A Place In My Heart

Trials, Tribulations and Overwhelming Joy

All of the test results had come back and the doctor’s office called to ask Jordan to come in.  The doctor Jordan was going to see this time was a specialist that Jordan’s family doctor had referred him to, and the four of us went together, en masse, to hear the prognosis.  Jordan seemed intent on crushing my right hand while we were waiting to get in to see the doctor, since he was squeezing it as a way to release his nervous energy, while Justin was busy doing the same thing to my left hand.  This was how they were allowing their fears and trepidations to exhibit themselves in physical form, and whether I liked it or not, I was on the receiving end of this abuse. 

When we were finally called in to see the doctor, the three of us sat down together on a small couch, which was located on one side of the doctor’s office, while Dad K sat in an overstuffed chair in front of the doctor’s desk.  Jordan, Justin and I were still holding on to each other’s hands, since none of us was willing to let go of this emotional lifeline. 

“I’m glad to see you all here,” the specialist began.  “It will be important for Jordan to have such a strong support group.  It is heartening to see brothers who are this close and who are willing to make sacrifices for the good of the other.”  After saying this, he looked over at the three of us and smiled.

“You’re right,” Dad K added, “we’re all lucky they love each other so much.  It is especially helpful to me, because after my wife died it helped to eliminate most of the worries I might otherwise have had.”

“You are a very lucky man, sir,” the doctor responded, “and you are too, Jordan.  I wish all of my patients came from such a loving and caring home environment, because it would make my job a whole lot easier.  Patients tend to recover faster when they have fewer other distractions and have others to help them get through the roughest times.  You should benefit greatly from their support.” 

Jordan squeezed my hand and smiled at Justin and his Dad, but I think he was still too worried to say anything without having an emotional release.

“Jordan,” the doctor continued, “I have all of your test results back, so I have sufficient information to diagnose your condition and suggest a course of treatment.  Just bear with me for a few minutes and I’ll try to lay the whole thing out for you.  If you will all be patient while I explain this, then I’ll answer any questions you have once I’m done.” 

We nodded our understanding, but then collectively held our breath, because we were nervous about what was to follow.

“Your primary care physician suspected you had Hodgkin’s disease, because you showed several key symptoms.  He had listed that you suffered from drenching night sweats, weight loss, a lack of energy and lower back pains, and he discovered small lumps in your neck and arm pit.  The tests have proven that his preliminary diagnosis was correct, but you are very fortunate this was discovered in the early stages of this disease.  It is very treatable when caught this soon and your odds for beating this cancer are quite good.” 

You could hear an audible ‘whoosh’ throughout the room, as the four of us exhaled in unison.  Finally, we were able to breathe again.

“There are four stages of Hodgkin’s disease with Stage I being the least severe and Stage IV being the most severe.  Your case is a Stage II and the prognosis for that stage is good, which means there are favorable odds that you will be able to receive treatments and survive for the long term.  Stage II Hodgkin’s means you have two or more lymph node regions on the same side of the diaphragm that are affected.  The diaphragm is a muscle that runs across the body at approximately mid-chest and the nodes that are affected are in the upper region.  To be specific, they are the two nodes in your neck and the node under your left arm.

The other organs of the lymphatic system and your bone marrow show no signs of the disease, which is a very positive development,” he continued.  “What I am suggesting is that you begin a regimen of radiotherapy treatments as soon as possible, to halt the spread of the cancer and destroy the cancerous cells that are already present.”  The doctor paused and scanned each of our faces and looked into our eyes, one by one, as he tried to see if he could surmise what we were thinking.  “I believe some of you might have questions, so ask away.”

We all looked at each other, to determine who would speak first, but Jordan eventually took the initiative to break the silence. 

“This means that I’m not going to… die.  Right?” he wanted to know. 

“Of course it does,” the doctor replied, sounding very optimistic.  “The treatments should do what I told you and there should be no traces of the disease afterward.  We’ll run some more tests after you receive the treatments, just to make sure, and we may also need to put you on chemotherapy for a while, but you should be fine once we’ve finished and live a long and healthy life.” 

Jordan’s body seemed to overly relax after hearing this news, almost as if he had been supporting a thousand pound weight on his shoulders and his body could no longer handle the stress any longer.  I reached over and wrapped my arms around him to hold him up and to let him feel my love.  Suddenly, he regained his composure and sat up straight again.

“About the radiotherapy, doctor,” Dad K took over, “is there anything we should know about that?”

“Yes.  I should explain a few things to you,” he replied.  “Jordan will go to the radiology department the day before his treatment begins, so the physician will be able to map out the areas of his body in ink.  These marks will be used to show the technician administering the apparatus where to focus the treatments, so they’ll have the greatest effect.  There are also possible side effects and Jordan may suffer from fatigue, loss of appetite, his skin may become red and sore, similar to a sunburn, and it may even begin to peel.  He may also have a dry, sore throat, difficulty swallowing or he may suffer from alopecia or a loss of hair.”

“You mean I’m going to go bald like my mom did when she had her treatments?” Jordan basically screamed out.

“It is very possible, but it will only be temporary and your hair will grow back later,” the doctor confirmed.  “Many male patients elect to wear a hat during this period, for modesty purposes.”

“What about the chemotherapy?” I inquired.

“We’re not sure if that will be necessary, so I’d prefer not to discuss it at this time,” he replied.  “If we decide later that this is the course of action he should follow, then we will discuss all of the ramifications at that time.”

“Will my brother be able to go to school and play sports?” Justin asked next.

“The sports will be cut out during the treatment phase and he may miss some school because of the side effects,” he replied.  “Once the treatment has been completed and Jordan has recovered, however, then he should be able to do everything he did before.”

That appeared to be the end of our questions and we were ready to leave the doctor’s office.  I think we were all somewhat relieved, but we also knew that there was still a long road ahead of us before Jordan was completely out of the woods.

Jordan began his radiotherapy treatments within a week and the markings on his body were very noticeable.  It was a good thing we were heading into the colder weather, because Jordan began wearing turtlenecks to cover them up.  Over the next few weeks, he did display some of the side effects the doctor had told us about, such as a dry sore throat, fatigue and hair loss, but he also suffered from a loss of appetite.  He ate next to nothing when we had Thanksgiving dinner with my parents, but he was also spending a great deal of his free time in bed or on the sofa asleep.  That’s why I decided it was time to take Dad K aside for a little chat.

“Dad, I’m going to make you a proposal and I want you to hear me out first, before you make any decision,” I began.  “I think it would be best for Jordan and me to drop out of school for this school year and use the time to let Jordan get well.  We can go back in the fall to take our junior year over and we’ll only be a year behind our friends.  This will give Jordan an opportunity to fight this thing off without additional worries or having others stare at him or worrying about his grades as he goes through the tough times.  I’ll stay with him throughout the day and help him cope with whatever he’s dealing with and I’ll be there to keep him company and wait on him hand and foot.  I’ll also be able to make certain he does everything the doctor tells him to do, so what do you think, Dad?”

“I know you have good intentions, Tony, but do you really think that Jordan should disrupt his whole life because of this?” Dad K countered. 

“He already has,” I pointed out.  “If you had seen him at school you’d know that.  He often falls asleep in class, his grades are taking a tumble and he spends much of his day trying to keep other people from noticing his battle scars from the treatment.  This way, he’ll be able to concentrate on getting better and I can help him do it.  He won’t have to worry about all those other things, like who’s staring at him and how his grades might keep him out of college, and then we’ll be able to start over again in the fall, when he’s feeling better.”

“Well, you do make some valid points,” Dad K relented.  “What about your parents?  How will they feel, if you quit school just to take care of Jordan?”

“I’m sure they’ll understand and agree with me,” I offered.  “They know I’m probably not college material, so it will only mean that I’ll start working a year later than I originally thought.  This will give Jordan the opportunity to keep his grades up and he might still be able to win a football scholarship in his senior year, once he gets better.”

“All right, you’ve convinced me, but you have to talk this over with your parents and get their permission first,” he concurred.  “If they agree to this, then I’ll speak to the school about it.  If everyone is on the same page, then we’ll present the idea to Jordan.  If he likes the idea, then we’ll do it.”  Dad K then put his hand on my shoulder and looked me in the eye.  “After you finish high school, young man, you’re coming to work for me, if you want.  You can learn the business from the bottom up and it will be yours when I retire.  I know that Jordan and Justin each have their own dreams and those dreams don’t include my construction business, but I think it would be best if the company stayed in the family.  Therefore, I want my other son to have it and I think Jordan and Justin would agree.  What do you say?  Deal?”

I wrapped my arms around Dad K and gave him a big, old bear hug. 

“You’re too much old man,” I said, as I released him.  “I hope you know how much I love you.  Thanks, Dad.  It’s a deal.”

I talked it over with my parents and they agreed it would be all right for me to take the year off from school.  Jordan and I were both sixteen, so we could do it legally, but I also told them about Dad K’s offer about the business.  My parents were totally speechless and couldn’t believe his generosity.  I think they were also thrilled to know my future now looked fairly secure.  Dad K also helped me get my driver’s license and bought a used car for me to drive, so I could take Jordan and Justin places whenever they needed.

It was almost Christmas now and I had to find special gifts to give to Jordan, Justin and Dad K.  I racked my brains for days, as I tried to think of an appropriate gift for each of them, but I had yet to come up with anything.  I wanted each gift to be something special, something that would let each one know the depth of my feelings for him and the gratitude I felt for having them in my life.  I tried to get ideas from Justin and Jordan about Dad K’s gift, but they weren’t even sure what they were going to get him, so it looked as if they weren’t going to be any help to me.

I finally selected gifts for Jordan and Justin, but I still needed to come up with one for Dad K.  One night I was watching the news and I got an idea.  I wasn’t sure how good it was, but it would have to do.  I went to the computer to take care of everything and then began to pray they would each like what I gave them.

Christmas Eve we celebrated with my family.  It’s a big Italian thing, Christmas Eve dinner with all of the fish and seafood dishes.  We all had a good time and enjoyed the meal, before we all went to Christmas Eve Mass together.  We were also planning to have Christmas dinner with my folks as well, at my mother’s insistence, but I was spending the night at the Koontz house.  After mass, I kissed and hugged my parents goodbye and then went home with Jordan. 

It may sound wrong that I wasn’t going to spend the entire holiday with my parents, but they understood.  They had been really cool about this right from the start and I was just grateful that they were so wonderful. 

The four of us crashed as soon as we got to their house and we stayed that way until Justin woke us at seven the next morning.  He wasn’t little any more, but he was still excited about it being Christmas and having presents to open.  We kidded with him a little about this and then we went out to find Dad K, so we could open our presents.

After Justin and Jordan had opened the presents from their father and he had opened their gifts, Jordan and Justin handed me an envelope.  Inside was a Christmas card from the two of them and the title to the car that Dad K had bought for me to use. 

“We paid Dad from our bank accounts, so you could have the car for yourself,” Justin said.

“Yeah, we knew that you liked it, so we wanted you to own it, not just be able to use it,” Jordan added.  “You’ve done so much for the two of us when we were sick and needed you, so this was the least we could do in return.” 

What could I say?  All I could do was hug them and cry.  We stayed like that until Dad K handed me a second, legal-size envelope and announced this one was from him.  I opened it and found a card and a legal document, which was a partnership agreement for the business.  He told me I could go down to his lawyer’s office any time and sign the papers to finalize the agreement.  Even though I couldn’t legally become a partner in the business until I turned 18, this would show his intent and the business would be mine, even if something happened to him in the interim.  How the hell can you thank someone for a present like this?  Yes, he’d already told me it would be mine one day, but I never expected partnership papers to be drawn up this soon.  Hell, I’m still in high school.  Once again, all I could do was hug him and cry.

Now, I was beginning to think my presents were paltry compared to theirs, but it was too late to do anything about that now.  I handed Dad K his present first.  This was also in an envelope, which he opened, read and then looked at me and grinned.

“You don’t know how much this means to me,” he said.  “Everyone should have such peace of mind.” 

Justin and Jordan immediately asked their father what it was and he told them.  It was just a little certificate I composed on the computer.

“It reads,” Dad K said, “that the holder of this certificate is guaranteed that he will never be left alone or placed in a nursing home.  It is Tony’s personal pledge that he will take care of me whenever and for how ever long I need it.”  He paused and looked at his sons.  “I know you boys would probably have done it as well, but it means a great deal to me to know that Tony would do the same.  I think the biggest fear that someone from my generation and older generations have is that we’ll end up alone and incapacitated in some nursing home.  How did you ever think of this, Tony?”

“I was watching one of those news shows on television one evening,” I replied, “and they were highlighting the abuses of a particular nursing home.  I decided then and there that you and my parents would never have to go through that.  I made a similar certificate for them, which I will present when we go down for dinner.”

“Your pretty special, Tony,” Dad K told me, as he gave me another hug.

“You guys are pretty special yourselves,” I countered.  “These were pretty special presents you gave me too.”

Next, I handed Justin and Jordan their gifts.  They were identical small packages and they tore off the wrapping paper to find a small jewelry case.  They opened the case to discover they each contained a silver ring.  They thanked me for them and started to put them on, but I had to stop them.

“Wait.  They’re engraved.  You’ve got to read what it says inside the band,” I told them. 

They each stopped, held up the ring and looked inside the band.  Both were engraved with the same simple phrase.  ‘Now and forever, brothers until the end.’

Needless to say, this released their floodgates and we were all in tears again. 

“I mean that with all my heart,” I was finally able to utter, as I pulled a third ring out of my pocket and slipped it onto my own finger.  “Now we each have matching rings and a token of our pledge.”

I happened to know our ring sizes, because of when Jordan and I went to order our class rings, which I’m going to have to call and cancel now, seeing we’ll be graduating a year later.  Justin had accompanied us on that trip and found out his ring size at the same time, so I had all of the information in the back of my mind.  Therefore, when I finally decided on a gift, I already had the necessary information.  It really worked out well.

Eventually we all regained our composure and pledged our love for each other once more.  We then went into our room, stripped down and then hopped into the shower together to clean up.  Lovingly, each one of us helped to wash the other two, and those doing the cleaning would have a chance to express their love through this procedure.  It was all done slowly and lovingly, and when we finished, we got dressed and went down to my house with Dad K for dinner.

My parents felt the same way about their gift from me as Dad K had.  They both cried, as they hugged me and kissed me, but they cried even more when I told them about my gifts from my second family.  It was a very emotional day.  The three of us boys slept in my bedroom that night and we all cuddled with each other. 

Both families spent New Year’s Eve together too, although it was a very laid-back celebration, since Jordan was so tired.  We decided not to overdo it with him, so we just played some board games at their house, watched a football game and then observed some of the New Year’s Eve celebrations on TV.  My mom had also worked with Dad K to fix a wonderful meal, which we all enjoyed, but our parents also let us enjoy a half-glass of champagne with them, which Dad K provided, as we welcomed in the New Year. 

Once the holidays were behind us, we progressed through the remainder of the winter, into the spring and enjoyed the summer as best we could.  During this time, Jordan managed to recover completely from his bout with Hodgkin’s disease, so by the time the two of us restarted our junior year of high school, most of his hair had grown back, so he wasn’t as self-conscious.  We didn’t play football that year, because we didn’t think Jordan was ready to receive any blows, but we did play basketball and baseball.  Everyone also knew that we were a basically a couple, but no one gave us any flak, which we were grateful for. 

During our senior year, Jordan had an outstanding season at quarterback and made the all-state first team at his position.  He also won a complete football scholarship to a Division I school that was located only a few of hundred miles from home.  Every weekend throughout the fall, the rest of us went with Dad K to watch him play and we continued to do this every fall until he graduated from college.  Jordan earned his degree in electrical engineering and was able to get a job in his field back home.

Justin eventually went to college too and then he returned home as a teacher.  He is teaching computer science and technology classes at the same middle school that each of us had attended when we were younger.  He is well liked and highly respected by the student body, faculty and staff, and he’s very happy with his job.

Dad K and I are still working together running his construction company and he has given me more and more responsibility for the business every year.  He plans on retiring in a few more years and we all still live together in their house.  Justin is currently dating a girl he met at college, because she got a job teaching at the local elementary school, and they are even talking about marriage.  Dad K, Jordan and I have decided that if they do tie the knot, then we have special plans to help them. 

Dad K is planning to give them a lot just down the road from his house, which was part of the original farm he had purchased back when he decided to build their current house.  Then, we’re going to have the Koontz Construction Company build their house, whatever style and layout they choose, and the three of us will do our share of the work on it, as a wedding gift.  That way, they’ll be close enough to keep the strong family ties we still enjoy and we’ll get to spend time with their kids, when they start a family. 

Jordan and I have remained lovers throughout this entire period, even while he was away at college.  We managed to get together often enough to keep each other satisfied and neither of us has ever felt attracted to anyone else.  Believe it or not, Amber and I are still very good friends and we actually go out every now and then too.  She knows all about Jordan and me and I see her with Jordan’s full blessing and approval.  After all, haven’t I told you all along how great he was?  Jordan and I allow each other our own space and have absolutely no doubts about the other’s faithfulness.  I know that he loves me completely and he knows that he has nothing to worry about with me, because he’s my first, last and greatest love.

My father died a year ago.  He had a massive coronary at work and went quickly, so he didn’t suffer.  In fact, he had already passed on before I was able to pick my mother up at the house and take her to the hospital.  My mother has opted to live by herself in our old house ever since, because she claims she is unable to give it up, along with the memories it still holds for her.  Dad K, Jordan and I have told her numerous times that she is welcomed to move in with us whenever she wishes, and Dad K has even offered to turn the lower level rooms into an apartment for her. 

She would have her own entrance and be totally separate from the rest of the house, but we’d be close enough to help her out and visit with her daily.  She has politely refused and told us that she wants to stay in her own home for as long as possible and insists she is happier this way. 

I visit her every day after work and Jordan and I. and sometimes Justin too, spend several hours with her every weekend.  I also send crews from the construction company over to make any repairs that are needed and we take care of the house in general, since she can’t afford to do it on her own.   Jordan and I also take care of the yard work, snow removal, etc., because I intend to keep the promise I made to her that Christmas a few years ago.  I will always be there to do whatever she needs, as I honor my guarantee.

All in all, I find I have very little to complain about.  In fact, every night I thank God for giving me such a wonderful life, two great families to grow up with and such a fantastic lover.  It’s been a very good life, although it’s far from over, and every family member, from both of my families, shall always have a very special place in my heart.