"WHAT!" I screamed.
Suddenly, a car was racing up the drive as I was hurrying to Dan to ask how AJ could be dead . . . gone. I'd just dropped him off at school that morning. How could he be . . .?
The car pulled up as close to us as it could without running us over. The police officer had to jump out of the way and the car came to a stop between him and where Dan and I were standing.
We were both taken back by this kid who jumped out of the car and started screaming at us . . . well, me!
"You killed him, you murderer!"
My God! It was Jeffy, Jarod's friend from their attack on AJ!
He was screaming at me, both hands jammed into his pockets, looking as angry as he could be.
"You didn't care! You just took his life, you creep! I could, I could . . ." he said, slowly pulling his right hand out of his pocket.
Dan began walking to the side as if to distract the boy.
"Listen, Jeffy," I explained, "He was going to kill AJ and me. He had it in his head that I had . . ."
"Whatever! You're a dead man!" he cried, raising a gun up and shaking it at me.
"NO, Jeffy!" I screamed.
Dan ran toward me, screaming and going for his weapon as well.
Just as Jeffy fired his pistol, Dan jumped between us taking the bullet meant for me, right in the chest, as far as I could tell.
"NO-O-O-O!" I screamed as Dan fell back from the force, falling into my arms. "NO! God, not again!"
"YOUNG MAN! Put your weapon down before I put you down. NOW!" shouted the police officer, using Jeffy's car as a shield, holding his gun on the crying boy.
"Don't shoot! Don't shoot! Oh God, I'm sorry! Oh God," cried Jeffy as he dropped the gun and fell to his knees, his head in his hands.
The officer carefully came around the car and cuffed him.
I was sitting down, as much from the weight of Dan's body as from the loss I was already beginning to feel. Why was I losing everyone that meant anything to me? My family, AJ and now Dan who had quickly become my very best friend and only confidante.
"Call 911, officer! Hurry!" I screamed. "I don't know if he'll make it but we have to try. Oh God, hurry! Save him!"
The officer clicked on his radio, attached to his shoulder, and started letting his dispatcher know what was going down.
"Officer down, officer down! I need an ambulance ASAP. I could use backup too. No telling what's going to happen here."
After putting Jeffy in the car, he walked over to us.
"Emergency units on the way, officer," the dispatcher radioed back. "Is the other officer alive?"
"Hell, I don't know. He's . . ."
"Yeah," I heard.
'Huh?" said the officer, turning toward me. "He is? How do you . . .?"
"I didn't say it!" I said back to him, a little loud and excited. I had no idea what was going on. My head was spinning and I felt like it wouldn't take much for me to lose my lunch.
"You didn't say it? Then who . . ."
"Man, that hurts. I'm gonna be sore for a month."
The voice was coming from my lap, but how . . .?
"Perkins, what's goin' on, man. I thought you bought it," said the officer as I felt Dan trying to sit up.
"Oh man, I can just imagine how bad that would have hurt if it was a larger caliber weapon. Ow!" the dead man in my arms groaned.
"Dan? Dan! My God, are you alright?" I shouted.
"No, dammit! I just got shot, remember?"
"Yeah, but, how did you . . .?"
"Kevlar - never leave home without it," he answered like he was out of breath, slapping his chest. "OW!"
By then he was pretty much sitting up on his own. The other officer came up and was kneeling by us, looking at the indentation in Dan's uniform.
"Shit, Dan, another two inches higher and it would have been bye-bye," said the officer, shaking his head in disbelief.
I have to admit, I was pretty overwhelmed. You'd think someone that had been in combat would know how to take something like that. But thankfully, I'd never lost anyone in my command.
I helped Dan stand up and he groaned in pain the whole way. As we got to our feet we could hear two sirens coming from down the road. By the time they drove up the driveway, Dan was on his feet but bent over, supporting himself with his hands on his knees.
After the arrival of the other two police officers and EMTs and explaining what had taken place, they had Dan sit on the end of the ambulance while they examined him.
"Dan, I hate to bring this up," I started, "but when you drove up you said . . ."
"Oh, yeah, that," he responded. "Wayne, can you tell Tim here what the coroner found out."
"Coroner? Coroner? How could there be a coroner's report if it just happened today?" I asked.
"Today?" said Wayne, the officer that came with Dan. "It happened the night of the accident. Because there was no ID on the deceased we obtained his DNA. We ran it through the Federal DNA database and because yours was on file with the military we had no trouble establishing paternity."
"Pat . . . what? Paternity?" I asked, turning to look at Dan, more confused than ever.
"You didn't know," Dan said, not as a question. "You didn't know that Jarod Brown was your son."
"No way! How can that be?"
"I'm not gonna explain the facts of life to you, Tim, but somewhere about 17 and a half years ago, you must have made a little whoopee with someone and not been too careful about protection."
Jarod was my son?
"Well, I guess you were right, Wayne. How could Tim have known and gone through with what he did? Tim, we were afraid it might have been murder instead of self-defense. Even so, there'll probably be an inquiry into what happened."
"Yeah, well, you now know as much or more than I do," I said.
Later, after the ambulance drove off with a protesting Dan strapped to a gurney, and all the officers drove away, I had a minute to think about what Tim and Wayne told me. I sat down on the porch and went over my history with the girls I'd messed with a long time ago. Of course, I had no idea who the future Mrs. Brown had been back then.
My thoughts were interrupted by another car pulling up into the driveway, though somewhat slower than most of the other vehicles up to then. Stewart and AJ jumped out and were looking around.
"Wow. What happened here, Dad? You didn't come get me so Stewart asked his mom to drive me home. Did you kill someone or something?"
"AJ!" I said, "Where'd you come up with that?"
"Well, ambulance - plus you being ex-Marines - adds up to someone getting really hurt, was my guess. And all those cop cars we saw leavin' here just now."
"Let's talk about it later. It had to do with the accident and a world we left behind."
AJ quickly looked at Stewart who, it appeared, didn't seem to react to my explanation. AJ seemed very relieved.
"Mr. McGill?" asked a pleasant lady's voice.
"Yes?" I said into the phone.
"I'm Emily Spear, Andrew's teacher here at school?"
They always make it sound like a question. Don't they know who they are? I was more concerned about what AJ might have done, though I couldn't imagine him doing anything too horribly wrong. I was finding out very quickly that it just wasn't in him.
"Okay. To what do I owe this pleasure, Ms. Spear?"
"Thank you, Mr. McGill. First, let me assure you that Andrew has done nothing to cause worry or concern, at least to a certain degree."
"Ms. Spear, you have a way of saying just enough to make that worry and concern very real. You know that I'm not his father, but his guardian."
"Oh, yes. No, Mr. McGill, we are both, not only concerned for Andrew's wellbeing, but his growth and maturity within his new environment, as well. I think I have something here that would be of great interest to you. I was wondering if you could come down here today and read something with me."
It was barely afternoon. I had nothing on my schedule so . . .
"I can be there in fifteen minutes. Is that alright?"
"Actually, sir, that would be ideal. The children are in P.E. and will go to lunch thereafter. I'm free for at least an hour."
I asked for directions to her room and also asked if I should be careful to avoid being seen by AJ. She said that wouldn't be a problem unless he was called to the office.
All the classrooms doors had paned windows so I could see a middle-aged woman with a kind face grading papers at her desk. By her voice, I was intrigued. She sounded like the quintessential teacher, stereotypically the kind I valued growing up. The kind of teacher that made you feel like you were doing very well, while, after practically doing the problem for you, made you feel like you'd conquered Kilimanjaro single-handed.
I knocked and walked in when she motioned to me.
"Oh, Mr. McGill, it's so good to finally meet you. We haven't had another conference yet so there hasn't been much reason. I will have to say that I know something about you from hearing Andrew James talk of you with such pride in his voice, especially lately."
"Thank you, Ms. Spear. I'll have to say that AJ, uh Andrew . . ."
"Oh, Mr. McGill," she said smiling, "AJ is just fine. I call the boys and girls by their given name. I think it shows some respect which they can learn to return. Please call him AJ, won't you?"
I moved to sit at one of the kid's chairs, the kind with the table attached. It must have been quite a sight, seeing me try to wedge into the little space with my huge legs. I was almost seated when I looked up and saw Ms. Spear indicating a teacher's chair against the blackboard in back of her. Getting up and taking at least three steps still wedged into that wood and metal trap must have been just as hilarious.
"Um, okay. Anyway, he hasn't spoken much of his teachers," I continued, finally sitting in the large-sized offering. "But he does come out of school with a smile usually and seems to tear right into his work when he gets home and has his snack. I know that if he doesn't like to do something, he, like every other normal kid, doesn't jump right in. I think that speaks highly for what you've already ingrained in him, given the short time frame and his less than supportive past."
"Yes, well, of course, I know nothing of his past. I was only told that, due to some unfortunate circumstances, he'd had no formal education and that, having no male role model growing up, you had taken him after his mother passed away. So, I have two students who work with him constantly and I offer my help during our breaks and I'm available after school."
"He seems to be getting a lot out of your classes. You have him for most of the day?"
"Yes, all but his time in PE, lunch, of course, and then three times a week they have a library hour."
"So, my curiosity is igniting, Ms. Spear. If he's doing so well, why am I here?"
"Mr. McGill, surely there are other reasons for a parent to be called to hear about their child besides a deficiency or reprimand. In this case, it was a concern on my part which was quickly turned into a very pleasant feeling of relief and thanksgiving that the young boy met someone so wonderful at this important time in his life."
"I, uh . . ."
"You, Mr. McGill. I'm about to let you read the paper he submitted for our last writing assignment. You'll soon see that, while he needs a lot of training in language and punctuation skills, he has become comfortable enough to be open about himself. This is so different than the little, scared boy who tiptoed into my classroom only a month ago. It is also very revealing about what you have become to him. Please read and it will quickly become frighteningly clear."
Frighteningly clear? What could she possibly mean by that? To answer I reached for the three pages of notebook paper that had been torn out of his spiral notebook. The first thing I noticed was that he needed some help with his cursive skills as well as spelling and grammar, which was indicated by the red markings throughout the paper. However, I sat a little straighter, a little prouder, when I saw the B+ in the upper right-hand corner of his work.
"B+? I think that's better than I did in school."
"I'll admit I was generous with his grade. But please read on and you'll see why I think he deserved it."
'What I did this summer?
By Andrew James Vitale
What I did this summer was about the same I did all the other summers. Nothing.
I was never allowed to go outside unless my mom was home but she had to go with me and she wouldn't because she was tired. I think she was afraid I'd get shot or in a gang or something even worst.
And the only way I knew it was summer was because it got hotter and because there was more kids around in the daytime. My mom would not even let me go to school.
Okay, I guess since my mom is dead that I can say and not get in trouble that I sneeked out some times. It was okay but sometimes my mom was right and I'd get picked on by these guys that hated me. I don't know why they did. I would not let my mom know when I got beated up.
But it was not this last summer that I want to write about. It was now or at least a few weeks ago.
I was mostly living outside by then because mom got this boyfriend that beated up his son, Jarod all the time and then he came after me some times. I wouldn't let him so after he did it, beated me, I kicked him in the, well, I probably shouldn't say it here where I kicked him.
So I runned away and was mostly sleeping out somewhere but it was getting cold. I was also getting picked on and sometimes beat up by boys again. Mostly it was this guys son, Jarod. I don't know why he didn't like me.
So, I was not happy then. Mostly I was never happy. I had no friends no one liked me. My mom said she loved me but I never knew what it meaned. I mean she didn't show me love she just showed me her tired and when she got mad.
So I got beat up this one night but this cool dude came and helped me and beat up jarod with this stick. It was so cool but I never said it. I didn't no who he was and I was two scared to stay and maybe get more hurt.
Then about 2 days later I ran into him. Really ran into him.
See I decided what I had to do to get better. I had to get to be happy and the only way was Cryers Point an heaven. I been up there lots cuz whats I gotta do when I'm all alone anyway? But I had to be careful because lots of teenagers went up there to do stuff with their girlfrends but I just sat and looked over the hills and clif. Sometimes I looked down at all the sharp rocky things sticking up. That was scarry.
I asked some guy that was outside the mission place where I had just ate. If he could take me up to Cryers Point. But he just wanted me for
I guess I shouldn't say that either.
So when he got mad at me cuz I wouldn't do stuff he drove off and I turned and walked right into this cool dude. He said he was looking for me.
I was so scard, but then I just didn't care anymore. Becuz I was going to go to Cryers Point anyway when he was gone
But something happened. He didn't go. He stayed and even took me to mcdonalds. I been in there 2 times before and once was just to ask for water and they told me no and leave.
He got me a huge milkshake that was chalklet and some frys. They got good frys if they aren't cold. I no.
Then he made me cry some but it was okay I guess becuz he asked me to come with him and he would make me safe.
I gave up trying to stop guys from beating me becuz of Cryers Point anyway so I said yes. Maybe I would have a bed for a day but I would run away if he tried to do stuff to me or specally if he called chilrens services. I won't go there. I heard two many storys. So I asked him to take me to my old place like to say buy. But I asked him to take me to Cryers Point and he wouldn't.
I didn't no it then but it was the best day of my life. If Ida gone up there I never would have met Tim the cool dude and I never would have gone to wall mart and I never would have had my own room even if it is still pink and purple painted – ha ha ha.
If I had stepped off of cryers Point I wouldn't have a dad now. I never had one before. I have one now and Im not letting him go. I seen him cry so I think he likes - no - I no he likes me lots and he shows it tho sometimes weird stuff, like hugging. But I like it. He's neat.
I didn't get to no about what love was before my mom died
Oh, she died in a car drivin by Jarods dad James and it crashed into Tims car that had his dead wife and baby girl in it. Well that kilt them. James did it and he died too. Good.
I new Tim cryed and cryed a lot becuz of his dead family. But I get to help him be happy to.
So I never new love but I do now becuss of Tim, my new dad I hope someday. I want him so bad that I just don't know how to tell him. Maybe some day. I no I will someday.
Sorry about my bad writin but this is my first school. I told people like tim that I was schoold at home but I never.
So that's why my summer wasn't so great but Im the happiest guy there could be.
And I made a new friend and maybe somemore at Dans house. Stewert is my new friend and he has some others that might be my friend. And dad believed me when I helpd Stewart from those two guys at lunch that time and even told off the principle for me.
But mostly now I never want to go to Cryer's Point again.
And Im sorry I made more than 600 words but it took longer so here it is.
Your student in 6th grade
Andrew James Vit I mean McGill, I hope.'
It was very hard reading the last few words. About halfway through I looked up to see Ms. Spear holding out a few tissues for me. By the time I was done they were useless. It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever read. It was written by my love, my life, my family, and it was about his new love for a dad that loved him immeasurably, unconditionally.
"Congratulations, Mr. McGill. You've done a very wonderful thing to save a wonderful young boy's life, figuratively and quite literally too, it seems."
"I, I didn't know. He's never really said. I finally got him to walk into my arms so I could hug him but . . . I never knew, until now."
"Well, he certainly is fond of you and his new life. Now there is one other item, if you'll permit me. If you notice, the paper was turned in last week and I read most of them, including his, that first night. So, you may ask why I'm just now calling you."
"Okay, I guess." I was still shaken by the paper. I had no idea where she was going.
"Mr. McGill, I have a sister that works for Children's Services in the city. I know from her stories that what little Andrew said about not wanting anything to do with them is not too inaccurate at times. But she happens to be among the best people there is and is a great advocate for families."
She looked at me like she was trying to get through to me but my mind was still trying to absorb the earlier information.
"What I'm saying is, I made an assumption, Mr. McGill, but I promise we can back out of it if that's your desire."
"Ms. Spear, you have me at a total loss. Are you planning on taking AJ from me?"
"Oh, no, no! Quite the opposite, I assure you. I have only the interests of you and Andrew in mind. No, my plan was to make it as easy as possible for you and Andrew to be as close to real father and son as possible. Mr. McGill? Mr. McGill?"
"I . . . I . . ." I didn't know what to say. I hadn't even thought it possible. Even then I knew I'd have to go through Lord knows what to prove I could raise an almost-thirteen-year-old boy. Besides, I was always so scared that someone would eventually come and whisk him away from me.
"Linda Sue, my sister, would like to meet with you, then visit your home and talk with AJ. It's really only a formality to make sure there are fire extinguishers and smoke alarms and nothing poking out of the walls to hurt the boy. You know, the normal things they check on."
"Oh, be assured, except for painting his room, we've got all those things. Well, not things poking . . . well, you know what I mean." I was excited and she could tell. I had moved to the edge of my chair and my fingers were on the edge of her desk. I felt giddy like one of her students getting a gold star or something.
"He, he. Yes, Mr. McGill, my sister and I both figured you would think of his safety above all other things. Now, here's some paperwork for you and I'll have my sister call on you at your convenience, if that's alright with you."
"Alright? Convenient? How about today? No, I have to do laundry and the dishes. How about . . .?"
"He, he. I'm delighted that you're so excited. I'm sure there is someone else that will be just as excited when he finds out."
"You think so? Oh, I hope so. God, I love him as if he were my own."
"Well, he soon could be just that, Mr. McGill."
"Tim, please call me Tim. Oh, I hope he'll be happy."
"Oh, I think that's assured, and you have his own statement in writing to prove it," she said, holding up in her hand the most precious document I have ever read:
'What I did this Summer by Andrew James McGill.'
That very night, after explaining to AJ what had gone on the day before with Jeffy shooting Dan and then about Jarod being my son, I thought the look of surprise on AJ's face would be permanent. I also knew that I couldn't bear to lose my family again, a family in the making.
We'd brought back Chinese and all the cartons were still spread around the dining room table. It was an experience every time AJ took a bite. I was able to warn him about the red peppers just before he bit into one. He said Chinese was okay but he really wanted to try the steak place sometime and I promised we would. It had been a great night all around.
"AJ, I gotta ask you something very important," I said from across the dining room table.
"Um, 'kay, I guess."
"It's okay. It's not like a test or anything. I just need your opinion about something."
He didn't look down. He just waited. That was a breakthrough in itself.
"I've enjoyed having you here all this time. I've never felt the kind of joy I feel when I'm with you and I don't like the sadness I feel when you aren't here, like when you're at school or when you take off."
"It's okay. But the thing is, I don't want this to end and I was hoping that maybe you didn't either."
Well, he did look down then and I got really worried, until he lifted his head again just as a single tear rolled down his pink cheek.
"I . . . I don't want it to end either. Why would it end? What would happen?"
"I don't know, son, I really don't know. We haven't been very forthcoming in getting you placed here as legally as we should. I know Dan's smoothed things out for us a lot, but there's only one way I know of to make it stick, to make it permanent."
The look on his face was priceless. The hope just seemed to be written everywhere, in every crease of his face, his eyes, his mouth.
"Yeah?" he barely croaked out, another tear joining the last one.
I reached out to take his hand. I held back a bit though, having learned my lesson, until he pushed his hand into mine. Wow!
"I was wondering if you would let me adopt you, son. Then I could actually call you 'son' and it would be for real."
Then he did the funniest thing. He got up and began collecting the empty cartons and dirty dishes and slowly walked into the kitchen which was behind me. I didn't know what to expect. It was probably the first time he'd taken the initiative on his own to clean off the table. But, why did he leave?
I heard his soft steps, then felt his warm hands on my chest as he stood behind me, something he had never, ever done before.
"Really? Truly? Permanent?"
"Really, truly. What do you think?"
"I can't think of anything I've wanted more. That's what I think."
I turned around and pulled him into my lap, hugging him to me. I even kissed the top of his head.
He let out a huge sigh and then asked, very seriously, "This mean you have ta tuck me in all the time?"
I almost laughed out loud. Gawd, it was so hard to fake serious.
"I'm afraid so," I answered with a deep, authoritative voice. "I think it's written in the court orders somewhere."
I really expected him to slap me and say, 'Nuh, uh' or something; maybe 'whatever'. But all I heard was,
This was supposed to say 'The End', but several people have asked that Tim's and AJ's adventures continue. I've decided that I'm not ready to drop them yet either, so . . .
www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode.cfm?id=bully-or-victim-more-similar-than-w-10-07-10 by Christie Nicholson, which mentioned:
School Psychology Quarterly
I would like to hear/read your criticisms, good and bad. I'd love to talk about where this gets to you. Matthew Templar