The Gift

by Graeme

I lay on the operating table, trying to calm myself down as I waited for the anaesthetist to come in and knock me out. This was a nightmare that I wished I could just wake up from, but real life doesn’t work that way. All I could do was pray that everything would work out in the end.

The one question that was constantly running through my mind was whether I was doing this out of love… or guilt?

* * * * *

“I hate you! You’ve ruined my life and I wish you were dead!”

I sighed as I heard my daughter Evonne’s voice drift through the open window of my study. I looked at the web page I was designing and clicked on the save button. With the kids coming home from school, it was time to end one part time job and take up my other job as at-home parent. I was getting a headache from staring at the screen for too long, anyway.

Your life’s ruined! What about mine? I’ve still got three more years of school to survive! You finish this year!”

Luke’s angry voice stormed, rather than drifted, through the window. It sounded like something serious had happened at school.

Rising to my feet to meet Evonne and Luke as they came through the door, I wondered if Luke had finally opened up. If so, I’d have to ring Lynne and tell her the news. My wife and I have been waiting for this for several months now. It’s unfortunate that she’s interstate for work, but since I lost my job two months ago, she’s been the main breadwinner of the family. I earn small amounts doing contract jobs, like the web site design I was working on when the kids came home, but not enough to keep the family going. Lynne has to travel with her job, and that’s the price we’re paying to keep a roof over our heads.

Before I could get there, the front door was slammed open and my angry young son came charging through, followed closely by my daughter doing her impression of the tragic princess beset by all the woes of the world.

“Okay, you two. What’s going on?” I asked sternly.

Luke slammed an envelope bearing the school’s letterhead into my chest.

“Here! You can get the rest of the story from Evonne. I’m sure she’ll love to tell you what happened,” he said with heavy sarcasm. “I’m going to my room, to save you the trouble of sending me there.”

I eyed my daughter as she started to head towards the kitchen. Debating whether to question her then, I decided to wait until after I’d read the letter from the school.

After ripping open the envelope, I started to read.

The letter didn’t say a lot. Luke had been suspended for a week for fighting with another student. No reason was given, except that the school requested, which is school-speak for demanded, a parent to show up the next day to discuss Luke’s behaviour with the principal.

Luke is not a violent boy, so his getting into a fight meant that something unusual had happened. With a typical view of avoiding a lawsuit, the letter did not indicate who had started it — it just said Luke was involved.

Concerned, I entered the kitchen looking for my daughter. As I did, I could hear music filtering down the hallway from Luke’s room. I couldn’t make out what it was, but it sounded like one of his techno CDs — full of a loud beat and not much else.

“Evonne, the school has said that Luke was in a fight, but they haven’t said why or with whom. What can you tell me?” I asked, trying to keep my tone reasonable.

Sitting at the kitchen table with a bowl of ice cream, the food she always goes for when she’s stressed, she pouted.

“Why do I have to tell you? It’s all Luke’s fault, so get him to tell you.”

I frowned. “So, Luke started the fight?”

“That’s what I heard,” she responded sagely. “From what I was told, he deserves everything that happens to him.”

Happens? Not happened? I was beginning to think that my first guess was correct and things had not gone well.

Leaving my daughter, I headed to Luke’s room. The music was loud in the hallway, so it must have been deafening behind the closed door. Banging with my fist, I called out for him to open the door so we could talk, but there was no response. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he just hadn’t heard me. I tried the handle, but, as I suspected, the door was locked.

Worried, I wandered slowly back to the kitchen. Evonne was just finishing her ice cream and was beginning to look a bit more sociable.

“Evonne, Luke is not answering. I really need to know what happened today. Please, this is important. Just tell me?”

Something about my concern registered with her. She got off her high horse and started to speak plainly.

“Luke got into a fight after he told Brad Henderson that he’s gay,” she stated bluntly.

I needed to make sure there was no mistake.

“Luke told Brad that Brad’s gay?”

“No,” she replied, annoyed at my apparent stupidity. “Luke told Brad that Luke is gay. I think he tried to come on to Brad and that started the fight.”

The final confirmation.

I’d been pretty sure Luke’s gay for several months. When I set up the home network, I told the kids that if I caught them using the Internet inappropriately, I would take their access away. I never told them that I had set up the system to monitor all usage, and to report the names of all the sites visited. I check that report weekly. I suspect they religiously clear their browser caches and clean up their computers to hide their trails, but all Internet traffic goes through the main server, which I control.

When Luke started visiting porn sites, I thought about confronting him about it. I waited a couple of weeks to see how much time he was spending on them, as it may just have been teen curiosity. When gay porn sites started appearing regularly, I decided not to confront him. Lynne and I then checked each of the sites he’d been visiting. When we found that, in addition to gay porn sites, he was visiting sites designed to help the young gay teen, we decided to let him go. Until he was ready to tell us, he was being supported via the Internet and we didn’t want to cut that off.

“You said before that this has ruined your life. How?” I asked bluntly.

“How?” she repeated, her voice going up an octave. “Well for starters, Ty says he’s not coming over anymore. He can’t be seen going into the house of a poof. What Luke did today is going to drive my boyfriend away!”

I shrugged. No real loss there. If Ty thinks his image is more important to him than my daughter, then he’s not someone I think she needs to know.

“Evonne, any boyfriend of yours will always be welcome here. If he doesn’t want to come, it’s not because he’s not wanted. He’s dating you, not your brother.”

“But, Dad, everyone will think he’s gay too, if he keeps coming here!” Evonne wailed.

“You don’t think that people may think he’s coming to see you and not your brother?” I asked, mentally shaking my head at the obstinacy of some people.

“You just don’t understand! My social life is ruined. Everyone is going to laugh at me!” she cried, as she dropped her face into her hands.

While I felt like sitting down and having a good talk with her, it could wait. Luke was my main concern at the moment, and that damn music beat was aggravating my headache. I wasn’t in the best frame of mind to explain to Evonne that her life wasn’t over.

Going into the bathroom to get a headache tablet, I paused and rested my head on the wall. It was going to be a stressful night and I was alone. How I wished that Lynne wasn’t away for work.

I opened the cupboard, got out a tablet, and gulped it down without bothering to get a glass of water. Until it took effect, I was better off letting both kids run riot, as otherwise I was likely to be short-tempered with them. This was not a discussion that I could afford to mess up by getting angry.

As I stood there, something was bothering me. I was beginning to get annoyed at the feeling that something wasn’t right, when I froze in horror.

There were gaps on the shelves where there should’ve been bottles of pills!

I sprinted to Luke’s room. Evonne was just coming down the hallway, but I ignored her. If I was wrong, I’d have a door to mend. If I was right…

“LUKE! OPEN THIS DOOR NOW!” I screamed, as I started to bang on it with my fists.

When I didn’t get an immediate response, I stepped back and started to kick at the lock. Peripherally I was aware of my daughter standing there open-mouthed at my actions, but I didn’t care. Panic was setting in.

I continued to kick the door until the doorframe suddenly splintered and the door was flung open.

My nightmare became reality when I saw Luke lying on his bed with his eyes closed, tear streaks down his face. Several empty pill bottles were scattered on the bedroom floor.

With my heart in my throat, I rushed over to him and lifted his head. He appeared to be still breathing, but his skin was an unhealthy colour.

I looked to the door, where Evonne was standing wide-eyed with her hands over her mouth. I tried calling to her, but the noise of the music was deafening. I gently lowered Luke’s head and moved over to his sound system, but in my mounting panic I couldn’t see the off switch. Frustrated, I grabbed the cables at the back of the speakers and ripped them out.

“Call an ambulance, he’s still alive!” I called to Evonne, as I put my hand to my boy’s throat, feeling for a pulse.

With a backward glance, I saw my daughter still stunned in the doorway.

“NOW!” I screamed. I was relieved to see her jump at that and then rush off.

Focusing back on Luke, I was stressing as I struggled to find a pulse. I wasn’t calmed when I eventually felt it; fast and weak was not a good sign.

I don’t recall what happened next. It seemed like both an eternity and no time at all before a couple of paramedics were kneeling down next to me to take my boy away. In a daze, I followed them to the ambulance. It was only just before I got in that I came to my senses, at least partially.

Turning to look back at the house, I saw my daughter standing silently by the door, tears pouring down her face.

“Princess,” I called out gently, the seldom-used pet name penetrating her distress, “call your mother. Tell her that Luke…,” my voice caught as I struggled to say what I was thinking. “… that Luke tried to kill himself. Tell her why,” I finished, unable to see and barely able to speak as the sobs welled up from the part of my heart where the love for my son has always dwelled.

The hospital was a mess of confusion. I stood back while they treated Luke. I remember being told that they had pumped the contents of his stomach, but I can’t remember if they did that in the ambulance or at the hospital.

As the activity died down, I was left with my son, who was wired to a maze of equipment that was being watched constantly by a single nurse. Easing my way forward in trepidation, I reached out to place my hand on Luke’s shoulder. He felt cold, and it was only the sound of the heart monitor that gave me assurance that he wasn’t dead.

“Mr. Mackensie?”

For a moment, they were just words; words with no meaning in the nightmare I was living.

“Mr. Mackensie? We need to speak to you.”

Slowly I turned, keeping my hand on my son’s shoulder. I was afraid that losing that contact would mean losing my son.

I saw two doctors standing there. The male doctor was standing back, holding a paper folder. He seemed young, and nervous. The female doctor exuded a professional calm that seemed as if it would carry her through any storm. Stepping forward, she reached out a hand to lead me to the chair in the corner.

“Mr. Mackensie, we have your son stable, but we are still very concerned. His system has been badly abused by the drugs he took and he has taken some permanent damage. Most of it he can cope with, but his kidneys are starting to fail. We don’t think they will last the night.”

Looking at her name tag, I saw “Anne Preston, Senior Consultant.”

“Dr. Preston…” I started tentatively.

“Call me Anne,” she interrupted with a gentle smile.

“Anne, what does that mean?” I asked hesitantly. I wasn’t sure I’d like the answer, but I needed to know.

“Unless he gets a transplant, he’ll die,” she replied in a quiet voice, the sorrow she felt coming through her eyes as they locked on my face.

“Kidney transplants happen all the time,” I stated quickly, almost frantically. “When is he scheduled to get one?”

“It’s not that simple, I’m afraid,” she apologised, “There’s no supply of kidneys waiting for recipients. We usually have to wait for one to become available, and then test to see if it’s compatible. We have people on dialysis machines who have been waiting for months.”

“Why can’t Luke go on one of those machines, too?” I pleaded.

“I’m sorry, his condition means that’s just not possible,” she said regretfully.

I remembered a recent story about Kerry Packer, one of Australia’s richest men. He had received a kidney donation from his driver.

“What about my kidneys? Can you use one of them?” I blurted out, hope springing forth with a prayer that it wouldn’t be dashed.

She smiled. “We can do tests, and if you’re compatible we can try.” Frowning, she added, “I need to warn you though that Luke’s body is in shock. He may not survive the transplant surgery.”

“If we don’t try, he’ll die anyway,” I pointed out, though my mind kept shying away from understanding what that meant.

“Okay, Mr. Mackensie. We’ll get some tests done, and if they’re successful, we’ll take both of you to theatre for the operations,” Dr. Preston stated, her reversion to an emotionless professional marred by the compassion that poured through her eyes. Without asking, I knew she was a parent, too.

Standing up, I walked over to my son on legs that seemed to only barely support my weight. Placing my hand over his, I rested my forehead on his hair.

Gently crying, I whispered, “Hold on, Luke. Your mum and I love you. We’ll do anything we can to bring you back.”

With a final kiss on the top of his head, I straightened and turned back to the waiting doctors.

“Let’s go,” I stated firmly, tears cascading unchecked down my face.

* * * * *

Would it have made a difference if I had broken down his door earlier? Should his mother and I have forced the discussion on whether or not he’s gay, instead of waiting for him to come to us?

Was there something, anything, that we could have done to stop this tragedy from happening?

Had I been such a bad parent that Luke couldn’t bring himself to tell me that he’s gay? That trying to kill himself was a more attractive option?

“Mr. Mackensie?” a masked and gowned figure asked, as he peered down at me. “We’re ready to start now. Your son is in the next theatre and he’s been put under. They’re preparing him for the surgery.”

I just nodded. My throat was too taut for words to come out.

* * * * *

I woke up, very groggy, back in the room just outside the theatre.

“The surgery went well, and the kidney has been sent to the team working on your son, Mr. Mackensie. We’re doing all we can. The rest is up to him,” the surgeon said. “The staff will take you to a ward to rest. As soon as they finish on your son, they’ll let you know.”

“Thanks,” I croaked through a dry mouth. There was nothing else to say.

* * * * *

Despite my intentions, I fell asleep again. When I awoke, Lynne was sitting in the chair next to me.

“How long have you been here?” I asked hoarsely. My throat was dry, but I wasn’t interested in complaining — I had more important things to worry about.

Getting to her feet, my wife started to pour a glass of water.

“Not very long. I came straight from the airport and just got here a few minutes ago,” she answered, before putting a straw in the glass and handing it to me to sip.

After one sip to ease the dryness, I looked up at her.

“Luke?” I asked, pleading with my eyes for happy news.

She gave me a soft smile, though I could still see worry in her eyes.

“Evonne is with him. He came through the surgery, but he’s still in intensive care. They said that if he lasts the night, he should get through this,” she said gently, as she sponged my forehead with a damp cloth.

“Thanks for coming back,” I whispered up to the anchor of my life.

“I told the customer my son was in a critical condition in hospital. Many of them are parents too. They drove me to the airport while I rang the office to change my flights. Someone else checked me out of the hotel — I’ll collect the luggage on my next trip,” she explained with a smile.

“How’s Evonne coping?” I queried. I had abandoned her at home, which was the wrong thing to do, but I had no choice. Luke had needed me more.

Lifting her head, she gazed sightlessly in what I presumed was the direction of our two children.

“She’s devastated,” she answered sadly. “She’s blaming herself. I heard her whimpering to herself that she had wished that he was dead.”

“If he pulls through, she’ll bounce back eventually. If he doesn’t…” I couldn’t bring myself to finish that statement. All of us would need help, lots of help, if that happened.

“He’ll make it,” Lynne stated, looking back down at me soothingly. “He’s strong. He has to make it,” she added in a desperate whisper.

“Send Evonne back to see me, please?” I asked, “You need to go to Luke, too.”

“I’ve already seen him,” she admitted. “I’ll go again soon, but Evonne needs her time to make her peace. I don’t think she even remembers he’s gay — he’s just her little brother that she wished was dead,” she ended with a sob. A single glistening tear escaped her control and slid down her cheek.

Reaching up, I grabbed her hand and brought it to my lips. With a gentle kiss on her fingers and a squeeze of her hand, I gave her all the support I could. It wasn’t enough, but it was all I could do.

Bending down, she kissed me lightly on the lips.

“I love you,” she whispered, before standing back up.

“Has anyone contacted Father Stephen?” she suddenly asked in a brisk, no-nonsense tone, wiping away the tear. I could tell she was forcing her emotions back into their corner while her family needed her.

“I don’t know, but I don’t think we should call him,” I replied slowly.

She raised her eyebrows in surprise, “Why not?”

“He’s a great priest, but he follows the Pope’s teaching on homosexuality too closely. He’d be compassionate about Luke’s suicide attempt, but I don’t know what he’ll do about Luke being gay,” I admitted. My uncertainty was undermining my faith.

She reflected for a moment before nodding her head. “You’re right, but you’re wrong, too.”

“I beg your pardon?” I asked, perplexed.

“He’s going to find out anyway, from what Evonne told me. If he’s compassionate, Luke needs him now. If he’s going to turn his back on one of his flock, doing it now isn’t going to make things worse,” she argued.

Letting my eyes wander over the person I married all those years ago, I couldn’t help but admire her wonderful nature.

“Okay, honey, call him. You’re right, as usual,” I smiled back at her, conceding that she knew best what to do.

“And he needs to pray for you, too,” she added.

I scowled back at her. “If he rejects Luke, I don’t want him near me. Luke has one of my kidneys now — we’re a pair and I won’t let us be separated.”

Bending down, she kissed me on my forehead. “Leave it to me.”

Relaxing back into the bed, I watched her stride purposefully out the door. Father Stephen was going to meet his match if he crossed my Lynne.

Evonne appeared in the doorway soon after. I almost didn’t recognise her. Gone was the arrogant princess, replaced by a frightened little girl. Despite her years, she was scared to the depths of her soul.

“Daddy?” she asked tentatively as she hovered at the entrance to the room.

She hadn’t called me that for a long time. A blunt “Dad” or a formal “Father” was all I had received from her in recent years.

“Come here, princess. I need a hug,” I called out to her compassionately.

With a sudden rush she was by the bed and throwing her arms around me. A series of sobs shuddered through her body as she let loose a wave of grief. Patting her gently on the back, I just whispered to her:

“It’s going to be okay. He’s going to make it. Trust in God, my princess. It’s going to be okay.”

Eventually, feeling her relax, I let go as she rose unsteadily to her feet. Only a few hours ago she would have been concerned about the way her make-up had been destroyed. Now, she didn’t even notice. She had only one thing on her mind.

“Will he ever forgive me? Can you forgive me? I may have killed him!” she said, with an anguish that was drawn from a deep well of despair.

“Shush, my princess. It’s not your fault. You had just found out something about your little brother and you weren’t ready to handle it,” I explained, trying to soothe her.

“Your mother and I have had a lot longer to work this out, and I still failed to keep him safe. If there is anyone who should be blamed, it’s me,” I added sadly. The guilt over what I could’ve done, but didn’t, was still eating at me like an itch that couldn’t be scratched; constantly niggling and destroying any chance of calm.

She looked at me in amazement. In a small voice, she asked, “How long have you known?”

“Months,” I admitted with much regret, “but he didn’t know that we knew. We’ve been waiting for him to come to us, and I blew it.”

“Oh, Daddy,” she cried, as she gave me another hug. “I wished he was dead, and now I want to take that back. I don’t want Luke to die!”

With her lying against me, I could feel the truth behind that statement. She’s been shaken to the very core of her being.

“It’s in God’s hands now, Evonne. The doctors have done everything they can. All we can do now is to pray that it’s enough.”

“The last thing he heard from me was a wish that he was dead,” she whispered to herself, the horror of what she had said consuming her.

I held her tight. There was nothing I could say. The only thing that would save her would be for Luke to live. I knew she was praying for that as fervently as I was.

* * * * *

It was a night of unsettled sleep.

I was still groggy from the operation I had undergone, but the stress of worrying about how Luke was doing prevented any chance of resting. Lynne came in every hour to tell me what progress, if any, he was making. Evonne was sleeping in the chair in my room. We tried to get her to go home, but she wasn’t interested, and we didn’t have the heart to push the issue. She had as much right to be there for her brother as we did.

Father Stephen showed up close to midnight. I tensed up when he arrived, but he said he would pray for both Luke and me. He obviously chose not to make a comment about Luke’s suicide attempt or his being gay — he just said that two of God’s children needed him, and he was there for us. I was vaguely unsettled by his omission, but I appreciated the sentiment and support he gave my son and me.

It was near 2am that Lynne entered in a state of shock. With Father Stephen supporting her, she told me that Luke’s heart had stopped about half an hour ago. The hospital staff had managed to get it going again, but our son was still struggling.

By dawn, Luke’s vital signs had improved slightly. He still hadn’t regained consciousness, but the doctors said that wasn’t unusual. In times of stress, the body will sometimes shutdown the brain until the crisis is over.

With a reassurance that he would be back later that day, Father Stephen left around 6am. He had been with us constantly over those hours, giving us the emotional and spiritual support we needed. Lynne told me that she had seen him praying over Luke; she was sure he wanted Luke to survive as much as we did.

I wanted to curse the fact that I was bedridden, but I knew that my discomfort was a necessary part of my son’s chance at life. At 7am, I finally sweet-talked one of the nurses into getting me a wheelchair so I could go down to the ICU to see my son. With Evonne and Lynne at my side, I was wheeled into the observation room next to where my son was surrounded by the life support machines. After watching him for several minutes, I asked if I could go in to touch him, even if only for a minute. The nurse in charge of the ICU was a harridan of the old school, but even she knew the depth of a parent's love. With stern instructions to be quiet, she wheeled me in personally.

As I reached out and gently wrapped my fingers around Luke’s left hand, I whispered to him.

“To the boy who is everything I ever wanted in a son.
To the son who is the light of my life.
To the young man of whom I’m so proud.
To the one without whom my life would always be empty.
Please come back to me. I love you and always will.”

With tears blinding me to the sight of my son at the edge of death, I signaled to the nurse that I had finished.

* * * * *

They brought Luke into my room just after lunch. He was stable, and they were just waiting for him to wake up. The transplant had been successful and while he wasn’t out of the woods by a long way, the signs were all positive.

I dozed on and off during the rest of day, as my body demanded some rest. Lynne and Evonne went home just after Luke was moved. Both were exhausted. I promised I would call if anything changed.

Father Stephen showed up and stayed with us for an hour during the afternoon. This time I personally saw him praying over Luke. The compassion for one of his flock was palatable. He still hadn’t discussed the subjects of suicide or homosexuality, but I was comforted by the sight of his concern for my son. I was sure that he wouldn’t turn away from Luke.

It was almost dinnertime when I was awoken by a low moan from the bed next to me. Pushing the button to summon the nurses, I watched intently as Luke slowly regained consciousness.

Letting the nurses look after him to start with, I listened carefully as he spoke to them. It was clear that he was still depressed, but the mere fact that he was alive seemed to signal to him that it wasn’t his time to go.

I waited for the nurses to leave before I spoke.

“Welcome back, son. Your mother and I love you very much.”

He started and snapped his head around to lock on the sight of his dad in the hospital bed next to him.

“What are you doing here?” he asked in a weak and shocked voice.

“Did you really think we wouldn’t do everything we could to keep you alive, Luke?” I gently admonished. “Your kidneys failed from the drugs you took. You now have one of mine, and it’s a gift that I feel pure joy in giving.”

“One of your kidneys?” he repeated hesitantly. “But why?”

“Because we love you, and always will,” I quietly affirmed. I was now confident that I knew the answer to my question from before the operation.

He scowled and turned his head back. As he gazed at the ceiling I could see tears begin to form in his eyes.

“You won’t feel that way when I tell you I’m gay. I’ve heard what Father Stephen has said on that subject, and I know you’ll hate me,” his bitter voice snarled.

“Father Stephen is a good man who was here for half the night, praying for you. However, he doesn’t tell us what to think. Your mother and I decide for ourselves whom we love. Your mother and I didn’t change our minds when we first found out months ago that you’re gay, so why do you think we’ll change now?” I asked him, pleading with my voice for him to believe me.

He turned his head back and stared at me. “Months ago?” he asked faintly.

I nodded and gave him a soft smile, “Yep. We’ve been monitoring your Internet usage since you started visiting those gay sites. We know more than you think,” I said, before giving a small laugh. “Some of those porn sites were a real eye opener. Your mother delegated those to me to check up on.”

Luke was already pale, but now he looked a little green. “You’ve been looking at…” he said, with his voice fading into silence as he looked at me wide-eyed.

“Your mum and I have been discussing this for a long time. Son, we love you for who you are. If that includes your being gay, then we love that too. We struggled a bit at the start, but as we read those stories you found and looked at those message boards you visited, we knew we couldn’t abandon you. You are our son, and you are exactly as God intended. You are going to have hurdles to jump that most of us don’t have to endure, but you have your mum and me, and even your sister, behind you.”

As he struggled to understand what I was saying, I added, “You will triumph, we know you will. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it, but we have faith that you are strong enough to overcome the trials you’ll face.

“Son, you are our gift to the world. We’ll always be proud of you.”

Copyright Notice — Copyright © December 2004 by Graeme.

The author copyrights this story and retains all rights. This work may not be duplicated in any form — physical, electronic, audio, or otherwise — without the author's expressed permission. All applicable copyright laws apply.

Disclaimer: All individuals depicted are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.

I would like to express a special thank you to everyone at The Mail Crew for their ongoing support with my writing. I can thoroughly recommend their website to all teenagers who are gay, lesbian, bi or not sure. I’d like to thank Aaron of that crew for editing this story for me.