Empty Shoes

by Doc Sawzall

It's a picture that I keep beside my desk, it is a constant reminder of once what was and today what is. There isn't a day that goes by that I do not look at it. Painful as it may be, I see it when I wake and gaze upon it as I fall asleep. A copy sits on my desk and if I travel far from home and find myself forgetting, a copy lives in my wallet.

There is pain, unmitigated…overwhelming pain in the memories the picture conjures when I glance upon it. The pain only subsides when I force myself to remember the good and pleasant memories that remind me how full of life we were. Those memories are the ying and yang of my existence. It is what sustains me, nourishes my soul and helps to keep the forces of dark at bay.

Life is full of random events, tragedy strikes where it will until random goodness displaces the ugliness. Neither event lasts, fades in our collective memories until the roulette wheel of life lands on the unlucky number of some town or city. We've become callused…numb…and disbelieving of events out side our homes, neighborhood and state. It simply happens somewhere else…until.

Chapter 1

I clearly remember my son's face the day I had given him the camera. It was the start of his sophomore year. Freshman year had been rough, not so much in the transitioning from Junior High to the big High School but it was the year we found the two of us a family, for better or worse.

Mary Ellen, my beloved wife and Evan's mother passed from pancreatic cancer. From the day of diagnosis to her last day on this earth we had four weeks and three and a half days, to absorb, rationalize, pray for the miracle cure and to finally accept that which we could not change.

It was a simple tummy ache, admittedly one that lasted three days, it took that long to convince my wife she needed to be seen. There was a marked change in her bowel movements accompanied by painful nausea and no desire to eat. She kept insisting she was fine, it would pass, her skin started to look jaundiced and I knew we needed to go to the doctors office, that's where the floor fell out from under us and the roof caved in. It may be a bit maudlin, but it was if we were walking down the sidewalk of life, when the piano movers rope broke and the grand piano hurtling at us at 32 feet per second squared, was our date with destiny.

None of this would have been possible if it weren't for Mary Ellen, my wife of 25 years, my companion, helpmate, trusted advisor and the other half of my soul. We were as much in love as we were the first time we kissed.

She so wanted children and I, or I should say we, delighted in the trying. We gave it every effort as the kitchen, living room, shower stall, back porch and yes, late one night…on the front lawn after a romantic anniversary dinner will attest to.

After a decade of trying in nearly every other corner of the house as well, I came home to my wife sitting on the front porch steps holding what turned out to be a bottle of non-acholic champagne. And what I was to learn when she unwrapped herself from me, a positive pregnancy test strip!

To say I was floored would be the understatement of the year, I kicked off my shoes and started doing 'The Dad About to Be Happy Dance'. I grabbed Mary Ellen and seeing no hesitance, we danced our hearts out. A light rain started and we paid it no mind, we were oblivious, we were going to be parents!!

Finally, after all those years of practice we did it…conceived a child!! A child we would love, nurture and care for, a child to raise, to teach, to take on trips exploring the world around us.

To watch this child, grow into a young adult and eventually, leave the nest. If we did our jobs correctly there would be pangs of emotions tugging at us, as college loomed and marriage and grandkids would follow. This then, would be our job, we had discussed it so many times and now, we were sooo ready for it.

A crash of thunder interrupted our reverie and we scooted into the house and celebrated horizontally…several times. I woke up the following morning on cloud nine, I was floating on air as I got ready for work and wondered where in the hell were my shoes…then I remembered. It was still raining, knowing they would be soaked I grabbed another pair and made my way out of the house.

As I stepped out onto the front porch I looked at my soaked footwear and the memories of yesterday afternoon came flooding back, it was a reminder of so many years of effort and a Kodak moment. I snapped a picture with my cell phone, fully intending to print and frame it. I delighted in the knowledge that in the years to come I would share that moment with our child, hopefully embarrass the heck out of them as they entered into the 'all knowing' teenage years. A photo that would definitively and for all time answer the question…Dad…where did I come from?

The next nine months went by so fast, each day something new, from morning sickness to a fondness to bread and butter pickles and the juice straight from the jar. From the ultrasound showing us the child growing within, we asked to be kept in the dark as to sex, it simply did not matter, having the child was all we could care about.

From the baby's first kicks to those awkward steps on Mary Ellen's bladder, all we knew was joy. We played music for our child, talked to our child and read way too much in the way of child rearing manuals. We created a nursery, painted it in neutral colors, bought the crib and bassinet, diaper pail and a mountain of diapers. We were so prepared, so ready and were absolutely positive we knew what we were doing. In the history of the world, no two parents to be were better prepared. That is until Mary Ellen's water broke.

I remember very little of the events from that moment until the obstetrician handed me the scissors to cut my son's, my perfect little baby boy's umbilical cord. The delivery nurse handed me our child and I placed one Evan Robert Thompkins, all nine pounds four ounces and 21 inches long into Mary Ellen's arms. Opening the baby blanket Mary Ellen examined our child, left instructions not to circumcise him, then placed Evan naked against her breast, covering the both of them with the blanket.

We were parents, finally parents! Our precious bundle of joy was an easy child, not to say there were infrequent moments of absolute madness like trying to keep a diaper on Evan, finding accidents here and there and thank god he soon grew out of that.

Racing to the bathroom, desperately out running the projectile vomit, full well knowing the other end was going to be heard from. Or, the time when Even was four and it smelled like he crapped his pants, while we were out to eat. We were with both sets of grandparents and I had asked Evan a couple of times if he needed to go to the boy's room.

Evan, finally exasperated with me, slid down from his chair and dropped his big boy pants and underwear right there in the main dining room. He bent over facing the table and said, "See dad…they are just farts".

I was stunned, Mary Ellen was horrified and the grandparents desperately trying not to laugh as the amused patrons of the dining room looked on. Evan re-dressed himself and climbed back into his chair as if nothing had happened. That was Evan through and through, irrepressible, nonplussed and simply was the even keeled master of his world.

Chapter 2

Our lives became immeasurably better in so many infinite ways. Growing up with Evan allowed us to treasure all of those 'moments'; his first steps, haircut, kindergarten to his first day as an eager boy entering first grade.

Evan took to school like a duck to water, he paid attention, tested well and was a friend to all. As Evan matriculated through elementary school we watched a confident young tween emerge. By no means was he a saint, he'd had his parental hair rendering moments. It was never deliberate or planned, it was natural enthusiasm. Such as his attempt at building a bike jump out of cardboard boxes, 2X4's and an old wheelbarrow tub from only God knows where. All of that ended up with a trip to the emergency room for what would turn out to be a 'green stick fracture' of his lower left arm.

As Evan grew closer to becoming a fully functional pre-teen I knew it was time for what I expected would be a few 'talks' regarding the birds and the bees. While we weren't nudists neither were we shy. We had since potty training, open door policy when it came to bathrooms and bed rooms. We all knew a closed door was a request not to be disturbed and one needed to knock, await an answer before going any further.

Evan was a curious fellow and as a toddler he found out about the fun involved in manipulating his penis. Like every boy, once they discover their very best friend, it's problematical to let go. We had talks about what it was for in terms that were easy for him to comprehend. There was no doubt from the giggling behind the closed bedroom door what he and his agemates were up to on sleepovers. Somewhere around 4th grade Evan and his friends were able to put together the mechanics of masturbation. It was no surprise, its something all boys discover, the making the 'feeling' and how wondrous it is.

That is until one overdoes it. There had been a sleepover one weekend and while the boys thought their secret activities were private, it was anything but. I was sitting in the den with Mary Ellen watching a program and we could tell the boys were play wrestling. It was by the raised eyebrow I was informed that it might be a good idea to check on the proceedings that were taking place. As I rounded the corner to head up the stairs more than one naked boy was seen running to the bathroom or from the bathroom to Evan's room. The only odd thing was, to a boy, they were all wearing just their socks. I later found out that the boys thought the socks would help to keep the noise down.

It was the morning after that sleepover when Evan's guests had departed that he found me in the bathroom. I knew something was up Evan was wearing his underpants and was reluctant to join me in the shower as he normally would. It took a few questions and answers, a boatload of stammering and down cast eyes he found the gumption to pull his drawers down and softly asked me not to tell his mother but…he thought he may have broken his penis.

I quickly realized that the time for laughing would come later, I had to be a dad now. In our ensuing conversation, I learned that all the boys wanted to see who could do 'IT" the greatest number of times. I never went so far as to ask Evan who was the eventual winner in that particular contest but had the discussion about masturbation and different techniques. I very clearly told him there was nothing wrong in the act. And how to care for his injured member.

If he were to share it with others, permission of the other boy was needed and that no one should be forced into anything that made them uncomfortable.

Later that afternoon I had discussed the basics with Mary Ellen with no details of who, how and what. Looking at me she asked me if this was 'normal' and when I was a boy did I? My only answer was a raised eyebrow in return and an enigmatic smile.

There were many mornings when Evan was younger that he would join me at some point in the bathroom, he'd watch me shave or join me in the shower, he had no compunction to taking a dump as I did my morning ablutions but would always draw the line and wait till I had done so and sprayed the air freshener.

Evan loved to be toweled off and basked in the praise of how he was a growing boy, I'd comb his hair when finished, swat his backside and send him off to get dressed.

We'd meet back in the kitchen giggling between ourselves and Mary Ellen could only shake her head and mutter…boy's! Breakfast over we'd exchange hugs and kisses and we'd be off to work and school.

I'd arrive home after Evan was done with school and whatever sport he was involved in. There were many a day I had to use personal time at work to attend his games. Many an afternoon we'd sit on the front porch and talk out why his team won or lost, what could he have done better, until he found golf.

Evan took to golf like a bat out of hell. He thrived in that highly competitive environment where personal honor was 99% of the game. He quickly understood that then last 1% was mental and that in a competition, he was playing for his best day and couldn't be bothered as to what the other golfers were doing.

Evan only lost his cool and his unflappable stoic demeanor would crack when he saw someone fail to play the game 'right'. He could never use the word cheat or accuse someone of cheating but he would subtly let the other player they were caught and give them the opportunity to make amends.

He had a 'thousand-yard stare' and would not hesitate to use it. He'd stop playing and wait till the situation corrected itself. He quickly earned a reputation as an 'honest and fair golfer. If anything, Evan was tougher on himself, if he felt he did something wrong he'd call a penalty on himself. Weekend mornings found Evan hanging around the golf course where he soon fell in with a cadre of old timers, golf course employees who took care of the course and imparted ever so subtly years of wisdom.

He'd get on his bicycle and pedal the four miles so he would arrive before the course would open and join the greenskeepers. He loved being with his extra grandfathers, he reveled in their attention, soaking up the various nuggets of wisdom they would occasionally impart.

They had taken an old beat-up set of golf clubs sized them for Evan and his next few years of growth. They would, as they manicured the course, place him in all sorts of situations, tell him what this particular situation was, simulating an actual golf game. Through those tests, Evan played the Masters, the US Open, The Open, the PGA, and so forth all while only four miles from home.

Chapter 3

It was through golf that Evan discovered who he was and who he was going to be. When all of this first started Evan's weekend mornings were sacrosanct. As he entered 7th grade it gave him the determination to join the Junior Varsity golf team. Evan gave it all he had, first to practice and last to leave. His coach told me a number of times that he had aptitude and the drive necessary to make his talent work. I would later learn that his motto and mantra were two simple quotes…play it as it lays and no putting from the rough.

Evan started to spend significant time with one of his teammates. A young boy who was Evan's age and just as driven at golf. He ended up staying over on Friday nights with Evan, joining him in his weekend mornings at the golf course.

Micha Zavin was a tall wiry 13-year-old, the same age as Evan and every bit enamored of the game as well. Micha stood a head taller that Evan. Where Evan was stockier thicker built boy, Micha was a bean pole. Where Evan could be unflappable, Micha was the polar opposite and as time would demonstrate, the only person who could penetrate Evan's demeanor, conversely Evan was the only person who could reach Micha when his temper bubbled to the surface.

They were an odd paring, one that pushed each other on the links relentlessly and within the bounds of the game, hypercompetitive. Typically, JV matches are played at different times than the varsity. And often were the times I would be following the boys during a match, the coaches were too wise to split them up, and the varsity coach would be walking beside me trying to glean where it all came from, and all I could do is simply shake my head and wonder myself. Off the golf course they were simply two normal teenage boys delighting in fart jokes and the like.

Micha could drive the snot off the ball from the tee, Evan was precision from that initial drive to green and both boys could put. Both were frustrated that one excelled where one didn't but they came together, combining their talents for the better of the team.

They respected the game, many were the weekend mornings I would now drive the boys to the golf club, with a wave and a wink they were out of the car and off like rockets to the greenskeepers office. I would purposely leave the house early to pick them up. I did this so I could chat over coffee and muffins with their adopted grandfathers who would share their delight in the boys. Occasionally the club pro would be there asking if I minded the boys being here and we both laughed our heads off. Often, I would ask for the babysitting invoice and he'd point to the coffee and muffins and said we're even. They worked with the greenskeepers to earn playing time on the course in the early mornings, in between rounds and other off hours, they'd rake sand traps, use the leaf blowers and occasionally use some of the mowers under strict supervision.

I noticed that more often than not Evan's bedroom door would be closed after the boys went to bed on a Friday night and I paid it no mind even as I noticed the boys would more often than not, wait for me to be done in the bathroom before entering.

There were times when it couldn't be helped and the three of us would find ourselves using the different fixtures of the bathroom on a rotational basis, naked as the day we were born. I was well aware that both boys were no longer on the cusp of tweenhood but deep into the throes of puberty as the bodies of boys becoming that of young men.

It was late one Friday evening and in passing Evan's door I overheard what I would find out the next day, a very serious discussion betwixt the two boys. I couldn't hear the hushed words but I could tell from the sentiment something was percolating. An issue was being forced and I could only wonder what in the world could come between them.

Not knowing what to do I finally fell asleep, resolved to be there for them and as such I would get up just a bit earlier and make a fully cooked breakfast. Upon arising I completed my morning bathroom routine and made my way downstairs passing by Evan's partially open door.

When I went to wake them I could not help but to see both boys intertwined with each other sans clothing or bedding, dead to the world. I won't say I was surprised or unaware but I was amused, I'd be collecting $25.00 from Mary Ellen along with an afternoon of horizontal afternoon delights.

One of them must have gotten up during the night and needed the bathroom and on returning simply forgot to close the door. I gently and as quietly as I could pulled the door nearly closed. At this point the best course of action was to retrace my steps from the bathroom. I flushed again and clomped down the hall and gave the wall of Evan's bedroom a few hearty slaps loudly announcing that breakfast, pancakes, sausages, bacon, toast and home fries was awaiting.

There was a tinge of panic as the "o fuck, shit, piss…pass me my underwear'' and various expletives were uttered by two boys thinking they were caught in the act. Toss in the sounds of two sleepy bodies, not fully caught up with their minds, trying to cover up, get partially dressed and mobile was the highlight of my morning.

Eventually the boys found the kitchen table looking as if butter wouldn't melt in their mouths each wearing the others underpants. They were trying for the epitome of calm, cool and collected and not succeeding very well. I let them be, I knew when it was time for a discussion and I would have to let Evan know that Micha would have be there.

The ride to the golf course was quiet, there was palatable tension in the car. I was sure Evan knew I had seen them this morning, if his mien was any indication. Letting them off by the greenskeepers office I held Evan back a second and quickly told him that I loved him and to use one of his favorite expressions…I told him that there would be no putting from the rough today…to play it as it lays. His face lit up and a smile engulfed his face as he hugged me back and whispered…" Thanks, I love you too."

When I got back to the house I went to the kitchen to fix breakfast for Mary Ellen only to find her sipping a cuppa. In my place at the table were two ten's and a fiver. She handed me her cell phone and there was a picture of the two boys, starkers' and obviously in love by the way they held each other in their sleep. Unbeknownst to me she must have gotten up before I did.

There was no question by either of us, we had had this discussion a few times over the ensuing years. Evan was our child one who was a gift, after so…so many years of trying. That it was inconceivable that we would love him any less because of who he chose to love. We only hoped that he's choose wisely and we both thought the world Micha and thought he was good for him.

We decided we would have the discussion this afternoon, once the boys were back and freshly showered. It wasn't that they were gay or experimenting, it was the need to address the issue of the two of them having sex in our house. We weren't stupid, the genie had come out of the bottle closet …so to speak. They were going to find ways to have sex and we'd rather it was in a safe location than God knows where.

We called Micha's parents and let them know we were going to take the boys out to supper tonight and with their permission we'd send him home Sunday after breakfast. They were delighted to have another 'adult' night and agreed to let him stay.

The ride back from the golf club was much better than the morning. The boys were garrulous to say the least. They played 9 holes against two seniors from the varsity team and won by a stroke. Micha sank a 25-foot put after Evan, from a hundred and seventy-five yards, hit a five iron onto the green from the rough, a good fifteen feet off the fairway.

Once home the boys were told to go shower and to come back down ready to go out to an early supper. After recapping the match for Mary Ellen, the boys raced upstairs to get ready.

We retired to the den and put some soft classical music on and took the time the boys were in the shower, together to reminisce, and we weren't fools, to remind ourselves of how much we were still in love and how impossible it seemed. How exponentially had our love had grown that afternoon so long ago, when Mary Ellen waited for me on the front porch, with the news that would change our lives immeasurably for the better.

We heard the boys tromp down the stairs and head for the kitchen looking for us and a bit of sustenance. There was a muted discussion of the sort I partially overheard last evening. What we could make out as they came towards the den was Evan reassuring Micha, that it would be ok, he was sure we knew, after all the mix-up with the underpants was a dead giveaway. All they had to do was to confirm their love for each other and make it official.

I have to give Micha credit, he looked as if he was being led to the firing squad. I think if you were to open the dictionary at that moment and look for the definition of morose, his picture would appear next to the definition. He would have given his right arm to be anywhere else.

Evan had Micha's hand clamped into his as they walked into the den, his face a picture of determination, as they walked around where we were sitting and sat together on the couch still holding hands.

Taking a deep breath and briefly looking at Micha, Evan quietly and simply stated that they were boyfriends. After professing his undying declaration, Evan turned to Micha and wrapped him in a hug whispering reassurance softly in his ear.

Getting up, Mary Ellen went over to Micha and beckoned him to stand and as he stood she encircled him in her arms gently stroking his back. The dam burst as he melted in her arms.

Micha was from a conservative Jewish family, one of three siblings and the youngest of two boys. The family while not orthodox and more than likely lapsed, still held to traditions.

He feared the loss of Evan and the sanctuary of our home. He was deathly afraid of our rejection and finding our acceptance was a huge relief. I motioned Evan over and wrapped him up in my arms as well and told him that I loved him, would always love him and was immensely proud that he would trust and share this with us. In my mind, and the way I saw it, was a reaffirmation of the values we instilled, taught and lived our lives by.

The big announcement delivered and accepted, had relaxed all of us and allowed us to take our seats. Mary Ellen went on to mortify the boys with a very frank and very graphic discussion on sex and responsibilities. There wasn't a topic she discussed in detail, from oral and anal sex to the basic obligations the two now had towards each other.

By the time she was finished the boys were squirming in their seats. I knew there wasn't much I could add to this discussion but needed my Dad moment however.

I went over to the fireplace mantle and picked up the picture of my soaked shoes. I went on to explain the import, the meaning and the very deep connection this picture made to us. That after a decade of trying we finally had our miracle baby, our beautiful Evan. That we would allow him to grow up in a home where he would be judged on his love was inconceivable to us. This picture was simple proof of that.

I gave the boys my blessing with the admonitions that they treat each other with dignity and respect, to respect our house and finally respect us. There were to be no overt displays of lust, some things needed to be best left behind closed doors. Evan turned beet red at that comment.

Continuing on I told them their privacy was assured while in this house, that we were ok with hugs and simple kisses in the public areas of the house. And now both of them were responsible for their personal needs. We would show them how Mr. Laundry Machine and Mrs. Dryer worked, we didn't need to see the results of their love. Both boys buried their heads in their hands and groaned.

Chapter 4

The last year and a half of Junior High School saw a marked improvement in Evan and Micha, while already honor students, they soon became high honor roll students and a transitioning into advanced placement classes. Their golfing showed the same steady increase in abilities. We came to realize that Evan and Micha were pushing themselves to do better. They were serious about their school work, as much as their golf. They were a quiet couple, did nothing to draw attention, or so we thought, to their liaison. As much as possible they kept outward signs of affection toned down when outside of our house. We thought all was well till Jacob Zavin asked to meet me.

We agreed to meet at Paulies, a local breakfast joint at 10AM the following morning. The boys would be soon joining the 8th grade, summer was rapidly coming to a close. Jacob was insistent we meet alone and with some trepidation I agreed.

I shared the news with Mary Ellen and we feared the worse and if it came to that, we would find a way to take Micha into our home. I promised to call her once the meeting was over.

I arrived shortly before Jacob and watching him arrive you could see the tension and worry on his face. I stood up to greet him and as we both sat the pleasantries were quickly dispensed as our coffee and muffins arrived.

Jacob, if nothing else was forthright, direct and to the point. He asked me if I was concerned with the boy's relationship to each other. I looked back quizzically and asked what did he mean?

He produced a letter written early in their relationship that Micha had written and was intending to send to Evan in the event their relationship faltered or failed. Obviously, it was written some months ago and the need to send it never materialized. It had fallen out of a shirt pocket that was in the laundry pile.

In a roundabout way Jacob wanted to know what I thought about homosexuals, before I could answer he asked me to begrudge him a moment. From an old weathered envelope, he brought out a faded picture from I was to learn, his mother. He asked me to look at the picture closely. On her left arm, inside just above the wrist were several numbers tattooed.

It was with revulsion that I knew at once what those numbers meant, more than that, his mother must have been a young girl at the time and that she had survived the depredations and horror of a concentration camp.

Jacob, his eyes moist and threatening to spill over, told me a bit about Micha, that he was a surprise, a late baby…surely a gift, a gift from our creator. No baby was better loved, treasured or cared for.

There was a lesson in that picture of Micha's grandmother, neither Jacob or his wife Ruth could ever deny their son, he was as god intended. In such a world, not so far from the horrors of his mother's past, the issue Jacob asked, what were our thoughts, could we reject our son for loving another boy?

Reaching across the table I took Jacob's hands into mine. I told him of our ten years of trying, of finally being blessed, of the joy, trials and tribulations in raising Evan. That Mary Ellen and I could not comprehend our lives without him, notwithstanding whom he loved.

I came clean, I told Jacob of our suspicions, my bet with Mary Ellen and yes…the picture which I promised to share of the two boys in bed. How Evan and Micha came out, announced to their love for each other.

He laughed with great joy when I summarized Mary Ellen's lesions on the mechanics of gay sex, the graphic terminology and detailed descriptions that had the boys hiding their faces. Our insistence that the boys were now responsible for the cleaning of their personal space, bedding and clothing. And, amazingly how spotless they kept the bathroom on their own volition.

Oh, such joy Jacob told me, that we'll have watching these two set the world on fire, what a delight to have them. When Micha's grandmother Miriam first held him, she said an old Ukrainian Yiddish blessing. Once done she closed her eyes and spoke softly over Micha an old gypsy prayer she announced to all present, the boy was different and destined for great things. Her family had been travelers' generations past and never completely renounced the old ways.

I think we were both spent that morning, our common worries faded away. I explained that Mary Ellen was fraught with worry over our discussion and I needed to call her to let her know all was ok.

It was a quick call and at Mary Ellen's insistence I handed the phone to Jacob after putting it on speaker. Jacob was to bring his family to dinner the following night, all those who could attend were welcome. After a few minutes the time was agreed on. Menu would be nothing fancy, a goulash and sides. Jacob would be bringing everyone at home but the two oldest siblings, as they were off to school.

At the appointed hour Jacob along with Ruth and Micha arrived bringing Miriam, a slight and sprightly 95 years young as she insisted. We were overwhelmed and honored as she graced our home.

We menfolk were relegated to the den as the ladies departed for the kitchen. Micha, along with Evan quietly had the discussion with his parents the night before and was greatly relieved. He was however nervous as to how his grandmother would take the news and asked that it be kept quiet, till they have the proper moment to have that discussion.

The meal was superb and the conversation light and everyone enjoyed themselves. Miriam was a delight as she entertained us with some of her family's geology and life in the old world. Once the table was cleared by the boys we retired to the den. Upon request a gin and tonic was produced for Miriam. As she settled and got comfortable she asked Evan to call her Babushka, a respectful term meaning grandmother.

She held her hand out to Evan and as he grasped it, Miriam appeared to drift away for a moment, as she cleared her head shaking it slightly. Taking another sip of her gin and tonic she cleared he throat, looking directly at Evan and as if no one else were in the room she asked, "You love my grandson deeply, do you not?"

Entranced Evan replied, "Yes Babushka I do."

"Micha, please tell me of your love for this boy."

"I love him with all my heart." Micha replied equally entranced.

"Come over and take my other hand Micha, let this old woman bless you and Evan."

As Micha came over to her, he took Evan's free hand and together they knelt before her. Taking her hand, it was if all three were somewhere else. Miriam spoke tenderly in what appeared a mixture of old Ukrainian and another tongue. Her back stiffened and her face lost its color. She shook her head and as if arguing with someone or somebody she emphatically said NO to whomever she was conversing with.

Trance broken she spoke to the boys and imparted her blessing. "The two of you are destined to do great things and while your love is unconventional, it is right and proper. Ignore the insults of those who would drag you down, always rise above the petty. Lead by example, love wholly and unconditionally. Never let disagreements fester, understand that the needs of your partner always come first. But above all, love without reservation or hesitation."

Looking directly at Evan she continued, "There is darkness in your path that you will twice overcome, the world can be ugly and with Micha at your side you will prevail. Remember this above all else, you have hands of gold."

Turning to Micha she said, "You too are destined for greatness through your connection with Evan, I see it now. The world will watch you and admire your strength in adversity. I don't know why this is important but you must heed this…at the right time you will know why…remember to duck."

The spell was broken and she pulled the boys closer to kiss their foreheads. Looking at the rest of us, she begged our indulgence. She filled us in a bit more of her family's past, that she was at least half gypsy, her father, the seventh son of a seventh son was noted for his second sight.

It was not infallible she told us, many times the events portended failed to materialize or interpreted faultily. We briefly touched on her time in the concentration camps and Evan was allowed to examine her tattoo he was in awe and spellbound with this great lady. Too soon the evening came to pass, the boys thanked Miriam for her blessings and that they would heed her warnings.

Chapter 5

8th grade started off with a bang for Evan and Micha. For the fall golf league, they found that half their time would be spent with the varsity team. Academically they picked up right where they left off. Weekend mornings found themselves up before dawn and rousting me from my slumbers to deliver them to the greenskeeper's shack.

They learned to become wrench and grease monkeys'. They could break down carburetors and engines, swap out golf cart batteries and clean the same. Again, they refused pay for the chance to play the course. As their skill and talent showed improvement they occasionally were placed in matches that would benefit them by the club pro.

Unknown to either of the boys, wagers would be placed on the outcome of those matches. Any time the boys won their match based on handicap, the winnings went into a fund that would be given to them later. Additionally, hours they actually worked were tracked and those earnings were saved to the fund as well. The intention was to send them off to college with those funds. The grounds crew weren't fools, an insular group in a highly demanding profession, they came to cherish the boys. They respected the lack of attitude, their manners and willingness to work any part of the course and where ever needed. The only duties they were refused were working functions where the booze would be flowing.

The fall golf season came and went much too quickly for the Evan and Micha and while the spring season was coming they found time to keep their game sharp. The varsity coach gave both boys individual exercise regimens to follow.

They started hitting the facilities at school to work out. They were respectful of the upperclassmen who were on the golf team and a couple of seniors took them under their wings.

The holidays flew by and the winter snows finally melted, the shoulder season seemed interminability to long. Spring is fickle in Massachusetts, no sooner was the frost out of the ground, the spring rains came. Nevertheless, the boys soon found themselves back at the golf club, swinging wrenches and servicing all of the equipment in anticipation of opening day.

Wherever you saw one the other was sure to follow, the boys now alternated weekends between both houses and kept to the same rules. They were appreciative of the trust given and were determined to keep it.

Miriam was delighted to host the boys in her in-law apartment and the boys doted on their Babushka. There was never a repeat of her premonitions and they were soon forgotten.

The shortened spring golf season at the school was a resounding success, in double match play on the JV team, they were undefeated. When they played with the varsity, they lost as many as they won. It was a great test for them, playing against older, more experienced boys.

The school year came to a rapid close, they aced their courses, remaining on the high honor roll. They worked out a schedule with both sets of parents that allowed for household chores at both houses and work at the golf course. In addition to all of this was the exercise program the coach wanted them to follow. With the school facilities off limits for the summer, Jacob and I split the cost of the basic equipment necessary and split it between both houses.

Both Evan and Micha grew in their love for each other. Many a summer morning they would beat me to the bathroom and as I finished there were tell-tale sounds coming from the bedroom, I chose to believe they were starting the day in a beneficial manner. It certainly didn't hurt their appetites judging by the sheer quantity of food consumed at the breakfast table.

Life was good, if only we could stop the march of time. Shortly before school started up again Miriam passed quietly away in her sleep. Despite the early years, her life was rich in love and years well lived. Her funeral was a simple affair and we were floored when both Micha and Evan were remembered in her will with a generous bequest.

Just like the previous year the school year started off with a bang. They were in the big school and thrived academically, they struggled at first as varsity golfers, needing to earn their spots. Course work was more intense, many an evening was spent after supper at the kitchen table plowing through their homework.

It was late October when Mary Ellen started feeling poorly, after three days I convinced her to see her doctor. Initially the doctor was confident that it would pass but to be on the safe side, he scheduled Mary Ellen for a battery of gastrointestinal tests.

The results of those tests shook me to the very foundations of my core. I couldn't understand it or process it. The prognosis was a few weeks at best. Jacob, Ruth and Micha were a godsend for the both of us. Quietly in the background they allowed us the time to come to terms with the inevitable.

Mary Ellen quickly came to terms, much faster than anyone else. She did her best and she spent an inordinate amount of time with Evan. She worked with him to accept reality, it was ok to grieve but he had to move forward. For all intents and purposes Micha moved in with us. He kept Evan focused and on track, held him when he needed him to. Evan also became my shadow, needing my constant reassurance and closeness. Both he and Micha were always at my side when we were home or the hospital.

When it was clear the end was now days, Mary Ellen was moved to hospice. She asked the medication to help with the pain be kept to the barest minimum, she wanted to be clear headed up to the end. A day before she passed she asked to see each of us separately.

She made Micha promise to keep Evan going, to let him grieve but to continue to live and excel. That she loved him like a second son and was so very proud of him and that he would grow into a fine young man and companion for Evan.

Mary Ellen made Evan promise to buck up, if her life were to have any meaning he needed to continue on the path he and Micha chose. She would always watch over him and to do her proud.

My wife of over 25 years did her best to console me, she would not have traded any part of it for what she had. That she loved me, her son and our life together was her greatest reward.

Mary Ellen's cancer proved to be too much, she lost consciousness shortly after speaking with us that last time and died the following day, peacefully in her sleep. What I hadn't known was the effort the extended family put forth. That afternoon as we were leaving the hospice I saw my Uncles Arik and Ethan waiting beside our car.

The family had been told of course and updates were posted as Mary Ellen's condition changed. My extended family was rather large, and Mary Ellen's was scattered to the winds. She was the only child and her parents died in a car crash when Evan was ten years old.

They had been held up in traffic Uncle Arik explained as he gathered us in his arms one by one, Uncle Ethan came to my side as well. They let me know they would take care of everything. They asked would be there anything I wanted or needed in way Mary Ellen's last wishes.

All we needed was simple and quiet, nothing extravagant. Uncle Arik nodded and placed a finger to my lips, very quietly he told me that family does for family. He let me go with the admonition that my only concern was my son and his boyfriend.

I was later to find out that Mary Ellen and Uncle Arik had corresponded over the years and a bit more frequently during her brief illness. Shortly after marrying we had a chance to spend time up at Maple Hollow, the family farm in Hutchinson a small town in central Massachusetts.

As a child, like the other grandchildren, I had spent parts of every summer at Maple Hollow. Some of my favorite memories were time spent out at the cabin on Ant Island and Christmas in the converted barn's great room.

I was told unless I had any objection, the memorial service would take place up at the farm and her interment in the family cemetery, it realistically was the only place large enough for the extended family.

While her funeral was somber to say the least, my extended family showed up and sad to say, uncles, aunts and cousins I had not seen for so many years. Once the memorial service was over I was stunned to hear my cousin Gustin begin to sing.

Gustin had lost his mother to a brain hemorrhage shortly before he won American Starmaker as a young teen. He had gone on to become a multi-platinum recording artist and not without some controversy. His sell by date had come and gone several years ago, he continued to record and tour sporadically as his fan base grew up. Oddly, he along with some other musical artists, were becoming current again as our generation found nostalgia for the days of our youth.

He had asked my Uncle Arik if he could sing a couple of songs I would find meaningful. When he finished with Amazing Grace and Will the Circle Be Unbroken, there wasn't a dry eye to be seen. When I had a chance to talk to him and thank him, and I knew he was on reunion tour in Europe, he simply said, family does for family. He also told me he was taking Evan for a bit out to the cabin on Ant Island as they now shared a commonality.

We started to spend the remainder of the following school year in a fog until we found the first note. Mary Ellen spent after her diagnosis, as much time as she could at home and was there until it was time for hospice. Where she found the time to hide the dozens of notes to the three of us is beyond my ability to fathom. They were memorable, funny and sometimes borderline salacious. To this day I am not sure we have found them all.

Evan found the first one in his underwear drawer. Tucked between his socks and boxers was a note letting him know that while she was watching over him she was otherwise occupied last night and may have missed the goings on.

I was finishing in the shower as Micha was emptying his bladder. Evan was alternately laughing and crying as he came into the bathroom holding the note for us to read, the boys looked at each other and blushed and I started laughing my head off. It was cathartic and therapeutic. A dam had broken, a tiny ray of sunshine had reignited the light of our lives.

Spring came back into our lives after a bitter winter. Evan took to heart his mother's final words of advice. With an assist from Micha, Evan rededicated his life and got back on track. Me…it was taking time and I needed time to process this change. I knew Mary Ellen would not want me to waste away or become a hermit and I began the process of living again.

Chapter 6

Things got sorted and life while different took on a routine we all fell into. Evan and Micha took on more of the household chores including easy to make suppers. Those suppers led to our adjustment with the new reality of the household. Evan was more tactile, opting to do his best to lift my spirits.

Shortly before the end of the school year I had found another of Mary Ellen's notes, in so many words she reaffirmed her faith in me and that my immediate future would change for the good.

Two days later I was called into a meeting, I had been named acting superintendent while as principal for our high school, when our current superintendent retired unexpectedly. I was told, with a nudge and a wink, after an exhaustive search I would be promoted to the position, my assistant principal would be promoted to principal.

While I would miss Evan and Micha's high school years as a principal, it would eliminate a needless distraction. I knew there wouldn't be any issues with the two of them. The added bonus was the increase would certainly augment our finances for the better.

Before we knew it, summer was here and all of us heading in multiple directions. While we made time for each other, evening meals were sacrosanct. Many an evening Jacob and Ruth came for super and praised the boys for their efforts, their growing skills in the kitchen attested to that praise.

We were all so busy we realized too late, that the start of the school year was upon us before we knew it, Evan and Micha would be rising sophomores and all the adventures that would bring. They would no longer be the rookies on the golf team but seasoned veterans. There was a strong chance they could qualify for the state tournament and compete for a state title.

I bought a small compact digital camera for Evan at the start of his sophomore year so he could keep a record of the different golf courses he would play during the fall season, there was a good chance the state championships would be played on one of these courses as the golfers would be too familiar with the courses used for the spring season.

Transitioning into the superintendent's role was a cinch, I knew what had to be done and the staff knew their roles. There were always the minor infractions to sort out, adjust schedules, reassign teachers and deal with all kinds of other issues. The least pleasant part of the job was upholding discipline meted out.

This latest case was disturbing, it seemed a couple of senior jocks took out their personal animosity on a Freshman from the Theater Arts Department. It was ugly once the facts were known. They had beaten the kid to an inch of his life and then sodomized him and not for the first time as it turned out. There were suspicions it was due to roid rage but the jocks family had lawyered up and at this point nothing could be proven.

The assailants were arrested, booked and despite all efforts released on bail in the care of their parents, who weren't without some political influence. As expected the rumor mill went into overdrive and many tales were told out of school.

As the two miscreants sat and fumed, embellished tales of their depravity reached their not so innocent ears and were enraged that little faggot punk was causing all this trouble. Now it was time to make someone pay was their excuse. They would settle scores and they planned just how to do that as they continued to bulk up for the football team.

What we didn't know at the time, they had access to guns.

It was a bright and sunny late fall day in October, peak foliage season in New England was a week late this year and the temps had been unseasonably warm, many of the trees still held their color and blanketed the landscape with their rich hues of fiery colors.

Homecoming was less than a week away and the student body was excited, there was a buzz in the air and all were looking forward to the football game and the dance afterwards. It was during second lunch in the cafeteria, with all the commotion of students coming and going, that no one noticed the two expelled students enter the cafeteria.

Evan and Micha had just gotten to their seats when all hell broke out, at first it sounded like a string of firecrackers going off. Then bodies started to fall and blood splatter was everywhere. It was pure pandemonium with students milling around in confusion trying to figure the way out to safety.

If there was a saving grace, the two knuckleheads only had enough clips to reload the assault rifle twice and the 22-caliber pistol once. Ethan screamed for Micha to duck as he took his tablet like a frisbee and hit one of the assailants square off the temple, dropping him and the rifle instantly. Turning, the second assailant spotted Evan and fired off two shots from the 22-caliber pistol. The baseball team, who sitting as a group witnessing the bloodbath in front of them, were able to rush from behind and disable the second assailant.

I know this from the security videos, what I did not know at the time, was what happened to Evan, how badly was he hurt. Once the news came that there was a mass shooting at the high school I knew I was stuck, locked down in my office till I could get down to the cafeteria. Until the scene of the crime was contained I could not get to my son, I thought my head would implode.

Carnage is a polite word to use when discussing the horrifying, it allows for polite society to come to terms in rationalizing the 'disturbing' news. It was an event that happened somewhere else for most. It doesn't come close to describing the awful reality.

We would learn later that thirty-four kids, someone's children, were shot that day, twenty-seven of them died from their wounds.

These numbers shouldn't be a statistic to be added to some roll of children who died in other school or mass shootings, to be discussed by so-called experts debating the reasons in that rarefied atmosphere of a TV studio or a newsroom full of print. By the time this was a forgotten memory, the blame would always lay elsewhere rather than where it belonged.

Those who shouldn't have access to guns were irresponsibly given it.

Thirty-four students were shot that day, twenty-seven died, didn't anyone care enough to do something about it?

I had to push all of my instinctive reactions, my rage, in the background, more than my sons are involved, there are other students, other families. It strikes me…I think of Micha as my son, my concern for him is as overpowering as it is for Evan.

I am waiting for then police escort that will take me to the cafeteria and past the hordes of media all wanting instant reaction, an instant fix on the devastating news of today.

I've got ten minutes I'm told, ten minutes in a hellish eternity of unbearable sadness and frustration. I need to know, know something, something I can hang onto, a glimmer of hope, a fucking beacon in the distance, Jesus Fucking Christ…give me something…something I can grasp on to. My son, oh dear God in heaven, my son lays on that floor.

I can't help myself, its been well over an hour and I am stuck here in my office, I pull up the footage from the security cameras. It's all there in digital color format, I see the two shooters start firing, I see the bodies falling, Evan turning to Micha, his face contorted with the urgency as he yells at him, I see Micha duck under the cafeteria table as Evan flings his tablet. The tablet hits one of the shooters square off the side of the head. I watch the shooter go down as the second turns and clearly fires two shots at Evan as he's taken down by the members of the baseball team.

I see Evan's body crumple as he falls out of sight and I realize this ain't Hollywood, dying from a gunshot ain't pretty.

It's been an hour and a half; my escort is needed elsewhere as the magnitude slowly unfolds in the cafeteria. The officials need time to process and clear the scene, it is understandable.

I'm watching the security cameras when the first responders reach Evan and Micha. Micha is holding on to Evan's leg and won't let go as they get ready to place my son on a gurney, his head is a bloody mess as they rush out of the cafeteria.

Someone somewhere is causing a commotion outside my office, they are insistent, strident if I hear their voices correctly, my administrative assistant is flustered and as I process this latest event, I see my uncles come through the door.

There's nothing I can say, my mind is a blank, they wrap me up in their arms as I let it out, give in to my deepest, basest fears. They see the video feed on my monitor, I have the loop of the shooting running on a split screen as live feed is playing on the other half. They've turned me away from the images, those forever seared in my memory, sights I will never, ever and cannot forget. This day has indelibly marked itself in the very fabric of my being.

They have taken me to my bathroom, allowed me to retch my guts out and clean me up. Somehow, they have returned me to the land of the living, I have responsibilities now, the fate of my son is out of my hands. I have to trust and have faith I am reminded, and it escaped me somehow as it is pointed out to me, to have rushed Evan out of the cafeteria meant he wasn't amongst those who were beyond help, despite my relief, it is small cold comfort.

I'm in the waiting room, I've done the press conference, told them nothing and everything at the same time. I've begged the listening audience to find a way to donate blood, it is urgently needed. I've told the listening audience we talk tomorrow when we can address all questions.

Micha sits next to me, he won't let go. Jacob and Ruth are with my uncles. We're a somber bunch, it has taken me an hour to bring Micha to the bathroom to clean the blood…Evan's blood…as best I can. His face and hands are clean and he refuses to change out of his clothes for fresh ones. I've learned from Micha that Evan did yell at him to duck and he had but a fraction of a second to get out of the way as Ethan's tablet went sailing over his head.

He described the sequencing of events from his vantage point on the floor as Ethan first was hit in the head and then the inside of the upper thigh. It had happened so fast, no sooner had he witnessed Evan being hit then he was on the floor. Micha's freshman first aid class had covered different types of wounds and how to apply proper first aid. It was abundantly clear to Micha that the wound to the upper thigh was of paramount concern, he was bleeding bright arterial blood.

Someone handed him part of a ripped tee shirt and he took his belt to use as a tourniquet. That same student used the remainder of the tee shirt and some bottled water to gently clean as best they could Evan's head and apply pressure to stop the bleeding.

I'm processing all of this when Micha shows me for the first time, the picture he and Evan took to complement the one I took the day I found out we were having a baby. It's the same as my shoes the day I learned we were pregnant. Somehow the boys have been able to transpose Evan's silhouette as if it is standing in his shoes. He's trying to reassure me, to tell me things will be fine.

The boys were so proud of that picture, it was the same but different, I am told it was photoshopped but the image was striking, they took the picture the very first rainy day of their sophomore year. Both boys knew by now what my picture taken so many years ago meant, that after years of trying we were blessed with Evan. And in their picture, they were trying to show the child to be.

The door to the waiting room opens and a team of surgeons come in, they have been through hell and it shows. We all know their night isn't over by a longshot. I suspect we aren't the first family they have had to talk to this evening. Their scrubs bear silent witness to the herculean efforts they've been tasked with.

The lead surgeon approaches me and as he forms the question, I let him know this is my family and to let us know the finality or the prognosis.

He won't sugar coat it he tells us, Evan lost a lot of blood, quite frankly far too much. If it weren't for a student having the presence of mind to apply the tourniquet, Evan would not be here with us. Ruth gasps as she looks toward her son and I squeeze him tightly to my chest.

As quickly as we inhale with relief the surgeon mentions the head wound and asks the doctor standing beside him to address that. What we can infer is that the first shot that hit Evan did so while his mouth was open, the bullet passed through his cheek just above the jaw bone and exited down and out the other side through the side of his mouth, grazing his throat and shoulder, missing any other part of the body. The plastic surgeons believe they can minimize the scarring to the outside of his cheek and throat

I ask to see him and I am told he will be moved to intensive care as a precaution shortly, once he is settled in only two of us will be allowed in. All other visitors will have to wait till the following day.

I thank the doctors and surgeons profusely as they leave the room, as they do I look at Ruth and both of us voice the same thought…Miriam.

Chapter 7

I've seen my son tonight and I thank the powers that be for sparing his life, I feel guilty but relieved. There's a fairly significant bandage wrapped around his neck, I am told a good number of stiches inside and outside of his mouth, that cheek is covered with a large bandage. There are sheets that cover his lower half and when the nurse isn't looking, I pick the one up. He's been shaved of all body hair and painted with whatever that stuff is they use to clean and prep the area for surgery. There's a wrap-around bandage around his upper thigh He has a catheter for the immediate need, Micha looking over my shoulder breathes a sigh of relief as do I.

We spend the rest of our brief time telling Evan how much we love him, that all will be well before the nurse comes back to escort us out. We both squeeze his hands and I believe he squeezed mine back.

Back in the waiting room my cell phone rings and the finality of the day is established. Thirty-four were shot and twenty-seven have died. I don't want to leave my son's side, neither does Micha but we are convinced it is time to go home and clean up, there is nothing at this moment that will change. If for nothing else it will give us time to process before we return. Jacob and Ruth will stay till we get back as they shepherd us out of the waiting room, a tired, beaten exhausted bunch.

What I didn't see or expect were the number of parents we cross paths with, some distraught, barely holding on, to those crying simple tears of relief. Despite their unmitigated sorrows, to a family they reach out to console us, to offer their prayers and support for Evan. Emotionally it has pushed me to the very limits of my being, my compassion for my fellow man had been sorely tested this afternoon and here through simple acts of kindness this late evening, a restoral has taken place. I know I will need this strength in the days to come and follow.

As we approach the exit a dozen or more lights turn on flooding our path. My uncles try to redirect us and I tell them no, we are obligated to face this, this last trial tonight. As we exit the doors it's a facing a braying mob, the shouted questions, reporters jostling each other, trying to be first.

Something happens and I am beyond irritated, I hold up my hands in the universal gesture for the folks to settle down. When the crowd quiets I simply inform them that I have a brief statement and we will have a news conference in the morning once we know all the facts.

I tell the assembled that thirty-four were shot and twenty-seven have died today, the shooters are in custody, that my son was gravely injured and one of those expected to survive. That all of our hearts go out to those who lost a child today and to those who face a long road of recovery. We're not sure when classes will resume but when they do it will be in respect for those who suffered and lost today. I thank them and tell them goodnight, we will see them tomorrow at a time yet to be determined.

As we start to make our way through the scrum the reporters start yelling out follow up questions.

Micha stops and faces the crowd and screams. "Stop!! For god's sake just stop! What the fuck is wrong with all of you, did you not just hear Superintendent Thompkins, what fucking…part...of what he just said do…you…not…understand??"

Standing there it is clear Micha is enraged, pushed to the breaking point. I reach out and he brushes my hand away.

"Thirty-four students were shot and twenty-seven have died today, try and show a little respect instead of acting like rabid animals, have none of you have any common decency. If it weren't for my boyfriend, I'd be dead today!

Look at me…take a good look at me covered in his blood, is this what you all want…go ahead take your fucking pictures!! He rose up and saved my life along with many others placing himself in harms way! Are…You…Satisfied…Now!!!

Micha is in a roll now, he's walking towards the phalanx of reporters. In a voice as grave as he can make it he tells the assemblage,

"Go home and come back tomorrow as requested, there's nothing further for you here tonight!

Uncle Ethan steps up to Micha who isn't quite finished still pressing towards the reporters who start to give ground.

"Thirty-four students were shot and twenty-seven have died today, ask yourselves when, will it stop, how many more children have to die before you pull your collective head out of your asses??"

As Uncle Ethan wraps a broken Micha up who buries his in his chest to hide the tears as he takes away from the assembled, shocked reporters. As they start to walk back Micha turns one last time to the scrum of reporters. His voice is softer now, he's nearly broken, he can't stop the tears.

"Remember those families suffering tonight, try to show that you have within you, the dignity to show compassion for those who have lost and for those who are suffering."

"Thirty-four…twenty-seven, never forget, dear…God…please…never…forget."

As Micha and Uncle Evan walk back to us, the lights go off and the crowd silently disperses.

Chapter 8

My phone won't stop ringing, I have had to turn it off. The morning news is aflame with Micha's tirade…well tirade just may be the wrong word but something Micha said last night has nearly has broken the internet and social media.

Thirty-four…Twenty-seven has exploded, nearly instantaneously 34/27 is cropping up, as the morning fades to afternoon, it is all the news can talk about; its being painted on houses, front doors, street signs, it's plastered on buildings and hanging from banners over bridges and highway overpasses, it's spray painted on billboards. Its being plowed into cornfields, affixed to cars and trucks and spreading like wildfire.

How did Miriam know?

We hear little of this of course as we gathered in Evan's hospital room, he's awake now, tired, he looks drawn and gaunt, he struggles to speak. His first words, a faint whisper, were to Micha, thanking him for ducking, he mouths I love you.

He turns to me, barely able to maintain his composure, He knows…that I know the unbearable nearly happened, that we nearly lost him. His chest is heaving as he abjectly struggles for air tears course down his face as he labors to form the words, apologizing for putting from the rough but he had to play it as it lay. I break down, can't stop the tears and am ever so humbled.

We avoid all the things we can, I gave the obligatory press conference the following morning, recite the facts but announce I need to step aside, I am too close…having a son who was wounded. I am needed there, in my stead I will let my assistant superintendent take it from here. I hold up my hands for a moment and simply state, no more questions and walk of the stage to utter silence.

Evan makes remarkable progress and we are able to take him home after five days, followed up with months of aftercare and cosmetic surgery. We are there long enough to pick up our suitcases and leave for Maple Hollow but an hour and a lifetime away.

It's while we are up at the farm that the trolls from all sides of the political spectrum and they start having a field day, like all the other mass shootings it's fake with child actors and fake blood, certain conservative talk show hosts play it up, it's a deep state government plot to take guns away. Certain liberal pundits push very hard in the other direction to ban all guns, again ignoring that those who should not have access were able to get ahold of the assault rifles used.

The boys and myself are a hot item, everyone wants and needs us to appear on camera and print. We graciously decline, we need time to heal, to process and figure how in the heck we will able to move forward with our lives.

In the meantime, 37/24 continues to grow and spread across the country and is now spotted internationally on several continents.

Then all hell broke loose, it seemed like nothing would ever be the same.

The rage of the trolls and counter trolls continue to grow and demonize us and the politics that allowed this and other mass shootings to happen. Like 34/27 the verbal onslaught continues, the airwaves are filled with oral diarrhea and continue to spew invective, facts no longer matter, it is those who are the most strident of the angry voices that are heard.

Six weeks from the end of the school year the security video from the cafeteria, finds its way to the surface and becomes public. It is amazing the hush that falls over the trolls and the media naysayers as the video proves to be incontrovertible evidence. The chain of custody is bullet proof up to the point it became public through a news organization's Freedom of Information request. The decision to release it comes after an agonizing debate with those who actually matter. We can't afford to have it leaked or altered, to have a pilfered copy destroy the veracity. Several parents who lost a child have banded together, they've launched multiple lawsuits against the trolls.

Everybody wants Evan and Micha after they see the security video, they see Evan turn to Micha, obviously yelling at him, they see Micha duck as the tablet wizzes over where his head just was, they see the tablet connect with one of the shooters temple…dropping him instantly. They see the second shooter turn as his compatriot goes down and fire two shots into Evan, who crumples like a sack of potatoes as the first members of the baseball team take the other shooter down.

They see one teenage boy take a shooter down at great risk to his life as a group of teenagers take the other shooter down. The assault rifle takes no time to mow down a great number of students before anyone could react, it is what they were made to do, be a highly effective killing machine. The only time they stop their wanton destruction is for the few seconds it takes to eject and insert a fresh clip of death in multiple numbers.

In the awful interval after both shooters are down to the time first responders arrive, all they see is bedlam as those who are able and not helping flee the cafeteria. They see the first responders arrive behind several police officers who realizing the coast is clear haul the shooters away once identified and the remaining students are escorted out of the cafeteria.

The first responders do their job well, it is a situation they have been trained for, within minutes they have, with the help of students who stayed to help their wounded friends.

They see Evan, his head a bloody mess placed on a stretcher while Micha, covered in blood, holds the tourniquet until relieved by a first responder. The remaining video is inconsequential, all anyone sees is the shooters enter the cafeteria who begin their rampage of destruction and Evan and Micha. Knowing they are boyfriends only intensifies the demand.

Micha's plea for decency is largely forgotten, once back home, we're followed to and from places we need to go, there's more to the story and every media outlet wants the scoop. They've tried sneaking "students" into the school to get close to the boys, our neighbors report photographers lying in wait on our street.

They've been spotted in the bushes and in trees as well as slowly driving up and down the street. At the beginning a few brave brazenly tried approaching us, coming right up to the house and squatting at the end of the driveway on the sidewalk. Although Evan can't golf, he follows the team when possible, the boys golf matches are no longer publicized, security has to be posted and accompanies the team.

The only solace is at the local course….

We are fresh meat once again.

One nationally recognized media star with digital, print, radio and television platforms, attempts to go so far questioning if is it the gun or the shooter, and utterly ignoring the ease of access to the weapons, "Let's look at this and see what makes it a great weapon for the homeowner and what makes it so safe, really...if you examine the issue, it's a security issue, where were the parents, the kid had parents…where were they?

The other side of the coin wants to ban all guns, damn the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, another wants to tax them so heavily it would be ruinous and yet another wants everyone to be able to sue the gun manufactures'. The extreme wackos on both sides seem to control the debate, and no one hears each other as they don't give up or give in.

The debate is raging across all media platforms with no quarter given. 37/24 isn't going away. Politicos are starting to take it seriously; dead and wounded children are going to have an impact on the next election cycle.

Somehow, we make it through the remainder of the school year. The only way to get the media to back off was to agree to a set interview, so long as the media backs off. We've agreed to answer any and all questions in a no holds bared format. The time and date will be set once they honor their commitment and the school year is over.

Chapter 9

It took some doing but we managed to get the interview with the boys finalized, we would hold it up at Maple Hollow, we hadn't made the decision to do it in the converted barn's great room which was used for our extensive family gatherings or out on Ant Island on the cabin's porch.

We insisted that wherever the interview was held that there would be one camera and crew, no additional people other than those members of the media, no assistants or producers. They would be met downtown at the Hutchinson Hotel and brought up to the farm.

The need was to invite interviewer's representative of the various media outlets. We all agree we need to select one of the news anchors for the big three networks, an international choice is needed and we picked the BBC. We agree to a print reporter from the NY Times and the Boston Globe. Who else to invite become an issue.

We need to be fair and of all of the conspiracy peddlers, Trent Adams was the worst, the most injurious, that he had the highest rated cable broadcast certainly was a factor. The man has no scruples, no shame or humanity. If it would increase his ratings, he'd dig up his mother from her grave and crucify her on a national 'newscast'. The man is a vendor of erectile dysfunction miracle potion and various other pills for what whatever ails you. A snake oil salesman if there ever was one. The man was a shill, a toady for various conservative points of view where facts simply did not matter in the advancement of their regressive agenda.

All of us were against inviting him except Micha, who in discussion with Evan insisted he be allowed. We give way to the boys wishes and the invitations are sent. We fix a time and date for the interview, ten days from now. It will allow time for the invited to fix their schedules. No questions will be off limits at Micha's insistence, it will be a no-holds barred interview.

ABC, CNN the BBC, the New York Times and Boston Globe all agree to the conditions, one camera and operator, the feed will be available to all through satellite links. The NY Times and Boston Globe agree to the same conditions, their reporting will be shared on-line with any all print organizations who wish to use the copy.

When the news comes that Trent Adams has rabidly and vociferously declined, that he will not partake in such a media stunt does not surprise us. He will instead anchor his broadcast from the entrance to the farm or somewhere there-about. Again, there is a heated discussion on whether to allow this and Micha, once again, convinces us to let him. I look at Micha once we've settled our disagreements and now I am fully convinced he's up to something.

I watch him leave the room with Uncle Arik, the both of them in deep conversation their heads close together as they head towards the apartment that was built so long ago for a recovering Uncle Ethan. He recovered there after his tour in Viet Nam and the additional injuries suffered, when he survived the transport plane crashing in a military airfield in Germany. It is set up in such a manner that it provides an ease of use for those recovering from serious injuries. It is where Evan and Micha stay while up at the farm.

I find we are spending more time up at the farm, time up there allows us to heal, to knit together our broken bits, time moves slowly up here, we aren't as rushed as we settle into the peaceful rhythms away from the maddening world outside these stone walls.

Many, many weeks of physical therapy had worked wonders on Evan. For the most part he had healed as best as could be hoped for. The bullet that ripped through the soft flesh of his cheek, forever marking him exited just below the joint of the jawbone on the other side of his face. Had he'd not yelling at Micha to duck, the angle would have been all wrong. At point of exiting, it scored a deep line across his throat. Continuing, it then grazed across the top of his shoulder before hitting the wall behind him. Had he been shot by the student with the assault rifle, he would not have survived.

Some of the best reconstructive and plastic surgeons worked to minimize the obvious signs of the shooting, while there would always be visible scarring. It was the shot to his thigh that nearly took Evan away from us. The 22-slug ripped through the inside of his upper left thigh barely nicking the femoral artery. Quick thinking, direct pressure and a tourniquet saved his life, the first responders alerted by the student holding Evan's head were miracle workers.

Micha rattled off all of Evan's information as the first responders took over, blood type, no medications age and anything else he could think of, quietly praising the comprehensive first aid/responder course both he and Evan took the year prior. While he kept saying he wasn't shot they took him because of the blood all over him.

During his recovery Evan needed to use a wheelchair. Once he was healed enough to be allowed some mobility he graduated to crutches. The day he was allowed to ditch the crutches he came home with a cane which he detested nearly as much as the crutches which in his opinion, far superior to the wheelchair.

Sitting on the steps by the front door was the head greenskeeper from Belmont Hills with a package for him. Holding it out for Evan to open and once unwrapped, he found a 3-iron fastened into a cane. To say he was stunned would be an after statement. For a moment he looked like a guppy, his mouth trying to form the necessary words of thanks as his eyes misted and a tear or two crisscrossed his cheeks. He launched himself into the waiting arms of his old pal who hugged him fiercely back.

Using his gnarled old callused thumbs to smooth the tears away he gripped Evan firmly by the shoulders and turned him back down the walkway. Looking back over to me, he let us both know that the game missed both he and Micha, it was time to go back for a visit.

The superintendent of the local golf course reached out to us after receiving a call from our local club. He's invited the boys to spend as much time as they'd like at Nipmuc Hills. It's a Robert Trent Jones design from the 1920's in magnificent shape. A far tougher course than they are used to, it demands your attention as you traverse the narrow fairways and places a premium on accuracy.

The boys are missed of course but it is understood they need to be elsewhere as the tempest swirling around the continues unabated. What is left unsaid but soundly demonstrated, is the care and concern the folks from Belmont Hills provide. Not a week has gone by that someone, usually a caravan of greenskeepers, mechanics, administrative staff along with the course superintendent and club pro show up unannounced and become regular visitors.

Their visits are quiet, they are glad to spent some time with Evan and Micha, they offer a necessary distraction from the maelstrom. They are providing the necessary tools that will keep the boys grounded, free from the distractions, helping to rebuild the foundation so that once this all blows over, they will be able to move on with their lives.

It was up at Nipmuc Hills that the boys began to find the therapy that works best for them. We insisted that professional help be availed upon, and those councilors were wonderful in helping the boys work on the internal demons. It was getting back to the routine of time spent working, earning playing time that served them well.

Once again Micha and Evan worked with the mechanics, swinging wrenches, servicing all the various mowers, raking out sand traps and wielding leaf blowers. They insisted they be treated like everyone else, no special favors. They undertook all of the dirty jobs with a smile, listened as before to the years of accumulated wisdom and talent.

Nipmuc Hill provided a necessary sanctuary, they welcomed with open arms a weekly infusion of rotating staff from Belmont Hills. The boys were the butt of many a practical joke and gave as good as they got, there was a return to a healthy sense of normalcy once again.

The only immediate dark cloud hanging over their heads was the upcoming interview with the national and international media. I was not looking forward to it, I'd been suffering a case of the jitters. It was with a real sense of trepidation that I was not looking forward to the interview. Something was off and I could not, just couldn't place my finger on it.

Chapter 10

As those ten days passed us by all too quickly, I noticed we all seemed to quietly withdraw into ourselves. That none of us were looking forward to then interview was an understatement. All of us were moping around, terse in our conversations with each other and generally just unhappy.

From the kitchen I heard a commotion out in the driveway and saw Micha calling out to Evan to fill the cooler, we were headed out to Ant Island for the night. I quickly helped the boys get the coolers packed and loaded into the wheelbarrow for the trip down to the dock. Everything we would need for supper and breakfast was carefully packed in the order we would need the different items.

Grinning as I watched the boys head down the cart path, I mentally kicked myself. As a dad I should have seen such an obvious remedy for the malaise we were operating under.

If our stay up at Maple Hollow was far removed from the storms and undercurrents of the world outside these stone walls, being out at the cabin on Ant Island was further insulation from the turbulence buffeting the protective shielding encompassing us.

There was no electricity, all electronic devices were expressly forbidden except an old battery-operated transistor radio that lived on a shelf near the kitchen table. There was a weather proof box at the end of the island's dock, into that box went all cell phones, CD and MP3 players, Gameboys and the like. The only permissible use of a cell phone was for emergencies and even then, you had to have at least one foot in the water or stand on the ice if you were using the cabin in the winter.

There were however books, board games and what had to be one of the finest collections of Classic Illustrated comic books. All of these neatly stored on shelves along with an incredible collection of Indian arrowheads and other stone tools that the rich bottom land of the farm expunged over many generations of spring plowing of those same fields.

Food was cooked at the old cast iron cookstove or out at the fire pit and there was an old soapstone sink with a hand pump that once the frost was out of the ground, provided ample water for our needs. Bathing was done down at the dock with environmentally friendly soaps. There was an outhouse tucked away out behind the other side of the cabin from the well. Sitting on a shelf next to the front door of the cabin was what affectionally became known as the "Pooplight'' for those who needed to make use of the outhouse once the sun went down. It was of course tradition for the young men in the morning to write their names in the sandy soil behind the outhouse. At the far end of the island was a rope swing attached to a giant of an old weathered pine, a gnarled survivor of many a year of storms rain, wind and snow.

Our two days out at the cabin passed all too quickly and we soon found ourselves back up at the farm for the interview the following morning. We had decided after a robust discussion that the interview would take place not on the island but in the family's great room in the converted barn.

We were up before the rooster so to speak, all of us were not looking forward to what was to come, the intrusion on a national and international scale into our lives. Breakfast was light and afterwards we met with the technical staff who arrived early to set up and determine how we would sit in the great room. The cameraman and sound technician were nothing but gracious and did their level best to be unobtrusive as they went about their tasks. Uncle Arik had departed previously to the Hutchinson Hotel to pick up our ''guests". What was unknown to me was that Uncle Ethan had also departed as well. His destination was the Town Hall where he would pick up the six other survivors.

Shortly after Uncle Arik returned and we had gone over the basics with our interviewers we were set to begin. Once the cameraman indicated we were live Micha stood up and began to introduce ourselves, pointing out his parents, Uncle Arik, myself and Evan who then rose and stood beside Micha.

Beginning, Micha spoke clearly to the camera, "I would like to thank all of you today for being here and for those on the other side of this camera, thank you for your time this morning. We are here to address and answer many of your comments, questions and concerns.

As we all know, we are here because of a horrendous act by a couple of students who had access to firearms, access they never should have had. We can debate what the second amendment means from here to eternity, what cannot be up for debate is that 27 children out of 34 shot at our school will never have a chance to speak up for themselves here today, they will never graduate, go to college or find a trade, serve our country, marry or have the chance to watch their children play with their grandparents. And there are those who find this war of attrition waged against us, your children…acceptable.

What happened so many months ago is not unique. Hundreds of us have died, your children are being shot and killed in their classrooms and nothing is done. Those who by any definition of sanity, should not have access to the weapons that are slaughtering us.

It is inconceivable that schools now teach active shooter drills, we do so rather than insist that these weapons be safely and securely kept. Kept away from those who would so misguidedly do us harm. Rather than address the issue, we teach avoidance. It is the epitome of insanity.

One last observation I would like to share with you are the following statistics, before I get in to the numbers. I realize that advocates from the extreme left or right will find a platform to distort, denigrate or otherwise demean, diminish or inflate the numbers discussed today.

Reasonable people can agree to disagree, to accept the results at the ballot box and move on, either to strengthen platforms enacted by the voting public or to retrench, look at the reasons platforms introduced that failed to pass muster, reorganize and try again.

Since 1990, 221 students, staff and others killed and 360 wounded as well.

This year, 2018…there have been 17 school shootings. There are those who will argue that these school shootings reflect a miniscule percentage of the millions of students.i

There are those who put forth in a national debate that our neighbors to the south of us are rapists, criminals, murderers and a danger to our country. That these folks, just as our grandparents and forefathers did what they need to do, to escape broken societies' and come here for a better life, to see their children succeed and prosper.

Yet we hear that they are infesting our country from the very highest levels of our government, that we must build a wall and only allow the select few to immigrate.

Yet far more of our children are in danger and are dying at our own hands, because we cannot enact reasonable gun safety laws and all we hear are crickets at the same high levels of our government.

We can accept and support the second amendment which enshrines the right to bear arms but…it must be coupled with uniform licensing for use in self-defense, training or hunting. The severest penalties for mis-use must be applied and time in jail a reality. Gun owners must be criminally liable for any mis-use, they must be secured at all times, in the home and in transit.

We would no more allow someone to drive a vehicle with out proper training, licensing, registration and insurance, the same should go for firearms.

We are here today because 34 students were subjected to gun violence, 27 of us died because those who should not have had access to firearms were able to obtain them and use them with deadly effect.

It is far past the time to have an honest discussion on this issue that faces us…Thank you."

It is a tired cliché but…you could have heard a pin drop, the silence was deafening, only to be broken by the sight of Uncle Ethan escorting a reluctant Trent Adams down to the seated journalists and news anchors. A chair was quickly provided and he took his seat.

As he was seated, Uncle Arik led into the great room, the six other survivors who sat in a semi-circle alongside us, behind us sat their parents. By previous agreement the print reporter for the Boston Globe acted as a moderator. The format she explained was fully open, no questions were off limits or out of bounds as long as they pertained to the shooting at the high school.

It was a remarkable hour and a half, Becca Thomas, an 17-year-old Junior told of her boyfriend throwing himself over her as she was shot in the leg.

Robert Jenkins an 14-year-old Freshman told of losing his right hand and at the moment, all he could think of as he was shot, was thanking god as he was a lefty.

Marty Robbins an 15-year-old Sophomore spoke of his reconstructed shoulder and the number of surgeries he still faced

Sarah Essex an 17-year-old Senior told of surviving being shot on the lower abdomen, having to deal with a colostomy bag and her relief that it would soon go away.

Mary Noble an 18-year-old Senior spoke of being shot in her right buttock, her difficulties in sitting and sleeping, her nightmares and flashbacks as she witnessed the carnage.

The parents spoke and answered questions as well, they spoke of the shock, relief and guilt that their children survived, they spoke of the aftermath they were still dealing with, the hours of therapy and counseling. That many days were a struggle which were made worthwhile on the few days actual progress was made. They were candid as to the financial burdens, the hospitalizations to numerous to mention. The daily struggles as nothing would ever be the same.

I sat there stunned as the interview evolved around us, I now understood what Micha and Uncle Arik were up to. Micha was right in his thinking and subtle deception. This day should not have simply been just about the three of us, it was and needed to be far larger than that. This clearly wasn't about Evan taking one of the shooters down, it wasn't just about saving his boyfriend. It was however something far larger than all of us, something that struck deep at the heart of our shared humanity. I am incredibly proud of the boys

The focus turns to Evan who has been sitting quietly holding Micha's hand. The questions come fast and furious. To his credit he answers all of them, occasionally reminding an interviewer that personal questions are out of bounds and to respect his and Micha's privacy.

For whatever reason Trent Adams who had comported himself respectfully and with humility seems to lose his composure. He's hectoring Evan, questioning his sexuality and demeaning Micha.

The next five minutes are powerful, in what will undoubtably be an iconic moment in television, Trent Adams is exposed for the charlatan he is, a purveyor of deliberate falsehoods, his lies and mis-truths exposed. So completely, so thoroughly he's unable to respond articulately.

Each surviving student addressed Trent Adams in turn, each taking one of his fabrications and succinctly addressing the lies, falsehoods and innuendos. They describe the idiots, encouraged by his imbecilic ravings, that took it upon themselves to further harass both their families and themselves. They talked of having to uproot their lives and homes, of the threats and character assassination. The constant hospital visits, the therapies, both physical and psychological. Of the complete and total loss of any expatiation of privacy. As they finished, each of them had a photograph of the wounds they suffered incorporated into the broadcast and available for the print media.

Evan was the last to speak, walking over and standing near Trent Adams he thanked everyone for their time, looking directly at Trent Adams Evan asked, "Where is your humanity, your sense of decency? Have you sir, no sense of honor?

With that Evan joined his fellow survivors and left the room effectively ending the interview.


As expected the interview fueled a media shitstorm, out of which Trent Adams found himself marginalized and shortly after a non-entity. He along with his show faded into obscurity. The Des Moines Register printed an editorial, that exploded nationally, calling for sensible gun safety regulations, registration, licensing, insurance and mandatory jail sentences for non-compliance. They articulated the need to protect the rights enshrined in the 2nd Amendment with sensible regulation. At long last the needed national conversation began. Where it ends is anyone's guess.

Evan and Micha continued to thrive and are back to school in the fall. I find myself the recipient of numerous speaking engagements, most I decline. I do not want to become that broken record and find my greatest joy in life are my sons. That picture is never more an arms-length away from me and it is everywhere I go.

Thank you, Miriam. We are forever in your debt.

i More than 215,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since Columbine


This story is part of the 2018 story challenge "Inspired by a Picture: Empty Shoes". The other stories may be found at the challenge home page. Please read them, too. The voting period of 24 August to 14 September 2018 is when the voting is open. This story may be rated, below, against a set of criteria, and may be rated against other stories on the challenge home page.

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2018 Inspired by a Picture Challenge - Empty Shoes

Empty Shoes

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