Chapter 5 - Clearer

“ABSENCE,” I yelled from my bedroom to David, who was in the kitchen at the other end of the house.

He thought (I think) for a moment, then yelled back, “A, B, S, E, N, C, and E: ABSENCE!”

“Great, buddy!” I congratulated him.

We’d work on his homework together daily, and this technique was one I thought up to help him get in the habit of speaking louder and clearer. He was ashamed of his accent and because of that he spoke as softly as he could, which only made things more troubling for him. Teachers couldn’t understand him, so were always telling him to speak up, which only brought more attention to the problem. It was a habit I was sure needed to be broken as soon as possible, and this tactic actually worked, in time.

“DID I GET THEM ALL RIGHT?” He shouted, not knowing I had walked into the kitchen and was standing behind him.

“Yes, you’re going to ace that test, bud, I know it!” I told him.

“All right!” He exclaimed, beaming and still talking loudly.

"Thanks so much for helping me like this.” He said; words clear and speaking strong.

I placed my hands on his shoulders and he reached up and grabbed them then, like always, pulled them both down and against his chest, holding them there so I wouldn’t just rush off immediately. He’d do the same when he was on his computer; hold me there for a moment, then let go to reach for his mouse and keyboard again – protesting when I walked away.

“Aw! C’mon, you can watch me for a little bit!” He’d whine.

I’d normally return and then leave once he was so enthralled in his game that he’d fail to notice I wasn’t holding onto him any longer. Then he’d peek around to my computer desk and give me a mean, squinty-eyed look and a cute growl, once he realized it.

“My teacher put me at the back of the class, today.” He admitted to me.

“What? Why? She knows you have trouble seeing the blackboard!” I asked, not believing what I was hearing.

“Yeah, she said since I can’t see the blackboard anyway, it doesn’t matter.” He told me. I was furious.

“And mom said she’s going to get me new glasses but she has been saying that for years now.” He said.

He pulled out a prescription from his notebook from an earlier trip to the optometrist. I grabbed it from him and looked at it. It was a few months old.

“Well, don’t worry buddy. We’ll get you some new glasses on the way to the mountains, this weekend.” I reassured him.

“I think you have to be a parent.” He told me.

“Don’t worry,” I reassured him. “They won’t mind. They just want the cash!” I joked to him and made him giggle.

We went to bed early. I was picking him up from school the next afternoon and we were going to be hiking all weekend. His mother allowed him to start the sleepover early and I dropped him off at school, the next day.

“Have a great day, bud!” I yelled from the open window as he walked towards the school, flapping his little paw at me and grinning. He was so excited because he didn’t have to ride the school bus and get teased.

“Bye! See you later today!” He yelled back, as if to remind me; like I needed it.

I drove away and towards work.

Looking back on it, it seems strange to me that practically everyone I work with knew David, by name. They knew I was single and knew David was like a son to me. When I’d bring him to work, they’d all treat him like he was my son. Even when I was invited to dinners or work functions, they’d never forget to mention to bring him with me. At the time, it didn’t seem strange at all. Right now though, in hindsight, it seems…weird; encouraging, though. I was always the go-to babysitter for the dads and the moms. This wasn’t that long ago, either – just a few years. Imagine that…

What are you doing this weekend, BLues.?” My supervisor asked, at the end of the day.

“I’m taking David hiking with me. Should be fun, want to come?” I asked, sure he’d say no, otherwise, I wouldn’t have asked!

He laughed and said, “Ah thanks, but I’m clearing trees off my property. Was going to see if you wanted to help, but that’s okay; have fun!”

“Thanks man, you too,” I said.

Work was over, car was packed, and I was headed to pick up David! This was one of the first few times we went away for the weekend and it always excited me (and him) to break free from the town and get on the open road, just the two of us; stopping wherever our hearts desired, buying whatever looked neat to us, unconstrained and free. By the end of such trips, the car was wrecked, cellophane was flying around and sticking to whatever it touched – and we’d always clean the car afterwards, together, reminiscing about the weekend’s adventures.

When I pulled up to the school, he was waiting outside by himself. I was late but he didn’t seem to mind and smiled huge.

He slung his backpack into the backseat and exclaimed, “God that was the longest day!”

“I know, right?” I replied.

“Alright, let’s go get you some new glasses before we head out.” I told him.

“Alright but you don’t have to, you know that right?” He told me. And he meant it. It wasn’t a veiled guilt-trip as he’d actually grown weary of me spending money on him, once saying,

“Maybe one day you will get tired of spending so much money on me and you won’t want me around you anymore.”

Of course, that was impossible, but he did fear it.

I reassured him, “Buddy, if we’re going to be successful in picking your grades up and getting you out of special needs classes, you have GOT to be able to see better, like everyone else!”

“I know,” He said, “You just spend so much on me, that’s all.”

I just chuckled, not paying much attention really; I’ve heard it many times. He brought my attention back to where it should have been when he said,

“And I love you for it, thank you for everything that you do for me.”

I looked towards him, eyes watering up, and just smiled, nodding in appreciation at his words.

After a food stop, we parked at the eye place and went inside. The lady at the front asked if I was his parent and I passed myself off as an uncle. Eventually he was called back and I strolled in, behind him. He sat up in the chair with all the round things and they started adjusting them, asking him to read letters on a wall. Once that was over, he picked himself out some frames (the expensive part of this) and within a few minutes, he had his glasses. When he put them on, his eyes opened wide in disbelief.

“Wow! Oh…my…GOD!” He exclaimed.

“Can you see thing better?” I asked.

“Yes!” He said. He focused on me after a minute of looking everywhere else and shockingly said,

“You are a handsome man!”

“Get real, ha ha!” I replied, tugging at his shirt. We left and got back into the car, off on our adventures!

Long rides with an inquisitive boy (when they’re around someone who doesn’t tire of a boy’s endless questions) are a blast.

“What’s the speed limit?” Or “Was that a cat or a raccoon?”

“How strong are you?” And “Want me to change the station?”

The whole way, it was my boy, full on. Through every small one stop light town, and long stretches of Interstate highway, he was shining – all his colors. Eventually, yawning, as we entered into the busy bustle of the mountain town that was our destination.

“Alright, bud, let’s find a place to rest!” I told him.

“Yeah, I am so tired.” He replied.

“One bed or two?” An Indian man asked me, as I plunked down the cash.

“Just one, it’s just for the night.” I told him.

“Room tree,” He said and handed me the key to room uh, three.

David immediately fell onto the bed started removing clothing. I took off my shoes and grabbed the remote and television channel guide, looking for a movie to send us off to sleep.

“Oh hey check it out; Storm of the Century is on.” I told David. We had watched that one a couple times already and really liked it.

“Okay, cool, let’s watch it and fall asleep.” He replied.

“Yeah, we should get all the sleep we can actually – it’s going to be a long day, tomorrow.” I reminded him.

Watching movies… I haven’t been around a boy who didn’t want to cuddle during them; some more than others, but all at least a little, even if it’s just sitting on the other end of the couch and putting their feet in my lap. David didn’t wait until the movie got going and then try to slyly move in for a snuggle while you weren’t paying attention, no, he was unashamed and before the movie would even start, he’d normally be moving my limbs around to his liking as he found just the right spot to enjoy the movie from. So cute it was.

On this night, he just lied beside me, both our heads on pillows at the head of the bed. He grabbed my arm and put it around him, resting it on his stomach. Reports on what happened next vary and it’s a subject of debate when he and I defensively (and jokingly) bring it up but since I’m the one telling this story, I can only tell it from my recollection.

About 15 minutes into the movie, I felt his hand guiding mine, pushing it somewhere.

And in the words of Forest Gump, “That’s all I’ve got to say about that.”

Morning came much too quickly. It felt like I hadn’t slept at all, maybe I didn’t. But David awoke, hungry as a wolf cub, stretching and smiling at me so big.

“Good morning,” He said, sleepily.

“Good morning, bud. How’d you sleep?” I asked.

“Oh man, I slept better than I ever have. I’m not lying; so good.” He explained, still smiling wide, suspiciously wide.

I smiled back in acknowledgment of our arrangement.

“Can we go eat?” He asked.

“Buddy, we can do whatever you want. I mean that.” I answered.

“Okay, then we’ll go eat but I want to take a shower first.” He said.

And off he went; happily armed with his new tools, confident, and demanding.

Secure and in love.

After we finished, it was off to breakfast.

“Want to go,” I started to say and got interrupted with his usual, ‘I don’t care, you pick!’ answer.

“Okay, McDonalds it is.” I replied, just stopping at the first place we came to.

After breakfast, we drove to the base of the mountain we had planned on climbing. Winding down through the valley, David was so amazed at how high up the cliffs were.

“Holy crap!” He said.

“Yeah, that’s where we’re going!” I told him.

“No way, we can’t get up there!” He said, in disbelief.

I laughed, as I’d been up there many times and it’s not as bad as it looks from down there.

We set out pretty late so I decided to pack up tent, bags, nutrition bars and enough water for us; just in case we decided we wanted to sleep with the bears tonight.

“This is so awesome. I have never been hiking up a mountain before!” He said.

The spring day was cool but it didn’t stop him from sweating profusely. He’s a sweater. I am not.

“How come you’re not sweating like me?” He asked.

“I don’t know, bud. I’ve just never really sweat that much, even on the hottest days.” I explained.

“Man,” He replied, “I wish I was that way,” wiping his forehead with his forearm.

He was a champ on the way up – worn out yet motivated to see the top. Smiling every time I’d look back to check his progress. Exhausted and smiling. That’s a lovely combination.

Eventually, we reached the ridge that winded its way to the cliffs that he saw from the car. I always love mountain tops that hide their prize from you until all at once they open up and allow you to finally see the gorgeous valley floor below. I knew the corner that spilled its secret, once you rounded it, so I stopped him and blind-folded him with my shirt.

“Hey, what are you doing?” He asked, nervously.

“Trust me.” I told him, and then instructed him to hang onto the waistband of my shorts.

I slowly inched forward, eventually grabbing his hands from behind, so he could balance better. The trees parted and the valley down below became visible. I grabbed him and guided him to the rocky edge and sat him down. I sat down beside him, looking not at the valley, but at his face. I wanted to see his expression when he took the blindfold off.

“Okay bud, take it off.” I told him.

He didn’t speak right away. His eyes widened, his mouth gaped open over and over, needing to be consciously closed again and again. He scanned the valley for a few minutes before uttering anything.

When he finally did, it was only after turning towards me and hugging me tightly, gently crying.

I joined him in that.

“You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” He admitted, after finishing our hug.

We stayed up on the ridge, that night. Snuggling for warmth and talking throughout the evening. He mentioned that he’d gotten a 100 on his spelling quiz the day before, but forgot to mention it to me. I was so happy. He told me how much clearer he could see with his new glasses and wowed me by insightfully realizing,

“Everything is clearer when I’m with you.”

And for his part, I couldn’t agree more.