By Bruce A. Smith
Chapter 27 – An Adoption and a Departure
My bronchitis came on fast. By morning, I was blowing my nose like crazy, and try as I did with vitamin C, salt water gargles, and healing visualizations I was in bed all day with fever, chills, and a cough that caused my body to spasm. My tenure as “Boss” didn’t last too long. I turned authority over to Jack.
The rest of the house managed to carry on with their duties as medical orderlies and helping downstairs with the sick. Jack and Karen tried vainly to get bone marrow transplants for Trey and Willy, but the Army said they needed parental consent and the Unity Alliance hedged on taking the responsibility.
The last known address for Willy’s mom was in South Boston, but DSHS couldn’t find her, and we knew of no other family members because Willy’s DSHS records were vaporized in their Worcester office.
Trey on the other hand, had a lot of files in Unity. I got out of bed to coordinate the search for his sister and granny.
Trey’s last name of “Maximum” was a moniker that I think he just claimed for himself, and one that we had adopted years ago; it was certainly not his family’s name.
Whenever Trey told me about any of his family, I never wrote down any last names or addresses in my own notes. He had never told any social workers about them either, so we had neither addresses nor family names. Further, from his own admission on Day One, he thought all of his kin were gone since they all lived in the South Valley.
In the last analysis Willy and Trey were ours. We couldn’t get any help for them from the outside world.
By sundown, though, I had to give up on being of any help to anybody. I was in la-la land, and for most of the night I hallucinated with fevers.
I slept intermittently, soaking out shirts every few hours, and longed to go home. I knew I couldn’t heal at Unity House, not with all the diesel and foreign noises, the buzz of people, and feeling a pressure to heal and lead, again. I needed peace and quiet, and some green, cool country. I had to go home.
I was also too sick to notice that Ryan hadn’t made it to the healing session the night before. I don’t think anyone else noticed it either. We were all beginning to pull inwards in order to protect ourselves from the grind of caring in the face of shock and pain.
I felt guilty wanting to go home because I felt uncomfortable. Hell, people were dying all around me – they sure felt uncomfortable. But Unity House was draining me of life energy, slowly and invisibly. I had to go.
Over breakfast and between coughs, I told Jack of my intention to leave. Fortunately, he supported my decision.
He consulted with Colonel Potter. Not only did I get a super-dooper, Combat-Strength cough medicine with a narcotic in it, I got pegged for a ride to Westover on the return leg of the next supply wagon. I’d have to get back to Fitchburg on my own, though, so, I called Terry on the now-working phones.
“Why can’t your sister come and pick you up?”
“Oh, Terry, please, she’s busy with her kids”
“Even so, why can’t she give you a ride?”
“Because she drives too fast and makes me car sick. Please, Terry…. I really would appreciate a ride from you.”
“What about all your tree-huggin’ friends, or your so-called brothers from your Men’s Group? Why can’t they pick you up? Or that Ramster friend of yours in Spencer? Time and Space is a ‘no-thing’ to him, right?”
“Terry, if I had someone I thought I could ask, I’d call them. I’m calling you because, well, you’re the only one I know that I trust to do this and not give me shit about how I’ve created my reality, or tell me they’re risking their lives being a taxi driver in a nuclear war. Terry, c’mon. Besides, I can count on you to show up with a vehicle that actually has heat and a working muffler.”
“I’m up in New Hampshire, Dave. Adam’s funeral is this afternoon.”
“I know I’m asking a lot, Terry, but could you pick me up afterwards?”
She breathed a big sigh.
“Not until late; I want to spend time with his family…. I couldn’t be at Westover until late, 10-ish or so.”
“That would be fine, Terry, thanks.”
“Okay, I’ll see you between 10 and 11 tonight at the ER waiting room at Westover.”
“I really appreciate it, Terry.”
My last official act as the nominal authority at Unity House was to have a chat with Karen while I ate a bowl of chicken soup.
“I’m really glad you joined up with us, Karen. I’m here to tell ya lady, you’ve got style.”
“Thanks, Dave. I’m glad I joined up with you guys, too.”
“Are you gonna be able to stay with the guys? I’m feeling a little guilty, I guess, or I’m just concerned about who’s gonna take care of them when I’m gone.”
“Oh, don’t worry, Dave. I’m gonna stay, and we got fresh blood coming in every day, now. You go home and take care of yo’self.”
“Thanks. I know that. I think I just needed a little reassurance.”
“You got it.”
“Thanks, Karen.” I reached up and gave her a hug.
“You know, Dave,” she said softly, “I was serious about wanting to adopt Trey. It just wasn’t something I said in the heat of the moment when we were singing and praying.”
“Yes, what do you think? Do you think I’m crazy?”
“No…. Well, maybe a little. Suppose Trey pulls through; are you ready for the long haul with him? He needs lots of help; all these guys do.”
“Yes, I know. Trey needs a lot of help. He smokes too much pot, runs whenever life gets tough and can turn on you whenever you try to help him. I know that if he pulls through, a year from now things might look a lot different than they do now.
“Our life here has been so charged,” she continued, “exciting in a way, and the Men of Honor has put the boys in their best light. I know what life can be like with these guys. I grew up with guys like them. My brothers are like Trey. All I know is, Dave, in my heart this is what I really want to do. I’ve talked with my husband and he’s coming up to Unity tonight. I’d really like you to meet him; I think you’d like him. I wish you were going to be here ‘cause, I hope it’s okay that he stays here with us, and become part of the team.”
“It’s okay with me, Karen. I’m sure your husband is a good man. But, it’s gonna be Jack’s call who works with these boys. And it’s okay with me if you begin adoption proceedings on Trey. I say go for it if it’s in your heart. How the hell you adopt a kid on life support with no one down at DSHS, I don’t know, but we can draw up some ad hoc documents that indicate your intention and our understanding. I think we can make a provisional adoption certificate that would stand up in court. Get Jack in here and we’ll start to draw up some kind of paperwork. I’ll try to reach someone on the Board at A-Dub, like the Executive Director Anita Bouchart, and give her a head’s up. Jack’s gonna have to ride herd on this, though. Regardless, you have my blessing, my full blessing.”
“Thanks,” she said. Karen leaned over and gave me kiss on the cheek.
Oooh, that felt good.
“By the way, what’s your husband’s name, again?”
“Nice. Good luck to you and your son…er, your whole family.” I smiled warmly thinking that Trey had a family now.
She smiled broadly and went to look for Jack.
I emailed Anita right away. She decided to come into Unity, particularly when she heard that Adam was dead, Terry was gone, and I was about to leave. Why she didn’t know all that, I didn’t have a clue. Regardless, it was a wise move because as good as Jack was, he didn’t have a lot of administrative experience.
Ben rendezvoused with Anita in a FEMA Humvee at Route 20, the southern boundary of the zone, and she arrived at Unity minutes before I pulled out on the supply truck.
Anita was highly skeptical when I told her of Trey’s adoption, but I suggested she make her own decision once she got to know Karen and her husband. We also talked about the issue of transfusions for Willy and Trey, and the situation at Unity and DSHS in case she was just waking up from a two-week nap. I opposed the bone marrow transfusions and she waffled, but I thought she’d approve it as part of Karen’s adoption agreement. So, we were going to new heights of winging policy: adoption on the fly with major surgery thrown in!
I trusted Karen, and I knew every kid needed a mom, especially a kid on death’s door. Who can deny anyone a shot at a momma’s love? Not me, even if it had risks. Love is worth it all.
I began making the rounds saying goodbye to the Men and Women of Honor. When I reached out to shake KA’s hand, he surprised me and hugged me instead.
“Thanks, KA,” I said.
There were tears in his eyes.
“Take care, kiddo,” I whispered softly, and hugged him back.
“You, too, Dave,” he replied, speaking into my chest.
I found Jack and KP on the loading dock taking off their rad suits. I rarely said much to Kevin P, but this time the words flowed easily.
“You look like a real soldier, KP,” I said.
“Yup; feel like one, too,” Kevin replied, cracking just the faintest smile.
“KP, I’m leaving. I wanted to say ‘goodbye.’”
“Yeah, well, stay tight, Dave. Be cool.”
“You, too, Kevin. Kevin…” Mentally I searched for the right words. “I want you to see yourself in a new light. Be a leader, Kevin; these are your troops. The guys are looking up to you, I can tell. I want you to stay tight. Be a Man of Honor. Watch that temper of yours. Don’t be blowing up, or pulling kid shit, okay?” He looked at me funny.
“Yeah, okay,” I answered his look. “That was the ‘old’ you. I know you’re growing up, and that stuff is in the past. I just don’t know when I’ll see ya again and I just wanted to say… well, that I see so much potential in you.”
I reached out to shake his hand when we heard a commotion behind us, just inside the house. We turned around and saw Naleef running into the guys’ room.
“Ryan’s on the floor throwing up!” Naleef shouted to us from the doorway. A second later Deon raced from the room towards the medics.
“Ryan’s dying,” he screamed.
We flew into Ryan’s room and saw Naleef cradling Ryan’s head in his lap, rocking his big foster brother back and forth in his arms. Ryan was paler than his dirty white tee shirt. Worse his eyes lids fluttered and vomitus soaked his yellow scarf.
Another Man of Honor had fallen.
I became woozy and braced myself against the door jam. KA and a nurse ran in, and Jack put his hand around my forearm to steady me, then led me out of the way.
“You okay, boss?” he asked. No one had ever called me ‘boss’ before.
“Yeah, I…, no, Jack. I’m not okay. I gotta sit down… Jeez, Jack, I can’t take any more. I gotta go, I’m done.” Jack nodded and shouted to Kevin P.
“Kevin, I need a little help. Grab Dave from the other side.” I didn’t realize my knees were giving way until Jack grabbed me tight.
“Sure, Jack,” KP responded and put his right arm around my waist.
“You’re a big guy, Dave,” Jack joked as my weight sagged onto his and Kevin’s arms. Jack turned us toward the triage area.
“No, Jack, take me to the loading dock,” I whispered. “Help me put on a rad suit. I gotta leave now, with the cargo truck.”
“Sure, whatever you say.”
Just then the nurse shouted from Ryan’s room. “We need a little help in here!”
Jack turned to help and I saw Ryan comatose on the floor.
“I think they need me with Ryan, Dave,” Jack said. “Can you handle him, Kevin?”
“He ain’t that heavy, bro’. I got him.” I nodded confirmation that Kevin could do the job as Jack slipped away.
The drivers were already in the truck when Kevin P got me outside.
“He’ll be right with you,” KP called out to the drivers. They signaled with a ‘thumbs up,’ and I collapsed on the bench.
Kevin lifted my legs one at a time and put my rad suit on. I felt like a four-year old being dressed in his snow suit. I was helpless in front of a young man whom I was supposed to be taking care of.
My head swirled as our roles reversed. He leaned over me and pulled the suit up my back, tucking each arm into its sleeve.
Cosmic forces of realization blasted into me almost to the point of bursting. Hands that had stolen and beaten, hands whose ten fingers were the only way Kevin P could count, those hands were now helping me.
Those hands, without asking, without direction, without prompting, without adult supervision, without consequences or rules, without alpha or delta status, without monetary enticements – those hands were putting a radiation suit on me to protect me from an invisible harm. KP was sending me home. Kevin P, ever the warrior, was riding shot gun on my journey to a personal Valhalla. With fevered imagery I rode a magic carpet ride of soul satisfaction high above the plains of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, the mystery schools of Egypt and Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment, TJ Doyle and a blown-up Worcester.
Before he put my helmet on, I grabbed Kevin’s shirt and pulled him close to me.
“Tell… the guys… goodbye for me,” I stuttered between fevered shudders, my emotions cutting through my medication. “I-I didn’t… get… a chance… to say goodbye… to Naleef, or Deon… or Roberto,” … my voice trailed off and I coughed. I took a breath to continue. “Or Angie, or any… of the staff. And Kevin… thanks.”
“Sure. I’ll tell ‘em you wanted to, but you gotta take care of yourself first. We’ll pray for you tonight when we gather round everybody. Don’t worry, Dave. You just take care of yourself. That’s what you gotta do right now. Go ahead, go.”
He slapped my helmet shut, put his arm around my waist and half-carried me out to the deuce and a half. The drivers pulled me into the back seat, and I propped myself up just in time to wave goodbye to KP before we pulled away. As we turned around, Kevin ran out waving a blanket in the air.
“Hey! Stop!” he shouted, running in front of the cargo truck.
“He’s gonna need this. He’s got a fever.” The driver stopped, opened the door, and Kevin pitched a grey packing blanket from Bill’s SYSCO truck into my face.
I was grateful and smiled. Out of the corner of my eye I checked for dust.
It seems okay.
“Take care, Dave,” he called out as we drove away. I wrapped myself in the massive, thick quilted blanket. I enjoyed its warmth and breathed deeply, wondering what else besides rotten oranges had also nestled amongst its fibers.
The ride to Westover Army Base was revealing. Inside the dust zone rubble was piled everywhere, but the roadways were clear.
The zone was blessedly quiet. I was not ready for any drama and the only visible activity involved a few rad-suited repair crews and an occasional FEMA vehicle.
We got out of the zone at Route 20, headed west to the Mass Pike and drove the forty miles to Westover. Looking at the world outside the zone, I would not have thought anything was out of the ordinary. It was like driving during Super Bowl Sunday when everyone is glued to a TV set and the world is super quiet. I liked it. It was what I needed, and my shoulders shuddered as I relaxed.
I could feel healing energies pour toward my lungs. I was glad I had left Unity House. I felt no guilt and was proud, somehow, of letting go of that.
I was doubly glad that in my absence good people were stepping forward to take care of my guys. I savored knowing the world has enough solid folks around that I didn’t have to do everything, and I can take time for myself when I need to. I blessed the world for it seemed a beautiful, holy place and I felt glad to be on the planet even though I had been nuked the week before.