Joel: Book Three ~ Back To Normal

Chapter Sixteen

For the next few days, Chris was very solicitous of Joel and John. I guess he felt that he had hurt their feelings. John had begun taking his antidepressant medicine every morning at breakfast. He didn't seem to mind. It was just like taking his vitamins. By Saturday, he had been on them for four days. I was starting to get worried about him. He seemed so listless and didn't seem to have his normal appetite. Even Hildy noticed it.

I was surprised Saturday afternoon when he got into a heated argument with Joel that nearly ended in violence. It was mostly a one-sided argument with Joel staring at his friend in amazement. I tried to calm John down, but he resisted my efforts and ran to his room and slammed the door.

I followed him to try to find out what was bothering him. I tapped lightly on his door, but he didn't answer. I knocked again, louder this time. "John, may I come in?"

"Go away! I hate you, I hate everybody!"

"Please, John, let me talk to you. We all love you and want you to be happy, but if you don't talk to me, we won't know what the matter is."

When he didn't answer, I slowly opened the door to find him lying face down on his bed. I approached the bed and sat down on the edge. Slowly I reached out my hand and stroked his back. He tensed up when my hand touched him, but then relaxed as I stroked.

"What's the matter, son? Don't you feel well?"

"I don't know. Something inside me feels like it's gonna explode. It makes me angry and I wanta hit something. I almost hit Joel. Why did I do that? I love him," he sobbed.

"I know you do," I said, cradling him in my arms. "I think it might be the medicine. You stay here a while. I'm going to call Dr. Adams and talk to him."

"Will you tell Joel that I don't hate him? Really I don't."

"I will, but I'm sure he knows that."

When I called Dr. Adams, I got his answering service. I left a message for him to call me as quickly as he could. As I hung up the phone, Joel was standing beside my chair with tears in his eyes.

"What's the matter with John? He seems so different today. It scares me."

"Son, I think that John is having a reaction to the medicine that he's taking. One of the rare, but possible, side-effects is what's called "non-specific anger." That means he gets angry, but doesn't know why. The bad part is that it's usually directed at someone he loves. He's sad that he said those things to you. He told me to tell you."

"If it's the medicine, why doesn't he just quit taking it?"

"I've got a call in to Dr. Adams to talk to him about what we should do. The medicine is supposed to help him deal with his feelings of hurting himself. I think it might be having the opposite effect. Why don't you go sit with him until Dr. Adams calls me back?"


It was almost an hour later when Dr. Adams called me back. I explained to him what was happening with John. He checked with me on the dosage that John was getting and after asking me a few more questions, he suggested that I reduce the amount of medication to a quarter of the caplet instead of the half I was giving John now. He said I was to do this for two days and then stop the medication altogether. That would mean on Tuesday when I brought John into the office for his appointment, he would be off the medication. When I asked why John shouldn't just be taken off the medication, he explained that there was a possibility of some sort of withdrawal reaction. Lowering the dosage before complete cessation would lessen the possibility.

After hanging up the phone, I went to check on Joel and John. John was sleeping with his head on Joel's chest. Joel was in a semi-seated position leaning against the headboard of the bed, his arms cradling his friend.

I whispered to Joel to let me lift John up. As I did so, Joel was able to slip out from under John without waking him. I laid John back down on the bed and then Joel and I crept out of the room.

"Is he gonna be all right?"

"I hope so, son. I'm going to cut his medication in half for a couple of days and then take him off of it completely. He may, at times, still feel angry. When he does, we need to show him that we love him and want him to get better. If he says something that hurts your feelings, just know it is the medicine talking and not the real John. Can you do that?"

"I think so. I like him a lot, dad."

The rest of Saturday, John was less active than he usually was. I don't know if it was him feeling guilty for getting mad at Joel or just the effects of the medicine. Whatever it was I kept a watchful eye on him to make sure that his moods stayed on an even keel.

Sunday morning, John went to church with Hildy and Manfred. When he came home he was his usual exuberant self. "It's fun going to that church. Reverend Rollins is so nice and everybody is so happy. It makes you feel good."

"That's great, son. Now, why don't you go get your clothes changed? It's such a warm day, I thought that we would take the boat out and do a little fishing. How does that sound?"

"Great," he said, running for his room.

"Did I hear someone say something about fishing?" Manfred asked, coming in from the kitchen.

"Yeah, the boys and I are going out shortly. You want to come? I could use the help baiting the hooks."

"Let me see what Hildy has planned, but I would love to tag along."

A few minutes later a smiling Manfred returned. "I presume that the boss said it was okay for you to go fishing?"

"Yes, but she said I had to clean the fish, if I caught any," he laughed. "Seriously, she said she would fix them if we cleaned them."

"Oh, I hope she makes some hush puppies to go with them."

I called the marina and had them get the boat ready and gassed up for our outing.

"Crane, can we get fishing licenses at the marina? I haven't bought one for this year."

"Yes, that's where I got mine. The boys don't need one since they are under seventeen."

"I heard that hush puppies remark," Hildy said, as she entered the kitchen. "Do you need me to make sandwiches to take with you?"

"Thanks, but Joel and I made enough to feed an army while you were at church. I think there's enough to feed Manfred also. I've packed the coolers with juice and fruit and chips in addition to the sandwiches. I even put in some of those granola bars that the boys like. All I need is some help to carry it all to the van."

"No problem," Manfred said, and picked up one of the coolers sitting beside the back door. "Good grief, what have you got in this thing? Lead?"

"I think that one has the sandwiches in it," I chuckled. "The heavy one has the juice and bottled water."

I went to check on how the boys were coming along getting ready for the outing. I found Joel applying sun screen to TJ's arms and face, with John waiting to be next. "Make sure that your dogs have fresh food and water before we leave."

"Okay, dad," Joel said, as he turned his attention to John.

When I went upstairs to check on the twins and Chris, I found them putting on their sun screen. I checked to make sure that they hadn't missed any spots and then gave them the same admonition about their dogs.

By the time we had loaded all of the foodstuffs, fishing gear and life jackets, there was hardly room for the eight of us in the van. The boys were all excited, we hadn't been fishing for quite a while and they loved being out on the water. It was going to be a gorgeous day with not a cloud in the sky and just enough breeze to make the eighty degree temperature pleasant.

The boat was ready for us when we got to the marina. Even the onboard cooler to store the fish was filled with ice. All we needed to do was to catch some. Darrell was there and helped us load all of our stuff onto the boat. He joked around with the boys as he helped. Joel introduced him to John, telling John that Darrell had taught him how to fish the first time he went out on the boat. Manfred went into the office to get his fishing license before joining us on the boat.

With everyone's life jackets securely in place, we started out on the day's adventure. We motored around for a bit until we found a relatively quiet place where we had some success catching fish before. I cut the engine and then Manfred and I began baiting the hooks for all six boys. After everyone's line was in the water, Manfred cast his own. It was easy to tell from the way he handled it that he was an experienced fisherman. I was content to watch the boys and make sure that no one got snagged by a fishhook.

It wasn't too long before the first fish was caught. This time it was Larry who caught it. Along with the congratulations to him from the boys, there was also a note of jealousy in their voices.  

After about an hour of fishing, TJ said he was hungry. That brought agreement from everyone else and the fishing poles were quickly stowed. I handed out some wet towels for the boys to clean some of the fish off their hands before opening the food chests. Joel proudly pointed out to his brothers which sandwiches were beef and which were the ham that he had made.

The sandwiches disappeared almost before my eyes. Manfred and I were able to grab a couple before they were gone. The juice and fruit disappeared almost as quickly.

"Crane, I can't believe how much these boys eat," Manfred said, shaking his head. "If I ate that much, I'd weigh 300 pounds." (Note: 300 lbs. = ~136 kg.)

"I know what you mean. I think I've gained at least 10 pounds since the boys came to live with me. I haven't been as diligent in swimming laps every morning like I use to do."

"That reminds me, have you ever considered putting one of those blow-up tent-like structures over the pool so that you could use it all year round? I saw one at a customer's house when I went to inspect the landscaping work we were doing. The customer said that they only used it in the winter and had just reinstalled it. It provides them with a heated environment so they can use the pool even in the coldest weather."

"I don't think I've ever seen one," I said. "When it was just me swimming in the pool, it didn't make much difference. I'd do my laps and then run back into the house. The pool is heated so I never got cold until I got out of the water and I didn't waste any time high tailing it back into the house. I wonder who sells them. The boys love to swim and they do like having David give them their lessons every week."

"I'll check with them when I go back to their house tomorrow. We should be finishing up the job and I want to get my money. I think they've had their 'tent' for two or three years. I'll let you know, if you're interested."

"Yeah," Joel said between bites of his sandwich. "We could swim on Christmas then, couldn't we, dad?"

"And New Years," Chris added, smiling around his sandwich.

"I see we've heard from the peanut gallery," I said, ruffling TJ's hair.

It wasn't long before fishing again occupied the boys' attention. Manfred was a big help with the boys. He treated them just as he would his own grandchildren, if he had any. That reminded me, "Manfred, how is Horst getting along?"

"I called him yesterday. He and his doctors believe that the medication is helping. It's still a little early to tell what the long term effect will be. He's encouraged. I guess that's half the battle, having a positive attitude. He's lucky that the university's health plan is paying for the majority of the costs. The drugs are horrendously expensive."

"That's good to hear that the medicines are doing some good," I said, just as TJ yelled that he had caught a fish.

Everyone's attention immediately centered on TJ since it was his first catch of the day. He was so excited that he nearly dropped the fishing pole. Joel was right there beside his brother, telling him exactly what to do to land his prize. It took a few minutes, but the fish was finally in the net. It was a good sized fish, the largest one caught to that point. Later, a couple larger ones were landed. That didn't bother TJ. Every so often, he would go to the fish cooler to look at his fish.

We were out on the water for a little over four hours when I could tell the boys were getting tired of fishing. I told them to reel in their lines and we would make a trip around the lake and then head back to the marina. That appeared to please everyone. The trip around the lake took almost another hour because I kept the speed down so that we would not disturb the rest of the people fishing or get in the way of the jet-skiers. There were a lot of sailboats out on the lake. The gentle breeze made it great weather for sailing.

I had kept a watchful eye on John all afternoon. I didn't notice any of the anger that he had displayed yesterday, but then he had been busy doing something up to this point. I hoped that yesterday's anger episode was an anomaly. The boy had enough problems in his life.

Hildy was waiting for us when we got back to the house. After we had the van unloaded, the boys ran to let their dogs out. The dogs acted a little strangely. They kept sniffing at their masters.

"I think your friends can smell the fish on you. Why don't you jump in the showers and wash off the fishy smell? Manfred and I'll clean the fish," I said and shooed them toward their rooms.

We were nearly finished with the fish when the freshly scrubbed boys returned. Lenny sidled up to me and gave me one of his patented puppy dog looks. "Can we have something to eat? We're hungry."

Hildy overheard him. "Come here, boys. I baked some peanut butter cookies while you were gone. You can have two apiece and some milk. It's getting too close to supper for any more."

"Thanks, Hildy," they said, and took off for the kitchen.

As they were racing to the kitchen, I heard TJ ask, "Hildy, did you see the big fish I caught? Huh?"

"I sure did, sweetheart. It's going to taste 'specially good because you caught it."

I don't know if it was his fish, but the one I ate did taste good when Hildy served them along with the hush puppies and fried okra. Not exactly the healthiest of meals, but we didn't often have that much fried food in one meal.

While the boys were playing outside after supper, I took John aside and asked him how he was feeling. He said that he started feeling angry a couple of times today, but he wouldn't let it show. He didn't want to hurt Joel's feelings again. I gave him a hug and told him how proud I was of him.

His smile turned sad. "I wish my dad was proud of me."

I didn't know what to say to him. All I could do was to give him another hug.

Monday morning I waited at the gate with the boys for their school van. When it came into sight, I gave them all a hug and a reminder to behave themselves at school.

As usual, Darcie was in the office when I arrived. I hadn't had a chance to talk to her since our lunch with Carol last Wednesday. We exchanged pleasantries, asking about each other's weekend before I came to the point I wanted to discuss with her.

"What did you think of Carol?"

"She seemed to be very bright and articulate. I liked her. I think she would fit in great around here. I'm sure that she could handle the mail and phones. From what you've told me she's extremely well organized. And I think she would meet the public well."

"If we decide to ask her to join us, I'd like for her job duties to include contacting other charities, like the Mohr Trust, to solicit funds. I can see from the volume of the mail and the files that we have received that, even with the $2 million we just received, we are going to need more investments to generate the income necessary to do what we want to do."

"That sounds good. I think that the volume of requests justifies bringing her in to help. Do you think that she would be interested in coming to work here? She's been at your old company for a number of years."

"Yes, she's dropped a number of broad hints that she would like to move on to something else. She even said that if I ever needed a 'good secretary', to keep her in mind."

"What about you? Have they made a decision to let you out of your contract to spend that week every month with them?"

"No, not yet, Derrick Williamson is supposed to let me know today what their decision is. It might get a little sticky if we hired Carol away from them while I was still working there."

"Oh, by the way, I put eight folders on your desk to review. I narrowed the twenty-two down to those eight. If you want to look at the other fourteen, they're on the conference room table."

"Thanks, I'll look at them and then we can discuss them later," I said, standing up and heading for my office.

I had finished reviewing the information in the first four folders when the phone rang. "ASEC, this is Crane Johnson."

"Crane, this is Benjamin Cross. How are you?"

"I'm doing great. How are things in the Peoples Republic of Austin?"

"Ha ha, very funny. There's more truth than fiction in that comment, but I didn't call to talk about the comrades in power around here. I just finished talking to Karen Lin. She said that the judge in Waco has agreed to transfer the case of John Gordinier to Comal County. Do you know a Judge Faye Goode?"

"I've heard the name and have seen her political ads around election time, but I don't know the woman."

"She's a pretty straight shooter in the same way as Judge Yates. She'll see that the boy's interests are taken care of. Karen said that she will be in contact with the judge to schedule a hearing. She also wants to check to see if Goode will enforce the Waco judges order for counseling for the parents. I have no doubts that she will."

"That's good. Tell Karen to give me a call and let me know when the hearing is arranged. Tuesday afternoon is the only bad time. That's when John goes to the psychiatrist for his counseling."

 "I'll tell her. I'm sure she will call you in the next couple of days."

I went back to reviewing the files that Darcie had left on my desk. All of them that I had screened seemed worthy of our help. We just needed to figure out how much support that they required and for how long. Knowing that would allow us to forecast what our expenses would be long term and to make sure that we could meet our commitments.

I had reached for the last file when Darcie came into my office. "Crane, I just got off the phone with Karen Boise. She called to give me the status report on Tony and Benny. It seems that the adoption process is progressing rapidly. She expects that it will be finalized before the end of the year. Tony's treatment for his leukemia is going great. She said his hair is totally grown back in and he's taking great pride in combing it. Benny is a "treasure," according to her. Bill has a new job that pays much better. She didn't say what it was. She has a part time job at a doctor's office processing insurance claims, but is always home when the boys get home from school."

"That's great. I'll have to tell Joel and have him call Tony. I don't think they have talked to each other in several weeks. Maybe the Boises won't need as much assistance from us if their income has increased. Let's wait and revisit that until after the adoptions have been completed," I said. Looking at my watch, I saw that it was nearly one o'clock. "What do you say we grab some lunch and then go over these files this afternoon?"

"I'd like to, but I have to run an errand. One of my girlfriends is getting married this Saturday and I need to get her present."

"You're going to be able to sit with JR and Bran Saturday night, aren't you?"

"I should be back by then. Anyway, Mel is going to be there. He's not going to the wedding. He has to work Saturday morning and is going to go to Eric's house as soon as he gets off work. I have to be in Columbus by noon for the one o'clock wedding. Between the two of us, we have the boys covered."

"I suppose I worry too much. After all, Bran is fifteen. He's probably old enough to stay there alone with JR. Take your time shopping. We'll go over the files when you return."

I had been back in the office for only a few minutes after eating lunch when Derrick Williamson called. He said that he had received the final approval from the senior partners for the cancellation of my contract. They agreed as long as I would finish out the year. That way I would have completed half of my obligation. That meant I owed them two more weeks of work. He said that he would have the necessary papers for me to sign when I came in next time. I asked him to send the papers to my lawyer for his approval. I wanted Carlos to look them over before I signed them.

Even though this would mean that I was taking a $50,000 pay cut, I thought it was worth it to allow me to concentrate on the foundation and my family.

I got home a little ahead of the school van. I only had time enough to let the dogs out. They raced to the gate and waited impatiently for me to get there even though the boys hadn't arrived. I always enjoyed the sight of the dogs greeting their masters. Although having five dogs is a lot of work and expense, the joy that they bring to the family is worth it.

After the dogs had been properly greeted by the boys, I got my hugs and a lot of dog kisses. "How was school, today?" I asked no one in particular.

"Mrs. Hanley gave us a report to write," Chris complained.

"Yeah," the twins chimed in.

"I got to read to the class," TJ added.

"That's great, son," I said patting TJ on the back. "What does your report have to be on?"

"It can be about Indians or early settlers in Texas or about real cowboys," Larry answered.

"We can't write about movie cowboys," Chris added.

"How can we find out about those things?" Lenny asked.

"Well, there are several places you can go to find some information. One place would be the library in New Braunfels. Another would be the set of encyclopedias that are in my study. And yet another is the internet.

"When does this report have to be turned in?"

"Next week," both the twins responded.

"That gives you plenty of time. After supper let's sit down and decide what you want to report on, and then we can decide where you need to find your information. How does that sound?"

"Okay, dad," Larry said and ran off toward the house followed closely by Lenny and Chris.

"The teacher said I did real good," TJ said.

"I'm sure that you did. Do you like reading to your class?"

"Yeah. At first I was scared, but the story was easy. Everybody liked the way I read, too. It's kinda fun when you know all the words. I still like it better when you read to me."

"And I like reading to you, too. Maybe we can do that after you get your homework done. You had better go get your clothes changed so you can play with Bandit."

After supper, I met with the twins and Chris to discuss the report they had to write. It turned out to be only two typed pages, double spaced. They seemed to think that it was a whole novel from the way they complained about it. Each of them decided on different topics, of which I was glad. I worked with each of them to decide where the best source of information could be found. It looked like the internet and the encyclopedia were going to be their best sources of information. The New Braunfels library would be the best for information on the early settlers to the area.

I also got John alone after supper. I wanted to find out how he was feeling. He said that the thing inside him that felt like it was going to explode wasn't as bad today. He said he only got angry a little bit and that was because some older boy shoved him.

I told him how proud I was of him and reminded him that we had another appointment with Dr. Adams tomorrow and that I would pick him up at three as I had done last week. And, yes, we would have time to stop for a snack before he had to see Dr. Adams. He giggled and went off to play with Joel and Samson.

When we met with Dr. Adams the next day he was moderately concerned about John. He didn't want to prescribe another antidepressant for John, but thought that he needed something to prevent him from going into depression.

"I think we will try a very mild tranquilizer on John," he told me. "I don't want him to be drugged into a stupor and not be able to function, but I want to keep him from the depths of depression where he might hurt himself."

"Then you think that his thoughts of suicide are real and that he could act on them?"

"It is always a mistake to ignore a teen's talk of suicide, even if it's in the abstract. Too many times it's ignored with devastating consequences," he said. "Here are enough tranquilizers to last until next week. As I said, these are very mild and should only keep his emotions on an even keel.

"Next time you come, could you bring Joel at the same time? I think that working with them together might be beneficial for both of them."

"Fine, I'll bring them both."

Dr. Adams and I walked out of his treatment area to find the waiting room empty.