Steve & Aaron
“The Warrior knows that he is free to choose his desires, and he makes these decisions with courage, detachment, and – sometimes – with just a touch of madness.” ~Coelho
We all have to rise to our destiny, embrace miracles and accept Grace. I am absolutely sure of this now. Not so much twenty-two years ago. Back then, I was still trying to “steer the river,” hell bent on forcing life to gather round and listen up. I was in charge. Twelve years into a marriage with my handsome Warrior, raising children on my own for most of each year and hell bent on saving the world, miracles and Grace had to damn well wait until I put them on the schedule. I never knew what was on the other side of the proverbial door, so I kept it locked. Pretending I had it all under control was survival.
Still, Grace sneaks in under doors we were told as children not to go through.
This is the story of Aaron.
On January 8, 1991, I picked up a one day old infant from the hospital and brought him home as our sixth foster baby in as many months. At 4 pounds, 9 ounces, he was a tiny soul without a name. His skin was sallow; he had no muscle tone, could not eat and would not sleep. At just over a week old, he died three times in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. I watched his little eyes open to find me each time he was revived and I knew, right then, I was in way over my head.
Truthfully, there was nothing noble about our decision to become a foster family. Rather, it was the only reasonable and legal conclusion to a series of events I set in motion in 1989 with nothing more than an abundance of love and irrational passion. After two solid weeks of news reports citing teen girls giving birth and throwing their live infants in dumpsters or remote parks, I placed an ad in the local paper with our address and these words: Unwanted infants can be dropped on my doorstep, no questions asked. Ring the bell and leave. The police called first, then Social Services, then Steve’s Command, and then… well, Steve, and all hell broke loose. No money, no time, kids of our own, my full-time writing gig, and the little fact that he was gone most of each year were all excellent points. So I compromised with the law and Steve by cancelling the ad. Six months later we were certified as therapeutic foster parents.
I do believe Steve felt the full impact of my unorthodox ways on that glorious morning in mid-January when he walked through the door to find our two homemade children, two toddlers he had never met in person and a very sick, addicted Baby Boy strapped to my chest in a sling.
Even under normal conditions, the rhythm of reentry after deployment or missions is an uneasy dance. It occurred to me, not for the first time, that this unusual welcoming committee might just be the equivalent of shock treatment. I held my breath, and for a moment – in slow motion – I let my mind wander through memories of prior homecomings. True, we fancied ourselves madly in love so coming home to me was always the safe haven. Physically he was home, but after the initial welcome and the soft place to land, I had to clog and slog and pull my way through a thick dark muddy abyss with just a glimmer of hope that some semblance of the mental and emotional Steve might come home too.
When shouts of “Daddy’s home!” and twirling hugs took over the room like a long, clear blast of cool air, I exhaled long and slow. It was a sight to behold ~~ this wonderful, weeping man who once again exhausted all of us with his playfulness and fierce love.
And as for the nameless Baby Boy attached to his wife, well, it was love at first sight.
I thanked God right then and there for a man who knew my wild and stubborn ways and loved me anyway.
Steve stepped into home life again as though he’d never missed a day. By that afternoon, he and our older kids had named the baby Aaron Timothy (after Team Brothers, of course), our two foster toddlers had attached themselves to his legs and for the weeks and months that followed, we were both “on” 24 hours a day. Aaron had to be fed with a dropper sized bottle every hour, attached to a heart and apnea monitor at all times and rushed to the hospital every few weeks. We also teamed up against doctors who told us in no uncertain terms that Aaron could not thrive and would not live.
Steve would have none of that business. Right away, he took it on as his personal mission to design a tiny personal training routine wherein he would lay Aaron on his lap and move his little arms, legs and torso several times a day to help build normal muscle tone. He designed a crib setup with a sling so Aaron could sleep at a steep incline to help with apnea, and made a head support out of riggers tape on a door-jam jumpy swing to support Aaron’s head. Then he painstakingly held Aaron steady in the swing, with monitor attached, to simulate a “jump” and “push” to build little thighs. The very first time Aaron pushed off the floor under his own strength, two of Steve’s teammates were at the house and the roars of celebration nearly brought the roof down and caused all of us to burst into tears. You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced a wild, exuberant moment of three giants, one woman and a bunch of kids weeping with joy.
At 5 months, Aaron weighed eleven pounds, could hold his head steady and push our hands away with his legs. Undeniable miracles to us, but doctors were not impressed. In unison they shook their heads, looked at each other, and scientifically presented their prognosis: “Don’t get too attached,” one said, “multiple congenital heart defects,” another said, “lungs malformed,” one said. Almost in unison they said, “You need to be prepared.”
If my hands were not already occupied holding Aaron I might have put them over my ears, closed my eyes and babbled nonsense over their words. Instead, I looked all three doctors straight in the eye and said, “Not one of you is God! And if I ever hear of any of you telling another parent their child is going to die, I will…” which is when my throat tightened, so I stomped my foot and burst into tears.
A rapid string of nervous sound came at us from all three doctors about keeping Aaron at the hospital, calling social services, addicted babies, syndrome babies, nothing medically to be done, these things happen. They were truly good men with huge hearts who felt helpless, but they could not see past their medical training to notice the very hand of God. I do not usually lose my bearing, but I was so overwhelmed my tears turned to heavy sobs. Steve stood, looked at me, looked at the doctors, and said, “Aaron is not going anywhere but home with us. We’ve got this. Thanks.” What he actually said contained a few more expletives, not so much directed at the doctors, but to the situation, and we all understood the meeting was adjourned. The doctors blushed, I managed a grin, and we left.
On the drive home my “what-iffing” began while Aaron contentedly cooed. My stubbornness had placed us in this moment. I wasn’t sorry. But I did know with every fiber of my being that our family life had turned into a constant stream of emotions wrapped around children and it was all painful in some way. Joy, sorrow, love, and fear became so exaggerated, so deep and sharp that we were left raw and yes, in pain. I don’t think the human heart is designed to beat outside the body, but once you have children, by any means, that’s exactly where a parent’s heart is — beating forever on the outside and continuously exposed. I said all of that and more, aloud, while Steve remained eerily silent and Aaron’s cooing enveloped us like a song sent to smooth and comfort.
That evening I arranged for a nursing team of babysitters and a much needed date night. We spent the evening at a Team party and in adult conversations that did not include diapers or homework or doctors. I should probably note here that we did not have civilian friendships with other married couples. We had Teammates because Steve’s “brothers” were the only people he could talk to who understood him without censure.
It worked wonders, or so I thought.
Anyone who knew Steve knows he did not whisper – ever – which is why I had to lean as far right as I could with both hands on the steering wheel and say, “I can’t hear you. Are you sick?” He answers, but the sound is breathless and I do not actually hear words. When we pass under a street light I glance at his chiseled profile and watch one tear drip through his mustache and onto his lap where he holds his hands, palms down on his thighs. He stares straight ahead, shoulders back, chin up and my heart starts to race. I look up just in time to avoid hitting the curb.
“Pull over,” he roars; his normal voice.
I turn into the first driveway I see, put the car in park and turn off the lights. It does not escape my attention that at 1:00 in the morning I’ve pulled into an Izuzu dealership. We are invisible, a silver Trooper idling among a sea of silver Troopers. I get a sudden urge to soften the air around us, ease whatever hurts him. A nervous giggle bubbles up and out and I say, “Okay, there’s no need to cry. Right here, right now, while we’re hiding in plain sight.”
“Jesus,” he says. The slightest grin sparkles in his eyes when he takes my hand in both of his and places it firmly against his chest. Then he looks straight into me and says, “I was praying. And it’s a big deal so pay attention. Are you paying attention?”
I nod. I can’t speak because the air around us is heavy and I’m scared to death.
“We’re adopting him. Aaron. He’s as much a part of us as those two we made. You good with that?”
I nod. Relieved, frightened, exhausted. But I sense there’s more.
“At the hospital, while the docs were babbling and you were crying, I prayed. And I’m praying now. If He takes all of my strength so that Aaron can live, it’s fine. I made the deal and I expect He’ll take me up on it.”
I’m stunned. Making a deal with God is serious business if you believe in such things. Steve did. Uncomplicated and exact, as in every other area of his life, Steve held firm to a belief that a man had to be true to his word, especially to God. He did not believe God responsible for the all the bad in the world; rather, man was accountable for bad choices and ego driven atrocities and weak men in the end blamed all the crap on God.
Steve never blamed anything on God. I don’t think I understood the depth of his faith until that very moment.
“I don’t think it works like that, Steve. Aaron will live or he won’t, but God is about love. I don’t think it’s a this-or-that kind of deal.”
He says, “This is about love. So I call it a deal. Either way, it’s about love. Just tell me you’ve got it. You need to tell me you’ve got this… no matter what happens to me. He’s ours now. ”
I say, “I’ve got this.” And I did.
Our date nights were never boring.
Aaron is now a 6’4” handsome young man. He turns 26 this January 7, 2017. Fairly famous, he is one of 400 people in the entire world still alive with a complete absence of pericardium, multiple heart malformations, pulmonary fibrosis, Marfans Syndrome, Asperger’s spectrum and myriad other issues he deals with daily with a presence that lifts joy.
He truly is our miracle who ignites souls and shows us where love lives.
Never doubt that we all walk among angels ~~ be it Warriors or Tender Souls.
Watch for miracles. Accept Grace.
Lynnette Bukowski © 2016. All rights reserved.