Taylor family Sunday dinner was at Marcus's brother Jamie's house. Marcus and I were playing in the backyard with the twins, Stephen and Joshua.
"Uncle M, C'mon up and see what Daddy made. You gots ta see this." Josh yelled down from the new tree house.
"You too, Uncle Tony! Hurry up." Stephen added.
"Are we doing this, Babe?"
"After you old man…" I jumped out of the way to miss his head slap.
"I'll think I showed you this morning just what this old man can do." Marcus grinned, as he climbed the rope ladder.
"Yeah, well everyone can have a good morning once in a while. We will see if you can repeat that any time soon."
"Oh you're looking for a repeat performance are you? I must have been good, then" Marcus smiled.
"You were good Uncle M? What did you do?" Josh asked.
Marcus went about six shades of red, and stammered until he finally spit out, "I made you, Stephen, and Uncle Tony a cherry pie for dessert."
I burst out laughing, "Cherry, huh? Yeah I'd say so."
"Yummy, cherry pie for 'sert, Oh boy, you were a good this morning."
I continued laughing. The next thing I knew, all three Taylors in the tree house were tickling me.
"No fair, it's three against one. I guess I need to bring out the secret weapon."
"Secret weapon? You don't gots no secret weapon, Uncle T. You are crazy." Stephen laughed.
"Yeah, you are. Show us your secret weapon." Josh jumped into my lap.
At that moment, we heard Jamie yelling for the boys to come inside. "Grandpa's here, c'mon in and say hello boys. Right now!"
"Let's go boys. We can come back out and play after dinner and cherry pie." Marcus jumped on the slide and was out of sight.
"Wow, Uncle M you are fast. Wait up." Josh giggled.
"Uncle T, you go next. I'll be right behind you." Stephen had an excited look on his face.
"Here I go."
I got halfway down the slide and stopped myself.
"Road block; you have to pay a toll to get through."
"Uncle T, I gots no money. What do I gotta pay you?" He burst out laughing.
"I think you owe me one game of war. I still need a rematch from the last time you beat me."
"You are silly. I love playing cards with you. That's not a real toll. You are the craziest ever." He giggled.
I put him on my lap and we slid the rest of the way down.
"Go say hi to Grandpa before Daddy yells at me."
He ran into the house. Marcus smiled at me and grabbed my hand.
"Babe, you are so cute, what secret weapon were you going to use up there?"
"I have no idea."
Marcus burst out laughing, "You are too much. I love you." He kissed me and continued, "Let's go say hello to my father, hopefully he's feeling a little better today."
Marcus's youngest brother Nick, his wife Jessica and their three-year-old daughter Mallory arrived just moments later. Sarah had made baked ham and scalloped potatoes for dinner. The whole clan chatted away during the meal; it was such a different experience for me to be a part of a big family. As an only child of an only child, I never experienced this kind of family meal. It took time to get used to all the conversations going on at once, but it was such a wonderful feeling to be included. The only Taylors that never seemed to really talk to me were Marcus's father and his youngest brother Nick. Nick was quiet in general, but Marcus's Dad just seemed to avoid me altogether.
After dinner and dessert, everyone moved to the living room. Stephen and Josh were sitting in Grandpa Taylor's lap. The boys were chatting away, when I noticed something a little off. Marcus's Dad had a droop on one side of his face and he seemed to be struggling to talk.
"Jamie call 911 right now. Boys get down from Grandpa's lap for a minute, please." I whispered to Marcus, "I think your Dad is having a stroke. I need you to grab his hands and ask him to squeeze."
"Dad, squeeze my hands. Can you talk to me?" Marcus sounded panicked. "He's really not squeezing on his left."
Jamie yelled, "The ambulance is on its way."
I tried to keep calm. "Look, Marcus, keep talking to your Dad. If he loses consciousness, we need to lay him on the floor. Hopefully, this is minor and they can start treatment quickly. He still seems alert. When my grandmother had her stroke, they were able to treat her quickly and she had no lasting side effects. Everything will be fine."
The ambulance finally arrived, I grabbed the boys and Mallory and we went into the boys' bedroom. Mallory was crying and the boys were completely confused.
"Okay, you guys need to find a game we all can play. I will be right back, let me just check to see how Grandpa is doing."
"Is he going to be okay Uncle Tony? What's wrong? I don't understand?" Stephen started sniffling.
"Grandpa isn't feeling well right now. He needs to go to the doctor so he can get better. I need to go talk to Uncle Marcus and then I will be right back. Don't worry about Grandpa, the doctor will try to make him all better. Pull out a game and we can start playing ok? I need you to be big boys and look out for Mallory for a couple of minutes okay boys?"
"C'mon Mallory, we can play Candy Land. You are good at this game." Stephen put his arm around his cousin.
I smiled at the gesture, and then dashed out to see where things stood.
"I can stay with the kids if you want." I said to Sarah.
"No, Jessica and I will stay with the kids," she replied. "Go to the hospital with Marcus, thank god you noticed something was wrong with Dad."
"Are you sure? I don't mind staying."
"Positive, just make sure our husbands keep us informed."
Marcus and I dashed to the car so we could follow the ambulance.
"Babe, how did you know?"
"He looked exactly like my grandmother did when she had her stroke. I will never forget that look. I was a freshman in high school, but it still scared the hell out of me. Hopefully, your Dad will have as quick a recovery."
"I'm worried. Dad hasn't been feeling well for a couple weeks now."
"Remember what you told me when it was Mom, worrying doesn't help. You need to be strong for your family and your Dad. Everyone is going to look to you for guidance. Hon, just remember you can lean on me. I'm going to let you and your brothers alone at the hospital, but rest assured I am there for you. Don't forget that." I grabbed his hand and squeezed.
"I know. If I forget to say it as often as you deserve to hear it, I love you. With all my heart, I love you. I'm afraid things are going to get very crazy for me in the next few weeks, but never forget I love you."
"Hon, relax, I know. And I love you even more," I grinned at him. "Things will be fine. When we get to the hospital, you get out at the emergency room and I'll park the car. I need to get Sarah and Jessica's phone numbers so I can keep them informed. Let me have your phone so I can load their numbers while you drive."
We arrived at the hospital and Marcus ran into the emergency room just as the ambulance crew wheeled in his Dad. I took the car and parked it in the garage. Jamie and Nick parked next to me. We dashed towards the emergency room entrance, and Jamie put his arm around my shoulder as we walked through the door.
"Thank God, you knew what was going on with Dad." Jamie started choking up.
"I just hope he recovers quickly. You guys need to get in there and find out what's going on. I'll be in the waiting room."
"Bullshit, you are family too. C'mon we need you to stick with us."
"Yeah, Tony, you're not going anywhere." Nick added.
I was a little surprised by Nick. As the youngest brother, he always seemed really close to his Dad, but less close to Marcus. The whole family dynamic thing was foreign to me. Nick was always pretty quiet around me, so his response was definitely unusual.
It was a long evening for all of us. After running a battery of tests and starting precautionary treatment, Marcus's Dad received a fairly good prognosis. The doctor cautioned us the next twenty-four hours would give a much clearer picture of Dad's condition, but he was sure that quick action had certainly helped. Jamie and Nick headed home about midnight.
Marcus turned to me, "Let's go home. I will need to go into the office early to see what needs to be done there, before I come back up to the hospital to check on Dad. Right now I'm exhausted. I think Dad will sleep the rest of the night."
"I'll drive home; you need to call your mother to let her know where things stand. I'm sure she's been worrying since Jamie's call. I know it's late, but call her and put her mind at ease." I added when Marcus started to protest.
"Okay Babe, you're right."
He spoke with his Mom for a few minutes, and managed to convince her to come up for a visit. She hadn't been in town for over a year.
"The grandkids would love to see you, Mom, and I know Dad would too. I also have someone I want you to meet… His name is Tony… I'm sure you can stay at Jamie's… Just let me know when you are getting into town."
Marcus and I crawled into bed about one. I had my head on his chest, but I could tell neither of us was close to sleep.
"I love you." Marcus whispered.
"I love you too," I replied. "I called Danni and Hunter and postponed our dinner tomorrow. I expect Danni will pay a visit to the hospital tomorrow knowing him."
"Fuck, I forgot we had plans. We need to plan a celebration for Danni. I hope we can do it while Hunter is here, or get him back for it."
"Don't worry, we will figure something out. I believe I told you what your priorities are… You have enough on your plate; it's my turn to help you out. Don't worry please. Now we need to try to get a couple hours of sleep."
I turned on my side to coax Marcus into letting me spoon him. He took the hint and I think we drifted off for a couple of hours. Unfortunately, morning arrived too soon.
Except for the couple hours I went to the hospital that week, and time we spent in bed, I didn't see much of Marcus. His father's recovery progressed fairly well and the prognosis was good. He had suffered some minor weakness on his left side, but his speech had been unaffected. The doctor hoped the weakness was temporary and could be corrected with physical therapy.
After a week in the hospital, his doctor recommended a two week stint in a rehab facility, where he would get therapy multiple times daily. The night before his father was going into rehab, Marcus was in his Dad's room discussing work. I went down to get coffee in the first floor cafeteria. When I returned, I could hear the two of them still conversing; so I stood in the hallway to let them finish.
"Son, I am very proud of the way you have taken control at the firm this week. All the staff looks up to you. I'm not surprised, but it's a huge weight off my mind.
"Any way, I've had a lot of time to think this week. There are a few things I want to talk to you about. First, I owe you a huge apology. I know I never handled your being gay very well. For the longest time, it felt like I had failed you as a father. I didn't understand. I thought it made you less of a man, and you being gay was all my fault. But I was wrong. You are a better man by far than me. You are a brilliant lawyer, a wonderful son, and an amazing person. I hope you can forgive this old man for his stupidity."
"Dad…" Marcus tried to cut in.
"Let me finish. Second, I owe Tony an apology too. I never really accepted you being gay, so your relationship with him was all that much harder. I barely gave him the time of day. Again, I was completely stupid. He is incredible. Intelligent, caring, and most of all loving, he is so good for you.
"It's clear he may have saved my life, or at the least made my recovery much more likely; I will always be grateful for that. But more importantly, I am grateful for what he has done for you. You were closed off for so many years. I love how you have come alive since Tony entered your life. It is such a joy to see.
"Finally, when I get back on my feet, I intend to slow down a bit. I won't be stepping completely to the sidelines, but I will be handing off more of the responsibilities and decision making regarding the firm to you. You have shown you deserve it and can handle it. I am so proud of you son. I hope you know how much I love you."
I had tears streaming down my face. I took a sip of coffee, tried to composed myself, and walked back to the waiting room. I wanted to give them more time alone. When I finally returned to Marcus's dad's room, Marcus and his father were hugging. I was overjoyed for them. I was about to walk back out, when his father saw me turn around. He stopped me.
"Tony, where do you think you're going? Please come here.
"I want to apologize to you and really welcome you to the family. Thank you for figuring out what was going on with me. I owe you a lot. But more importantly, thank you for loving my son. He's very lucky to have you. You help him to be a better person."
I wrapped my arm around Marcus, "Actually, we make each other better. I love your son with all my heart, I'm the lucky one. Thank you for welcoming me into the family, it means the world to me. You should be very proud of yourself. You raised three good men."
"Thank you." He collected himself for a moment and then continued. "Why don't you take this son of mine home now? He has been here every night. I hope you'll help me get settled in tomorrow. I expect the rehab center will put me through my paces so I can get back to one hundred percent. Please go home. I'll see you in the morning, son. And Tony, I'm sure I'll see you tomorrow night. Tonight, I think I'm going to see if I can catch up on a little sleep before the move. Good night boys."
"Good night, Dad. I love you. I'll be back first thing tomorrow to help get you settled. Maybe we can coax Jamie and Sarah to bring the boys out to see you tomorrow afternoon. They have been asking about Grandpa Taylor all week."
"That would be great. Now go home and spend some time with each other."
We left the hospital and headed to the condo. It was just seven, but it felt much later. Marcus stopped at Luigi's, my favorite Italian restaurant, for takeout. When we got home, he sat at the dining room table and started to cry.
"Marcus, what's wrong?"
"My father… He said some things that surprised me. I'm a little over whelmed. You aren't going to believe it when I tell you."
"Actually, Hon, I overheard some of it. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to eavesdrop. But, I also didn't want to intrude. I eventually walked back to the waiting room to give the two of you a few more minutes. The last thing I heard was your father telling you he was going to slow down a bit after rehab."
"Well, he didn't say much more after that. He repeated himself a couple of times and then he wrapped me in a hug. I think the stroke affected his brain. He's never talked to me like that before." Marcus started to laugh and cry at the same time.
"I think you're exhausted. Hon, your emotions are all over the place. Look, let's finish up eating and then we can hang out for a little while. With your father in rehab, you and your brothers can take turns visiting. He will be busy days with therapy and probably be too tired for many visitors all at once."
"You're right, especially about me being exhausted. But you've been right there with me the whole time."
"Yeah, but I'm not trying to run a law firm and keep my family grounded." I kissed him.
"But, before I forget, I have a late meeting Wednesday after school. Ian is finally ready to start the infamous project. Why don't you have that be one of your nights at the rehab center, and maybe we can have Hunter and Danni over Tuesday or Thursday.
"I think they are going back to the city this coming weekend. Rehearsals don't start getting intense until after Thanksgiving. They seem to be doing really well; I hope the fact that Hunter will be his boss doesn't throw a wrench into the works." I wondered out loud.
"Damn, I feel horrible I have had no contact with Danni all week, except his hospital visit. I really hope we can get them here soon. Plus, I want to be sure we plan a big send off for Danni before his tour starts."
"Don't worry. Danni completely understands. Plus, I actually think it was better for them to be left to their own devices. Danni sounds deliriously happy. I haven't spent a lot of time talking to him, but it sounds like things are very good."
"That's cool. I'm so happy for them. I hope going on tour together doesn't have a negative effect on their relationship."
"Yeah, but I think Danni's more worried about rehearsals than the actual tour. Once they have the show down, it will be easier. But the rehearsal time is prime time for some serious battles.
"But enough about them," I said. "I think it's time to go to bed."
"Babe, are you that tired? It's still a little early…"
""I didn't say anything about sleep… I said go to bed," I winked and walked away.
Marcus grabbed me from behind and pushed me towards the bedroom. We started kissing. I knew what I wanted, and made it clear to Marcus. It took less prep for him to get me prepared this time. He was fantastic, and when we flipped, the finish came at the same time for both of us.
"Babe, I needed that… You are so awesome. I love you. Let's shower and then how about some sleep."
"Excellent. And by the way old man, you're still good."
We both burst out laughing.
Marcus got his Dad settled in at the rehab center. The twins visited Grandpa Taylor that first night. I think it was good for all of them. We finally made plans with Danni and Hunter on Thursday. They seemed incredibly happy together.
I had a meeting on Wednesday to get started on Dr Hunter, my boss's project. My curiosity was killing me. I didn't know Ian's plans, or who else would be working on the project. The meeting was scheduled for seven, so I stayed after classes and caught up on some research. Marcus was at the rehab center with his father.
We had been successful with the grant I started for the tablets and apps specifically designed to help some of the kids diagnosed as autistic. The IT department had set them up. There was one for each of the elementary schools, two for the middle school and one I could use.
Some of the apps were designed to show kids how "normal" reactions to a social setting differed from their reactions. The app was useful for the teachers to help with conflict in the classroom; if conflict arose between kids. The app was good at showing where the likely breakdown of communication existed. In some ways they were a bit simplistic, but I felt like the non-autistic kids had a better understanding of their counter parts reaction or even lack of reaction when these apps were used.
At about six, I dashed down the street to pick up a sub for dinner before the meeting. I ran into the tall older teacher I met in the elementary school the first day. Paul Holden had been the teacher that had unknowingly defended me during my initial foray into that building. He had been teaching for thirty years. I thought he was one of the best teachers at the school. He stayed very current, involved his class in various projects, and helped mentor new teachers.
"Tony, what are you doing grabbing dinner here? I have a meeting tonight or I would be going home for some of the wife's cooking."
"I guess we are going to the same meeting. I was doing some research after classes were done and figured I would never be able to concentrate if I didn't get something to eat. Do you know who else will be at the meeting tonight?"
"My understanding is Dr. Hunter has all the building principals, and the department heads from the high school. I think there will be a teacher from the other elementary school and the middle school too. I didn't hear you would be there. I'm pleased Ian has included you, I wonder who else will be there?"
"I don't know. You have way more information than I have at this point. Do you have any knowledge about the project itself?"
"That I do not. Ian has kept that close to the vest, so to speak. Even Marion Hodge, my building principal, couldn't shed any light on the project."
We had a pleasant conversation while we ate. Finally ten minutes before the meeting, we headed to the district office.
I knew all the teachers at the meeting, and of course I interacted with the building principals. I thought Ian had done a great job at picking the group. I still wasn't sure I belonged. Each person in the room brought at least twenty years experience to the table. I was barely six weeks into my career. I felt completely out of my element.
Ian started speaking and the room went quiet.
"Thank you all for coming tonight. I'm sure there are places you would rather be. Most of you have worked for this district for more than twenty years. You bring a wealth of knowledge, experience, and teaching ability. You are the best the profession has to offer and I'm honored you have agreed to take on this project."
Ian wasn't making me feel any better about being included. I felt like I was in way over my head.
"I think all of you have met one of our newest staff. Anthony Wallace has been with us since the start of the school year, I know he's sitting here right now thinking I made a mistake including him in this group. Any of you that have spent time working with Tony can attest to his intelligence and abilities. I have done many interviews in my day, but I think the building principals can agree when I say, no one has ever blown me away like this young man did.
"While I will rely on the experience, knowledge, and passion for the job from most of you, Tony brings a freshness, an ability to embrace change, and a true empathy for our borderline students. I think once I present my plans for this new curriculum… Yes, that is my plan, to develop a new curriculum. You will all see what I think Tony will bring to this undertaking."
Ian proceeded to underline his ideas for a new "real-life" curriculum. He said he was tired of hearing from students and parents, "Why do we learn this, we will never use it again." The plan was to bring parts of each discipline, math, science, language arts, global studies, and even business and industrial arts to a single focus. His example was building a robotic arm. Obviously math and science were important, but if the students were required to write instruction manuals, actually do the metal work, and study the economics of the business, they would have a better understanding of all the parts that go into a real-world project. He hoped to teach students an understanding of the whole while encouraging them to find the part that most interested them.
"Now, the robotic arm is just an example. There are dozens of ideas for individual projects. I am tasking you to work together to create curriculum to match with these ideas. My vision is to take some of our brightest students and find out their passion, convert that to course work, and finally find a way to give our less bright students a passion of their own. I believe it will help the entire student body to develop excitement for learning, and bring an understanding about how 'the gear needs all its cogs' to work properly."
"I know this is much easier said than done. I expect it will take us the entire school year to come up with a coordinated plan. My future hope is especially in the high school, I will be able to have two or three of the disciplines taught simultaneously, in other words two or three teachers rotating a single class together."
"Tony, on the other hand, has the task of coordinating the students who will participate. I know he already works with many students he hopes to mainstream, but I also want him to begin to interact with the best and brightest and bring the two segments together. This year I hope to use some of our top students to coach and mentor others. We already have a great peer education group with our LGBT group and the HIV/AIDS education group. In essence, that example is what I hope the new peer group will follow."
"I'm not sure all of you have seen the new tablets and apps we received last week. Frankly, it was Tony's work that started the process and I'm happy to see a little bit of progress already. I believe some of the apps will help our peers understand each other and their charges better, and make for a greatly improved learning experience for everyone."
Ian had collected the tablets from the other building. He had me explain the various apps and demonstrate how a couple of them worked. Again, I was overwhelmed initially, but I knew my knowledge base was rock solid. After I finished, I even invited questions. I wasn't one hundred percent sure where this confidence was coming from, but I loved the feeling.
After I answered a couple of questions, Ian started in again, "Now you see why Tony is part of this group. Don't let his youth fool you. He is very intelligent and isn't afraid to think outside the box."
"Now I believe I have kept you out late enough on a school night, I would like to meet again in two weeks. In the meantime, I task you with coming up with ideas, based on your specialty, on how to pull off this idea of mine."
Everyone started leaving; I hung behind momentarily in the hope of speaking to Ian.
"Ian, I have a quick question for you. Have you talked to Dr. Miller about your ideas? I think with the loss of one of the professor in his department, some of the master's advisors are a bit overwhelmed with students. I wonder if this project could be helped by using some of those students to coordinate ideas and flesh out proposals. That would free up our staff to work on ideas and not be over burdened with details."
"Tony, that's a brilliant idea. I suppose you have a student in mind."
"Well, I know of one of the new students who might find the challenge interesting. I know Jon has one student more than usual and I would be surprised if the other professors might be slightly overwhelmed and looking for new projects. I loved the work I did with Jon, but this opportunity would have intrigued me."
"Tony, I think it's an incredible idea. If you thought at any moment you didn't belong on this project, I hope that idea is gone. I think you found the perfect way for the project to really move forward. I will call Jon later tonight and get his thoughts. What's the name of his student you think might find this project a good fit?"
"It's Jon's newest student, Keith Samuelson. I have been trying to mentor him since he lost his first advisor. I would be happy to talk to him after you have spoken with Jon."
"Excellent. I really love this idea. I will talk to you tomorrow and let you know what Jon thinks. What building are you in tomorrow?"
"I work out of my office in the high school tomorrow."
"Perfect, I will talk to you about this idea and try to get you an updated list of the students being considered as peer educators this year. I would love to set up a meeting between you and those students in the very near future. If you haven't heard from me by noon tomorrow, call Katie and find out where I am.
"At the risk of using a bad baseball analogy, the tablet idea was a home run; this idea is a grand slam. Brilliant. Thank you and I will talk to you tomorrow."
I was very full of myself when I got home. Marcus arrived just a few minutes later. I had brought him home a turkey sub, which he devoured.
"How's your Dad doing today?"
"I hate to say he's back to normal, but he's complaining about everything. They work him too hard at therapy, the food is awful, and he's bored. Well, I watched him eat dinner tonight. Frankly, the meal looked like restaurant quality food, and he ate every morsel. So I had a difficult time believing any of his complaints. He still favors the left side slightly, but he seems to be getting his strength back daily.
"How was your meeting?"
"Completely overwhelming at first…"
I told Marcus about the rest of the group and all the experience in the room. I explained what Ian hoped I would bring to the project, and how he had me talk about the tablets. Finally, I told Marcus about my idea of using masters students to do the detail work on the curriculum, and Ian's reaction to the idea.
"I suppose you think this might be right up Keith's alley," Marcus replied without a hint of stress or discomfort. He was smiling. It felt like we had completely moved past any stress about Keith.
"Actually, yes I mentioned his name to Ian, but it really comes down to whether or not Jon is on board. And how many other professors would be willing to allow their students to take this project on, not only in Jon's department, but even in the School of Education."
"You did great again, my love. I am so impressed with you." Marcus pulled me in for a kiss. "Before I forget… My mother will be arriving on Friday afternoon. I talked to Jamie and Nick. They want to do family dinner at our place Sunday, and then we can all head over to Dad's for dessert. I think Mom will be more comfortable seeing Dad with the whole family. Does that sound okay with you? I told them I would call after I talked to you."
"Of course, whatever you guys need to do. I have to admit I'm nervous about meeting your Mom. You really haven't talked much about her."
"I know, but she will love you don't worry. How could she not? You are bright, funny, gorgeous, understanding, and good in bed. Damn, I hit the jackpot now that I think about it."
"I'm not sure you should discuss that last quality with your mother."
"Okay, maybe not the last one, but how about we test it out right now…"