While driving home the next morning after the exhausting day at Cleveland Clinic and tearful night at Vlad’s, David attempted small talk about the boys’ school projects and Becky’s new words.Ji mumbled answers as if she were in a trance.David suggested they not tell the boys anything about the medical tests for now.With no emotion Ji answered, “You are probably right.”
Upon arrival home Becky ran to her mother with a big smile.David’s mother had come that morning to take care of Becky while PT worked on the farm.Ji hugged her little daughter and did her best to put on a happy face.She then told Becky “Mommy is tired.I need to take a nap.I will read a story to you later.”As her mother walked to her bedroom David picked up the little girl and hugged her.He told her he was hungry and carried her into the kitchen.As David and his mother sat at the table Becky got her cabbage patch doll Lulu saying ‘Nap time for Lulu’ as she placed her doll on the living room sofa and then laid down with her.
PT, having seen David’s car in the driveway came into the house and the three discussed Ji’s medical tests and concerns for the future.PT and David told David’s mother how much they loved the boys and little Becky.They had been acting as substitute fathers for over two years.David told them that Ji worried more about what would happen to the children than her dire medical situation.PT lamented, “I am sure today that two young men would not be permitted to raise children that were not biologically theirs, but most likely two women in the same situation would be allowed to.It just is not fair.We love those children and I know they love us.”
David’s mother agreed, “You two would be perfect parents for Tommy, Josh and Becky.Even if the three could be adopted together by some nice couple it would mean pulling them away from the family they love.What a terrible situation.I’ll take Becky home for the afternoon.Ji needs her rest and you guys have work to do.Bring Ji and the boys over for supper.”
Rachel departed with Becky and Lulu while David and PT walked out to her barn.Ten minutes later as they worked on a piece of equipment they heard a car in the driveway.David was surprised to see his mother getting out and approaching the barn.
Rachel had a smile on her face, “All I could think about as I drove home was this terrible situation.Then a solution dawned on me.Why didn’t we think of this sooner?One of you should marry Ji.Then as her husband you can legally adopt her children.If anything happened to Ji you would be their father.”
David, “Wow.Let’s talk to Ji.Then talk to a lawyer.Then talk to the minister.Oh happy day.”He hugged his mother and then PT.”
Rachel returned to her car where she had left Becky and Lulu.“See you at supper.”
David and PT ran to the house to see if Ji was awake.She was awake lying in bed crying.Ji got a terrified look on her face as the two stormed into her bedroom.She immediately thought something must have happened to Becky or one of the boys.David, then in an excited voice said, “Ji, we have a wonderful thought.Rachel suggested one of us marry you.Then your husband would legally adopt the children.”
With a look of confusion Ji responded, “Do you mean that one of you would be their father and that if anything happened to me they would be yours, forever?”As Ji sat up in bed her men leaned in and the three hugged.
By mutual consent David was the chosen husband.He was coordinating Ji’s medical visits and his mother saw all the children frequently as their Nana (grandmother).The next day Ji and David met with an attorney familiar with family matters.In the afternoon they met with the pastor of their small church.They decided it was important that they not have him marry them under false pretenses so they told him the truth about their plans.The pastor knew David and PT had been together although their exact relationship was never discussed.The Pastor was quiet following their request.The pastor’s silence gave David cause for concern.Was the pastor of this small church in a conservative farm community going to refuse to perform the ceremony?If he did they would find a Justice of the Peace and have a civil ceremony although they preferred the blessing of the church and community.Finally the pastor spoke, “This is a lot for my brain to process. I have counseled many couples planning to wed.I could tell you some very strange stories that couples have related to me as they prepared for lives together.Your situation is unique.”Breaking into a smile he continued, “I would be honored to bless this union that will give the children a father, both in the eyes of the Church as well as legally.”A wedding was scheduled for a Saturday afternoon, ten days later.
The family and a few close friends all had cheerful faces as the bridal party entered the church.Ji walked down the aisle holding hands with her sons.David walked behind carrying Becky and Lulu.The two witnesses followed, PT and Miriam (Ji’s best friend who was the wife of Isaac, Darren’s army buddy who had encourage them to move to the area).During the service to the amusement of the family and friends when the pastor said “Who gives his woman in holy matrimony?” Both sons yelled, “We do!”PT had told the boys to yell it out when he gave them the sign, a thumbs up.Becky, still in David’s arms, imitating her brothers then called out, “We do”.
Following the ceremony the bridal couple, children, family and friends had a celebratory dinner at the Smithville Inn. While a high chair was provided for Becky, she insisted on sitting on her father’s lap.
At home that evening an exhausted Ji rested in the living room while PT and the boys tossed a football outside and David gave Becky a bath.He then tucked her into bed and as always read a story to her.When she was asleep Ji went to the bedroom she shared with Becky and got ready for bed.David went outside and the two dads and sons had a mini football game.After the boys showered and went to bed David and PT took a shower together with the bathroom door locked.Each was exhausted as they got ready for bed in their upstairs bedroom.Their fatigue resulted from the events of a happy day: the wedding, dinner with family and friends, football with the boys and finally quality time in the shower.PT put on his loose fitting nightshirt as David downed pajamas and a bathrobe.As PT got into bed David kissed him goodnight and then descended the steps to Ji’s bed.They had slept together every night since her first visit to Cleveland Clinic.He was content as his bride snuggled up against him.There was no concern that Becky sleeping in a bed across the room might see or hear something that would upset or at least cause bewilderment. Nothing happened except for David’s snuggling and consoling the mother of their children.
The next day, Sunday, all attended church together.Ji sang in the choir while PT and David sat together in a pew and the children attended Sunday school.Following church all went to David’s parents, the grandparents, for Sunday dinner.Usually Ji helped with the preparation but this Sunday she rested in the living room while Rachel and her other daughter-in-law set the table.The men talked farming while the boys played with their cousins, the children of David’s brother, Paul Junior.Becky, at age two, attempted to help her Nana set the table.
Later that afternoon David, Ji and Uncle Will drove to Cleveland to stay with Vlad and Aiden.Vlad had called Uncle Will and invited him to also visit.
Upon arrival at Vlad’s apartment Uncle Will offered to take them all out to dinner.Ji encouraged them to go and leave her at the apartment to rest.Following their dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant Vlad and Aiden suggested they go to a bar for a beer and conversation.Uncle Will agreed and David felt compelled to tag along although he was not a bar person.
As the four sat at a table near the back of the bar.David was shocked when he saw two men kissing and another man in the corner caressing the chest of his seat mate.He was not shocked that such things happened but that they would happen in public.It was then that David realized all the patrons were men.Seeing David’s look of surprise Aiden asked, “Is this your first gay bar?I noticed you seemed surprised to see two men kissing.If this was a regular bar and you saw a man kissing a woman would you be surprised?”
“No” David replied, “But to see two men doing what I have only done behind closed doors is a happy surprise.”
At that moment two black men entered and approached their table in the dim room.One kneeled and wrapped his arms around Uncle Will giving him a long kiss.David then recognized this handsome man as Henry.He had met Henry a few times when he visited Uncle Will.After one of Henry’s visits Will had told David about him.He was the nephew of Will’s housekeeper in Georgia who did yard work and odd jobs.Will saw potential in this young man and helped pay for his college education.Henry met his lover through Uncle Will. Seth was a white man with flaming red hair.They moved north when Henry completed his education since they realized that in the 1950s two men living and loving together was not acceptable in their small conservative Georgia town and two men of different races living together were putting their lives in jeopardy.Seth had died in a tragic auto accident.A few years later Henry met Derrick.
David asked Henry how he and Derrick had met.“We met thirteen years ago at the baths, Club Cleveland.We were both in shitty moods and really didn’t want to be there but you know how it is.You are home alone and just want to do something so you go to the baths.The night we met we mostly talked, but not all talk, you know how it is.He was getting over a bad relationship and I was mourning the death of Seth.One thing led to another and here we are.”
David then looked at Vlad and Uncle Will, “Isn’t that where you two met?”
Vlad replied, “It was 1975, twenty-three years ago.Will had been brought there by his two younger friends” – as Vlad started to say their names he realized one of the ‘friends’ was David’s lover’s father, Peter Smith.If David did not know who they were it was not his place to tell.I met this distinguished gentleman, very sexy distinguished gentleman.We talked while enjoying each other’s company, if you know what I mean?”
David laughed as he stated, “I have you all beat.I met the love of my life twenty-four years ago.Soon after I was born PT’s mother visited the farm house where Uncle Will now lives.When my mother stopped by with a crying me she had a hard time talking to PT’s mother as sweet PT was also crying.Finally out of desperation they put us two infants in the same crib and went out to the porch for some peace and quiet.They tell us that as soon as we were together in the crib both of us stopped crying.When they took one of us out we both started crying again.During all future visits we were put together.As soon as we were old enough we started playing together.Then as we got older we started to really play together, ‘if you know what I mean’?”
For the rest of the evening David had this strange feeling of serenity.For the first time in his life he was in a roomful of men like him who were just doing ordinary stuff, drinking, laughing and having conversations with their sexual equals.The only other time he had been in a place full of gay men was their one trip to the baths.There the atmosphere was sex not just ordinary comradery.
Meanwhile back at the farm PT had tucked Becky into her bed in the bedroom she shared with her mom and David / dad.She fell asleep as he read her a story.He and the boys then went outside to hone their football passing skills as the sun set.After the boys went to bed he showered, paid a tribute to his love with his fist and went downstairs to watch TV prior to going to bed.That night he slept in Ji and David’s bed as he did not want Becky to be alone.If he were upstairs in his own bed he would not hear her if she called out which she rarely did.He woke in the middle of the night to a strange sensation.Becky and Lulu were in his bed.He gently picked them up and returned them to their bed.As he fell back to sleep he had a special feeling of contentment realizing that this little girl must really love him.
The next day David accompanied Ji to the Cleveland Clinic.Aiden usually took the bus down Euclid Avenue to his class at Cleveland State University where he was a professor of finance.However, this day he drove so he could drop Uncle Will off at the Cleveland Museum of Art.While Uncle Will had suggested he walk since the museum was only a 20 minute easy walk both Vlad and Aiden insisted they drive their 93 year old friend.Later in the afternoon Vlad met Will at the museum, a short distance from his classes at Western Reserve.They walked back to the apartment.
Tuesday morning David and Ji departed for the farm.Uncle Will stayed with Aiden and Vlad as on Friday they were all three attending a Cleveland Orchestra Tchaikovsky concert at Severance Hall an easy walk from the apartment.
For the next nine months David accompanied Ji to Cleveland for treatment.As her internal system weakened it became apparent she would not improve.The treatment then concentrated on making her as comfortable as possible with medications to treat pain and nausea.
A little over a year later David realized the frail body next to him in bed was still, very still.
Ji’s funeral at the small church was crowded.David sat in the front row with Becky and Lulu on his lap and the boys sitting between him and PT.When the confused Becky got restless during the service Nana who was sitting behind them took the little girl out to the church yard.In addition to the many friends in this farming community Darren’s brother and family and sister, Sally, and family visited from Cincinnati and Kentucky.During the past year Sally had visited four times as she and Ji shared their love for Darren.
The house seemed very quiet that evening.The boys went to their room to do homework and Becky, not fully understanding what had happened talked quietly to Lulu.A month earlier Becky had been given a small bedroom of her own upstairs.Ji, David, PT and the boys had made the move very special.Becky helped pick out wallpaper, curtains and rugs for her own room.She was very proud that she had a room for herself and Lulu just down the hall from her brothers.David had continued to sleep downstairs until Ji’s last night.Now they were all sleeping upstairs.
As they snuggled in bed the two men discussed their role as the parents of the three youngsters, their children.Never had these two considered parenthood or that at the age of 25 they would have sons aged 8 and 10 and a 3 year old daughter.