Grandma must have noticed that I was upset and said, “A cup of tea would be nice. Jeff, could you show me where you keep it?”
“Grandma, I’ll make you a cup of tea,” I said. “You just relax.”
“No, you show me. They next time I want a cup I’ll just go and make myself a cup.”
“I’ll put the water on and you select the type you want.”
“Jeff, I could tell you were upset with Karen. What’s bothering you?”
“It’s nothing Grandma, really.”
“Does it bother you that she is showing affection to Mark, and you never received affection from her when you needed it?”
“Grandma, I’m really not jealous of the attention she is giving Mark, but it’s hard to explain. I guess you’re right. I’m happy that she likes Mark, but I still feel cheated.”
“She’s made a lot of progress, but I don’t know if she realizes what she has done to you. Maybe she is in denial. I don’t know if you and Karen will ever have closeness, but I am happy that you’ve accepted her back in your life. Just don’t let things like this get under your skin. You have too much here to let it eat away at your heart.”
“I know Grandma. I guess in a way I’m as messed up as Mom.”
“Jeff, don’t say that. I’m very proud of what you’ve accomplished. I understand that when Mark first came to live with you that you took him to see a psychiatrist. Have you thought about seeing one yourself to help you deal with these feelings?”
“I haven’t, but maybe I should think about it. I doubt I can ever feel the closeness with her that I feel with you. I guess at times I feel guilty that we have nothing more than a friendship. I would like for Mom to see a psychiatrist too.”
“I will work on that. However, you have to worry about you. Alcoholic Anonymous meetings did wonders for her drinking problem. I had to practically drag her to those meetings. I may have to do the same to get her to a psychiatrist. Have you and Karen actually talked since your shaky reconciliation?”
“No Grandma, we haven’t. I wouldn’t know where to begin.”
“Maybe that’s part of the problem, Jeff. I love Karen, but I know her also. You may be the son, but you’re the mature one. You may have to be the one to take the initiative to talk to her.”
“Okay Grandma, I’ll do that before you go back to Tennessee. It will have to be after Mark’s birthday party. I don’t want to spoil his day.”
Mark’s birthday party was a huge success. He was amazed at the gifts his family gave him. He loved all of the gifts. When he saw the digital camera that Susan and Steve gave him he wanted to go immediately and take a picture of Bandit. Mason convinced him that it would be impolite to leave his guest to do that. I think his most prized gift was a saddle blanket with an Indian design that Jake and Jason gave him.
“It’s a saddle blanket,” Jake explained. “It goes under the saddle pad when you ride Bandit.”
I was proud of Mark when Grandma gave him books; I guess that’s the teacher in her. He hugged her and thanked her with as much enthusiasm as he had Jake and Jason for the saddle blanket. Mom gave him two video games and a $100 savings bond. George gave him a halter for Bandit. I hadn’t noticed that there was no gift from Roy and Barry until Barry went to their SUV and took a new bicycle out.
“Wow thanks, I’ve never had a bike before,” Mark said. “I can ride it while Bandits rests.”
“Do you know how to ride a bike?” Mason asked.
“I had a friend that would sometimes let me ride his,” Mark said.
After the excitement of Mark’s gifts I asked Mom if she would walk down to the waterfall with me for a little chat. She didn’t seem enthused about going there, but she accepted my invitation anyway. “Jeff, this is lovely,” She said when she saw the waterfall. It was a beautiful setting with the beginning of spring wildflowers blooming.
“Mom, have a seat here on the bench,” I nervously began. “Grandma suggested that we have a heart-to-heart talk.”
“Is that what you two were talking about over your tea while I was getting to know my grandson?”
“Yes Mom, and I’m very happy to see you bond with Mark.”
“He’s such a sweet boy, and so well mannered, especially the way he was treated before you and Mason got him.”
“Mom, that’s what bothers me. When I was about his age I did everything I could think of to make you love me. I tried to be good and not ever make you or dad angry. Still, I was ignored or worse beaten.”
“Jeff, I’m so sorry about that.” Tears began to flow down her cheeks. “I made a lot of mistakes in my life and that was my biggest one. I thought I loved your father and wanted to be on the road with him. When you came along that all ended. The first few years I tried to be a good mother, but I guess I didn’t have what Mom has. After a time, I’m sorry to say, I began to resent the fact that your birth disrupted my life. Jerry never wanted you and let me know that. The more resentment he showed toward you the more I began to drink. Soon my life was in that bottle.”
“No Jeff, let me finish and then you have your say. I think it all began back when I was in high school and you’re Uncle Paul was diagnosed with leukemia. I had always been close with Mom and Dad, but when Paul got sick all of their attention went to him. I understand now how wrong I was, but I resented having to take on helping more with Joe and Judy. I was the oldest and Mom assumed that I was ready for that responsibility.”
“When Paul died I was almost glad, but Mom and Dad were grieving and I still felt left out. I felt guilty about how I felt about Paul’s death. All I wanted to do is get away from home. When I graduated from high school I took a job at a truck stop. I just wanted to earn enough money to get out of Memphis. One day Jerry came along and when he got out of his truck I thought he was the most handsome man I’d ever seen. He flirted with me and I loved it. After just his third stop at the truck stop he asked me to go on the road with him. I knew that Mom and Dad wouldn’t approve so I just left without even saying goodbye.”
“It’s no excuse but, I was drunk and in denial about your treatment by both Jerry and myself. I think the first time I ever admitted to myself that you were abused was when Mom made me look at the scars on your back. I wanted to tell you how sorry I was, but words could never make up for what you endured.”
“But Mom, you didn’t even try.”
“I practiced many times what I would say to you. You know the strange thing is that when I started this today, I haven’t used anything I practiced.”
“Just maybe it is coming from your heart then.”
“It is, and when I saw Mark it hit me how much I missed with you. I just wish I had been the type of mother to you that Mom was to me. Judy is that type of mother, but I failed. Now I hope to be the type of grandmother that Mom is to you and the rest of her grandchildren. Now, I’ve done all the talking and it is your turn.”
“I don’t know that there is much left for me to say. You’ve admitted a lot of the issues that I was going to confront you with. I don’t know what hurt more, the scars on my back or the ones inside. I wanted to be loved and I never felt that until Grandpa George took me under his wing. Later I met Mason and felt love, but in a different way. His family loves me almost as much as they love Mason. When I found Mark I was able to give him all of the parental love that I never had.”
“Oh Jeff, I’m so sorry.”
“Mom, I know that you love me now. Back then I guess you weren’t capable of loving me. I see that you too were unhappy and took to the bottle. When I would hide in that hollow tree to get away from the abuse I would pick a happy TV family and pretend in my mind that I was part of that family. That is what helped me get through those tough times. There were times that I was cold and would have frozen if it hadn’t been for a good down filled sleeping bag.”
“What a fool I’ve been.”
“Mom, I think we’ve made a lot of progress toward becoming mother and son. Let’s put the past behind us and look forward to the future.”
I then offered my arm to Mom and we walked back up the hill to join the others. Grandma was all smiles when she saw us returning.
It was nearing the end of Mark’s school year and I was worried about his care during the summer. “Mark, your school will be out for the summer in two weeks,” I said.
“I know and then I can ride Bandit every day,” He proclaimed.
“Jeff and I still have to work,” Mason said. “We need to find something for you while we’re at work.”
“I just said that I could ride Bandit every day,” Mark said.
“You can ride him when we get home from work, but you can’t stay out here all day by yourself while we’re at work,” I said.
“Why not?” Mark argued. “I stayed by myself all the time before I came to live with you and Pop.”
“Then you didn’t have anyone to care for you,” I said. “Now you have us and we would be worried about you out here by yourself. When you’re a little older we might consider it.”
“How old will that be?” Mark asked.
“I think about eighteen,” Mason teased.
“Pop!” Mark exclaimed.
“You be thinking of something, and Mason and I will too,” I said.
We were enjoying one of Susan’s dinners for the entire family when Mark said, “When I get out of school for the summer I wanted to stay home so I could ride Bandit, but Pop and Dad said I couldn’t stay out there by myself. Grandma don’t you think I’m old enough?”
“I’m afraid I have to agree with them,” Susan said.
“But, I want to ride Bandit this summer,” Mark whined.
“How about if I went out there and stayed with him until you guys got home?” George asked.
“Grandpa, you’re retired, and we can’t let you do that,” I said.
“Dad, why can’t Grandpa George do it?” Mark asked. “I would be good.”
“I know that you would be good, Son,” I agreed. “But, is it fair to Grandpa George to ask when he is retired?”
“I really don’t mind,” George said.
“I know that Grandpa,” I said. “But, you have your friends now at your condo, and you’ve enjoyed them.”
“I have an idea,” Susan said. “Why don’t you let George go and spend the day with him a couple of days a week and the other times Mark can come and keep me company? If either of us need the day free we can switch around.”
“We can’t ask you two to do that,” I said.
“You didn’t ask,” Susan said. “We volunteered.
“That’s right,” George said.
“Okay, but Grandpa don’t let him wear you out,” I said. “He has a lot of energy.”
“Dad, I love Grandpa George,” Mark protested. “I won’t wear him out.”
“I may even borrow one of the other horses and ride with Mark some,” George said.
“Good grief, maybe it is Mark that will need to keep an eye on Grandpa,” Mason laughed.
Having settled on a plan for Mark’s care for the summer, I began to concentrate on the upcoming adoption hearing. Fortunately, Wesley Dugan had dropped his application for custody of Mark as his biological father. He was arrested for extortion and manufacturing of a controlled drug.
One Wednesday afternoon I was in my office working on an adoption case of a lesbian’s application for the adoption of her orphan nephew. Steve came into my office carrying a thick folder and asked, “Jeff, do you have a few minutes?”
“Sure, what’s up Steve?”
“We finally have a court date for Mark’s adoption,” Steve smiled. “It’s set for two weeks from tomorrow.”
“Wonderful,” I said. “Do you see any obstacles?”
“We have Judge Moore, and I hoped we would get Judge Ballard. However, I do think we will get a fair hearing with Judge Moore. We have statements from Wanda Beamer and Dr. McKee. But, the most powerful statement is from Mark’s aunt Bonnie.”
“Bless her. Will we need to bring her up from Texas as a witness?”
“Roy has offered to fly down and pick her up.”
“Steve, I don’t know what Mason and I would do if we’re denied this adoption.”
“You’ve done all the right things. You started an educational savings account; you got him in to see a psychiatrist, a pediatrician, and a dentist. That’s all documented for Judge Moore to see,”
The summer was off to a good start for Mark. He and George went horseback riding two to three times a week. Susan took him to the library weekly. Susan even bought a bicycle for him to ride when he was at her place. I hated disrupting his summer with the court case, but Monday before the case I told him about it. If he was upset he didn’t show it.
I gave Susan my credit card and asked her to take Mark and get him some really nice clothes to wear to court. “I’ll also take him to get his hair styled,” Susan offered. “I’m paying for that.”
Thursday, the day of court, I dropped Mark and Bonnie off at Susan’s. The case was scheduled for one in the afternoon. Susan would get him dressed and meet us at the courthouse. I tried to get some work done, but my mind was elsewhere. Finally, at 11:30 I went to Mason’s office and said, “I can’t take it anymore. Let’s go to an early lunch and then go to the courthouse.”
“I’m the same way. Let’s see if Dad wants to go with us.”
Steve took us to a mom and pop type restaurant not far from the courthouse. “It doesn’t look like much, but the food is good,” Steve promised. Steve was right. The food was good, but I was too nervous to eat and ate less than half of my serving. Mason did the same and pushed his food around on his plate before giving up.
Susan arrived at the courthouse with Bonnie, George and Mark about fifteen minutes after we arrived. Mark looked so handsome in his new suit. Susan had chosen well. It was a suit that was obviously designed for a boy and not a boy suit designed to make him look like a man.
“Judge Moore took the bench and began the hearing without fanfare. “I’ve read the briefs for the presented in this case. If I could have a few minutes to visit with Mark in my chambers I would like to visit with hm. Mark looked confused and Steve quietly told him that the judge wanted to visit with him in private.
Mark looked at me as if asking for permission. I smiled at him and said, “Go ahead Son. Remember what we talked about. Just be yourself and honest.”
“Okay, Dad,” Mark said with a half smile. The bailiff escorted Mark into the judge’s chambers and he looked so small and innocent. I wanted to stop him, but knew this was necessary. Mark was in the chambers for what seemed like forever, but in reality it was about thirty minutes.
When Mark and Judge Moore came back into the courtroom Mark was smiling. “That’s a good sign,” I whispered to Steve. Judge Moore began, “I believe I have all the information I need to make a ruling.”
I looked at Steve with perplexity, and he looked equally perplexed.
Judge Moore continued, “There are statements here from Mark’s case manager, from his aunt, from his physician, and from his psychiatrist. All of these people support this adoption. I was leaning toward approving this adoption based on these written statements. However, after visiting with Mark his statements alone are enough to convince me that he is in a happy stable home, including Bandit.” Judge Moore winked at Mark before continuing, “Therefore I’m approving this adoption.”
I wanted to let out a loud whoop, but I knew better. Every member of the family was all smiles.
“I will entertain any request for a name change at this time,” Judge Moore said. “Mark, do you have any request in this matter?”
“Yes, your honor,” Mark said. I looked at Mason with a questioning look and he looked equally confused. “I would like for my name to be Marcus Mason Parker.” Mason and I were surprised and pleased by Mark’s request.
Mason and I took Mark to Disney World to celebrate his adoption. Mason had been to Disney World before we met. However, neither Mark nor I had ever been. Except for the intense heat, we had a great time. We had also planned a visit with family in Tennessee on the way back home.
Grandma greeted us with warm hugs and wonderful lunch. Over lunch Grandma asked, “Have you talked to your mother lately?”
“Not since the adoption was approved,” I said.
“She’s getting married.”
“No kidding, what’s he like?”
“You’ll have to decide for yourself. She wants you three to go to her place for dinner.”
“You weren’t invited?”
“I was, but you should meet Larry first. Before you go back home, I’ll have a family dinner here.”
I called Mom to find out what time we should be there for dinner. “Dinner is around six, but come a little earlier. I want you to meet Larry. Did Mom tell you that I’m getting married?”
“Yes she did. Are you happy?”
“Then I’m happy for you.”
Mom greeted each of us with a big hug and then said, “Come on in and meet Larry.”
Larry greeted us with a handshake. I was usually good at getting an accurate first impression of people, but I was having difficulty getting a first impression on Larry. Mom asked us to come into the kitchen so we could visit while she finished dinner.
“Which one of you officially adopted Mark?” Mom asked.
“I did,” I said. “Under Arkansas law it was easier if one of us did. Mason would become his guardian if anything were to happen to me.”
“Wait a minute,” Larry said. “Are you two fags?”
“They’re a gay couple,” Mom answered.
“Get out,” Larry screamed. “I won’t have any fags here.”
Before I could answer Mom said, “Larry, this is my son, his partner, and my grandson. I failed my son once and I’m not going to do that again. Now get your things and get out.”
“You’re throwing me out because of a fag,” Larry yelled.
“No Larry, I’m throwing you out because I love my son and his family,” Mom calmly said. “Now, get your things and get out.”
Larry lunged toward Mom. I stepped between them and said, “You touch her and you’re going down.” I was bigger and stronger than Larry and he immediately backed down.
“Karen, you’ll be sorry about this,” Larry threatened.
“Don’t threaten her,” Mason said. “We may not live here in Memphis, but we aren’t that far away. She has family here that cares and we have someone working for us that can track you down no matter where you try to hide. Now, I believe Karen has asked you to leave. Either you leave or I will personally throw your ass out.”
I noticed that Mom was protectively hugging Mark as he stood wide eyed. “I believe my son-in-law has made it clear that you need to leave now,” She said.
“I’ll come back later and get my things,” Larry relented.
“You’ll take your things now,” I said. “Mom doesn’t want you back here. Don’t think you can come back later and harm her. What Mason said wasn’t a threat, but promise.”
I was positive that I had a mother that loved me, a mother that loved me unconditionally.