My Joy by C.J. Baty
I looked across the table in the dimly lit sports bar/restaurant and wondered how he could sit for hours looking at her just the way he was doing right now. He was holding her so tenderly in his embrace, gazing at her with such pure adoration and love.
Don’t get me wrong. I wasn't jealous or some stupid shit like that. She was absolutely beautiful from the tips of her wispy black hair to the bottoms of her tiny feet. I understood completely what he felt because I felt it too. She was perfection but then so was the man holding her.
When I had first met Cole Hadley, he was twenty five and a force to be reckoned with in the gay club scenes of Chicago. I was two years older, quiet, shy and content in my own little closet. For God’s sake, I’m an accountant, how much boring could a gay man’s life be? Especially one who was confused as hell about how he, ”a good ol’ southern boy”, could possibly like…want…oh shit, crave…dick! But I did and staying in my rural Louisiana town was not going to allow me to truly discover who I was and what I wanted. So as soon as I graduated for college, I accepted a job with a firm in Chicago and left my old life behind.
This is our weekly date night and Cole Hadley, the all out there, totally proud gay man whom I mentioned before, yea, there he sat right across from me, ten years later. There he sat holding her and with that he’s changed my life all over again. Before she just took over our lives, ten weeks ago; we agreed our usual Friday night, date night, wouldn't change. After a long work week and even longer nights caring for a new born, we’d need those few hours to reconnect and continue to nurture are own relationship.
We tried. We really tried to leave her with Cole’s mom, Susan on the first couple of Fridays. We were both miserable and he was so worried that he didn't even eat his dinner that first night away. Then we rushed home to see she was sleeping, perfectly fine and probably never even missed us. Talk about feeling rejected.
The next week was even more difficult. We just couldn't leave her. She’d had a stomach ache and didn't sleep much the night before so no one slept. So we opted to order in and snuggle on the couch, watching some old John Wayne cowboy movie; actually one of my favorite things to do. Cole fell asleep in my arms holding her. She still didn't sleep through the night for another month but we all adjusted and learned. Cole caught on how to read her cries and grunts and groans quicker than I did. It became a huge topic of discussion between Cole and me. Every new expression on her face would bring us a moment of joy.
By now you can tell I’m talking about our new daughter, Libby. She’s ten weeks old today and she’s been with us for nine and half of those weeks. To say that we love her would be grossly underestimating what we feel for her. When I met Cole, I never dreamed that ten years later I would be sitting here with my husband of five years and our new daughter. Lucas Johnston just couldn't dream that big inside the closet he had constructed for himself. Now, I know life just couldn't get any better than this and yet there was something nagging at me. Something I just couldn't put my finger on.
Aggravated noise from the couple in the booth across from us drew me out of my musings. I could hear the grumbled oaths and slurs as they passed by our table on their way out of the restaurant.
“Shit, if I’d known they’d let queers in here, I’d have never brought you here sweetheart,” the man said not bothering to even lower his voice.
“It’s just disgusting to watch that one fondle that cute little baby that way,” the woman answered shaking her head. Then they were gone.
Even after all this time it still angered me. Still hurt when people were so callous and cruel towards Cole and me. Cole’s hand reached across the table and it's warmth squeezed my fisted one, openly smiling at me, lovingly. Letting me know it didn't matter to him what they said or how they felt about us.
The waitress brought our appetizers and refilled our drinks, strictly ice tea since Libby was with us. Then cleaned the table the couple had just left for waiting patrons. She told us our meals would be out shortly. She stopped long enough to coo over Libby and then hurried back to work.
A moment later a family consisting of middle aged parents and too young adult children slid into the booth across from us. They settled in and ordered their drinks and the waitress stepped away. I visibly flinched because I knew what was coming.
More than anything I hurt for Libby, our daughter. She too would be abused in life, taunted and called names because she had two dads instead of a mom and dad. I looked at her in my husband’s arms and knew she would be loved and cared for all her life but we couldn't protect her from every ignorant fool in the universe.
A soft female voice whispered, “Excuse me” to draw my attention. It was the mother sitting at the table across from us. Here it comes, I thought, the obvious questions. “Which one of you is the father,” she’d ask then the look of disgust when we answered her. The beautiful smile she was wearing took me by surprise. I found it hard to concentrate on her words when she began to speak.
“She is the most adorable little thing. Congratulations! Is she always such a good baby? Is she sleeping through the night yet,” she spoke as if we had all been friends for years. Where were the questions I was expecting and the look of disgust?
“I see you have your camera out, would you like me to take a picture of the three of you,” she asked as if she was truly happy to do it.
“Thank you, that’s very kind of you to offer isn't it Lucas,” Cole answered her by trying to get me to come out of the fog I was in. All I could do was nod.
She stood from her seat and accepted the camera and listened as Cole chatted happily and showed her how to use his very expensive favorite toy. Was it possible that this woman actually understood that we were two men, two gay men and we were raising this child together? Could she really be that accepting of us?
“Don’t you want in the picture with your husband and daughter,” she asked me. I could only nod again and then I slipped from my side of the booth to sit next to Cole.
The woman took several pictures and encouraged us to both hold the baby this way and that. She kept saying smile and Cole would nudge me in the side so I knew she was talking to me not him. The waitress finally showed up with our food and the woman handed the camera back to Cole.
“She’s lovely and I think she has your hair but she definitely has your eyes and dimples,” she said looking directly at me.
“Thank you,” I barely mumbled out and then watched as she sat back down with her family.
We were mostly finished with our meal and Libby was becoming restless so we decided to call it a night. Cole wrapped Libby up tight in her blanket and placed her gently in her car seat. After buckling her in tightly, he picked up the seat and thanked the family across from us again who were now enjoying their meal. I picked up the pacifier, bottle and other odds and ends that Cole seemed to think we always needed when we traveled with Libby and stuffed them into her carry bag. As I was thanking the waitress and settling the bill, the woman who had been taken our picture asked if she could speak with me before I left.
Yea, I knew it was too good to be true. Now she’s going to tell me what she really thinks. People will never change. There will always be bigots and those who think they are better than the others around them. I knew I was right, I thought to myself as I stood still to hear her out. I’d just give her a piece of my mind when she finished and that would be that.
“Young man, Lucas, can I give you a bit of advice,” she asked and waited for my affirmation. “Don’t let other people with their narrow-minded intolerant attitudes take your joy away. Cole, your husband, he adores you. And your little daughter, she is the most precious gift that you will ever receive. They should be the most important people in the world in your life. God has given them to you to love and protect. People can be arrogant asses. Your family is all that matters. They are your joy. You are doing them a great disservice by letting outsiders steal that joy away from you and them.”
She reached up and softly kissed my cheek, smiled, then returned to her family and the lively discussion the other three were having as if she’d never left. They were a unit, a whole thing unto itself. A family!
Cole was waiting for me at the entrance to the restaurant with a worried look on his face. He couldn't yet see the transformation going on inside me as I walked to join him. It wasn't visible on the outside. I took Libby’s seat from him, easily carrying it in one hand and grabbed Cole’s hand with my other. We walked through the parking lot to our car and with each step the smile on my face grew larger and larger until I could barely contain the love and joy and peace that were spreading through me.
She was right. I was letting those around me steal my family’s joy. I had everything that a man could ever ask for. A loving partner, who wasn't perfect but then neither was I and we had been through fire to get where we were now. Nothing would ever come between us again. We’d done the time and our marriage was rock solid because of it. We would grow old together.
And we had Libby. I never imagined ten years ago that I would be living an openly gay life with my husband and that we would be loving and raising our daughter together. She completed our family. My family!
Libby was all buckled into her seat but before Cole could snap his belt into place, I leaned across the console and kissed him passionately. When I finally let him go he was sucking in air trying to catch his breath and his cheeks were glowing.
“Wow! What got into you,” he asked as his breathing calmed and he snapped his seat belt.
“I love you. And I love Libby and I just wanted you to know you two are my joy and nothing and no one will ever take that away from me again.”
There you have it. I hope you enjoyed it and that you find your own joy and never let it go.