Boxing Our Way to New Years
I was expecting Monday, the day after Christmas to be our day of rest. Even though I had to get up at six in the morning to empty my bladder, and then let Brutus out to do his business, within five minutes, I was able to go back downstairs and cuddle up with Bryan again. My eyes closed easily and I was asleep again in total comfort.
The next movement I felt was Bryan getting back in bed – I guess he had to empty his bladder too. He kissed my cheek and said, "I love you," before he snuggled into my back again. I'm not sure, I may have moaned from the blissful emotion that went through my being, but my eyes remained closed as I slipped back into unconsciousness.
The beginning of a dream was completely interrupted when Brutus jumped on the bed and started wiggling his way in between Bryan and I, happily whimpering and whining his way up to our faces. Somehow I'd turn onto my other side and was facing Bryan as my eyes opened. I tried to hang onto Brian's torso, but Brutus was having none of it. Within seconds, our faces were getting a doggy tongue bath.
Bryan and I tried to turn over on our backs, but we couldn't. Including Brutus, there was five of us on the queen sized bed – Josh behind me and Mark behind Bryan.
"Come on Dad, you gotta get up. Mom has breakfast almost ready. You've got ten minutes."
I looked over Bryan's shoulder. "Bryan and I can't move an inch until you guys get off the bed!"
"Can't we just stay in bed all day and sleep?" Bryan asked. I knew he had to be exhausted after all the activities of yesterday.
"No way!" Mark exclaimed. "We're going shopping! It's Boxing Day!"
"Ten minutes!" I yawned. "Give us fifteen."
"What time is it?" Bryan asked.
"Quarter to nine.... Susan wants to be in the mall by 9:30!" Mark answered as he got off the bed and pulled on Bryan's shoulder. I got the same treatment from Josh. Bryan and I lay there on our backs and let out a deep sigh at the same time. Then Brutus jumped off the bed.
"I guess if we don't move it," I said, "Susan's going to get Brutus to do something nasty to us. Isn't that right Brutus?"
"Whooof" Brutus came out with a deep edge to his voice.
"Aha!" I exclaimed, "That's how she did it! Keywords!" I laughed.
Once again, Bryan and I had to do our 'ring around the rosie' in my small bathroom between the sink, the throne, and the shower and arrived upstairs to two cups of coffee already prepared for us. Susan was dishing out scrambled eggs, while Josh and Mark were adding buttered toast to the plates. Bryan and I were still yawning.
"Morning fellas," Susan said smiling. "Tomorrow.... honest, tomorrow is a day of rest, but today we go shopping and grab all the bargains out there. I'm going to hit the Bay with that gift certificate." Then with a bit of a sneer, she added, "They're going to be sorry they saw me. Oh, and I have to make an appointment for the spa too."
"Oh boy!" I moaned between bites. We'd sealed our own fate with those gift certificates. I knew we weren't going to win, so we had to go with Susan's enthusiasm. "Josh, go warm up the Jeep please.... Mark, give Brutus a quick run in the back yard before we go."
Wordlessly, Bryan and I were gulping down our food while Susan went to the hall closet and was putting on her coat. We galloped downstairs still munching our last bit of toast to brush our teeth. Before going upstairs, I grabbed two cheese cubes and handed one to Bryan.
"Here ya go Brutus," I said as I handed him my cube of cheese, "We won't be long."
"Be a good boy Brutus and guard the house." Bryan added as he gave Brutus the other cube. We walked through the kitchen, both of us taking a longing look at the half-full coffee pot.
After I locked the front door, Susan, Mark, and Josh were already in the back seat of the Jeep. The trip to the Cloverdale Mall was pretty quick; traffic was light. I parked in the same area as I had before. This time, there was no hesitation as we approach the bank, Susan chatted away about where she needed to go first – we had reached beyond the agony of that incident.
We'd just got passed the mall entrance gabbing about where each of us were going to go and where we'd meet later on, when Josh yelled, "HEY! CADET BROWN!" Then he took off at a fevered pace towards the young teenager that I now recognized from the Air Cadets.
"Hey there bud, how are you doing?" Josh asked smiling as the rest of us caught up to him.
"Cadet... Cadet Chambers right?" the boy answered nervously.
"Yeah, that's right! Josh Chambers. So did you have a good Christmas?"
"Well.... yeah.... this is my mom.... we were just here to do a bit of shopping."
"How do you do Mrs. Brown," Josh said still smiling. "This is my mom."
"Susan," Susan said smiling as she shook hands with Mrs. Brown.
""Ethel," she replied quite hesitantly as she seemed to wince from Susan's grip which I thought unusual as I quickly took in the whole picture of this lady. She was wearing dark tinted glasses, but I could see the edges of bruises that the glasses didn't hide. Other than that, she was neatly groomed and her clothes were neat, fashionable, and clean.
"And you know my Dad... Tom right?" Josh said as a matter of introduction.
I reached out and took the boys hand in mine. I didn't put any squeeze to my grip because I felt, then saw a bandage on his hand.
"How are you doing Cadet... it's good to see you again."
"Good to see you too.... it's... uh... Kevin." He said. I saw the look of a forlorn frightened boy. I knew there were problems because I'd seen this a few times with homesick and troubled boys when I was a counsellor at summer camp.
"Call me Tom.... this is my partner Bryan and his brother Mark. They're here from Calgary for Christmas break."
"Hi there Kevin," Mark said smiling, "I'm in the cadets too. I really like it."
"Good to meet you Kevin," Bryan said as he reached out with his hand, but like me he noticed the bandages, so it was more of a touch than a grip.
"Kevin, how are things going....," I asked, "with the problem we talked about?"
"Uh.... Mom doesn't know...." he said quietly biting his lip. "Things have changed."
"Kevin," Ethel said softly, "What don't I know?" I tried to assess her demeanor objectively, yet with the background I knew from our discussion with Kevin at the Air Cadets, I still really felt this was an emotionally tired lady about the same age as Susan. I glanced quickly at our group. Susan, Bryan, Mark, and Josh had a concerned look. I caught Susan's subtle nod.
"Ethel, at our last Air Cadet meeting, Kevin confided in me that your husband was a police officer and was having a rough time of it. All of us here have had some pretty tough times with.... alcoholics in our lives and I think we could help. Could we go over to that restaurant over there, sit down and have a coffee.... maybe talk more about it."
Susan gingerly put her hand on Ethel's arm. "Tom knows what he's talking about Ethel. You have everything to gain by listening to these boys."
"Please Mrs. Brown...," Josh said quietly, "Kevin's gotta know."
Ethel looked at each of us in turn and nervously nodded her head. Right away Susan smiled and hooked her arm under Ethel's and led the way to the restaurant, followed by Josh and Kevin. Josh was chatting up a storm about the fun he had Christmas day with the snake present.
I quickly told Bryan and Mark the history of what happened with Kevin at the Air Cadets.
"Well once he hears our story, maybe he won't feel so bad." Bryan commented.
"Yeah and I could tell him about the love of family that we share. I'll bet he could have that too," Mark said as we entered the restaurant.
Once we were seated in a semi-circular booth, Susan barely glanced at the menu before she had her decision made. Smiling wide, she said, "The mixed fruit dish sounds good. After yesterday's big dinner, it's just what I need."
After everyone followed Susan's suggestion and we'd placed our order, all eyes seemed to turn my way.
"Ethel, I've never known a police officer who didn't have good instincts and strong principles," I began. "I believe it's part of their training to appear neutral, calm and cool headed regardless of the situation or conflict they're faced with. My dad was a cop and when he'd come home, he turned off the activities that he'd endured through his shift and just became my Dad. He never brought his troubles home, at least not to my brothers or me." I paused and looked down at the table top. "One morning after the late shift, he didn't come home. He'd been killed in the line of duty." I paused again and looked back up at Ethel. "Judging from what I see of you and Kevin this morning, you've been through a situation with your husband, but I hope at least, he's still with you...." Ethel nodded her head nervously in confirmation. "....so there's hope," I continued.
"Almost a year ago, I had to shoot a man.... a bank robber in order to protect Josh and Mark... right here in this mall.... just over by the bank. My instincts just cut in together with my military training and I did the only thing I could have at that second in time, to save the lives of Mark, Josh, and a bank teller. Afterwards, I was devastated.... because of my action.... a human life had been taken from this earth. The depression and sickly feelings together with the nightmares I had were overwhelming. If it wasn't for the psychiatric help that I received from the police and the loving support of all my family, I might be in the same state as your husband or worse. I think without proper support and professional help, there's no way out of the depression."
Ethel nodded her head slowly. "Grant went to the police psychiatrist only twice that I know of. There was a lot of pressure at the time to get him back on full duty because they were short handed. I knew he was still suffering, although he was very closed about his feelings.... well.... maybe we made a mistake.... maybe we didn't fully understand what he was going through..... maybe we retreated from his anger at first instead of giving all the love we should have. Maybe that became a habit and as time went on.... maybe we failed him."
"Ethel.... Ethel, listen to me," Susan said firmly. "You're blaming yourself and none of the situation was your fault. You were not at fault. My husband was an abusive drunk, but I wouldn't take it.... when I divorced him, Josh was five, I said good riddance. He died just this last year. Although they never had anything to do with each other, it was a difficult adjustment for Josh. Believe me, I'm not blaming myself for his actions and in your case, you're not at fault either.... it sounds to me that maybe the police department didn't follow up on your husband's treatment and they should have."
I watched as Susan's point sunk into Ethel's subconscious.
"Ethel," Susan continued, "it's obvious that he physically hurt you.... you don't have to answer this, but how often...."
Ethel shook her head slowly. Grim faced, she said, "Just once.... the day before Christmas Eve. Kevin and I were just putting the final touches to the Christmas tree.... I thought Grant would be pleased..... he always loved our Christmases together.... he came in, he'd been at the bar drinking.... he saw the tree and became very angry.... started yelling at me about how there would be no Christmas this year... then he took a swat at me and Kevin jumped in between us and started punching Grant in the stomach... the glass ornament he had in his hand was crushed and his hand was bleeding. Grant just took the back of his hand to Kevin and he went flying against the Christmas tree.... it was demolished. I turned to help Kevin and he swatted me again. He cursed us and left the living room.... I heard the bedroom door slam. Then I lost consciousness."
Ethel started to weep. When she wiped her eyes, although she looked down, she removed her glasses – our brief glimpse of her battered eyes spoke volumes of the horror she'd endured.
"I was scared," Kevin said, his lip trembling. "I saw Mom laying on the floor and ran to the phone and dialed 911. When I told the operator what happened, she said an ambulance and the police were on their way. I went to Mom, I thought she was dead. She came to just as the cops came in the front door and I thought they aren't going to do anything.... you know.... the code that the police have between themselves.... don't rat on a fellow officer.... all that crap.... I even wondered if they'd turn the tables on us and say it was all our fault. One cop stayed with Mom and I, and the other one went to the bedroom when I told him where Dad was. Then the medics came in. One of them examined Mom and asked a bunch of questions, the other one took me to the kitchen sink and cleaned all the glass out of my hand and bandaged it. Oh God, that hurt. When I came back into the living room, the two cops were together in the corner talking between themselves.... I couldn't hear what they were saying, but I knew it wasn't good."
While Kevin was talking, I started to think about Darren. What light, if any, could he shed on this matter to reassure Kevin and his mom that any law enforcement officer would always be seeking justice in any case, whether it involved another officer or not.
"My father was a drunk and he beat me," Mark said quietly, "I had no one to help. If it wasn't for Josh and Tom he might have killed me."
Equally solemn, Bryan added, "It all started after our Mom died.... the drinking I mean. He used beat on me too, but I was older and finally after about three years, he kicked me out of the house and I moved to Calgary. I had no idea that he was beating on Mark after I left. Tom worked some real magic for us and got our father to sign custody of Mark over to me. He died recently.... I.... couldn't have cared less."
"Looking at the bright side, you're kind of lucky Mrs. Brown," Josh said, "You and Kevin still have each other."
"Well," Ethel began with a wan smile, "it isn't without hope Josh. The medic that went into the bedroom determined that Grant was way over the limit.... passed out and actually toxic was what he said. They took him to the hospital, I guess. That night we were exhausted and relieved after the police and medics left. The next morning, another uniformed officer and a plain clothes officer came to see us unannounced. The plain clothes officer was off duty. Over coffee, he talked to us about many aspects of alcoholism; that he was an alcoholic and lives by the twelve-part program of Alcoholic Anonymous. He explained how insidious it was, and how it could take over a person's life. Not really anything I didn't know already, but then he went on to tell us about the support that Kevin and I could get from Al-Anon and Al-Teen. He also said that we would learn how to deal with Grant. The other officer said that Grant would be kept in detox for a week, then it would be mandatory, if he wanted to keep his job, to go into a rehab program for six weeks. Unfortunately, we can't visit him while he's in the detox centre, however once he's settled into the rehab centre, we'll be able to visit him and let him know that we still support him. We're keeping our fingers crossed that he joins the AA and stays sober."
Just then, our fruit salads came and I excused myself to make a call. Out in the mall, I dialed Darren's number.
He answered on the second ring. "This had better be Tom Davis or my phone's gone wonky!"
I laughed at that. "Yes Darren it's Tom. Can you tell me anything about an officer.... Grant Brown, wife Ethel?"
"Scuttlebutt has it that he's an alcoholic and came home a few days ago and beat his wife and kid.... now the department has him in detox. I don't know him personally."
"Darren, I'm calling about their son.... he's one of the cadets that I teach at Air Cadets. He seems to have developed a mistrust toward the cops.... kinda like the code of secrecy always to protect their own at any cost. I was wondering if sometime you could have a little fatherly talk with him.... let him know that you're there to serve and protect the public first and then each other. You know what I mean?"
"You're talking about the old Code of Blue. Hey, what's all that noisy echo I hear on the line?"
"Oh I'm in the Cloverdale Mall and there's a lot of foot traffic going by. I just stepped out of the restaurant to give you a call.... we're having a bite to eat with Ethel and Kevin right now." I answered.
"Near the bank entrance, right?"
"Tom, look to your right," Darren said laughing.
I squinted through the crowd and then spotted Darren, in uniform, walking briskly toward me, a big smile on his face with his cell phone to his ear. I closed my cell phone and put it in my pocket. I really wanted to give him a hug, but we settled for a smiling hand shake.
"How was Christmas?" He asked.
"The best I've ever had," I answered. "I even think Dad was there. Have you got time to talk to Kevin right now?"
"Yes I do... I was just here to give mall security the low down about a vagrant that's been causing some trouble.... and the presence of the uniform around here keeps the mobs in line while they grab each others' bargains. Light duty day. My partner's on patrol at the other end."
While we entered the restaurant and made our way to the booth, I quickly refreshed the events of what happened at the Brown household and my concerns about Kevin had said about the Code of Silence.
As soon as we were close enough, I heard some happy chatter from the table and it made me feel better about the situation. Josh looked up at us and shouted, "DARREN!" He quickly hip-shunted Mark and Bryan out of the booth and instead of offering to shake his hand, just enveloped Darren in a big hug. The uniform didn't faze him at all.
Before I had a chance to introduce Darren to Ethel and Kevin, Bryan reached over and grabbed Darren's hand. "Darren, I can't thank you enough for all the help you gave us with our father. I would have been lost without your help."
"Bryan, I'm always proud to serve you and this Star of Courage family. All I did for you was something that happens in many cities in this country. It's was no biggy."
Our server then arrived and put another cup of coffee on the table for Darren as we sat down. Before I tackled my fruit salad, I introduced Ethel, then Kevin.
As a matter of introduction to what I hoped Darren would speak to Kevin about, I said, "Kevin, Officer Higgins was my Dad's partner.... he was there when my Dad was shot. You said something before about the code that the police have between themselves and it sounded to me that you didn't trust them. Even as a cadet, I know you've pledged an allegiance to our country and you understand the principles that the pledge includes, but I think you should understand that a similar set of ethics apply to all police officers as well."
"Kevin, Mrs. Brown.... Ethel....," Darren began, "first of all I'd like to apologize on behalf of the department for everything that's happened since the day Grant had to shoot that perpetrator. The department really dropped the ball on this case. We are fortunate, if you can call it that, that Grant was able to keep his mode of coping with his anguish to the consumption of alcohol.... there was no heavy or illegal drugs involved.... and THAT has happened in other cases. I don't know Grant.... he works out of a different unit than me. Kevin, I can assume that his partner knew something about your Dad's anguish and how he was dealing with it.... and unfortunately he remained silent. In his defense however, I can say that maybe he didn't realize the depth of Grant's problem.... we may never know the truth about that. I think what you and Tommy were referring to was the 'Code Blue of Silence'."
Darren took a deep breath and released a long sigh. "When an officer's back is exposed during a lethal force or other dangerous situation, this officer needs to know that his partner, his backup, can be counted on to defend him to the death." Darren looked at me with a sadness I'd never seen before while he spoke those words.
"That creates a very strong bond between partners on the force.... to the point where an officer will overlook any infraction of another officer, however, police officers are in the business of honesty. This is their stock-in-trade, forté, signature, persona, identification and what differentiates them from other professions. This text book ethics stuff is all well and good, but what happens in real life when a sworn police officer witnesses a fellow officer violate the law? Does he arrest the offender? Tattle-tale to the supervisor? Adhere to the 'code of blue silence'?" The answer once was: "It depends on the infraction." If the violation wasn't something major, like a class A felony, and the public hadn't witnessed it, then it was kept quiet or it was left up to a ranking officer. Problem was, just where do you draw the line? What infractions are reportable? Petty theft? Perjury? DUI? Violating a citizen's civil rights because he spit on you? Turning your back, averting your eyes, not volunteering information are all acts of cowardice when you reflect them in front of the words 'honesty' and 'justice'.
"When it comes to police deviance there are two factors that determine the level of compliance: Peer pressure and trust. Peer pressure is something you experience in grade school, to dress right, act right to fit in with a certain group of friends, but that peer pressure is reprehensible when practiced by trained, sworn police officers who, by their very job description, are individuals. An adult person who's compelled to go along with the illegal activities of others of his group, is not qualified to wear a badge. It's one thing for a bunch of civilians to sneak off the work detail for a beer or any other reason, but an entirely different matter for professional, armed, officers to do the same.
"The only sure method of determining trust by reliance is the oldest application of trial by fire. On the other hand, an officer who is known for his unquestioning honesty, would be the type of officer who couldn't honestly not-take-risks to cover your backside.
"When one police officer violates this trust, this code of honesty, all of us are tarnished. Adherence to or practice of any form of the "blue code of silence" is counter to the code of honesty that is part of each officer's sworn duty.... his existence for being. The trust each officer has in his fellow officer must be based on the proposition that truth, not cover-up or silence, that will save his career. For a police officer or anyone with sworn obligations, justice is more important than his bond of friendship.
"Kevin, having said that, I know that if the media get hold of this story, the truth will be told and you, your Mom, or your Dad should not have any guilt or remorse about it. The shame of this situation totally rests with the department."
Kevin slowly nodded his head. "Thanks Officer Higgins, I appreciate it, but at the time, I was really scared.... you know, with Dad being a cop and the other two cops there and they weren't saying anything to us that helped how we felt.... I could only think that Mom and I would be on the chopping block."
"Kevin, the officers had to assess the situation... first they had a fellow officer whose life was in danger and they also had to see that justice was done for both of you. It was a difficult situation for them to be in. In the end, for the situation at that time, they made all the right choices. Your Dad is going to get well and your wounds are going to heal. Together with your support, the department will see to it."
Just then, Darren's collar mike squawked and he had to leave with a blast of 'thank yous' following him from our table.
Ethel sported a confident smile – she had a beautiful smile and I was glad to see it. "I really feel better for having spoken with all of you and I really do appreciate that you took the time to speak with us. It's really helped. However, Kevin and I came here to get a bargain on a new Christmas tree and decorations, so WE HAVE TO GET SHOPPING!"
"HEY there's a girl after my own heart!" Susan exclaimed. "Boys, you're on your own. Keep your cell phones on because Ethel and I will be calling."
"Mom, can I go with Josh and the guys?" Kevin asked.
"I think that would be a good idea, if the fellows don't mind.... I doubt you would enjoy the places that Susan and I are going to shop at."
"No problem Ethel," Bryan said smiling. "We'll take good care of him."
Our server then handed Bryan the bill, but Ethel immediately grabbed it out of his hand. Again with her winning smile, she said, "Not today Bryan. This one's mine."
We were left there at the entrance to the restaurant, a bit dumbfounded, shaking our heads as we watched Susan and Ethel march quickly through the crowds to destinations unknown.
"GT SNOW RACER!" Josh exclaimed.
After consulting with the mall's map and store index, we decided that Sears might be our best bet. While Bryan and I followed the boy's through the mall, I enjoyed the banter they had together – Josh telling Kevin his story of how he lost his Racer in the Etobicoke Creek – Mark telling him of all the fun he was having in Calgary at the cadets and his ambitions to be a pilot. For his part, Kevin was meeting our boys' enthusiasm at an equal level. It felt good to see him happy, smiling, and laughing with Josh and Mark – a far cry from what we'd seen when we first met them at the entrance earlier that morning.
Bryan wouldn't accept any argument from Kevin when he ended up buying him a GT Snow Racer as well as the one I bought for Josh to replace his old one. We ended up loading both sleds into the Jeep because we had made a date with Kevin to take him to Centennial Park on Thursday with us. Then we waited for a call from Susan while we explored some of the other stores. It was 2:30 before we got the call to meet Susan at the bank entrance.
As soon as we arrived, we saw Susan standing there with a shopping cart filled to the brim. In part, it was several plastic stackable storage containers that she wanted to store all the new Christmas decorations in, a lot of wrapping paper, and several shopping bags filled with clothes.
"Here," she said, "take this load to the Jeep and then come right back. We have another load for Ethel's car. She'll be here in a minute."
Duty bound, Josh, Bryan and I completed the chore of filling the back of the Jeep with all of Susan's goodies. Actually we were pleased – she'd spent most of her gift certificate on things that she wanted for her personal use.
When we returned to the bank entrance inside the mall, we were shocked by the sight of two more shopping carts filled to the brim. A Christmas tree and many decorations took up one cart and the other filled to the brim with shopping bags. The biggest surprise of all was Ethel, standing there smiling; her dark tinted glasses were gone, and all evidence of bruising had been covered with makeup.
"Well, what do you think?" Susan beamed, pointing to Ethel.
"Stunning! Absolutely stunning!" Bryan remarked.
"I'm amazed!" I said honestly.
"UNBELIEVABLE!" Josh exclaimed, his mouth wide open in awe.
"You're beautiful Mrs. Brown," Mark said, "How did you do it?"
"A little makeup and Susan's magic touch." Ethel replied with an unending smile.
As we trundled the shopping carts to Ethel's minivan, she expressed her undying gratitude to Susan and us for boosting her spirits. She couldn't ever remember having had such fun shopping. For sure, her gratitude warmed our hearts as we said goodbye and made our way over to the Jeep.
When we got home, Bryan was the first to jump out of the Jeep and head for the house empty handed. He turned sharply half way through the garage. "I'm sorry guys, all that stuff is yours to deal with. I've got a date with a turkey carcass.... tomorrow is soup day!"
We all had a giggle at that and waved him on as we tackled the shopping bags in the back of the Jeep. Josh and I handled the storage containers, putting the lids on each one of them and organizing them onto the shelves in the garage. Meanwhile, Mark helped Susan with the bags and bags of Susan's 'stuff', and left the wrapping paper and other Christmas things for us to put into one of the containers.
In addition to all the preparations Bryan had for the soup, he'd prepared each of us a plate of Christmas dinner leftovers, for which we were eternally grateful. When we sat down to the kitchen table, we all let out a big, long tired sigh. Each of us agreed that we were exhausted after such a long day.
However, after we'd cleaned up the supper dishes and retired to my apartment to watch some meaningless commercial TV, we found out that Brutus had, had a boring day and he was full of piss and vinegar. He started by wiggling himself between Bryan and I, then just rest his head on my thigh, look up at me expectantly, and give me a low happy growl. I gave him a pat on the head and praised him for being a good boy. Then he backed off, walked over in front of the TV, quickly turned around a couple of times, dropped to the floor and played dead on his back.
"Do you think we should Mark?" Josh asked out of the blue.
Mark let out a heavy sigh. "Yeah, I guess we should. I'll go get our gloves."
"Yeah.... and ask Mom to come down too," Josh added.
Bryan and I look questioningly at each other, wondering what the boys were up to. Mark came back down stairs with Susan and handed Josh his gloves and we watched as the boys silently as they put them on.
"When we had Brutus out for our walk yesterday, we were at the little park at the top of the street. There was no one around, so I let Brutus of his lead. He was walking a few paces ahead of us and now we're going to show you what happened. Are you ready Mark?"
"Yeah." For sure, our curiosity was piqued.
"I hope Brutus does it the same as he did yesterday. I think it's important that you don't interrupt him... please just watch and be quiet."
Susan, Bryan, and I were perplexed, smiling at one another as Josh built up the suspense.
The boys stood about two feet apart facing us, while Brutus was standing about two feet in front of him. Josh pointed his finger at Brutus, his thumb cocked like a gun and said, "Hey Brutus! Play dead!"
Brutus turned around and looked at Josh. Josh said, "Bang!" – and cocked his thumb. Immediately Brutus did the predictable and flopped down on his back motionless. Nothing unusual about that. We'd seen it a dozen times before.
Then in the next second, Mark turned to Josh, pointed his finger toward Josh with his thumb cocked and said with a giggle, "Hey Josh! Play dead!" Josh looked at Mark, but before Mark could say 'bang' or move his cocked thumb, Brutus was on his feet, jumped up and grabbed Mark's 'gun' hand – not viciously – his jaw was chattering as he whimpered with a gentle grip on Mark's hand. I was astounded. Josh held up his hand to us, indicating that we weren't to interfere.
"Brutus," Josh said firmly as he got down on his knees, "Back off. Come're boy." Right away Brutus obeyed, let go of Mark's wrist, and went over to Josh, who started to praise him and ruffle his fur all over. "Good Boy!" Brutus was quick with his tongue bath as he soaked up the praise.
"Hey Brutus," Mark called from the other side of the room, as he too knelt down, "Come're boy." Suddenly Brutus was his happy playful self as he ran over to Mark, who still had his gloves on. "It's OK Brutus, you didn't hurt me at all." Mark too was treated to a tongue bath as he praised and held Brutus. There were no hard feelings by either of them.
"Dad, that's exactly what happened in the park." Josh said as he sat cross-legged on the floor. "At first Mark and I thought it was great that Brutus knew enough to protect me like that, but on the way home, we talked about what if it was one of the twins that innocently pointed their finger at someone. That kinda scared us and we decided that the 'play dead' trick wasn't something we could fool around with anymore."
Bryan got off the sofa and sat down on the floor cross-legged and said, "Come're Brutus." Happy to obey, Brutus came over for more praise, which he got from Bryan. With his one arm around Brutus, he pointed to Josh, without his thumb cocked. "Go get Josh!" he said quickly. Immediately, Brutus wriggled out of Bryan's arm hold and ran over to Josh to get more happy praise.
Not to be excluded, Susan and I slipped onto the floor and we all started a foray of directing Brutus from one side of the room to the other as we pointed to one another, each of us in turn giving him all the praise he craved. Then I started to test him. I pointed to Josh, but I said, "Go get Susan!"
He started going toward Josh, but then doubled back and went over to Susan who of course, praised him heartily. We did that a couple of times and he didn't get confused after the third time. He knew who we were.
Then Bryan put him to the test again. While Josh was praising Brutus, Bryan pointed with his cocked thumb at Mark and said, "Play dead Mark." The reaction was immediate. Brutus jerked his head around and was right over to Bryan gently holding his wrist. Bryan nodded at me.
"Brutus, back off," I said calmly. Exactly as with Josh and Mark, Brutus let go of his gentle hold on Bryan's wrist and came over to me and sat, his tail wagging and a face full of expectation. For sure, I was generous with my praise. I simply pointed and said, Get Bryan." As expected, Brutus went over to Bryan and got a lot of praise while he gave Bryan a tongue bath. Happily, we were back to square one again.
Susan yawned and stood up. Naturally all of us had to yawn because of the power of suggestion. "Fellas, Josh is right. We can point, but we can't cock our thumbs. Let's not ever use the 'play dead' thing again, maybe in time, he'll forget about it. I don't want anything stupid to happen. Now it's been a busy day and I'm ready for bed. Judging from all your nodding heads, I think we all are. Isn't that right Brutus?"
It was an immediate reaction for all of us. As we sat on the floor, the four of us plus Brutus looked up at Susan and said together, "Woooof!"
"We gotcha Mom," Josh said as he and Mark stood and followed Susan up the stair laughing. By the time we tucked the boys in for the night, let Brutus in after doing his business, and gave him a cheese cube, Bryan and I were able to tiredly squirrel our bodies into bed.
With his arm around me, Brian said with a yawn, "It turned out to be a beautiful day."
"Yes it did Bry," I answered as I closed my eyes and rested my hand on his chest hair, then almost incoherently, I whispered, "....and I'm still in love with you." I only had a moment to listen to him gently snore before I joined him.
The next morning it happened again around six-thirty. Up for a pee, attend to Brutus, and then back into the comfort of Bryan's arms allowing the sleep to overtake me again.
When I woke again, Bryan and I were in the same position as we had been almost twelve hours before. I'd just flicked my eyes, when I heard Bryan whisper, "I'm in love with you too." He nuzzled his cheek over my hair.
"You heard me? I whispered.
"Yup," he chuckled. "I always sleep with one ear open."
I'd thought of getting up, brushing my teeth, and having an intimate body engagement with Bryan, but then I realized as I looked at the clock, that our privacy might be interrupted. Instead, I settled for kissing his stubbled cheek.
"This is our lazy day Bryan," I said as I propped my head on my elbow. "I'd like to stay here all day with you, but I'm getting hungry."
His stomach let out a little gurgle and we laughed. We did brush our teeth and splash some water on our faces before we put on some sweats and went upstairs to check on the rest of the household.
Susan was up, sitting at the kitchen table reading. We mumbled our 'good mornings' as we desperately poured coffee and got a few swallows down. Then Josh and Mark joined us. A lazy day had started and our lazy breakfast was bowls of cold cereals – mostly Captain Crunch.
It wasn't long before Josh and Mark were discussing what they should do for the rest of the day. Susan picked up on their slightly bored attitude and told them it was time to put the dining room table back to it's regular size. While Bryan and Susan went about their duties to put the final additions to the ten litres of turkey soup, I decided that I'd join the boys with their task.
Although there was only the fancy tablecloth and a large centerpiece on the table, I still able to visualize the eleven of us enjoying the feast and love that had happened at the table on Christmas day. Josh and Mark stood there with me staring at it for a moment as well. I put my arms around them.
"I had a lot of great Christmases when I was growing up, but this one was the greatest." I said looking at the table.
"It WAS the best." Josh remarked.
Mark gently shrugged his shoulder and shook his head slowly. "I've never had an experience like that before."
With a deep sigh, we tackled the job. Actually, once I'd carefully lifted off the centerpiece the moment was gone, but the memory of that unique Christmas dinner would always remain vivid in our minds for years to come. Once we had the leaves out and the table back to its regular size, Susan took over and did her thing with the doily and the centerpiece. Life was good again.
While the boys went to Josh's room to play video games, Susan, Bryan, and I reminisced about how hopeful we were about Ethel and Kevin Brown's future. Susan went into some pretty vivid descriptions of her shopping trip with Ethel and all the fun they had with her makeup.
By two o'clock, we were sitting down to a late lunch of hot turkey soup and fresh bread and butter. It was delicious and so filling with all the vegetables that Bryan had added. It was a very balanced meal in itself. Bryan was happy to soak up all the praise of his culinary skills. His pride was justified.
My day ended as it had begun – in bed with Bryan – expressing a deep expression of our love for one another. It was more than just physical – more than emotional – at the time, I felt it was the most beautiful experience I'd ever known on this plane of life.
Our day with Kevin started at 9:30 the next morning when we greeted him and Ethel at the front door.
Right away, Kevin was taken with Brutus. Josh was very deliberate when he introduced Brutus to Kevin – announcing Kevin's name as he pointed to him. Brutus understood immediately as he stood in front of Kevin wagging his tail. Cautiously, Brutus went up to Kevin's bandaged hand and sniffed it carefully, before giving it a tender lick. Then Josh repeated the same procedure with Ethel. She appeared a little withdrawn from the sight of Brutus as he walked over to her and offered his paw.
"I promise he won't hurt you Ethel," Susan said, "I felt a little bit like you when I first met him." When Ethel finally accepted his paw, he gave her hand a slight lick, cocked his head from side to side and walked over to Kevin.
Our day at the hill was an experience to behold. The temperature had moderated slightly and we stayed quite warm. After Josh's little accident someone had put up a plastic fence with a big pile of loose hay bales at the end of the run to prevent any more excursions in the Etobicoke Creek. Naturally, each of us had a chance to test its stopping ability. The main thing for Bryan and I was the boys, especially Kevin; they were having fun on the hill and with Brutus.
By the time we got home, we were bushed and hungry. Right away, once Kevin had his coat off, he was playing with Brutus. Brutus was the perfect host to anyone who would romp and play with him.
After Susan and Ethel had served us a bowl of turkey soup with some buns, Kevin, Josh, and Mark sat on the floor at Brutus' level. Surprisingly, Brutus was constantly aware of Kevin's bandaged hand and always went to nudge his good hand when he wanted to roughhouse with him.
At one point, Brutus pretended to be distracted and went over to his water bowl and lapped at it a couple of times. When he returned to the boys, Brutus lay at Kevin's feet while the boys bantered back and forth about the fun they'd had at the park. I think I was the only one who noticed Brutus' stealth as he gingerly took the toe of Kevin's bulky sock between his teeth and started pulling. He'd never done that with any of us before. As soon as he had a few inches pulled from Kevin's toe, he started to shake Kevin's foot back and forth. To everyone's delight, Brutus was just being a big puppy again.
"Mom, I'd really like to have a dog," Kevin said once he retrieved his sock from Brutus.
Ethel didn't answer him right away, but she was smiling. Finally she said, "Kevin, I think you're right, but we have to consider your Dad. You and I have to give him a lot of love and support over the next year and we don't want anything to interfere with that. However, if he realizes that a dog would give him a lot of love as well, it may be the additional distraction and support we need to get him over the bad moments he may be having from time to time. How about if we wait until he's near the end of his stint at the rehab centre before we bring it up?"
"Ethel, your logic is right on!" Bryan said.
"Well, I've been doing a lot of reading and Susan and I have had all day to talk about it. I think we analyzed the problem pretty well and I'm hopeful."
Kevin smiled, "It would be good to be able to do things with Dad again."
Ethel and Kevin left shortly after that leaving the five of us with the same hope they were clinging to.
That evening Bryan, Mark, Josh, and I retreated to my apartment to have some dad and son time together while Susan said she wanted to spend some last moments with the Christmas tree. We thought she was having a melancholy moment or something that women sometimes do, but what do we know about those moods.
By 9:30 the movie was over, the popcorn was finished and we sat there quietly.
"It's going to be New Years Eve soon," Mark said quietly, "our holiday is almost over."
"It will never be over Mark," Josh said, "we'll always have it in our memories and the great thing is, we get to do it all over again in a year."
"Sooner than that though boys," I added, "We have Spring Break to look forward to in a few months and it's our turn to do the traveling. Josh and I will be seeing you and Bryan in Calgary for ten days."
"Hey that's right!" Mark's mood changed immediately.
I looked at Mark with a slight grin on my face, wondering what miracles were in store for him in the next year. When he looked my way and saw me staring at him, he asked, "What? My fly undone or something?"
I smiled, not to tease him, but to ask the question honestly. "Michael?"
Mark returned my smile. "Tommy, he's special. We think, but we don't know for sure if it's really love. He likes to run, he's a good soccer player and he's really smart."
Right away I did had a quick head jerk as I looked at Bryan. He started to giggle. Mark's head twisted from side to side as he glared from Bryan to me, then back again.
"WELL HE IS!" He finally said exasperated. "What I like about him most, is that he thinks like us. He's not like the rest of the kids.... you know.... 'me, me, me' almost all the time." He glared at Bryan. "What's so funny?"
Bryan pulled Mark into a hug. "Little brother, don't be so modest. In my eyes, no one is as smart as you."
Mark smiled. "Bryan, you're my brother, but thanks for being my Dad."
Bryan kissed his forehead. "Mark, believe me, it's my pleasure. Your going to a fine man one day and I'll always be very proud of you. I just hope that Michael makes you as happy as Tom has made me and Shelley has made Josh."
"I'll second that bro," Josh said.
"Now let's get to bed early and see what trouble we can get into tomorrow." Bryan said. I had to agree – all that activity at the park had worn me out.
On Friday, Bryan and Mark took the tree down, showing Susan the techniques they used when they were decorating it. Susan was lapping it all up while Josh and I just shook our heads, deliberately making a nuisance of ourselves as we shunted the storage containers from place to and place in the living room. That artsy part of domestic life just wasn't a part of our make up. All of us made it fun in spite of the feelings that the Christmas season was indeed coming to an end for all of us.
Saturday, Sunday, and Monday we reserved as days of relaxation and rest. Even the boys had a nap on Monday after lunch.
That evening Josh and I watched Bryan and Mark as they packed their suitcases. It was New Years Eve and we knew it was going to be a late night. Bryan and Mark had a flight at one in the afternoon on New Years Day and the following day it was back to work for Bryan and back to school for Mark, Josh and me.
Last year, Josh and I had spent a quiet New Years at home. I'd just been released from the hospital and neither one of us felt like going out and doing anything. This year would be different. Both Bryan and I had previously been to the "First Night" celebrations in downtown Toronto but neither of the boys had been. We decided to brave the cold and head down. The subway is free on New Year's Eve so we decided to park the Jeep and ride the train into the city instead.
We left the house at about 8PM just as Susan was heading to her friend's house for a New Year's Party. We made surprisingly good time and we arrived at Nathan Phillips Square by around 9PM.
The crowd was already enormous. The skating rink in front of city hall was in full use and there were all kinds of police officers on horseback. The stage was lit up like a Christmas tree and a local band was busy performing a decent cover of "Life is a Highway" by Tom Cochrane.
"You guys want something hot to drink?" Bryan asked.
"I could use a coffee" I replied.
"Hot chocolate for me please," Josh replied.
"Same here," added Mark.
Bryan went to the concession stand and purchased our drinks. A moment later, he returned with a tray containing four large steaming hot cups. The four of us then headed to what we decided was the perfect spot to watch the festivities.
For the next few hours a string of local bands performed and an array of local television personalities made appearances on stage. As midnight approached, the excitement in the crowd began to build. To the right side of the stage was a large countdown clock that was counting down the minutes and seconds until the arrival of 2001. At the centre of the stage, behind the band, was a large gong.
It was a very clear and chilly night, but between the coffee and the crowds and the constant shuffling of our feet, we managed to stay reasonably warm.
At around 11:45PM, Larry Gowan, the headliner for the night made his appearance. He performed "Strange Animal" and "Criminal Mind" and finished with less than two minutes to go before midnight. As the clock ticked down the last 30 seconds of what had been a banner year for our family, the four of us stood with our arms around each other and counted down the last 10 seconds with the crowd.
At the stroke of midnight, the bell tower in Old City Hall began to chime and a guy on stage began to bang the gong. An impressive display of fireworks was set off from the top of the stage as well. The night sky was lit up like a million galaxies. The noise of the crowd was a constant roar. Gowan and the others on the stage began to sing "Auld Lang Syne". The four of us got caught up in the moment and joined in.
To close out the festivities, Gowan did a fantastic cover of John Lennon's "Imagine" which also had the whole crowd joining in.
As I listened to the song, I imagined the possibilities that lay ahead for our family. I looked lovingly at Josh and imagined what was in his future and the impact that he was sure to have on the world. I glanced at Mark and thought about how far he had come in the past year and how far I knew he would go in this life. Finally, I looked at Bryan and dreamed of the life that we would share. I looked up once again to the heavens above and smiled contentedly knowing that all was well in our little world.
Saying goodbye to the most important part of our family at the airport was full of teary emotions for the four of us. The love and trust we had for each other had really been reinforced over the last two weeks, but I knew one day these farewells would end and the emptiness that Josh and I felt in our guts would be filled again by another happiness that would grow beyond our expectations.
Sometime through the night, Josh had slipped into my bed and I awoke the next morning with him snuggled into my chest. He had felt the emptiness too. As I lay there in the early morning light, I took a moment to simply watch Josh sleep. I could feel the thump of his heartbeat and watching the slow rise and fall of his steady breathing was almost hypnotic. It was times like this that the love that I felt for my son burned brightest in my heart. I squeezed him gently and kissed the top of his head and I smiled as I felt him squeeze me back.
I smiled as Brutus came padding into the room and climbed up on the bed. He sniffed at Josh's face and gave him a brief puppy kiss and did the same for me before lying down against my other side and rested his head on my shoulder. It was a truly perfect morning and I was determined to lie there and enjoy it.
It wasn't that long before Josh too began to stir. He stretched his arms briefly before once again wrapping them around my chest and he opened his eyes and smiled when he saw that I was awake.
"Morning Dad," he said sleepily.
"Morning son," I replied with a warm smile. "Sleep well?"
"Always. When I'm near you it's like I'm safe from the whole world," he replied thoughtfully. "I miss Mark and Bryan already."
"I do too kiddo," I replied. "I'll bet Daisy will be glad to see them."
At the mention of his sister's name Brutus sat up and cocked his head from side to side.
Josh reached out to pet him. "I'll bet you miss your sister don't you boy?"
Brutus let out a slight whine and tilted his head again as he listened to Josh.
"Can we take him with us to Calgary in the spring?" Josh asked.
"I don't see why not," I replied. "He might not like riding in a doggy cage very much though."
"You may be right," Josh said thoughtfully. "Besides, Mom says she feels safer alone in the house with him here."
I gently rubbed Josh's back as I thought something over in my mind.
"Watcha thinking?" Josh asked as he propped his chin on my chest and looked at me.
"Lots of things," I replied. "Good things about you, about all of us."
"I can't wait to see Shelly again too," Josh said. "I'm glad that her parents are going to bring her to Ottawa for when I get my Order of Canada."
"I'm glad too," I said. "You know, it's a black tie affair."
"I only have a blue tie, the one you gave me," Josh replied earnestly.
I chuckled. "Black tie means you wear a tux," I replied.
"A tuxedo? With a bow tie and one of those things that go around your waist?" Josh asked.
"A cummerbund," I replied.
"Yeah, one of those," Josh giggled.
"I guess we'll get you fitted. A tux isn't something you wear often so we'll be better off renting one. At the rate that you're growing, we had better wait as long as we can," I said.
Josh smiled. "I'm almost as big as you are now," he replied.
"I know. You're growing up fast kiddo. You're going to be a lot taller than me. I think you'll be taller than me by the end of this year."
"Really?" Josh asked in a surprised voice.
"Really," I replied. "Speaking of growing up. There's something that I wanted to talk to you about."
"Sure Dad," Josh replied.
"Remember that talk we had at Wasaga Beach?"
"I remember. I'd have been pretty confused this past year without that talk."
"I'm glad I was able to help," I said sincerely. "Do you remember what I said about condoms and safe sex?"
"Of course. I remember what you said about the difference between love and lust too," Josh said confidently.
"I'm glad. Bryan had the same sort of talk with Mark as I had with you. He gave him a bunch of condoms now that he has a boyfriend. Mark's probably not doing anything that would require them yet but it's always good to be prepared."
"He said that they fooled around a bit. You know jacked off together, each other." Josh said.
"That's good. Those are normal activities for boys. I know you've told me that you guys have done that to and it's perfectly fine."
"We did it a bit over Christmas," Josh said with a snicker.
"I'll bet you did. Anyway my point is that I grabbed a box of condoms for you too. I know that Shelly is your girl, but you never know when the little head might make you give into temptation at a party or something and I want you to be ready."
"Thanks Dad. Thanks for thinking about me. I'm going to be faithful to Shelly though. Until we're both ready to have sex, neither of us is going to have it with anyone else," Josh said firmly.
"You guys have talked about it?" I asked a little surprised.
"Yeah we talked about it. We agreed that we were a little too young now, but we know that we'll be ready sooner or later. We'll use them eventually. Thanks for buying them."
I smiled at Josh's maturity. "You're welcome son. No matter what you do or who you do it with, just be safe. Okay?"
"I promise," he replied and wrapped his arms around me again and hugged me tightly.
I smiled and hugged my son tightly to my chest. I knew he had a good head on his shoulders and he was far more mature at 13 than I was.
"You know, I could have had sex if I had wanted to." Josh said thoughtfully.
"I'm sure you could have. You're a very good looking boy," I replied.
"A couple of girls at school asked me to but I said no. One even offered to give me a blow job in the bathroom at the Halloween dance!" Josh laughed.
"Not many boys would have turned down those offers," I grinned.
Josh smiled and replied, "I said no because I'm like you. I want real love not lust. I'm in love with Shelly and I can and will wait for her."
"I think you made a really wise decision Joshy," I replied firmly and then added. "Besides, it would have been awkward with that giant pumpkin outfit on!"
"Now you're going to get it!" Josh laughed and he began mercilessly tickling my sides.
Brutus jumped up and let out a few soft happy barks as he decided to join in on our rough housing. It never ceased to amaze me how gentle he could be with his mouth. He would grab our hands and arms in his mouth but he never even left a mark.
After a while we both got up and took turns using my shower before dressing for the day. We were both heading back to class and as much as we enjoyed being cuddled up together we couldn't be late.
After the conversation that I had had with Josh that morning, I found myself starting 2001 doing something that I often found myself doing. I was marveling at the intelligence and maturity of that special and endlessly loving boy who called me his Dad.