Donner and Blitzen Redux - Part 2
The text came in at seven the next morning.
< It’s lonely in this bed, so just wondering. Are we meeting on Thursday at McMennamin’s? >
I grinned to myself. We hadn’t talked about it, but the thought certainly had crossed my mind.
< Are you asking me on a date? >
I thought I could see the expression on his face as he composed his reply.
< Well, you know! I’ve got to take Adrian to art class and, well, you’re not making me beg, are you? >
I felt satisfied. He had it as bad as I did.
< You do know what The Rolling Stones had to say about things like that, don’t you? >
He was a music fan, but he was younger so maybe he didn’t know the older Rolling Stones songs.
< And what would that be? >
I could feel the coyness come through the phone!
< Wild horses couldn’t keep me away! 😍 >
Then, before he could reply, I shot him another text.
< And I’m not happy in the afternoon when we don’t do lunch… and neither are the dogs. >
And that was the way the week went. We were trying to keep developing our relationship while being independent, but it was hard. However, the very things that made it hard were also what made it precious and heart-warming.
Cheryl, my office manager, had quizzed me on Monday about how my Christmas break had gone. I’d started out telling her just about the quality time in the office to catch up on paperwork and do annual planning… and she’d said “And?”
She’d worked for me for six years, longer than any of the other employees, so I guess she felt entitled. Then I told her about doing personal financial planning and being able to leave early to go shopping.
She’d said, “And… shopping for what?”
When I said, “Groceries and stuff,” she’d come right back. “Who were you cooking dinner for?”
“Cheryl! What is this? Twenty questions?”
She just grinned at me. “As a matter of fact, yes… it is. It’s your new boyfriend, isn’t it? I figured you’d spend more time together with him, and I think that’s great. You’re long overdue and that explains why you look so love-sick today.”
I looked at her like she’d just offended me.
“Get over it, boss. Love is love and it’s kind of obvious. I’m happy for you, by the way. We’ve all seen you meet him outside at lunch or after work with the dogs. You gave me and the bookkeeper a cursory introduction… which you had to do to get him past us and into your office. Are we all finally going to get to meet him properly, or is he some kind of national security risk?”
She got me with that one. She deserved better. “I’m sorry if I’ve come off as trying to hide something… I mean to hide him… it’s just that…” my sentence died.
“I know, Wilt. You don’t have to explain. I’ve worked for you long enough I’ve seen it.”
That made me recall the obvious. Cheryl and I had talked about my problems with Patrick. She was here when he died. She stood next to me at his funeral. She really had seen it all.
“I’m happy for you,” she continued. “You seem energized and happy again. I’m just telling you that we all see this going on. Me and Stacy and the salespeople and the warehouse people and the drivers even. And we’re all happy for you. You don’t need to keep it all private unless you really want to.”
That was certainly cause for consideration! “You’re right Cheryl, I don’t, and I shouldn’t, and I won’t. I’m kind of rediscovering some stuff about myself and I guess I’m still kind of protective. My brother had to ask me if I was in love… and if I’d told him.”
“Told who? What’s his name again?” She was grinning cheekily at me now.
“His name’s Seth, and he’s a really wonderful… I mean he’s just a great…”
She cut me off. “You’ve really got it bad, don’t you?” She was beaming a smile of pleasure, though. Happy that I was happy.
“I do. I never thought it would happen again, but it has.”
“So, when do I get to properly meet Seth?”
“Soon. This week. Tomorrow. Is that okay?”
I grinned at her feeling like I’d just been given the third degree by my parents after my first date in high school! They were both gone now, And, while Jordan and I took care of each other, it was nice to be reminded that there were other rock-solid people in my life who cared. And because of that, Seth or I started getting sandwiches to go for lunch, ate them in my office with the dogs, and he met all of my employees.
On Thursday, Seth had to skip lunch because of something at his office. I was already at McMennamin’s when he walked in, and I admit my heart skipped as I watched him take off his mask in the mirror behind the bar. He glanced down the bar, saw me and broke into a huge smile. Just the hug he gave me from behind was the highlight of my day.
We’d skipped lunch together today because we were getting together in the evening, and I said, “Cheryl asked me if you weren’t feeling well.”
“Yeah, when you didn’t show for lunch.”
He smiled wryly. “So, lunch at your office is now a permanent fixture?”
I wiggled my eyebrows. “She seems to think so. You’ve made a good impression on her. She tends to watch out for me.”
“Yeah, you told me that. Like she was your mom or something?” He said it simply, not with any criticism, appreciating the concern that was behind it.
“She’s a great person. She was one of my mainstays. Without Jordan and her and the dogs, I wouldn’t have made it through Patrick dying.”
Charlie, the bartender, slid by and asked if Seth wanted his usual, and he nodded in reply. Then he said, “I like her a lot, too. Don’t get me wrong. I told you already that you’ve got a great crew. Everyone in your office gets along and acts like they’re on the same team. It’s pretty cool that they’re happy for you and accept me like that.”
I changed the subject. “Were you able to talk to Adrian on the walk to art class? How’s he adjusting to being back on the regular schedule?”
“Yeah, we talked a little, and you know I’ve called him every evening. He wasn’t happy Monday or Tuesday, but by yesterday he’d settled back into the routine, and tonight he seemed normal. He does want to know when he gets to come to dinner again, and when we’re walking the dogs. All of that.”
“We’ll talk to him about it on the walk from class, and plan a couple of things for the weekend, How’s that? Then you can ask him about Jordan.”
He smiled and nodded his head as he sipped his beer.
Adrian seemed happy to see me, in his muted way, meaning he didn’t say much, but he was smiling, and his eyes were twinkling. As we walked, Seth got him talking about art class, and then we talked about the upcoming weekend. Knowing that asking him what he wanted to do might be confusing to him I asked him if he’d be able to handle two long walks?
He nodded vigorously and said, “That will be good. Good for all of us and good exercise.”
Seth smiled at me, kind of letting me know I was doing okay, and I asked him if he’d like to come home with us after the walk and have dinner on Saturday.
He nodded again and smiled. “I like dinner with you guys and with Donner and Blitzen.”
“And we all like it with you.”
Seth then picked up the conversation. “Adrian, Jordan asked me to say hello to you.”
He nodded and smiled, and Seth went on. “He’d like to get to know you better. Do you want to do that?”
Adrian nodded again, the smile still on his face. “How about if we take you to meet with him while me and Wilt go shopping Sunday? Then we’ll pick you up and we’ll go for our walk with Donner and Blitzen?”
He nodded again. “Jordan was nice. Will I see Ray and Rachel?”
“Maybe, if they’re home. We’ll see, okay?”
By this time, we were back at the foster home and said goodnight.
I was actually nervous about whether Adrian would go for meeting with Jordan, but was happy he liked him and had the positive associations. He usually wanted to stick with his routine, and we’d been mixing that up recently but he hadn’t gotten distressed, so I took that as a good sign. He’d told me about liking Ray and having fun playing Minecraft, so that undoubtedly helped.
Wilt pulled me out of my contemplation. “He was really into the walks, and I know a lot of it is because of the dogs, but it’s also good exercise for him. Does he get much exercise outside of PE at school? For that matter, does he even get PE at school?”
I told him there was some PE, but it was limited because many of the special needs kids had physical handicaps. Most of his exercise was walking to and from school. I thought I knew where Wilt was going with this. “Jordan told me about the motor skill deficiencies that Asperger’s patients can have, and I don’t see a lot. I mean, if he’s painting and drawing his fine motor skills have to be pretty good.”
“They are. His artwork is pretty good… you know, for a high school kid. What are you thinking about?”
“That he’s got some gross motor skill problems, that you can see when he walks. Not major, but they’re there. Has he ever run with you? Can he do that?”
I shook my head. “We tried a few times, and it didn’t work. I think it was too much to coordinate. You can see he walks pretty methodically, so running is harder.”
“We should get him a bicycle.”
I nodded. “That’d be good. I know he used to be able to ride, but he outgrew the bike he had at our grandma’s and there hasn’t been the money to buy another one. Kind of like my beater car.”
Wilt ignored the last comment. “I think bicycle riding will help with his motor skills, it’s more manageable than running, that’s for sure, and most importantly if he gets serious about it, it’s regular exercise. Jordan explained how narrowed interests and the ability to focus on certain things is impressive, but it can be at the expense of others. Lots of people with autism, and even those with Asperger’s ignore exercise and get overweight. I think it’s our responsibility to help him get fit and stay fit. Like not let him gain weight because he’s not exercising enough.”
“Good point.” I’d thought about the quality of food at the foster home, but I didn’t really know much. “I don’t know how good the food is that he gets at the home or at school. Just that he gets enough, you know, that he’s not going hungry or anything. Regular exercise is good, and spring will be here before long.”
“And then summer,” he continued. “Do you have a bicycle?”
I felt a flash of embarrassment. “No, same problem. After grandma died there wasn’t the money for that and college and helping Adrian. It was a car or a bike, and I figured I needed the car to come and visit him, and I’ve kept it, so I had wheels when necessary.”
“I’m thinking we should buy three mountain bikes. They’re more stable, so it’ll be easier for Adrian to ride. We could ride together. In the summer we could all go on trails and stuff. According to Jordan there’s plenty of great rides he takes his kids on.”
“You’re serious?” I wasn’t used to having spare money to throw around, let alone spend on things that weren’t necessary.
“Yeah, I am. Keeping him fit is important to his health and happiness. Riding together would be fun, and it’s important for us too. I know plenty of orthopedic surgeons, and you know what most of them will tell you about running and skiing after they’ve had a couple of beers?”
I didn’t get where he was going with this, and said so.
“They’ll laugh, and then say it’s job security. Then they tell you that our bodies aren’t built for all that pounding, and we’re just wearing out our joints prematurely. That means they get to do hip and knee replacements and make the big bucks!”
I smiled at that, recognizing the truth behind it, but still concerned. “Wilt, it’ll still be a lot of money.”
“But don’t you think it would be money well spent, and it’s for our health and well-being. We’ll all be able to do more things together, and they’ll help us all stay fit.”
What could I say to that logic? So, that’s how Wilt set me up to check out the winter sales on mountain bikes that we fit into the weekend schedule along with grocery shopping and the dog walks.
I hadn’t even given Adrian having dinner with us a thought. Usually, I’d have been worried about him being all anxious or something, but knowing he saw it as coming over to Wilt’s house to be with the dogs and having dinner with us, took all the anxiety out of it.
On Saturday, the walk was at a nearby county park, and it was raining lightly but we weren’t soaked when we got back. After drying off and feeding the dogs, we sat down at the kitchen table, and talked over some hot tea, eventually getting around to what we were having for dinner. Wilt then asked Adrian if he ever got to help prepare meals at the foster home.
He shook his head, looking concerned, like maybe he should have been doing that, or something.
Wilt grinned at him. “No worries, Adrian. I’m just asking. Has your brother told you yet that I’m a slave driver?”
A look of concern appeared on Adrian’s face, and then his eyes brightened, and a smile replaced the concern. ‘Naw, you’re not.”
“When he eats here, he has to help with dinner. Remember last week, he was in the kitchen with me when we cooked dinner. You were hanging out with the dogs. Remember?”
Adrian nodded his head.
“So, do you want to learn how to cook? You know start with the preparation part? You’ve done really well learning how to handle the dogs. I bet you’ll do just as well with the cooking stuff.”
Adrian’s eyes widened. “Really?”
Wilt glanced at me and winked. “Yeah. No knives right away, just starting with the basics and working up. Are you up for it?”
Somehow Wilt had put the offer together in a way that connected with him, and Adrian nodded his head and grinned. “Yeah. I’m up for it.”
That night Wilt taught him how to wash and tear lettuce for a salad, and after I’d sliced cucumbers and tomatoes and avocados, Adrian got to toss in the dressing.
When we were walking back after we dropped Adrian off at the home I said, “How did you know that would work? The whole cooking thing?”
“I didn’t. But he did well with the dog handling. Jordan says he thinks he can eventually handle independent living, so, it just made sense.”
I felt stupid. “Why didn’t I think of that before?”
He stopped me on the sidewalk and said, “Because you were worrying about other things. You do your cooking at home, and he eats his meals in the foster home or at school. Remember what Jordan said about not beating yourself up for this or that? You’re not Superman, Seth. You’re just you. Wonderful and caring and responsible you, but I think you’ve kind of had your plate full for a while trying to live your life and being responsible for him. Now we’ve got a bigger team. We can do more. We can involve him more. It was fun, wasn’t it?”
He was right. My high-performance guy was right. We now could do more, and it was fun. I just felt bad that I hadn’t been able to do more before. But I guess he was also right that I wasn’t Superman. Maybe I needed to meet with Jordan, too!
I’d planned it so that the next day we’d drop Adrian off at Jordan’s house. Kathy had arranged to be out somewhere with Ray and Rachel this first time, so they were undisturbed. It only took a few minutes to assure that Adrian felt comfortable being with Jordan, and we took our leave.
Seth gave him a hug and said, “We’ll be back in an hour, okay. We’ll be back here at two o’clock and then we’ll take the dogs for their walk.”
Adrian nodded with a smile, and Jordan took him under his wing, and we left. I’d already done my research and decided on a bike shop, and in ten minutes we were there walking around with two Staffordshire bull terriers and looking at mountain bikes. I knew full well that at our level of riding competence most mountain bikes were the same and that this was less about the bikes than it was about the person selling the bike and how he’d do with Adrian.
A very fit salesperson wearing a knit wool beanie asked if he could help, and we said not yet and kept looking at brands and frames and colors. Then I went to the counter and asked who the manager was. Another man introduced himself as the assistant manager. “You know how it goes, the manager, who’s also the owner, doesn’t work on Sundays, so you’ve got me.”
I thanked him for his candor and explained that I was going to buy three decent quality mountain bikes, but that one of them was for my boyfriend’s brother who had mild autism and that for us, the salesperson to work with him and fit the bike to him was way more important than the bike itself. He nodded in understanding and said, “Johnny, who’s here with me today rides competitively and is technically really good, but Ellen, our other salesperson would be better for what you’re describing. Is the brother with you?”
I explained that he wasn’t and that we were getting the purchase organized and we’d all return if it came together. “Ellen is off tomorrow and Tuesday, but back on Wednesday. Let me introduce you all and see what you can work out.”
In a minute we were talking about bikes and Asperger’s with a really nice and amazingly fit young lady in her mid-twenties. She and the dogs clicked, and then she said, “I don’t know anything about autism or Asperger’s, but I’ve got a cousin with cerebral palsy, so I do know something about working with kids that have a handicap.”
Seth described Adrian and they talked about the kind of riding we’d be doing, and pretty soon she’d suggested ,and we’d settled on, the brand and model of mountain bike and agreed we’d be back around four thirty on Wednesday.
On the drive back to Jordan’s house, Seth reached over and took my hand, and said, “Have I told you yet that you’re some kind of genius? My high-performance guy is also a genius!”
“No, not really. This is the kind of stuff you learn as you come up in sales. Like in my business, imagine that you’re out to sell some high-powered orthopedic surgeon on some new instrument or prosthesis. You have to know all about the product and how it works, right? But you also have to know a lot about the surgeon, what he likes or doesn’t. What his quirks or idiosyncrasies and expectations and needs are. Unless you’ve got that under control, the odds of failing are pretty high. So, for me, this wasn’t genius stuff. This was just making sure that we made sure the situation was as close to optimal for when we take Adrian in there, and he’s not getting distressed by some salesperson trying to up sell him on an upgrade to some expensive derailleur or losing patience and being a shithead because the guy doesn’t like his communication skills.”
He lifted up my hand and kissed the back of it and then said, “You’re so cute when you’re being humble. Like I said, genius! I’d have never thought of half of that stuff.”
I flashed him a grin. “Teamwork, love. Teamwork!
It worked, too. On Wednesday, we picked up Adrian after he got back from school, and on the drive, Seth prepped him about how fun it would be to be able to ride mountain bikes together in the summer. He lit up and they talked about rides and stuff and then Seth dropped that we had time to look at bikes. When we got to the bike shop, Ellen was waiting for us. She was friendly and open and told Adrian she liked Donner and Blitzen. She was very casual, and that put Adrian at ease. Seth and I stepped back and listened as Ellen asked him about the last bike he’d had, what he liked about it, and then walked him over and started showing him different bikes, explaining what had changed and improved since he’d last had a bike.
You could see Adrian was into it, absorbing the technical details about new derailleur technology and bigger gear clusters, how bikes now had twenty-one gears, how shocks were built into the front forks and rear suspensions. I could imagine many of those words showing up in the next Scrabble game, and it was so obvious he was enjoying the interaction.
At the end, Adrian was totally sold on the bike he was going to get, and Ellen made sure it fit properly, had the right length seat post and a good quality seat. That, plus a helmet. I paid for them and arranged to come back the next day by myself when I could put the rear seats down and load up all three bikes. Plus, a bike rack! It suddenly dawned on me that I’d need a way to haul these mountain bikes.
We dropped Adrian off in time for supper and headed for Seth’s apartment. He was leaning against the passenger door, looking at me sideways.
Finally, I turned and said, “What?”
“You’re totally into this, aren’t you? I mean the whole scene.”
“What do you mean?” I was feeling a little embarrassed.
“I mean the me and Adrian scene. Apart from me being your boyfriend and lover. I’m just more and more amazed how much you’re into this.”
I swallowed, knowing it was time, and said, “Jordan asked me if I understood that with you, I didn’t just get a fabulous boyfriend, I also get a family.”
“He asked what?”
“That’s what he asked. You know the same guy that asked me if I loved you and then put me on the spot about whether I’d told you or not. That guy.”
“Oh… that guy!” Seth’s voice was reflective. “I’m getting to love that guy a lot. Isn’t he kind of already like my brother-in-law or something?”
I choked up on that one. “He’s already starting to feel that way… and so am I.”
“For real? So, you’re cool with getting a family this way? I mean most boyfriends don’t come prepackaged like this, especially with Adrian’s problems.”
“You know, love, I’m not the brightest bulb in the box, and it’s Jordan that’s the psychologist, not me… and that’s for a reason. But I have learned a few things along the way from being around him, and one of them is that I don’t think of Adrian’s situation as a problem. Like Jordan, I see that he has limitations, but also is full of possibilities and opportunities.”
“That sounds great, but you’re not the psychologist, Jordan is.”
“I know that, but you know what? I run my own business and I learned a long time ago that good leadership is helping people become all that they can, helping them fulfill their potential. Is this so different?”
Seth shook his head.
“So, there you are,” I said. “The difference being that in this case I also get this incredibly sexy boyfriend who’s an amazing lover. That’s the bonus in this deal.”
Seth was giggling, and I pulled up in front of his apartment.
“I mean it. You’re an amazing lover, with a beautiful body. And you know what?”
He had to fight to stop giggling, but he did and then gulped and said, “What?”
“I don’t want that gorgeous soft ass sleeping alone in that cold bed in your apartment anymore.”
“Yeah, really. Will you move in with me? Please? It’s better for all of us.”
I couldn’t argue with the logic either, so we went up to my apartment and threw as many clothes as we could fit in a couple of duffle bags and started there. We’d work on the rest of the stuff later.
Truth? I’d dreamed about this happening, and I knew my lease on the apartment was up for renewal in two months, but I hadn’t told Wilt that because I didn’t want to put him on the spot where he thought he had to rescue me or something. But still, it was so great… it felt so good.
We walked into the house, said hello to the dogs, then Wilt led me down to his bedroom. He opened the doors to one of the two closets, and in one sweeping move lifted all the clothes on hangers off and said, “This one’s yours.”
He walked over to the other closet and started hanging the clothes up and said, “You’ll need a dresser. Don’t you think the one at your apartment is kind of small?”
“Yeah, I bought it in college. It was used like most of my other furniture.”
“Then what do you think about a replacement?”
I looked at him, probably looking a little incredulous, and he stopped what he was doing. He took two quick steps over to me and grabbed my hand, saying, “Come here,” pulling me down onto the bed. It was a tight and warm cuddle. “In my mind, this isn’t hard. I love you. I want to be with you. Everyone who knows about us says it’s so obvious. I just want us to be together. Is that what you want?”
“Then let’s not make this complicated, okay? I mean by worrying about who’s idea it was or who’s in charge or who’s paying or whatever. We’re in this together. I think we both know that by now, don’t we?”
I nodded, and I could feel a smile forming on my lips. “I love you totally. You know that. You’ve also got a lot more than I do. I don’t want to seem like a… like a taker, or something. I have to be contributing my share.”
“Fuck that. You’re not a taker and you can and will contribute your share, okay? I almost have to force you into accepting things, and actually I respect that. I’ve been successful in business and I’m lucky, I’ve already got more than I can probably spend in a lifetime. But you know what I learned with Patrick? All that doesn’t matter. You can have all the money and all the success and all the toys and still be miserable as shit. Being alone isn’t fun even if you’ve got a lot of money.” He paused, slowing down his thoughts and looking at me with the most open and exposed expression I’d yet seen on his face.
“Are you with me on that?”
“I am. Being alone isn’t fun when you’re broke either, so I get it.”
“Cool. So, let’s not make a huge deal out of this. You’ve got a new job and a new career path, and it won’t be long before you’re making the big bucks. You may not think so now, but I know so. So, let’s just put all this who’s got the money shit aside and enjoy being with each other and make the most out of every day. For that matter, make the most out of every minute. What d’ya think?”
I could feel the gears in my head spinning. Was I giving up my own independence somehow by agreeing to this? On the other hand, if Wilt was anything, he was fair and a straight shooter. Yeah, Andrew had been a controller, but this was different. This felt different. This felt good and healthy, and as they say, ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained!’
“I think, game on. I think I love you more each day. I think it all makes good sense. And I also think that if we’re going to make the most out of every minute, then it should start with this minute. So, you should take your clothes off right now so I can go to work on loving that body you’ve got.”
The expression that came onto his face was priceless!
Jordan called us the next evening and wanted to talk about his meeting with Adrian. “Look, it went really well. Nothing to panic about or anything, I just want to give you both my impressions. So, let’s start with that, and some of it one or both of you will already know, some you may not. There are ten most common symptoms associated with Asperger’s. And Adrian’s got them all to a greater or lesser degree.”
He paused. “Did you hear what I said, to greater or lesser degree?”
He was forcing us to hear what he said and acknowledge it. We did, and he went on.
“Okay, I’m going to run down the list and outline where I think Adrian sits with each one. Among the most common is failure to develop friendships because of lack of social skills. He’s got that one, but his social skills are better than most. Related to that is selective mutism, when they only speak freely with people that they’re comfortable with and not with strangers. I qualified as somewhere in between, and he and I talked together just fine.”
I nudged Wilt and said, “Tell him about the bicycle salesperson.” Wilt explained how it went with Ellen in the bike shop, and Jordan said, “Great, that confirms what I’m saying. Not that he’s perfect with strangers, but that he can do it. Another big one is the inability to empathize, and that’s common to most people with Asperger’s and all with autism. The thing is that as they mature, they learn the acceptable social response for interacting with others. That’s different than intuitively knowing how to empathize and truly understanding another person’s feelings, but the point is that he’s not devoid of the ability to empathize, and he’s good at the learned behavior part. Thoughts?”
I glanced at Wilt, and then said, “I think you know that on the drive home from your house when we had dinner with you, he asked if we were boyfriends and then said that he can feel that we’re in love and that it wasn’t that way with me and Andrew.”
Jordan smiled encouragingly. “That’s my point. He’s not devoid and he is able to intuit, and the rest he compensates for by learning how to behave. The next two kind of go together and that’s the inability to make eye contact and social awkwardness. He’s got a little of that, but not a lot. He can engage, which is great. Lots of people think Asperger’s patients are not passionate, and I can tell you that’s not the case. He’s absolutely passionate about you, Seth. He thinks you’re the most important thing in the world and he understands what you’ve done for him. He may not be able to explain it logically, if you know what I mean, but he gets it. You guys have a bond for life, and that bond is extending to the dogs and to Wilt.”
I looked at Wilt again and smiled, but this time took his hand and squeezed.
“Okay, moving along. Some of the others are kind of categorized together. That starts with narrowed interests and the ability to really focus. He’s clearly got those, but his range of interests is broader than most. Meaning math and art and dogs are pretty distinct things. Some patients have such narrow interest that it’s like playing video games or making models are the only things in their lives. His interests are much broader, and that’s key to being able to live independently. We’ve already talked about the literal interpretation dynamic, like about time, and while he’s literally inclined, it’s not extreme. That ties to sticking to a routine. That’s his tendency, but he has some flexibility, even if it requires preparation on the front end. There are lots of patients who won’t or can’t change their routines. Are you with me so far? I know this is a lot of stuff.”
We both nodded, and I could feel some questions forming in my brain, but I wasn’t ready to ask them yet.
“Okay, so now the last two, and they’re quite positive. Asperger’s patients typically have excellent pattern recognition, and that works two ways. First, as a way to understand the world and make sense of their surroundings, but also just a natural ability that they have. They see patterns and logical connections. Adrian has that in spades, and it’s evident in his math abilities and his capability in art. Lastly, there’s the motor skill subject, and it’s clear he has some gross motor skill limitations, you can see that in his stiff gait, but I don’t think its major. In contrast, his fine motor skills are quite good. I mean, you guys know this boy can handle a paint brush, right?”
We laughed, the relief evident in our voices that most of what Jordan was telling us was positive.
“So, where does that leave us?” Wilt asked.
“In a good position. I stand by my first impression that he’s very intelligent and has a high capacity for independent living eventually. While being in the special needs school has undoubtedly helped him on the more social side of things, I think he’s failed to be challenged. For instance, he’s very capable at math and told me he’s always gotten A+ grades. But he hasn’t been pushed to test the limits or see where it can be applied. He likes and is good at art, but he had to enroll in a community art program to learn more advanced technique. Personally, I think you should explore enrolling him in a summer coding camp program to test applying some of those skills. Many Asperger’s patients become very good coders and software developers.”
He looked at me. “Seth, you’re his brother. Does what I’m saying add up? Does it correlate with your experience and understanding?”
I immediately felt kind of stupid again. “Well, yeah, overall, it does. I mean everything you’ve said rings true, but… but I just feel bad that I didn’t figure out a lot of that myself. You know the part about testing his math abilities, or that it took Wilt saying we needed to buy him a bicycle to keep him fit and healthy. You know what I mean?”
“I’m going to say again that I think you need to quit beating yourself up. I have the advantage of a degree in psychology and years of clinical practice, so I can reel all this stuff off and make it sound obvious. It’s not. You’ve been in the trenches with your brother and done a very good job of it. So, can we agree right now that you’ll quit beating yourself up about the things that you think you didn’t do, when, in fact, you were not in a position to do them?”
That stung! I knew what I was supposed to say, but I was struggling.
He made me look him in the eyes over FaceTime.
“Seth, I’m convinced you did all you could. You’re not much older than Adrian. How much can you be expected to do, for god’s sake? You need to stop holding yourself to some unachievable standard. I’m talking to you now as my friend and my brother’s boyfriend, alright. I care about you, too, and we’re all in this together. So, let’s all agree that we’ll acknowledge what we’re able to do and agree what we’re going to do, and work together to execute a game plan? Okay.”
I was still silent, working through what he’d said and the accompanying guilt I’d been carrying around.
Wilt, my high-performance boyfriend, came to the rescue.
“Jordan, I can tell you something that happened today that’s part of that game plan we’re going to execute together.”
“Yeah. I convinced Seth it was time for him to move in with me. That I was as tired of living in this house alone as he was of living in his apartment alone, and that we needed to do this for us.”
I could see Jordan smiling, and then that smile become a grin. “I think that’s marvelous. Good for you guys. Now, that said, ever the clinician, I need to say something else, if it’s okay.”
We both nodded. “I don’t think there’s anything more important you could do right now for Adrian than that. He loves you both. You’re forming a family, and one of the big missing elements in his life since his grandma died and he went into foster care, is family. Seth, don’t get me wrong, but I have to tell you that you need it, too. Wilt, you do, too. We all do.”
Wilt was quiet, and Jordan looked back at me. “I understand your commitment to your brother. Wilt’s told me how he feels about Adrian. So, this family you’re agreeing to put together, you two, Donner and Blitzen and Adrian, is wonderful. The love you two share is the glue that’s going to make it all go.”
So, a week ago Adrian dropped the love bomb and today Jordan dropped the family bomb.
During the following week we spent some time each day after work moving Seth’s belongings out of this apartment. I had a three-bedroom house so we stacked the things we couldn’t use immediately in one of them. His furniture had been bought used when he was in college, so we agreed to donate most of it to Good Will. Then we bought him a dresser, one that kind of matched the one I already had. He insisted on paying for it himself, and that was a simple expression of financial partnering.
On one of those evenings, a woman who had an apartment on the same floor, came down the hall as we were carrying stuff out and asked about his leaving. He was beaming when he told her he was moving in with his boyfriend. I’d just come out the door into the hallway with boxes in my arms, and the woman turned to look at me and said, “I assume this is the lucky man?”
Seth said, “Sure is. Lucky me, huh? This is my beau and his name’s Wilt.”
She looked at me admiringly and said, “Beau? How charming.”
Seth replied, “Most people think it means love, or lover, and that’s often the way it’s used, but originally in French it meant handsome.” He looked straight at me, standing there kind of mute with boxes in my arms and said to her, “Don’t you think he’s handsome?”
They both had a laugh and then we chatted for a few minutes. At the end of which she said, “I have a friend who’s looking to move up from a studio to a one-bedroom apartment. When’s your lease up? Can I tell her about it?”
Seth said sure, and then added, “My lease is up in March. Wilt convinced me to live with him, and why would I wait?”
She nodded in agreement, and we said goodbye.
On the drive home, I glanced at him and said, “Now, tell me, where did this ‘beau’ stuff come from.”
“It’s true, it’s an old French phrase that came into English usage. It first got my attention reading about Beau Brummel, in the early 19th Century, who was an amazingly attractive man who actually established a fashion of dress that rejected overly ornate clothes in favor of understated, but perfectly fitted, bespoke garments.” He glanced at me and said, “That’s how I think of you. Incredibly handsome and with a striking but understated persona.”
“Yes, seriously. Handsome, loving and understated. There’s a statue of Beau Brummel in London and it says, “to be truly elegant one should not be noticed.” I haven’t seen it, I mean in person, but I’ve read about it.”
He was watching me, smiling coyly, and I just rolled my eyes. He went on, “I didn’t tell you about the date on the lease before on purpose. There’s nothing I was hoping for more than that we could live together, but I didn’t want to make you feel like you had to do something to rescue me.”
I smiled in response. “I understand, love. No worries.”
“Also, for the record, I wasn’t not telling you so that I’d have a fall back or something.” He paused and looked out the windshield. “I know it might look that way, but you know, I’ve got to be able to handle my own things.”
I pulled into the driveway, and took his hand after I put the Explorer in park. “I know you do. You’ve done a pretty good job all around. So, let’s just forget about it and get this stuff inside. Then we can have a drink and think about dinner.”
Later, when we made love, he whispered in my ear, “Oh, god! That feels so good. Nothing feels better than having my beau inside me.” When I’d first heard him refer to me as his beau, I wasn’t so sure. But when he said it that way, my heart leapt.
By Thursday, the apartment had been cleaned out and all of Seth’s belongings were in our house. He’d been cautious about putting any of his possessions out, but I encouraged it, and slowly some appeared, including a watercolor that Adrian had done the previous fall in art class. We met at McMennamin’s, and I mentioned the painting to Adrian when we walked him home. He smiled with pride about it and said it was his best still life. Seth used that as a way to tell him we’d hung it in the dining room because he was living with me now. The new information didn’t faze Adrian at all.
I felt like we’d passed a huge milestone. At least I knew I had, and I couldn’t have been happier with the cumulative effect of all the domestic elements. Waking up with Seth next to me and hearing him whisper something soft and sweet like “How’s my beau this morning?” then having breakfast together, walking to work, seeing each other during the day, walking the dogs on the way home, preparing dinner together. He’d told me he’d realized that ‘compatible,’ the term his grandma had used, was how he felt about how we fit together, and I had to agree. I knew it wasn’t all going to be warm and fuzzy, and sooner or later we’d disagree about something or other, but it certainly seemed like we’d both been through enough in life that we more than appreciated what we had together.
The next couple of weeks just seemed to move by, and on the couple of days that we had no rain and some sun we’d get Adrian after school and take a short bike ride. It only took a ride or two for him to be totally comfortable with the new mountain bike, and he even mentioned riding it to and from school. We told him we didn’t think that would work with him living in the foster home, and he seemed to accept it.
Jordan kept meeting with him on Sundays, and my respect for my brother grew exponentially over those weeks. He called us on either Sunday or Monday evening to brief us on how it went, and most of it was further understanding about how Adrian coped with the symptoms of Asperger’s and then specifically about how Jordan was working with him about skill development in those areas. During the first call in February he said to Seth, “Adrian’s birthday came up today, and I’m pretty certain that he’s not connecting the dots that he turns eighteen and that impacts his being in foster care.”
Seth immediately asked, “We haven’t done anything about that yet. What should we do?”
Jordan suggested speaking to the foster parents to learn who his case manager was, and then speak to him/her about a continuation at the foster home until he graduated from high school. “Can I make a suggestion?”
Seth nodded and he went on. “You should become his guardian. In practical terms, there’s two age thresholds, namely eighteen and twenty-one. When he turns eighteen that’s technically the end of foster care, and it’s also the age of consent for sex and to register with the selective service system, things like that. But the legal age is still twenty-one, so he can’t make legally binding decisions by himself. As his brother it shouldn’t be difficult to do that, and it will protect him.”
I squeezed Seth’s hand and said, “I’ll call my attorney tomorrow. I think Jordan’s right about doing it, and it shouldn’t be hard.”
He nodded, and then said, “You guys are both right, but even if we can extend the foster care until he graduates, what then?”
Jordan was quiet and I knew he was purposefully not stepping into my space. “I think we should start thinking about him moving in here and living with us.”
“You’re serious?” Seth looked at me and asked in almost a whisper. “You’d do that?”
“We’ve been talking about family, haven’t we? I seem to remember that my brother pointed out that my boyfriend came with a family?” I poked him in the ribs, trying to lighten it up a little.
“Yeah, I know, and he did… but, you know… it’s a huge thing. I mean it’s one thing to talk about it, but to do it… Wilt, I’ve thought about it, but it seemed more like a dream.”
Jordan stepped in at that point and said, “You don’t need to decide right now, and you should take your time and talk it through and fully understand all the ramifications and responsibilities. There’s the legal and physical dimensions as well as the emotional and familial. The latter have to do with his Asperger’s. What you need to do right away, in my opinion, is pursue the guardianship. You’ll be in a better position to discuss continuation with the case worker if he or she understands that you’re doing it in order to prepare for Adrian’s future.”
We left it there, and the next day I called my attorney and he set up a phone conference for us the following day and confirmed that Jordan was right. As the adult minor of a brother with no other living relatives it would be straight forward to petition the court to award guardianship. He said he’d start the petition process and that he thought it could happen within a month or two. He also confirmed Jordan’s opinion that it strengthen making the case for extending his time in foster care.
Progress! My boyfriend, and love of my life, was sharing my house, and his brother could end up with us as well, if everything worked out.
I’ve known Wilt long enough that by now I shouldn’t be surprised by his generosity. One side of my brain says I shouldn’t have been surprised at all by the way he just accepted that Adrian should probably live with us when he had to leave foster care. The other side of my brain was where the fear and paranoia lived, and that was the side that had made me avoid even bringing it up because it seemed like such a huge thing, such a massive ask.
Wilt’s lawyer had been really nice and was pretty sharp and made it sound easy. Still, I figured there’d be complications. Somehow, I figured nothing went easy with the court system. Maybe I’d watched too many TV shows.
Wilt and I talked about it after the call with Jordan, and he continued to talk about it like it was obvious, just the natural extension of the way our relationship was going. I tried to raise objections but realized that was the wrong approach unless I wanted to hurt his feelings.
The next morning at work I shot him a text.
< Just so you know, I’m sitting here still amazed by what you said last night about Adrian living with us. I can’t find an emoji with the top of its head blown off! >
I felt kind of dumb having this conversation by text, but I felt I needed to really put how I felt in front of him. His reply was simple.
< No need. I love you and I love Adrian. Oh, and Donner and Blitzen love you guys, too. That kind of seals the deal, right? >
Just before his reply came in, I found one.
< Oh, look. I found one, but it’s not even close to how mind blowing what you did was. 🤯 >
I didn’t know what he’d say, but he did reply.
< Heh, heh! Yeah, that one’s pretty lame. Stop overthinking it all, okay. Just accept that love’s what’s going on! >
His reply gave me pause.
< Okay. You’re right. I can do that, and I will. 💞💕💞💕 >
In the afternoon, I called the foster parents and arranged to come over after work. They thought what I was proposing was a good idea and really didn’t want Adrian moved during the school year. They said they’d make that point strongly and gave me the case manager’s name. Their suggestion was to try and set up a meeting with her on her next regular visit which was the following week. I called her and outlined the situation and she agreed to meet with me and the foster parents. That was a good start.
It turned out that the next call with Jordan was more eye-opening than the one when he raised the subject of guardianship.
Adrian hadn’t said anything about what they discussed, but that was normal. Seth and I knew it wasn’t patient confidentiality, just that he wasn’t naturally chatty and didn’t voluntarily share personal information unless he needed something. It seemed like he just accepted his weekly meeting with Jordan as part of his routine, like going to art class, and unless he was asked about it, didn’t say anything. We’d decided early on that we weren’t going to quiz him. It would be up to him to tell us if and when he was ready or he needed something.
Jordan went right to the heart of it when he called on Monday night. “We spent much of the time discussing coping mechanisms and skill development, and that went well. When I asked him if there was anything else he wanted to talk about he got quite reflective. I asked a couple of questions, and he was slow responding but then he opened up and we talked about romantic and sexual love.”
Whoa! I could see Seth’s eyes widen and he shot me a glance and then smiled, almost deviously.
“Where did that come from, do you suppose?” Seth tried to sound surprised as he asked.
“Seth, I don’t look like I just fell off the cabbage truck, do I?”
Seth giggled. “No, sorry. I didn’t mean anything like that.”
Jordan smiled back. “Good to know, because I’m looking at the cause.”
“Well, yes. Or, more specifically, the two of you. You’re very much in love and you show it not just towards each other. You told me what Adrian said about your relationship with Andrew and how different the relationship you two have is. He said you two guys love each other, right?”
“Okay, so he didn’t experience love in your relationship with Andrew, and he lives in a foster home so while the foster parents may love him in their way, he’s not experiencing romantic love in any way there or at school, where he spends most of the rest of his time. We’ve agreed he’s more intuitive than expected. He’s tuned into your love and being included in that circle of love. Our conversation started there about love in general, and then romantic love more specifically. And then it went on from there to sexual love. All in broad terms, mind you, but you need to know that’s on his mind.”
I knew better than to jump into the middle of this discussion and just smiled at Seth, kind of telling him to go on.
“So, I guess I understand the basics of what you’re telling us, but what does it mean?”
“It means just what I said.” Jordan grinned at him devilishly, like he used to do when we were kids and he had me flummoxed about some subject or had caught me out doing something and he was in control of his older brother.
“Let me make it easy on you, okay? I’ll start by talking about love and sex and sexuality and then we’ll talk about Adrian. It starts with the simple fact that all these patients are human and have sexual drives like the rest of us, and research has found that people with ASD do seek out sexual relationships and experience the full range of human sexual activities and behaviors. However, there’s a qualifier here, and it’s important to remember that Asperger’s patients are low on the spectrum, and referred to as high functioning. Even so, studies of Asperger’s patients in relationships with what are called
neurotypical people – meaning they don’t have ASD-- have shown that as many as fifty percent had no sexual activity. Now, remember that there’s even a spectrum within Asperger’s patients, and they have sexual needs comparable to the general population, including positive attitudes towards sexuality and the desire to engage in sexual activity. However, the very difficulties with social interactions that are at the core of ASD make achieving an appropriate and satisfying sexual relationship quite difficult.”
Seth had been very attentive, and I was trying to take it all in, too. He said, “Jordan, help me out. I’m confused. Some of that doesn’t make sense to me, like it’s conflicting or something.”
“That’s understandable. Let’s start with this fact. Sexual interactions are one of the most complex and demanding of all human social behaviors, so it shouldn’t be surprising that the core symptoms of Asperger’s, combined with limited sexual knowledge and experience, either make it very difficult to engage, or result in no interest. Remember the ten most common symptoms we talked about earlier? Social awareness and learning how to interact socially are necessary for learning appropriate sexual interplay. Factor in some of those symptoms and it’s not hard to see how that makes for real complications in understanding how to engage sexually. For these patients it’s not easy to learn how to interact with others and it can be difficult to recognize interpersonal cues. We take for granted the ability to communicate with others and consider the other person’s point of view. We take for granted soft touches, whispering sweet nothings, expressing our feelings, using terms of endearment. Those aren’t givens for patients with Asperger’s, and they all work together to make it difficult to sort through the complexities of a satisfying sexual experience.”
He stopped and looked at both of us. “Are you with me so far?” We nodded.
“So, start with those difficulties in communicating with and understanding the point of view of the partner. Now add in that for many of these patients there could be self-mutism or sensitivity to touch and it’s easy to see why it could be difficult. That begins to explain why, for many, sexual expression becomes private and self-satisfying. Then add in the tendency to focus and for repetitive behavior, and you can see where excessive masturbation can be part of the profile. I’m not saying this is the case with Adrian, I’m describing the overall dynamic.”
“Well, I know he masturbates. Or at least he used to.” Seth paused, thinking, “I guess I don’t know for certain for the last couple of years. But he started about the same age I did, like twelve or thirteen, and we did it together for a while, but then I came out in high school and started dating, and… shit! Do you think because I started dating and left him alone with himself that he got a fixation or something?”
“No, Seth. I’m not saying that. I have no idea if he has a fixation or masturbates excessively. I just know that like any other seventeen-year-old boy, he does. And guess what? That’s healthy and makes him normal. Okay?”
Seth nodded, but was still quiet.
“Sexual attraction takes place in the context of romantic attraction, and research has shown that for neurotypical people in relationships with Asperger’s patients the biggest source of sexual incompatibility and unhappiness is the lack of emotional intimacy. Does that surprise you?”
“Well, no,” Seth said. “It fits with all the other stuff we’ve been talking about. That they’re really intelligent and smart but have trouble communicating how they feel inside. I’d never thought about what you said, that romantic love and sexual interplay are the most complex things humans do. That kind of puts it in perspective.”
Jordan chuckled and said, “You’re getting the big picture. That’s good. So, here’s another way to look at it. Even in cases where there is sexual activity in couples, whether one or both have Asperger’s, the thing that’s most lacking is romance, and the absence of it over time has a detrimental effect on the quality of the relationship and the willingness of either partner to participate in making love. For most people emotional closeness is a prerequisite for sex, and without it making love can become non-existent. So, you can see how important empathy, trust, sharing of thoughts and feelings, willingness to resolve conflicts, and genuine interest in the partner’s physical and emotional experience are to a relationship and to romance. Those are all things that we take for granted. That’s what makes it so difficult to achieve a romantic relationship, let alone a compatible sexual relationship for these patients.”
Seth was quiet, looking down at the table in front of the couch we were sitting on. Finally, Jordan said, “Seth, are you there?”
“Yeah, I am. I feel so fucking stupid. I mean I had no idea about some of this, or didn’t understand it. That Adrian could be so mixed up when it comes to romance, to love. Or even about sex. And I could have done more to help him, but I didn’t. I mean, I guess I just assumed it would be different for him. Like he’s got his version and I’ve got mine, even if I’m gay. Is that self-centered tunnel vision, or what?”
“Seth, we agreed you’d stop beating yourself up, remember? You’re getting a dose of university level psychology, so take it easy on yourself. I wouldn’t be laying all this on you if you didn’t care so much to start with, and didn’t understand the basics of his condition so well. On top of that, you’re bringing him more intimately into your family, so you need to know what might happen. Both you and Wilt do. People tend to always hear and latch onto the worst-case stuff, and I’m not telling you that it applies to Adrian. I’m giving you the big picture because I think you can handle it.”
“I get that.”
“Seth, you can handle all of this information. You just need to keep it in context.”
There were tears forming in Seth’s eyes. Finally, he mumbled, “I’ll try. Okay? I’ll try. That’s all I can do.”
And I thought the part about making a family was the bomb. Then Jordan lays all this stuff on us about how fucking impossible it is for Asperger’s patients to love and be loved. God almighty! And I should have been doing something to help him and I didn’t!
Jordan said we had plenty to think about and should stop at this point. Was he ever right! We said goodbye and I just sat there mute. I couldn’t believe that on top of all this other stuff I’d found out about that I only partly understood, now I’m finding out that I don’t know all this stuff about sex and romance. With my own brother!
I hadn’t even noticed that Wilt had moved over close to me and pulled me into a hug. He kissed the side of my head and said very softly, “You have to stop.”
“Stop beating yourself up. Stop thinking you’re supposed to know all this stuff and be some kind of Asperger’s wonder-worker for your brother.”
I knew he was trying to help, but I just got angry. “What the fuck does that mean? He’s my brother and I’m all he’s got, and I’m supposed to have been taking care of him. And now I find out he’s got all these sexual issues I didn’t even know about and that he’ll probably never have a love life. I’m supposed to let that go? Act like it isn’t a thing?”
“Baby,” he said softly in my ear, “you’re over-reacting to the volume of new information. I know a lot of it sounded scary, but you know what?”
I was pissed, so pissed! I couldn’t believe my boyfriend was blowing this off like it was nothing. He knows full well I’ve been there for Adrian, I’ve been responsible for him, that I’ve done all that I could.
Well, the truth? Fact is I didn’t do all that I could because I didn’t know enough, and was busy going to college, and getting a job, and having a relationship. A romantic relationship, and having sex and getting laid and enjoying it… all those things that Adrian would probably never have. What the fuck!
“Baby, if you need to yell, do it. If you need to hit something, I’ll get something you can pound on. You’ve got to let the emotion out and get over this.”
“Wilt, you don’t understand. He’s not your brother, you’re not in the middle of—”
Wilt put his hand over my mouth. “Stop. First, I love you and I always will. Second, I am in the middle of this because you’re my boyfriend and we live together, so whatever you’re going through I’m going through. Third, I want you to try and understand the difference of where we are right now.”
Fuck, that stung! Had I forgotten that I love the guy who’s holding me in his arms, who’s actually holding me together right now? Had I forgotten that we’re supposed to be in love and so we are in this together?
That’s when I started crying. Wilt just let me go till I was cried out. Then, softly he said, “Baby, do you need to yell or pound on something?”
Now I was beginning to feel really dumb. Dumb, but also the kind of pleasure that comes from getting to the other side of a problem and knowing you’ll be okay and that the person you need is there for you.
“No, I don’t need to yell or pound anything. I just need you.” I started crying again, finally babbling out, something like “I’m sorry I’m such a case. Fuck! What a together boyfriend you’ve got, huh?”
He kissed the side of my head again and said, “Hey, I love my boyfriend. You know why? He’s real. No bullshit, no evasiveness, just the real deal. And on top of that he calls me his beau ‘cause he thinks I’m so handsome!”
I figured he’d be pretty disappointed with me, but he just tipped my chin up and kissed me. Slid his tongue over my lips and forced them apart and then slid inside, making me pay attention to what he was doing and respond by kissing him back.
I was so emotional I’d run out of words, and just clung to him, pulling myself as close to his warmth and strength as I could.
Finally, I said, softly, “Tell me why you’re not freaked out by what Jordan just told us.”
His voice was soft, but it was strong and clear. “It starts with this simple fact. Adrian’s not my brother and I don’t have the history you do, and I haven’t been in your position for the last ten years. On top of that, because of my job, I have to deal with tons of clinical information all the time. Listening to Jordan, for me, was like being at an orthopedic conference and hearing a talk about a new procedure. They study and describe everything. All the good outcomes and all the bad outcomes. What was done right and what was done wrong. Where the devices and even the surgical technique went wrong and could be improved. The full range of it, and I guess it would be easy to fixate on the negatives and the bad outcomes. And they do occur sometimes.”
He pulled me closer, as if that was even possible, and kissed my forehead.
“So, here’s what I heard. There’s this whole range of stuff for Asperger’s patients, all these symptoms and challenges, right? About romance and love and about sex itself. Guess what, though? Our concern isn’t all those patients. Our concern certainly isn’t about the ones with fixations and acute communication problems or the ones who can’t emote and who have no intuition. Are you with me?”
I finally realized what he was saying and where he was going.
“Our concern is with one person. Your brother, Adrian. Who not only is high functioning and low on the spectrum, but also has shown us that he’s more perceptive and adaptive and intuitive than you or me or anyone else thought? Are you following me? We’re not talking about some guy who doesn’t communicate or leave his room and jacks off twenty times a day. We’re talking about Adrian. And guess what? Jordan was being a good psychologist and giving us the full story, the big picture. And I, for one, don’t think most of that stuff applies to your brother. I’m not saying he’ll fall in love tomorrow and ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after like in a Hollywood movie. Some of this will be hard. For him. For us. Okay? So what. Lots of life is hard. We already know that, don’t we?”
He stopped, waiting for me. I had turned my face into his neck as I listened, and I just nodded my head.
I heard him say, “So, you know what I’m going to do?”
I shook my head against his neck. I wasn’t ready to face it yet.
“I’m going to do what we agreed to do. I’m going to keep on dancing when the lights go out. Are you with me?”
That did it. This time I really did start crying. But this time it wasn’t anger or self-pity. I just needed to cry it all out and get rid of the emotion. And my high-performance boyfriend let me do it.
We went to bed early after Jordan’s call. By the time Seth was all cried out he was emotionally drained. So, I half carried him to our bedroom, took him into the bathroom and turned on the shower and told him I’d be back in a few. I took Donner and Blitzen out for a final pee walk, and then settled them down on their beds. When I walked back into the bathroom, Seth was toweling off his pink body.
“Did the hot water help, baby?”
He just nodded his head, smiling innocently, and said, “I love you so much.”
“Me, too. Let’s get you to bed, and I’ll brush my teeth and be right there.”
I pulled him close and within seconds of his head resting on my shoulder he was asleep. I wasn’t far behind him
I called Jordan the next day to fill him in, and he started to tell me some more stuff, but I stopped him. “Let’s do this on another call tonight, okay? Seth needs to be part of this. He’s over the emotional reaction.”
Jordan agreed, and when he called Seth immediately apologized for being so clueless and getting all emotional. Jordan just said, “No worries, Seth. I feel just as strong an attachment to my brother as you do.”
Then he went on to explain how patients on with ASD have more challenges understanding and defining their own sexuality because, for typical children, it grows out of how they feel about their developing body, how they understand feelings of intimacy and attraction and affection for others. All of which are challenges, even for Asperger’s patients. He spent a little time explaining how those patients, even it it’s later, develop sexually in the same way as other teenagers do, but they might need extra help to build the social skills and understanding that goes along with sexual development. Then he explained how some are sexually attracted to people of the opposite gender, some to the same, and some are bisexual.
We talked for a few minutes about how sexual attraction and sexual identity aren’t the same things and then Jordan then pointed out how it can also be hard for teenagers with Asperger’s to express sexual feelings. “He’s started to do that with me, a little. By which I mean being able to talk about having sexual feelings, but that’s understandable since I’m one step removed and not part of the immediate family circle. I know you’re close, but you just need to be aware that he may have difficulties expressing those feelings to you. Just be sensitive to that and be open if he should bring it up… unless you’ll be too embarrassed to talk to him about them!“
I saw Seth wince, then smile at Jordan and then he said, “No, I’ll be able to handle it. You’ve helped me a lot in understanding all of this. And believe it or not, your older brother helped me a lot, too. Go figure!”
“Way to go, Wilt,” Jordan exulted over the phone, a grin plastered on his face. He went on. “Just a few more things. You need to be ready to talk with him about sexual identity and sexual relations when the time comes. Don’t push it, just be open and ready. We know he masturbates, but he hasn’t told me any of the details. I can’t imagine it’s easy or convenient in a foster home, so if the subject comes up, engage. It’ll be important later because when he comes to live in your home it will be a different and more open dynamic than where he is now, and you’ll need to make sure he understands the routine and the rules, what’s acceptable and what’s not, all of that.”
I heard Seth start giggling, and turned to look at him.
He gasped for breath, and then said, “Sorry! Sorry, Jordan, I was just suddenly overtaken by the mental image of the conversation I can imagine that you had with Ray about how masturbation was okay and perfectly normal, but that there was this routine and these rules, and this was acceptable and that was not!”
Seth was using his hands for emphasis, waving the left one way about ‘acceptable’ and the right one the other way about ‘not acceptable.’ It was too funny, and we all cracked up.
When he stopped laughing, Jordan said, “If you’re a good brother I’ll tell you the details some time.”
That brought another round of laughs, and ended the call.
Seth had his meeting with the foster parents and the case manager, and it went well. She was impressed he was seeking legal guardianship and told them that would help her make the case for continuance till he graduated from high school. When she asked what the plans were for after graduation, he said Adrian would be living with him, and then said his psychologist had recommended enrolling him in a summer coding camp program to assess his abilities. Since he still had the lease on his apartment, he had a legal permanent address he could provide.
I was amazed at how smoothly it went with the case worker. The foster parents had been right, and they made a strong case about how well he fit in, how well he was doing at school, about the additional art class he was taking, and about how disruptive to all of that it would be to remove him simply because he had turned eighteen. She agreed with them and told me to get her a copy of the petition for guardianship as soon as it was filed with the court.
I called Wilt’s attorney on the way back to the office and he said he’d filed the petition and that he expected the countersigned documents back in a day or two and would call me, and that the clerk of court told him that with no other relatives it was likely to be finalized within a month. Yay! I had to text Wilt.
< Looking good! Case worker will make the case. Attorney says maybe a month! Yeah! 🙏 >
It was only a few minutes before Wilt replied.
< Very cool. I’ll be running late this evening. >
< No prob! I’ll just cook dinner. I’ll also have a couple of cold IPAs ready for my beau! >
Over dinner, we talked about how it was a week till Valentine’s Day. Wilt swallowed the food that was in his mouth, and his eyes took on an amused look as he sipped his IPA. “What’s on your mind, love?”
I know I grinned back, probably looking silly, and I did feel a little silly. Maybe even gushy or romantic. ”Something for us.“
“Meaning we’ve been together a few months and I’ve been living with you for a few weeks and… well, I know we’re not married or anything, but I want to do something that says we’re together. Is that silly?”
“No, not silly. It’s romantic. In fact, it’s lovely and romantic. What are you thinking?”
I could tell I was kind of blushing. “Rings. Just some plain bands or something. Nothing ornate. You know, understated like Beau Brummel! I want something on me, that has your name on it or in it. Can we do that?”
“You’re blushing. You don’t do that very often. You’re usually so together and in control. Just like me!” He grinned as he made the last comment
“I know, but it’s how I’m feeling… and I hope you feel it, too. Please?”
Wilt paused, and I could see a twinkle in his eyes, and I knew he was good with it, he just wanted to play with me for a bit. He took another sip of his IPA, as if he was considering a major legal contract of something. Well, it was kind of major, in a way!
Finally, after seconds of me having to bite my tongue to stay quiet, he said, “Seems to me the last one to say ‘Please,’ was me, about you moving in and living with me. So, that makes it my turn.”
I felt the grin of pleasure start to spread across my face. “I was right, you’re not just my high-performance guy, you really are my beau. Can we go to the jeweler’s tomorrow? It’ll take time to have them engraved.”
We agreed, and then he said, “There’s another thing we should do on Valentine’s Day, since you’re making the case for love, and so much of the last few months had been about love. I think we should include Adrian. Like invite him over for dinner. We could start the conversation about guardianship, but I think he should be part of this, don’t you?”
He’d just made my day, topping off what I wanted with the kindest thing! So, that’s what we did. Valentine’s Day was Monday, and we picked out bands the next day and were able to pick them up on Saturday, and we arranged with the foster parents that we would pick Adrian up shortly after he got home from school.
When we woke up Monday morning, Wilt was on his back and my head was on his shoulder with my arm over his chest. I lay there like I often did when I awoke first, feeling the rise and fall of my arm on his chest, the steady pattern of his breathing and the warmth that radiated off of him. In my mind the warmth was synonymous with love. I felt him stir.
“How’s my beau this morning?”
He yawned. “Happy because the guy who’s asking is right here next to me.”
“Happy Valentine’s,” I said softly. “I love you.”
He rolled over so we were facing each other. “I do, too, and I’ve been thinking. It’s been four months since I met you because of that dumb phone promotion, and I’ve been happier every day. So, I want you to know that and that I promise to tell you I love you every day, even if I’m having a bad day and don’t want to.”
I felt the emotional rush in my chest, and leaned forward to kiss him. “That’s so sweet. I promise, too. I promise never to make you have to guess about my feelings, even if it means I have to give up being in control.”
He smiled back and kissed me. “I used to hate Valentine’s Day when I was in school. It all seemed so dumb and fake. Running around with cards and all those pink and red hearts, all of that. But I feel different about it now.”
I wiggled my eyebrows. “Sounds like you’ve got the love bug.”
We intended to walk the dogs after picking Adrian up from the foster home, but he came out wearing his pack and carrying a package he said shouldn’t get wet, so we walked to the house to drop them off and then headed to the park. When we got back, we cleaned up, fed Donner and Blitzen, and settled down to work on dinner. Wilt had been instructing Adrian on how to safely and efficiently use a chef’s knife, and tonight he was assigned slicing mushrooms and trimming and cutting green beans.
When he’d done that and wiped off the chef’s knife, he looked at us and said, “What’s next.”
Wilt told him to get a medium frying pan with a lid, heat some oil and then stir in the sliced mushrooms and add some garlic powder. “Now, turn the heat down low and put the lid on so they steam. Every few minutes give them a stir till they’re cooked.”
Wilt and I sipped on glasses of wine and watched him work as we talked. When he was done with the mushrooms, Wilt said, “Let me show you how to make a simple reduction sauce. You watch me do this, then you’ll be able to do it next time.” He poured in some sherry and simmered off all the liquid, explaining the process, then added salt and pepper and stirred in some butter. Adrian watched intently as the butter mixed with the reduced elements of the wine and made a glistening sauce that covered the mushrooms.
“Pretty cool, don’t you think?” Wilt smiled at him and then said, “We’ll slide the pan to the back of the stove to stay warm. Then when the beans are steamed, you’ll stir them into the mushrooms and your vegetable dish will be complete.”
Adrian beamed. The beans accompanied potatoes and grilled chicken breast. It was terrific.
Over dinner, we broached the guardianship subject and while he didn’t understand the legal ramifications, he understood that he was a minor and that we were doing something to benefit him. We’d let him know about extension of foster care and his coming to live with us when the time was right.
We cleaned up and washed the dishes together, and then went into the living room. Seth carried a bottle of champagne and a drink for Adrian. “Don’t drink any yet, okay?” Adrian nodded and then watched his brother open the bottle and pour the light, golden liquid into two flutes.
He handed one flute to me and then looked from me to Adrian and said, “Today’s Valentine’s Day and Wilt and I are going to do something that we want you to be part of.”
Adrian nodded, and said, “That’s nice. Valentine’s Day is special.”
“Why is that?”
He grinned and said, “Because it’s about love.”
Seth gave him an adoring brotherly smile and replied, “You’re right, Adrian, it is.”
He glanced at me, and blew me a kiss, after which I said, “Adrian, because it’s about love is the reason why Seth and I are doing something tonight that we want you to be part of. Because it’s Valentine’s Day we’re giving each other rings to show we’re together and how much we love each other.”
Adrian’s eyes widened. “Are you getting married?”
I chuckled, looked at Seth and then said, “No, not yet.”
“But we probably will,” Seth added.
Adrian smiled widely than said, “Then you’ll be my brother, too.”
“Yes, I will.” I pointed to the two ring boxes on the table. “Each one has a ring inside, and they’ve got our names on them. Will you give me Seth’s and give him mine?”
He did, looking very serious. We both took the rings out of their boxes and slid them on each other’s finger. Then I kissed him, and he kissed me back, but we kept it very chaste. Adrian was grinning like it was Christmas.
I looked back at him and said, “Adrian, I love Seth and he loves me, and we both love you.”
“I love you guys.”
“We know you do, Adrian. That makes me very happy.”
Adrian was quiet, and his brow was slightly furrowed like he does when he’s thinking.
He looked from me to Seth and back, his face almost neutral except for the slightest smile and the light sparkling in his eyes.
“I want love like you guys have.”
That made me choke up and swallow hard, and I felt Seth squeeze my hand.
I couldn’t believe what Adrian had just said, that he wanted love like we had. None of us knew if he understood his sexual identity, even though he knew I was gay and that Wilt and I were together. The most important thing was that at some level he understood love and wanted it. It made my heart soar.
“I have a Valentine’s present for you guys.”
“That’s very sweet of you, Adrian.”
He walked to the room that would soon be his, where he’d put his pack and the package when we got home.
He came back with what had been in the package. It was about fifteen by twenty-five inches and about an inch thick.
“I made a painting for you guys.”
This image was created from the original photograph by Mathilde Langevin on Unsplash and fair use applies.
Many thanks to the editorial efforts Michael and Dave put into proofing and editing this story to make it a much better experience for you, the reader!
For readers interested in further understanding Asperger’s syndrome and the circumstances these patients have to live with and overcome, Dr. Kenneth Roberson is an Asperger’s psychologist in San Francisco with over 30 years of experience who has a very helpful website with many articles that you can access at: https://kennethrobersonphd.com/sexual-intimacy-and-adults-with-aspergers/https://kennethrobersonphd.com/sexual-intimacy-and-adults-with-aspergers/