather said that you might have a cavity,” Dr. Ortiz said when he came into the exam room.
“It doesn’t hurt,” Aaron said in the hopes that he could avoid any pain associated with the cavity.
“It may not now, but if we don’t fix it you will have pain,” Dr. Ortiz said. “Let me look at and then we’ll decide, okay?”
“Okay,” Aaron unenthusiastically agreed.
“Heather is correct,” Dr. Ortiz said after looking in Aaron’s mouth. “We need to fill that cavity. We can do that today or schedule it for later.”
“Later,” Aaron quickly recommended.
Eric, Heather and Dr. Ortiz all laughed at Aaron’s quick decision. “What do you say, Son?” Eric asked. “Let’s get it done today and then you’ll be finished for a while.”
“What do you mean, ‘let’s’? Aaron asked, and this brought on another round of laughter.
“It won’t be any easier at a later date,” Eric said.
“Alright, I’ll do it,” Aaron agreed.
“What is that?” Aaron asked Heather started to place the respirator on him to administer the nitrous oxide.
“It’s for the nitrous oxide,” Heather said. “It will help so you don’t feel the pain.”
“Nitrous oxide is sometimes called laughing gas,” Eric said.
“Well I’m not laughing,” Aaron said.
“I guess it’s working on us,” Dr. Ortiz joked as they all laughed.
After the procedure on the drive home Eric said, “You were very brave, and I’m proud of you Son.”
“Why does my face feel funny?” Aaron asked as he patted the anesthetize side of his face.
“That’s from the anesthesia,” Eric explained. “It will go away soon.”
“Will it go away before I eat dinner?” Aaron asked.
“Are you hungry?” Eric asked.
“Dad, I’m always hungry,” Aaron smiled a somewhat crocked smile.
“After the numbness is gone we’ll go to the China Garden for dinner,” Eric said knowing that it was one of Aaron’s favorite restaurants.
“Yay!” Aaron said showing his agreement.
“What is this?” Eric asked one evening as he was looking over Aaron’s school papers.
“Oh, that’s for the Cub Scouts,” Aaron said as he went about his business.
“Do you want to join?” Eric asked.
“Yeah, but Grandma always said that it cost too much and we couldn’t afford it,” Aaron said.
“If you want to join, then you should join,” Eric said. “Is that what you would like?”
“Sure I would, but how would I pay for it?” Aaron asked.
“You don’t have to worry about that,” Eric said. “If you want’ to join I’ll pay for it.”
Aaron loved the Cub Scouts and looked forward to each week’s den meeting. Eric was pleased to see how he was advancing with his social skills and making new friends.
As the end of the school year approached Eric began to worry about what to do about supervision of Aaron while he was at work. He could take him to work with him on occasion, but he knew that Aaron would become bored just hanging out there.
One evening while reading the local paper, Eric saw an article about a summer day camp at the community center. This just might alleviate his worry about child care for Aaron. “Aaron, come over here for a minute,” he called out.
“What do you want, Dad?” Aaron asked as he sat beside Eric.
“How would you like to go to a day camp when school is out?”
“What is a day camp?”
“It is at the community center and they teach you crafts, go on field trips, and things like that.”
“Do I have to go?”
“No, but if you don’t we’ll have get a baby sitter or find some place for you to go while I’m at work.”
“Couldn’t I just stay here since I’m almost ten?”
“You’re not almost ten, you just turned nine. So I’m afraid not, Son. Ten is still too young to be on your own.”
“I used to stay by myself before you came to live here.”
“I know, but I would be worried sick if you were here alone.”
“Okay, I’ll go.”
“How was your first day at day camp?” Eric asked Aaron when he picked him up at the community center.
“Dad, I had so much fun. We played ball and listened to some stories, and I even got to make this bracelet. Oh yeah, I need some swim trunks because tomorrow we get to go swimming.”
“Slow down, Sport. Did they give you a list of anything else that you need?”
“They gave me this,” Aaron said as he pulled a wrinkled letter from the pocket of his cargo shorts.
“Let me pull over and look it over before we go looking for your swim trunks.”
“Oh yeah, I think I need a towel.”
“Yeah, you do need a towel and a few other things. They are also are asking for donations of children’s books. After we pick up your things we’ll go by a book store and buy a few books.”
One evening as they ate dinner Eric asked, “Son, I’m taking a few days off work, would you like to go camping?”
“Really, we could actually go and sleep in a tent?”
“Yes, we’ll sleep in a tent. I have a tent and camping gear in my garage. We’ll go by and get it, and then we’ll go shopping for camping food. We’ll also need to buy you a sleeping bag.”
“I like this house,” Aaron said as they entered Eric’s house. “Why don’t we live here?”
“I wish we could live here too, but your mom won’t let me bring you here to live. I don’t want to move her in here. When you’re 18 you can live wherever you like, then we’ll live here.”
“That will be like a 100 years from now.”
“It won’t be all that long. Let’s get the camping gear loaded so we can get on the road.”
“Where are we going camping?”
“We’ll go to the lake, and that way we can swim and fish too.”
“Oh boy, I’ve never been fishing before.”
“How do you like this camping spot?” Eric asked after he had paid the camping fee and drove into the camping area.
“It looks good to me, but what do I know. I’m just a kid.”
“Okay, look around. It has plenty of shade; it’s close to water, the toilets and showers.”
“Do I have to take a shower? We’re camping.”
“Yes, you have to shower. Just because we’re camping it doesn’t mean that we can’t keep clean. We’ll pitch the tent and then make a sandwich for lunch.”
“May I go fishing now?” Aaron asked after he wolfed down his sandwich.
“No son, we need to establish some ground rules first. The first rule is that you don’t leave the camp area without permission. You don’t go near the water unless I’m with you.”
“What if I have to pee?”
“I’ll always go to the toilet with you. We never know what kind of weirdoes might be hanging out there.”
“I caught one, I caught one,” Aaron yelled as he began to reel in his catch.
“You sure did,” Eric glowed with pride when he saw Aaron’s catch. “You even caught one before I did.”
“Will you cook it for me?”
“If you will help me I will. Now I’ll have to catch one for me to eat.”
“If you don’t I’ll catch one for you.”
Eric had never enjoyed fishing as much as he did that day. Aaron yelled with excitement each time he caught a fish. Aaron wasn’t ready to quit when they reached their limit. But, his excitement switched when Eric mentioned that they needed to clean and cook the fish.
“What is that?” Aaron asked when Eric got the camp stove out of the SUV.
“It’s a camp stove,” Eric explained. “It uses the same gas that runs my truck.”
“That was good, Dad,” Aaron said after consuming more fish that Eric thought he could. “What are we going to do next?”
“After we cleanup here we’re going to shower. “
Aaron had never seen an adult penis before and asked, “Dad, why do you have hair down there?”
“It’s called pubic hair. When you’re a little older you will start developing pubic hair too.”
“Will I get hair under my arms too?”
“Yes at about the same time you start growing pubic hair.”
“When will that be?”
“Every boy is different, but normally between age 10 and 14.”
“Will I get as much hair as you?”
“It’s hard to say. Everybody is different. Now do you have any more questions about pubic hair?”
“Not about that, but I have another question.”
“I’m afraid to ask, but what is your question?”
“Will my pee pee get as big as yours?”
“It is a penis. Little kids call it a pee pee. And yes, yours will get larger, but it is hard to say how much larger. It could even be larger than mine.”
“Then I would have a humongous one.”
“You’re good for a guy’s ego,” Eric said after he was able to stop laughing.
“Dad, what if wild animals come while we’re sleeping?” Aaron worried as they crawled into their sleeping bags.
“You don’t need to worry, Son,” Eric assured him. “We put all of the food in the ice chest inside the truck. They would only try to get inside the tent if there was something in here to eat.”
“But, what if they wanted to eat us?”
“They would be more afraid of us that we are of them. If you’re worried you can move your sleeping bag over near me.”
“I’m not afraid, but I might get cold,” Aaron said as he crawled out of his sleeping bag and moved it next to Eric.
Soon the busy events of the day caught up with Aaron and he was sound asleep. “How fortunate I am to have this wonderful little boy come into my life,” Eric though as he too drifted off to sleep.
Eric woke to see a little boy staring into his face. “Dad, I’m hungry,” he said. “And, I gotta pee.”
“You’re always hungry,” Eric laughed. “OK, we’ll go pee and then I’ll cook breakfast.”
The two were soon enjoying a breakfast of sausage, eggs, and hash brown potatoes. Eric even perked a pot of coffee on the camp stove. “Dad, could I have some coffee too?” Aaron asked, wanting to be grownup like Eric.
“I think a little coffee would be fine,” Eric agreed. “I don’t see that it would be any worse for you than a soda.”
That was the first of many camping trips the two took. Aaron learned how to use the camping stove and even how to bake bread using the camp oven on the camping stove.
“When you’re older we’ll go on a wilderness camping where we backpack everything in,” Eric said during one camping trip.
“I’m old enough now,” Aaron argued.
“No, you need to be a little older,” Eric explained. “We’ll have to carry in all of our food and camping gear.”
Aaron and Eric grew even closer, and Tina became more like an aunt to Aaron. Kathy began to disappear for a month or more. Her actions became even more bizarre. With these actions Eric worried that she would sever his relationship with Aaron. Aaron had become a handsome and confident 14 year old. He was active in the Boy Scouts and an honor student in school.
One evening Eric gave Aaron a debit card and said, “Son, I opened a special account in your name. This is for emergencies only. If you need money ask me. I don’t want you to use this unless I’m not around to give you money. There is $5,000 in this account, and I hope to God you never have to use it, but it’s there in case you need it. Kathy isn’t to know about this and always keep the card with you. Here is the pin number. I want you to memorize it and then destroy the paper.”
“If I never use the number, how will I remember the pin number?”
“If you’ll notice the number is the same as my house number. This is a key to a post office box where the monthly statements will go. If you ever use the card you can check the post office box where the statements will be mailed monthly.”
“Dad, why are you doing this? Do you know something that I don’t know?”
“Kathy is on drugs or something. We never know what she might do, and I want you to be able to take care of yourself if she goes off the deep end.”
“Then I’d just go and live with you at your house.”
“Son, I would like nothing better. But, I’m not your biological father and have no legal rights. There might be a slight chance that I could gain custody, but we never know.”
Shortly after Aaron’s fifteenth birthday Kathy came home after more than three months absences. Aaron hardly recognized her. She appeared gaunt, in need of a bath, and incoherent. She slept for two days and then was gone again.
It was the beginning of summer break Aaron, and was dressing following a much needed shower after he finished mowing the lawn. His had decided on a snack and Coke when there was a knock at the door. He opened the door to a distraught looking Tina. “Aaron, I’m so sorry.”