Alex - Chapter 22 

 

 

 

The last time I saw Phoenix was the day he told me that he had given me the bug. I guess I was so distraught over my own self-serving pity, that all of what he told me that day hadn’t registered in my brain. The Times simply stated in his obituary that he died of accidental drowning while surfing. I remembered the night that Phil Johnson’s dad stayed awake the entire night while I waited for an opportunity to end my life that never came because he did that. I hadn’t caught what Phoenix was telling me that time, or I surely would have shadowed him until he got past his depression. I wondered if a person could forgive someone for something they did to you after they were gone. Then I remembered Pastor Berger telling us that forgiveness is as much for our own release as it is for someone else’s.

 

I wasn’t going to tell Beth Ann about him – about it being him who gave me the “gift.” Pastor Berger had advised me to let that secret rest with the dead – that telling my wife such information would likely serve no good purpose, and in fact, could very well cause her to become suspicious of what else I might be holding back from telling her.

 

I told her anyway. She already knew – said she kind of figured it out the day I met Phoenix on campus after my doctor visit. I’m glad I had the courage to level with her, because we cried for his shortened life, and forgave him together. That’s one less stressful thing for me to carry around. Dr. Grogan had impressed upon us how important it was for us to keep our lives from getting stressful – said that that would wear down my body as quickly as anything else would. What a wonderful person God gave to me as my helpmate. She’s gonna be a good mom – she has all the instincts, I mean seeing that she figured out about Phoenix before I even told her. How do women do stuff like that? I guess that’s what Pastor Berger meant when he said that women and men compliment each other, ‘cause I don’t know any guys who can do that.

 

 

 

About two weeks after Phoenix drowned, I found a small mailer in my Post Office box, addressed from Tucson, Arizona. I didn’t know anyone from Tucson, so it was the first piece of mail I opened when I got home. Inside, were two papers and the small cross that Phoenix always wore around his neck. I recognized it instantly.

 

The top page was a letter from Phoenix’s mom, in her own handwriting.

 

 

 

Dear Alex Harper,

 

 

 

My name is Summer Redcay. I’m Phoenix Redcay’s mother, and the letter enclosed was in my son’s pocket on the day he died. I’m sure that since it had your address written on it, as well as mine, that it was meant to be forwarded to you. You must have been very special friends.  Please wear his necklace around your neck so you will remember him.

 

 

 

Respectfully yours,

 

Summer

 

 

 

I could barely breathe as I looked at the second page of the letter. It was a photocopy of a tattered and smudged letter that Phoenix had written before his untimely death.

 

 

 

Dear mom,

 

 

 

I’m sorry for the pain that finding this letter may cause you, because if you’re reading it, then I have succeeded in what I set out to do. First off, I want to tell you that I loved you, and didn’t want things to turn out this way. But things got out of control a couple of years ago, and I got really messed up. That’s when I decided not to hide my being gay anymore. You see, there was a really special friend that I met at school. His name is Alex Harper, and he goes to USC, too. Our love wasn’t right for him, and he ended up marrying a girl. He’s going to be a dad soon. I loved him too much, though, and took advantage of him one night. I was trying to be careful, but things didn’t go as planned, and I ended up infecting him with AIDS. I can’t live with what I’ve done to him. I hope in the end, both he, and God can forgive me for it.

 

 

 

Love, your son,

 

Phoenix

 

 

 

I was still sitting at the table, emotionless, a pile of unopened junk mail in front of me, when Beth Ann came cheerily through the doorway. When she gently placed her arms around my shoulder, it unlocked a dam of tears. I sobbed uncontrollably for what seemed like forever. When there were no more tears to cry, Beth Ann picked the cross pendant out of my hand and fastened it around my neck.

 

I wondered what Beth Ann thought of my display of tears over a past love. Afraid to look her in the eyes, she lifted my head and stared at me until I did.

 

“Know another thing I love about you, Alex Daniel Harper? When someone reaches your heart, you never let them down. I feel like I’m the luckiest woman in the world, because you love me that much too.”

 

I buried my head on her oversized stomach, while she stroked my hair. I think she got things totally backwards, because I feel like the luckiest guy alive, to have a wife who understands that true love has no gender.

 

 

 

Two weeks before our due date, mom called and asked us for dinner. She told us they had bought a baby gift for us, and that they’d pick us up, so they could drop the gift by our apartment – will wonders never cease!

 

Saturday, mom and Cecil arrived at our door, but they didn’t ring the bell. I figured they forgot something in the car, and was just about to open the door to go out and meet them, when my cell phone rang.

 

“Alex, don’t open your front door. We’ll ring the bell when we’re ready to come in.”

 

I looked at Beth Ann, and gave her a “that woman is a lunatic” eye roll thing. She simply said “Alex,” in that tone of voice my mom used to use when she wanted me on my best behavior.

 

After at least three more trips to our door, and then back, I assumed, to the car, I was starting to wonder what the heck was going on, but we had no window in front to look through.

 

Finally the doorbell rang, and Beth Ann and I opened the door. The hallway looked as if they had raided Santa’s workshop. There was a bassinette, a baby swing, an infant carrier, boxes and boxes of diapers, and bags of baby clothes – all of it, neutral colors. We just stood there, mouths agape, until mom finally spoke up.

 

“Aren’t you even going to say hi?”

 

“Mom, what? What’s all this stuff?”

 

“Look, son, I know first hand how difficult it is to have a baby when you’re still in school, so we just brought you a few things to help you get started.”

 

When I still couldn’t say anything, she took both my hands in hers and told me, “Consider it a peace offer of sorts, Alex. I don’t want anything to come between me and my grandbaby.”

 

I actually enjoyed supper with her and Cecil that night, and when I got back to the apartment, I called dad to tell him what had happened. It’s amazing, because when I should have been distraught over the disease, that was vicariously setting up for a full assault, in my body, I was finding that there were so many good things happening in my life, that they outweighed the bad by a large margin. For the first time in my twenty-one plus years of existence, I actually felt like I had two parents who loved me for who I was – although it did enter my mind that all this started happening when Beth Ann started getting involved in my life, so I wasn’t too sure that they weren’t just treating me well because they liked her.

 

 

 

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We were lying in bed, and I was making silly noises, and poking Beth Ann’s belly. Whenever our baby would kick out somewhere, I would try to catch its foot. Not that I really thought it could be done, but it was cheap entertainment.

 

I had just laid my ear on her stomach to see if I could hear the heartbeat, when her entire belly got all hard and round like an oversized basketball.

 

“What was that?” I asked in astonishment.

 

“Just some muscle contractions. They’re the Braxton-Hicks contractions they told us about at childbirth class. I get them all the time.”

 

I looked at the clock and made a mental note. Twenty-two minutes later, it happened again, only this time it was harder, and I saw Beth Ann’s eyes get bigger, like she was surprised.

 

“Are you in labor?” I asked; hope filling my voice more than fear.

 

“Don’t be silly, I’m not due for another ten days. Just go to sleep.”

 

Right, like I’m gonna go to sleep when my wife might be having a baby. I must have dozed a little though, because the next thing I remember was Beth Ann jumping out of bed, and me thinking that I had wet myself.

 

“Alex, I think my water broke. Maybe we should call the doctor.”

 

Dr. Spinoza was an old pro at delivering babies. When I called her, she told me to take a deep breath, and call her answering service again when the contractions were about eight minutes apart.

 

It took an entire night of timing, but I finally managed to time one that began eight minutes after the last one began. Well it was actually eight minutes and forty-nine seconds, but Dr. Spinoza didn’t tell me whether or not seconds counted – and besides I was getting a little anxious to see our little miracle. It was quarter to six, in the morning, and I figured now would be an ideal time to call Bill Henderson, and let him know what was going on. Bill had volunteered to drive us to the birthing center when the time came. I was hoping Dottie would answer the phone. She always sounded so excited when we talked about the baby.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Dalton?” I asked, a bit confused.

 

“Yeah, who’s this?” he asked.

 

“Alex,” I told him, a little surprised that he hadn’t recognized my voice.

 

“Oh, hi. What’s up?”

 

“Your dad or mom up?”

 

“Hold on, let me check. Dad?” I heard him holler in the background. “You awake – it’s Alex.”

 

“Did Beth Ann go into labor?” I heard Dottie asking her son, her voice getting louder as she neared the phone.

 

“Alex? Is it time?”

 

“I was just calling to tell you that Seven-Eleven’s got large coffees for a buck this month.” I just couldn’t help myself, the way she was acting.

 

“What? Alex, that’s not why you called me and you know it.” Is she in labor? How close are the contractions, Alex? Have you called the doctor yet?”

 

“Relax already,” I told her. “I called the doctor last night at ten, and she told me to call back when they’re eight minutes apart. I’m just going to call her again, but I wanted to catch you guys before Bill left the house for the day.”

 

 

 

At 12:14 PM on August seventeenth, weighing a miniscule, but healthy five pounds, fifteen ounces, our daughter was born. I even got to cut the umbilical cord.

 

Later that afternoon, I was sitting on the easy chair in our room at the birthing center, holding our precious bundle. I couldn’t get over the amazing little creation that had now invaded our life. Her tiny fingers were barely able to grasp my own finger as I poked at her. That’s when mom found us. I had called her that morning to tell her the big day had arrived. I had promised Beth Ann before she agreed to marry me that I truly had forgiven mom, and I had, but now it was time for the coup de grass. I wanted to make sure that mom knew once and for all times that the ax had been buried.

 

Our eyes met. She looked pleadingly at me like she wasn’t completely sure she was welcome there. Then she craned her neck to see her granddaughter in my arms. I stood up, and looked at Beth Ann, who smiled at me with encouraging eyes.

 

“Mom? I just want to tell you one more time that I’ve forgiven you for everything in our past – even if you never could understand what my problem was.”

 

Through blurred eyes, I watched two tears trickle down her cheeks. I think they were tears of joy – like maybe the weight of twenty-one years of carrying that burden lifted from her shoulders, too. I handed her the bundle that was occupying all our thoughts and hearts at the moment.

 

“We named her Alexis Danielle,” I told her. I still remember the question she asked my brother Daryl, when I was six years old. She had just told him that that was the name she had chosen for me, before I had been born, and now, I couldn’t help but repeat it to her. “Don’t you think that’s a pretty name, mom?”

 

 

 

The End