I don’t think I’m going to sleep well, even with Daniel trying to reassure me everything will be fine tomorrow.
I was not really nervous all weekend until Daniel’s dad calls us into his office to talk about the hearing. That’s what brings it all home to me. I’d had about the best two days I could remember. I know now why Daniel is so nice: he has the best mother on the entire planet! She’s so sweet, so loving. Sensitive, too. She never embarrassed me once, and that’s difficult even for Daniel, and he probably knows me better than anyone else. She showed me love from the moment I walked in the door of her house, and she went out of her way to make me feel comfortable. I’d been sure his parents would see how worthless I am, but no. Not a bit. His dad is nice and all, but just another adult, really. But his mother!
Oops! That ‘worthless’ just slipped out. I’ve been trying not to let my mind go there, but it’s so ingrained in me, has been for so many years; it’s not that easy to just shut off.
Anyway. I spent almost all my time with her. She taught me some more things in the kitchen and never once criticized how I did anything at all. She told me stories about Daniel when he was a little kid, but when he was my age, too. I don’t know why—I never tell anyone—but I told her I was gay. And you know what? She hugged me! She hugged me tight and said some kids have it harder than others, but if I ever need a shoulder to cry on, or a bed to sleep in or someone to celebrate with when I fall in love and the boy falls back just as hard, she’ll always be there for me. Good times and bad, she’ll be there.
She said that being gay is simply another challenge kids have to face, like getting good grades, wearing braces and finding the right someone to love. She said she hopes Daniel and I visit often. I told her I hope so, too, and meant it.
But that meeting with Daniel’s dad really shook me up. Now, sitting on my bed, even with Daniel’s pep talk, I can’t help but wonder what’ll happen to me. Will my mom want me back? I can see her insisting on my coming back. She wants complete control of me, and she won’t have that if I stay here. She’ll want me back, and then, when I get there, she’ll ship me out to some other relative. Or maybe an orphanage. Or a military school. I know she won’t keep me. There’s no way a gay son fits into her life. She hates me now more than she ever did, and that’s saying a lot.
I finally get up, yank the covers back and lie down. I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep. But surprise, surprise. I’ve only been in bed a moment when I get a visitor. Lucy pushes the door open with her nose, walks in and jumps up on the bed. She licks my face, then moves to the bottom of the bed, turns around three times, and plunks down.
I end up sleeping soundly. Maybe it was all the emotion that wore me out. Although, come to think of it, it was pretty tiring spending all the time at the mall. I was kinda exhausted after that. Old as she is, Daniel’s mom has more energy than I do! And does she ever know how to shop! That might be why I slept so well. Or, just maybe, it was because of the peace, love and acceptance Lucy brought into the room with her and the feeling she gave me that she wanted to be near me. I couldn’t be entirely worthless if she wanted to sleep next to me.
We enter the judge’s chambers. Judge Carmichael Franklin. I’d thought he’d be old. White hair, maybe a beard. But he isn’t. He’s younger than Daniel’s dad. Probably only a few years, but he looks younger. He greets me by getting up and walking around his desk to where I’m standing, a little behind Daniel. I think I do that instinctively.
He offers to shake hands, and I do it. I need to tell myself to use a strong grip. I’m afraid I usually do that with a very limp hand. There are so many things I have to improve.
“Very nice to meet you, Robin,” he says after shaking hands with Daniel and his dad. “My hope is we can get this all settled today, and you’ll be happy with the outcome. Let’s all sit down. I’ve arranged the three chairs where you’ll sit; they’re all in front of the camera and I will be, too. The link’s already in place. In a couple of minutes Judge Miller and your parents, Robin, and their attorney will come in and sit down in Judge Miller’s chambers in Massachusetts and they’ll appear on our screen. Does anyone have a question for me before we get started?”
“I think Robin’s prepared. Oh, should I call you judge, your honor, Judge Franklin, or Carl?” Daniel’s dad asks.
“Anything but the last one, I think. The more formal the proceeding, the more impact it’ll have. When we’re finished, Carl will work just fine.” He smiles.
We can all see the other judge’s office on a large-screen TV hanging on the wall. I see the people in Massachusetts walk into the office on the screen. My stomach immediately tightens up. I worry I might upchuck. Seeing my mother and the look on her face does that to me.
Judge Miller is more what I expect a judge to look like. My stepdad doesn’t look at the camera. My mother is dressed in a business suit that looks as stern as the expression on her face. I can see her eyes well enough to know she’s expecting to take over the hearing. I’ve seen that no-nonsense, I’m-in-control-here look often enough.
A middle-aged lady enters Judge Miller’s office. We’re told she’s the court recorder and will create a transcript of the hearing.
Both judges make a few comments about how the hearing will be handled, and then Judge Franklin asks me to be sworn in. I didn’t know that would happen. He personally has me swear to tell the truth. I do. Then he asks me to tell why I’m in California and why my custody is being decided today.
I can do this. I might be nervous, and my mother might be glaring at me, but it’s easy not to look at her. I don’t. I look at Judge Franklin, who is smiling at me, and tell him how, when my mother discovered I was gay, she kicked me out of the house and sent me to live with my uncle. I talk for quite a while. A couple of times I hear my mother trying to interrupt and Judge Miller hushing her, even warning her. I don’t stop talking, though. I talk right over her. I feel like if I let myself be interrupted, I might not have the courage to continue.
When I’m done, Judge Miller asks me about my life in Massachusetts. I end up saying a lot more than I thought I would. Memories come back. I’m not angry, just sad. When I’m done, I feel like a wrung-out washcloth. No shape, no substance left.
At that point, I guess I do one of my retreating-into-myself things. Not entirely. I do hear what’s being said.
My mother is put under oath and asked why I was sent to California. She says she thought I’d be better off there as there are more queers in California than in Boston. The judge then asks her if she called to see that I’d arrived safely. She hesitates, opens her mouth, and the judge reminds her she’s under oath. She then says no; she was too busy with civic affairs. He asks her if she wants me returned to live with them, and she says I’m probably better off with my own kind in Los Angeles.
My stepfather is sworn in. His response to questioning is that he never had much of anything to do with me and will accept any decisions the judges make in this matter.
Then Daniel is called to testify. He only is asked one question: is he willing to have custody of me. He says yes, and gives me a big smile.
The two judges then confer on their cellphones out of our hearing. They don’t speak long. Then we’re all back on camera.
Judge Miller pronounces the verdict. “It’s the judgment of this court, in concurrence with Judge Franklin in Los Angeles, that custody of the minor, Robin James Tressman, be awarded to Daniel Perry. The Tressmans’ parental rights are herein abrogated. The Tressmans will ship all Robin’s possessions to Robin at their expense within five days. Further to that judgment, Mr. and Mrs. Tressman will pay $2,000 per month to Robin Tressman in care of Daniel Perry to be used to support Robin Tressman until he reaches his majority.”
“We will not pay that! It’s absurd!” My mother breaks into Judge Miller’s judgment. She will not be kept from speaking! Not her! “We will appeal this judgment. Robin will come home to us. Then we’ll decide where he will live, which won’t be with us due to his choice of sexuality. But as his parents, we have the right and responsibility to decide where he’ll go.”
This is when I get the surprise of my life. Daniel stands up and asks the judge if he may speak. He is given permission to do so. He hasn’t said anything up to now other than when asked if he would accept custody of me. Now, however, he stands and looks into the camera directly at my mother.
“You, ma’am, have mistreated Robin his entire life. You wish to continue to have the power to mistreat him. It won’t happen. You will accept the finding of this court. And I’ll tell you why. Robin has told me about his life with you. What isn’t widely known outside your immediate family is why you are like you are. But he did tell me. It’s not a pretty story, but I’ll put it on record here. You were expecting to be a movie star. When you were in your early twenties, you were cast as the female lead in a TV drama series that then ran for ten years. The lead characters all made a fortune and became megastars, recognized all over the world. That’s what should have happened to you, except you got pregnant and were showing by the time filming started. You were replaced. Ever since then, in your mind, you were that star. You should have had what the actual star had. It was your role!
“You’ve been waiting for another role to be given to you. In your mind, you’re still a star you never became. You dress and act like that, and you’re still awaiting your chance to be noticed and called. Everything you do is predicated on a scout finding you. When that happens, you want your house to look like where a star is living. You dress like you’re a star, wear makeup like one, and worst of all, you control the people around you like they were part of a movie star’s retinue.
“When you realized your son was gay, that didn’t fit the image you imagined for yourself. So you shipped him off. You’re still waiting for that recognition to come, for that offer of a role to materialize. You won’t have a gay son around dimming your chances.
“I think your actions toward your son have been despicable. And it’s time for them to end. My feeling is this: you’re still waiting for the chance to be a star. And my thinking is, what would happen to that chance if somehow the newspapers and the TV stations in your town learned about this hearing? What if the story of your treatment of your son got local attention and then probably national as well if Robin agreed to be interviewed by the media? I could well imagine he might become an immediate media darling. You? You, on the other hand, would become an infamous, aging pariah. Would you ever have a chance for the triumphant return to Hollywood you’re so longing for?”
He takes a step closer to the camera so he’ll loom larger on the screen in Judge Miller’s office. “This must be settled right now. Robin has been ill-treated long enough and deserves to know his fate now, not hanging by tenterhooks while an appeal plays itself out. Tell Judge Miller right now you’ll accept the findings of the hearing. Do it, or what I just suggested as a possibility might actually happen. Robin would make a wonderful interview for your news outlets. He could well become what you’ve spent your life trying to become.”
My mother has gone pale while Daniel is speaking. Now her posture is as I’ve never seen it in my lifetime. She looks shrunken. She has a vague expression on her face. I wonder if she is capable of speaking.
Her attorney speaks up. “Judge Miller, are you going to allow blackmail to be suggested in your court?”
Judge Miller smiles. “All I heard was conjecture. No threats at all. But let’s ask Mrs. Tressman if she feels any sort of coercion was brought into play here.”
I’m in for another surprise. At this point, my stepfather—my stepfather, of all people!—stands up. “I will speak for my wife. We accept the findings of this hearing,” he says, then helps my mother up, and they walk out.
“Congratulations, Robin,” Judge Miller says, smiling at the camera. “I wish I could have awarded you more money for the treatment you received, but I didn’t want any reason for appeal. I wish you a happier life going forward.”
And that is it. I don’t have to go back to Massachusetts! I don’t think the full impact of that has hit me yet. But it will. I am going to be able to remain with Daniel.
I have a difficult time getting the picture of my mother in that chair out of my head. It will come back to me many times in the future, I feel sure. But living with Daniel will help me give it the relevance it needs. She built her own world. It has crumbled in on her based mostly on how she treated me. Looking at it in that perspective, it seems reasonable that her fate is what it is.
We go to a fancy restaurant in Calabasas to celebrate that night. The maître d' calls Mr. Perry by his name very respectfully and shows us to a table in an alcove where we have more privacy than we would at the tables in the dining room proper. I’ve had all day to get used to the fact that this is now my family. Well, almost, and the way the two older Perrys are acting, they’ve accepted it as fact. As joyful fact.
One thing I’ve been wondering about is the $2,000 monthly-support payment. It seems a lot to me, and I’m wondering why it was set that way. I won’t cost Daniel nearly $24,000 a year. I’m a teen and eat more than a kid or adult—well, I’m learning how to do that since I moved in with Daniel. Before that, my stomach had trouble digesting meals because of the stress I lived with, and so I didn’t eat much at all—and I don’t need much in the way of clothes, so, $24,000? Doesn’t make sense to me.
So I ask Mr. Perry about it.
“Studies have been made, Robin. Raising a child through the teen years averages about $18,000 a year in this country. That’s $1,500 a month. But this is Southern California—it costs a little more here. Additionally, you’ve been uprooted through no fault of your own. Judge Miller took into account how you’d been treated during your younger years. He thought that, all in all, $2,000 a month was on the low side of what you deserved. But as he said, he didn’t want support payments delayed due to appeals. He was sure that amount would be considered fair and not overturned, and he thought that, in an appeal, it might even be raised.
“However, your mother isn’t accustomed to being told what to do. So she balked. Then Daniel spoke up, and she was reduced to what you saw happen in front of our eyes. I think you have him to thank for how quickly this was all resolved.”
We have a great meal. Daniel insists I try the filet mignon. I’ve never had it before. I can’t believe it when I get it. It’s a thick steak, but so tender I can cut it with my fork. And so, so good! I saw on the menu it was expensive. But if he’s getting $2,000 a month to feed me, I can see where we’ll be eating this a lot!
Hey, a kid can look ahead, can’t he?
The ride back home the next day is just as long as the one to Calabasas had been, only this time it seems longer because I want to be back at the apartment. Now it isn’t just Daniel’s home any longer. It’s my home, too. My home. Darn, I like the sound of that.
So many things are different now, although I am still only getting a handle on them. I already have the feeling, though, that I am at the very beginning of everything now and I guess in many ways I am. I’ll be beginning high school soon. It will be in a different school in a different town from where I grew up. I was bullied before. Daniel has told me that won’t happen here, that schools in this area have very hard-and-fast rules against bullying that not only are enforced by the school authorities but supported by the student body. He also said that gay kids are every bit as much a part of what goes on at the school as everyone else and that there was no discrimination. That had changed several years ago with the beginning of the political-correctness movement, which was a really major thing here in California. He’d said it would be entirely up to me whether or when I came out.
We drive east through Tarzana, Thousand Oaks, Burbank and into Pasadena on the 134. That merges into the I 210 in Pasadena, and we continue on through Arcadia, Azusa, Glendora, Upland and finally into Rancho Cucamonga. The foothills of the San Gabriel mountains have been on our left the entire way.
Daniel is unusually quiet for the start of the trip. As it isn’t my nature to talk much, it’s a silent car at first. That starts to unnerve me. Is he regretting what’s happened? Is he having second thoughts about keeping me?
“Daniel, you’re too quiet. Are you, do you, am I …?” I stop, fearing the answer.
He takes a quick glance at me. “Oh, I’m sorry. Just lots to think about. You know, that apartment of ours really isn’t big enough for the two of us. We’ll be bumping into each other all the time. You like working in the kitchen, and I love having you in there with me, but it’s hardly big enough for just one of us and no good for two. And with only one bathroom, how are we going to get ready for school in the mornings? I love having you there but don’t want to be sharing a bathroom with you in the morning any more than you want me to. I know how teenage boys are in the mornings, and you don’t want me seeing that. I’m still like that most mornings myself, and I don’t want you seeing it, either. We don’t need any rampant jealousy between us.”
I realize what he’s saying, and his tone of voice gives away that he’s joking. I love it he can be so easygoing and free with me. A comment like that would never have been spoken in my old home.
I have to stop thinking so much about back there. That part of my life is over. Forget about it, me! Stop thinking about it!
But if he can joke, so can I. In fact, I need to start trying that, start learning how. So I say, “Oh, no need for jealously. Maybe you’ll still grow a little. You’re not that old.”
He can’t believe I made a joke. I’m surprised, too, and quite proud of myself.
“Good one, Robin! But, as I was saying, the apartment is too small. We need to find a bigger place. Not an apartment, either. A house with a yard.”
“How can you afford that? I thought houses in LA were like some of the most expensive in the country.”
“They are, but it isn’t so bad in Rancho Cucamonga. It’s far enough out that prices are a little better. That’s one reason that area has grown so quickly. Too, everyone feels that buying a house at today’s prices will make a great investment. I spoke to my dad about this last night while you were in bed. He has quite a bit of money invested already, is a little worried at how fast the market has been moving up. He’s of the school of thought that says what goes up will eventually come down. He’d like to move some money he has from stocks into real estate. He thinks he’ll get a better return that way with less riskeHeHhhh. He asked me if he bought a place out here, would we be interested in living in it and taking care of it while it appreciated? So, tell me? Would that appeal to you? I mean, you’d, of course, have to do all the chores, lawn maintenance, painting, snow shoveling, roof repair, driveway blacktopping, plunging stopped toilets, that sort of thing.”
“Snow shoveling? You never get snow out here!”
“Sure we do! I can remember a time about six years ago where there was at least a half-inch of snow on the ground for a good thirty minutes before the sun came up.”
“Shoveling! Yeah, right! Anyway, if you’re serious, I wouldn’t mind at all doing chores. What I’m thinking is, I’ll be the one in charge of the pool.”
“Pool! Who said anything about a pool?”
“Hey, if you can talk about shoveling snow, I can talk about pH balancing our pool water.” I try to sound affronted.
“No, that’s not a chore for you. We’ll have a pool boy to do that. Live in our cabana. Not wear many clothes.”
“Well, yeah, but he’ll be my age, Daniel, and so way too young for you. He’ll not speak much English, so I’ll have to be spending a lot of time with him, teaching him the language and other stuff. Lots of other stuff. Maybe sleeping out there with him if he’s afraid of the dark or coyotes or something. Mostly teaching him things, you know?”
“English, you mean?” He gives me a glance, and I can read the humor in his eyes.
“Well, that too,” I say.
And that’s how it goes, all the way back.