Life can be like a jigsaw puzzle… one minute all the pieces are nicely in place and the next they’re scattered all over the floor.
Sometimes, I think you can compare life to a giant never-ending jigsaw puzzle. It’s laid out with all the pieces, most of them nicely in place. Occasionally, someone or something messes part of it up and you have to fit the pieces back together again or, as your life changes, you find new pieces and have to figure out how to fit them in. But, most of the time what you have built stays in place and you only occasionally add to it or rebuild small sections here and there.
Sometimes, however, it all gets knocked off the table and completely falls apart all over the floor. You not only need to try to fit all the pieces back together again, but also you have to find them again, and often some of them seem to be missing. It’s times like these that you need help to find all the pieces and rebuild the puzzle.
That became the case three days before my seventeenth birthday. My parents had flown to Winnipeg for my cousin’s wedding. I didn’t go because they couldn’t afford three tickets. They were supposed to arrive home at 4:45 PM I had taken a bus to the airport to meet them and was impatiently waiting for them to arrive. At 4:46 PM the arrivals board indicated that flight 987 would be delayed. At 5:00 PM a voice requested that anyone waiting for passengers on flight 987 go to the Sky Bus information desk immediately. The voice sounded anxious and concerned. Something was wrong, I knew it, and my heart sank.
When I got to the information desk, there were already about thirty people standing there. After mulling around for about five minutes, there were probably now forty of us. At this point, a couple of men in suits came out of a room behind the desk. They asked that all people waiting for flight 987 follow them. They led us into a large waiting room with chairs and tables spread throughout it. There were ten or more people already there.
One of the men asked us all to sit down. Then the other man said, “Ladies and gentlemen. I have been asked to inform you that flight 987 was involved in a mid-air collision with a small private aircraft. There were no survivors. I’m so sorry.” The room suddenly turned into pandemonium. People were crying, screaming, shouting. One guy picked up a chair and threw it against the wall. It was at least ten minutes before the ten or so people who had been in the room when we entered, who I guess now were counsellors, were able to even begin to calm people down.
I, on the other hand, just sat there staring at it all. They told me later that my mind had simply shut down. Emotionally I was not capable of dealing with the loss of my parents and I had shut down. For a month I was like that. I would walk around, sit and stare out the window, or lay on the floor and stare at the ceiling. I didn’t show any emotion, talk, eat on my own, sleep for more than an hour here or there, or use the bathroom. I was like a zombie. I had to be fed, and wear depends like a baby. The pieces of my puzzle were now scattered all over the floor.
After about two more weeks, I slowly began to come out of it. I began to eat on my own, to use the bathroom, and actually go to bed and sleep for more than an hour at a time. It was another couple of weeks before I began to talk. I would never initiate a conversation, but I would give one word answers to questions I was asked. After about nine weeks, I was able to carry on a conversation and function more or less normally again. I still wasn’t aware of who I was or what had happened, but with help, I was slowly finding a few of the pieces of the puzzle and fitting them together, albeit a little haphazardly.
Part of my therapy at this point, was to bring in people I knew for short visits. A couple of my teachers came to see me, my aunt and uncle, and several of my friends. Every time I saw someone, it seemed one or two more pieces would fit into place. I was at least aware of my name, not necessarily who I was yet, but I knew my name.
One friend in particular, Shane, came every day. It was after one of his visits that I began to realize that he was more than just a friend. I wasn’t sure how, but there was something special about him. A best friend maybe, I didn’t know. Shane was a bit of a mystery. It wouldn’t be until Jane, my counsellor, took me home that the pieces of the puzzle with Shane would begin to fit together.
They had decided that, since I was functioning so well in the hospital and seemed to be sorting things out, they would see how I reacted to seeing my neighbourhood, my home, and my room. Going through the neighbourhood was no big deal. I recognized everything and could explain how to get from here to there when they asked me. This was an easy part of the puzzle. All the pieces were there and they all fit.
When we pulled up in front of my home, it was another story. As soon as I saw the house, I broke down. It took Jane ten minutes to calm me down. Once I was calm, she asked me if I wanted to go inside. It took me a few minutes to make up my mind, but finally I said yes. I didn’t know why I felt so upset about seeing the house. This part of the puzzle seemed to have several pieces missing. But, I knew if I was to get my life back to normal I was going to have to find those pieces and fit them in.
We went in and looked through much of the house. Jane asked me lots of questions about things and I was able to answer her. Finally, it was time to look at my room. I was almost embarrassed. It was quite a mess with dirty clothes on the floor, books, CD’s, and video games laying all over the place. However, one thing that stood out involved the pictures I had up on my wall. There were several picture of guys in Speedos and one of two guys kissing. Also, above my bed was a rainbow flag. I wasn’t unaware of the significance of the pictures and especially the flag. Suddenly the puzzle had a new twist. The shapes of the pieces, at least for this part, had changed and become more complex. I wasn’t exactly sure how these pieces were going to fit together.
Then I looked at the picture I had on my night table by my bed. It was a picture of Shane and me, cheek to cheek, grinning and standing with our arms around each other. Across the bottom of the picture it said ‘Together Forever with all my Love Shane’. I just stared at it. Eventually, I picked it up and looked at it more closely. I looked at Jane and my eyes teared up. She quickly moved in beside me, put her arm around me and looking at it, said, “That’s a beautiful picture, Kevin.”
“Yeah,” I responded, “Can we go now?”
“Of course,” she replied and we headed for the door. I didn’t however, let go of the picture. In fact, I was holding it tight, as if I were afraid it might get away from me if I relaxed my grip on it. Something told me that this was one part of the puzzle that I had to solve. I had a feeling it would turn out to be a very important part. I never put the picture down for the rest of the day. I even held on to it during dinner. It wasn’t until I went to bed that I released my grip on it. I set it on the table beside my bed. I fell asleep looking at it.
About 2:00 AM, I woke up with a start. I sat up in bed, turned on the light, grabbed the picture and burst into tears. The pieces involving my room and Shane were coming together and fitting themselves into place quickly…very quickly. I was gay…and Shane? I read and reread the ‘Together Forever with all my Love Shane’ about ten times before it began to sink in. Shane was my boyfriend? Was that why he seemed different from all the other guys who visited me? Was that why he seemed special? I don’t quite know how to explain everything that was running through my mind at that moment, or the sudden flood of emotions I was feeling. I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel. I stayed up the rest of the night trying to sort it all out. Memories of Shane began to flood my mind as well as memories of Shane and I together. As the night progressed, so did my feelings for Shane. My entire body gradually began to tingle as I felt the love I had for him revitalize. By morning, a massive, complex part of my puzzle was in place. Shane was my boyfriend and I was totally in love with him!
Thank God the next day was Saturday and Shane would be coming in the morning. I don’t think I would have lasted until after school. As soon as I saw him, my face lit up and he knew. He knew I knew and he suddenly had the biggest grin I have ever seen. We were in each other’s arms in an instant. I don’t know how long we stood there, but it wasn’t long enough. This very big part of the puzzle was in place and it felt so right and so good.
“You remembered,” he said as we held each other.
“Yeah, last night, after looking at our picture,” I responded.
“Thank God, because I love you so much,” he said, “You don’t know how much it hurt when you didn’t remember me.”
“I’m so sorry,” I responded as I pulled back a little, grinned and then kissed him, “You have no idea how much I love you.”
The next kiss lasted for at least a minute before we pulled back, gazed into each other’s eyes, and grinned widely for a second, before we moved in for another kiss. It was another minute at least before we finally broke off and sat down on the sofa in the common room still wrapped in each others arms. It was also the moment we realized we were not alone. When we glanced around the room, one of the other boys, I think his name was Trent, was grinning and gave us the thumbs up. I think we both blushed a little but we returned his smile and waved. I found out later that his parents had him admitted for the ‘mental disorder’ of homosexuality. If he was going to be here until he was cured, he was going to be here a long time.
Shane and I had what had to be close to the perfect day together. His part of the puzzle was all in place and I felt more alive than I had for months. Our time together also helped put a number of other pieces in place as we talked about almost everything just like old times. I think we both forgot that I was in a mental institution for a while. When it was time for him to leave, we kissed for another two or three minutes. We walked to the front entrance hand in hand and kissed again for a minute before he had to leave. Of course, he promised to be back the next day.
“You have a good day?” Jane asked me with a big grin when she saw me a few minutes later.
I just looked at her and grinned back, “The best,” I replied.
She gave me a little hug and said she would see me at dinner in a few minutes.
I spent the rest of the evening on cloud nine. It was all coming together. Admittedly some of it was slow and piece by piece, but sometimes there was a breakthrough like last night and today when whole sections of the puzzle seemed to come together at once. When I went to bed that night, I again lay looking at our picture until I fell asleep.
Sunday’s the day when families can come early and have breakfast with us. When I got up and went for breakfast, Shane was already there. I decided to play safe and gave him a hug and a quick kiss as the room was full of people. We sat down and dished up a full breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausages, and hash browns. As we were eating, Trent came over and sat beside us.
“You don’t mind do you?” he asked.
“No, not at all,” I replied.
“You guys been together long?” he asked.
I suddenly realized I wasn’t sure how long we had been together. I looked at Shane and gave him a questioning look.
He just grinned and replied, “Three years next month.”
“My boyfriend and I have been together for two years,” he said, “But he’s not allowed to see me…parent’s orders.”
“That sucks,” I said.
“Yeah, but I’ll be eighteen in three weeks,” he said, “My parents can’t legally detain me after that. At least not for being gay.”
“How can they have you committed for being gay in the first place?” Shane asked, “It’s a known fact that being gay isn’t a mental illness.”
“Well, I had a choice between here and some religious deprogramming centre, so I chose here. As long as I keep up with my studies, and my parents pay for my treatment, they leave me alone here,” he replied with a grin, “And in three weeks, my parents can go to hell.”
Suddenly I felt panicked. I had no clue why, but I couldn’t get away from the table fast enough. I pushed my chair back, jumped up and ran to my room with Shane right behind me. Jane wasn’t far behind him. I lay down on my bed and stared at the ceiling. Shane looked scared half to death as he walked over and sat on the edge of my bed. Jane stayed by the door. He just sat there for a minute or so and then brushed his fingers through my hair. I immediately grabbed him and pulled him down so he was laying beside me. He wrapped his arms around me and just held me. We must have stayed like that for close to half an hour. Jane stayed by the door and just watched us.
Finally, I said, “My parents.”
“Yeah?” Shane questioned.
“They’re gone aren’t they?” I asked.
“I’m so sorry,” he responded.
I wrapped my arms around him, burst into tears and started sobbing. I must have cried for another half hour before I started to settle down. Shane never released his hold on me the whole time. Finally, I stopped crying all together and released my grip on him a little. As I did, he raised up and kissed me on the cheek. I looked at him for a few seconds.
“Flight 987,” I said.
“Yeah, I’m sorry Babe,” he said again.
By this point, Jane had moved in closer so she was standing right beside us. I looked at her and she gave me a little smile.
“You want me to stay?” she asked, “Or are you okay?”
“Can Shane stay?” I asked.
“As long as you need him sweetie,” she replied.
“Then I’m okay,” I said and she left.
We just lay together, holding each other. I could feel his breath against my ear and it made me feel safe and loved. Eventually I turned my head towards him and he gave me a gentle kiss. A kiss so full of love that I knew, no matter what, I was going to be okay.
The final pieces of the puzzle were beginning to fall into place. As Shane held me, I began to think back. I was in the airport. There was a midair collision. There were no survivors. Suddenly I was in tears again and I felt Shane’s arms tighten around me. I felt his lips as he kissed my cheek. It was mid afternoon when I realized I was still laying on my bed with Shane. We had both fallen asleep. As soon as I moved, I felt his arms tighten around me again.
“You okay Babe?” he asked.
“Yeah, I think so,” I replied.
It was then that I think we both realized we needed to go to the bathroom.
“I gotta pee,” I announced to him.
“So do I,” he responded.
We untangled ourselves and both sat up for a minute before we stood up and made our way to the bathroom. After we were done, we both also realized we hadn’t eaten more than about half our breakfast and that was now five hours ago. We made our way to the kitchen and asked if we could have a snack as we hadn’t eaten all day. Sandy, the cook, smiled and immediately started to make us some sandwiches.
“You okay hon?” she asked me.
“Yeah,” I replied, “I really think I am now.”
“I’m so happy to hear that,” she said as she gave me a little hug.
As soon as we had our sandwiches, we headed for the common room and sat on the sofa. As we were sitting there, Trent came over.
“Hey,” he said, “Things cool?”
“Yeah, getting there,” I replied.
“You scared the hell out of me when you ran out like that,” he said.
“Sorry, but I had a memory flashback that freaked me out,” I responded.
“Was it something I said?” he asked.
“Actually, yeah,” I replied, “When you mentioned your parents, it triggered the memory of my parents’ death in a plane crash.”
“Oh God, I’m sorry,” he said.
“No, don’t be sorry,” I responded, “That was actually a major breakthrough. It’s the reason my mind shut down and I ended up here in the first place.”
“So I helped, then?” he asked.
“Oh yeah, you helped,” I replied.
“Good, I’d hate to think I made things worse by being an ass,” he said.
“Don’t worry, you are not an ass and I should actually be thanking you,” I said with a smile, “But let’s change topics. Okay?”
“Okay. You think maybe the four of us can get together when we’re finally outta this place?” he asked.
“You know,” I said, “I would really like that.”
“Cool,” he said, “I’m gonna find a pen so we can exchange numbers right now,” and he was off in search of a pen. Two minutes later, he was back with three pieces of paper and a pen. Within two minutes we each had the other’s phone numbers tucked away in our wallets.
“I’ll leave you guys alone now,” he said with a grin and he was gone.
Once we were alone, Shane and I talked about the airport, the plane crash, everything. We spent a long time talking about their memorial service, which of course I missed. Shane told me about the people who were there that he knew, the hymns they played, the eulogy my aunt had given, and about the service in general. It sounded like it had been a wonderful testament to who my parents were and how they lived their lives. I so wished I could have been there. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t have known what was going on at the time. We were both crying most of the time we were talking but when we were finished, I felt a lot better. Obviously not good. I had just admitted to myself that my parents were dead. I was now an orphan and I would miss them terribly. However, a vital part of my puzzle was now in place and it was almost back to where it was before the crash. Most of the pieces were back in place and the picture it made was now beginning to make sense.
I knew that, with Shane by my side, I was going to be okay. He stayed with me until I went to bed and fell asleep. He even skipped school the next day and was back almost before I had finished breakfast. The two of us talked with Jane for half the morning before we decided to make another trip to my home. This time when we got there, I felt the loss, the emptiness that comes with knowing you will never see your mom and dad again, but this time I was aware, I was prepared, and I wasn’t alone. Shane was right beside me. We entered the house and walked around. I was able to talk about the good times we had together. I was able to laugh at some of Shane’s stories about the numerous times we got into trouble and caught crap from either my mom or my dad. It was good. I was home and it felt right.
Two weeks later, I was released and back home for good. Shane’s parents were great and they helped me clean up and sort things out. They helped me with the lawyers, the will, and the different insurance policies. When all was said and done, I owned the house and car outright as the mortgage and loan insurance paid them out. I was also semi-wealthy as both Mom and Dad had substantial life insurance policies with me as beneficiary. I would have given all of that up without a second thought to have them back again, but that wasn’t going to happen.
Since I was not emotionally ready to be alone in the house, especially at night, Shane’s parents allowed him to move in with me. We both went to his folks for dinner every night. His mom didn’t trust that we would eat properly, so she insisted we have dinner with them. Since neither of us liked to cook, we didn’t complain. Trent and Kris soon became an integral part of our lives too. We saw them several times a week. In fact, the spare bedroom soon became their room.
My parents’ room, however, remained closed. I still wasn’t ready for it to be anything but my parents’ room and wasn’t sure if I ever would be. In fact, it was several months before I even entered the room. It took me almost five minutes to get up the courage to open the door. Once I did, I just stood there for another five minutes staring into the room. When I finally got up the courage to enter the room, I broke down and cried as I looked at their empty bed. After another few minutes, I walked across the room and sat on the edge of their bed and looked around the room. On the nightstand, beside the bed, was the same picture of Shane and me that I had. On the wall was the portrait of me my mom had done last year, a wedding picture of my parents, a portrait of my parents, as well as a number of regular family pictures. I think I sat there for the better part of half an hour as I thought of all the love those pictures represented.
Eventually I stood up and looked at their portrait. With tears running down my cheeks, a smile on my face, and after a deep sigh, I said, “Bye Mom, bye Dad. I love you.”
I quietly left the room and closed the door. I slowly walked down the hall and into the kitchen, poured myself a coffee and walked out onto the deck. As I was standing there looking at the fountain and waterfall my dad had built for my mom, Shane came up behind me and wrapped his arms around me. I laced the fingers of my free hand through his and smiled as I realized I had finally put the latest pieces of the puzzle in place.
Then, standing there in Shane’s arms, I thought about the many new pieces of the puzzle I would find and have to add as my life unfolded. But, as I melted into the warmth of Shane’s body, I knew, I would never be alone as I found and fitted those new pieces in place.
Thanks to Colin for editing, prepping, and posting this story for me.
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This story may contain occasional references to minors who are or may be gay. If it were a movie, it would be rated PG13 (in a more enlightened time it would be rated G). If reading this type of material is illegal where you live, or if you are too young to read this type of material based on the laws where you live, or if your parents don't want you to read this type of material, or if you find this type of material morally or otherwise objectionable, or if you don't want to be here, close your browser now. The author neither condones nor advocates the violation of any laws. If you want to be here, but aren't supposed to be here, be careful and don't get caught!