Some of the best things in life are….yeah, you thought I was going to say free. But what I was going to say was ‘complicated’. And with Cody there was nothing terribly complicated about how I felt, but being able to express those feelings wasn’t simple.
Now, most people would probably call me crazy. Look at it this way: you meet someone, go for dinner and a movie maybe, eventually fall in love, there’s a first kiss, and before you know it you’re in bed on a Sunday morning sharing sections of the newspaper.
Now, that probably sounds on the surface a lot simpler than meeting some kid who wets his pants, finding you have protective feelings for the guy, hanging out with him a bit while he wears diapers, checking to see if he’s wet and….well, yeah, already it probably sounds complicated.
But the reality was that things had never seemed simpler. Romance is complicated – does he love me or not? Is he a morning guy or a night guy? Does he horde the Sunday crossword puzzle or does he let me take the first crack? Silly, complicated stuff, really. But what I felt for Cody wasn’t complicated by all the shadow dancing of romance.
It was simple: I felt like protecting the kid. I felt like giving him care. And I had a simple way to do both. Somehow the fact that he had a wetting problem gave all these feelings a focal point.
The complicated part was knowing what to do about it.
Cody in Retreat
Yet again, however, it was Cody who threw another curve ball.
After more than a week of him popping over for an evening chat, capped by the night I slipped my fingers along the waist of his diaper to find that he was wet (and that little accepting nod when I sent him home to get changed) – suddenly he shut down.
You can imagine how I felt. Like I had made a monumental error of judgement – my little intuitive diaper check had scared him off and I was about to end up being that odd guy next door who got a little too intimate with a 20 year old, however innocent the gesture actually was.
The thing is it wasn’t exactly like that. Because Cody didn’t vanish into his room or start giving me dirty looks across the yard. In fact, he DID show up the next day at the usual time. I saw him across the fence and gave him a wave over.
I remember smiling: he was wearing a bright blue button down shirt, un-tucked with the tail of it flopping over loose blue jeans, and the color made his eyes pop. But as he made his way to my patio, there was a slouch to his walk and what I can only call a grimace on his face. I gestured to the chair next to me and poured some lemonade as he plopped down.
Now, if you’ve ever seen a teenager sulk that’s pretty much the picture of Cody that day.
The 20-year old looked like a 12-year old kid who had just been told he couldn’t stay up late to watch a horror flick: non-responsive, nothing more than simple nods or “naws”, shrugs.
He didn’t seem unfriendly, exactly. He was perfectly respectful and he’d still glance at me now and then with a kind of pleading look in his eyes. But to say he had shut down compared to the talkative, curious kid of the past week or so would be a serious understatement.
After a while he beat a retreat. “I have to help Gramma with dinner,” I think he said, and gave me a slight wave before shuffling back home.
I couldn’t help thinking that it was all his way of saying: “Look, you’re a nice guy, but don’t get too friendly”. And the thought didn’t break my heart exactly, but it sure felt like it sank about 10 feet.
Cody and Joan at the Crossroads
I’m not much of a storyteller. You know that already. So while I’m sure I should build all kinds of suspense so it leaves you guessing what happened next, I’m going to take the easy way out.
I should tell you about the days that followed – how Cody would pop by still, but for less time. How he had become incredibly sullen and shy. How he almost flinched a little the time I put a hand on his shoulder. How he had changed: his eyes not quite as bright, his body slouched, even his clothing making him seem smaller and withdrawn with baggy jeans and darker shirts, as if even the surfer kid inside had decided to retire from the waves for a bit.
And then I’d build up to the day Cody’s Gramma came over and we had “The Big Talk”.
But like I say, I’m not much of a storyteller, so I’m going to cheat a bit. Because a lot of what happened had nothing to do with me, and I only found out later that what was really going on had a long history and that behind the walls of the house next door, Cody and his Gramma had come to a familiar cross roads.
And while things were feeling complicated at my side of the fence, on the other side it was pretty simple: Joan had done what most grandmothers would do, and had insisted that Cody try again to get by without protection, he was 20 years old after all, there was no particular medical reason why he had accidents or needed diapers, and she only felt it was right that he act like the responsible young adult that he surely was.
It was a familiar tug of war and the logic of it was hard to defend against. Cody could only nod or shrug at his grandmother’s questions. I mean, what can a 20-year old could say when asked if they’re still a little kid? And he could hardly say “yes” when he was asked whether he always wanted to be a pants or bed wetter.
Cody’s feeling were, in fact, as conflicted as his grand mother’s.
On the one hand he wanted to be cool, accepted and treated like an adult. And on the other hand there was just this thing that happened: he’d start wetting the bed at night, and then eventually there would be a few day time accidents.
He could never explained why it happened and he never intended for it to happen but it did. Usually out of concern his grand mother would get him some ‘protection’ in case of some embarrassing accident, one thing would lead to another, and before she knew it he was wearing diapers more than he wasn’t.
This tug of war had a history going back to when Cody first moved in with his Gramma as a scared (and scarred) 16-year old. And every time, Joan was determined to help the boy get on the track to a normal, healthy life. And every time, Cody’s body had other plans, and before you knew it he was waking up with wet sheets or standing with wet jeans in the middle of a department store.
There was, however, something a little different this time as I was to find out later. And I’m not being immodest when I say that the difference was me. Because this time the little chats between grandmother and grandson included reference to the guy next door: “But Mr. Munro doesn’t mind” or “Mr. Munro doesn’t think it isn’t cool”.
And while Joan stood her ground and had Cody out of his daytime protection and then, in time, out of his night diapers as well, Cody had planted a seed of sorts and his grandmother, being a smart old gal, knew that there was a new piece of the puzzle that she’d have to figure out.
The Big Chat
I can’t help but smile when I think of how Joan handled everything. She was a wily old gal – reminded me a lot of my own mother actually. Brimming with energy, outgoing, personable. But she had a mind that was as sharp as a tack.
Now, I can’t blame her for using a ruse. I’m sure she wanted to feel me out – she had heard Cody’s side of things but she hadn’t heard mine. And she probably suspected, quite rightly I might add, that if she just came out and asked her questions that I might become too circumspect to give an honest answer.
So the ruse had something to do with her kitchen sink. Now, I probably should have suspected it was a ploy but by this point my life had settled back into its usual routine and I had sort of put my specific thoughts of Cody aside – I still saw him for a few minutes here and there, but by now I had decided that I’d learned way more about myself than about him: he’d be the kid who awakened my protective instincts but I’d eventually find somewhere else to place them.
So Joan runs into me in the driveway one day and asks if I know anything about taps, and I say a little, and before you know it I’m trying to figure out some complicated mechanism in her kitchen to see if I can get her more water pressure. As I’m fiddling around it’s the usual chit chat about the weather, how I’m finding the neighborhood, and trading notes on books we’ve been reading.
“How’s Cody doing,” I can’t help asking.
“Ah. Cody’s fine,” she says. And then after a little pause: “Although.”
I glance up at her.
“Oh no, it’s fine dear. Nothing to worry about. I just wish I had someone who could give me some advice.”
“Ah,” I say. And I have to admit, by heart was pounding for some reason. “Well, I’m all ears. Don’t know much about boys that age other than I was one myself.”
“Well, it’s more than I can say for myself,” she said, laughing a little. “Just leave that for now. Seems awfully complicated. Why don’t I fix us some proper drinks. I’d sure appreciate a second opinion.”
I tidy up in the kitchen a little as Joan gets the drinks ready, and although I had no reason to feel anxious, I had the strange sensation of expectation – kind of like when your parents say “we need to talk”. Or maybe I was just nervous about doing right by Cody and didn’t want to give any bad advice.
“So what’s up Joan,” I ask as we get settled in the sun room, drinks by our side.
“Well, I should say first that I really appreciate everything you’ve done for Cody.”
“Sure. Spending time with him. Listening. He’s never had many older male figures in his life. You probably don’t realize how much that means.”
I just nodded.
“I just can’t help feeling,” she said, pausing. “Well, Cody goes through these mood swings sometimes. I know it wasn’t anything you did or said, don’t worry about that. I’m just wondering if he said anything to you.”
I shook my head no. “I noticed he’s been a lot quieter lately, Joan. I kind of thought maybe I said something to throw him off.”
“Goodness no. He can’t stop talking about you.”
Now, if I didn’t blush then I’m sure my heart started beating a thousand miles a minute which probably had a similar effect. “Oh?”
“He idolizes you a little, I think.”
“I had no idea,” I said. We sat for a moment in silence and then she leaned forward a little.
“Can I ask you a somewhat blunt question?” I nodded. “Are you aware that Cody sometimes needs to wear, well, protection?”
Now, I can’t imagine the look on my face. Because there it was – out in the open. I probably did a little double take. I remember grabbing my drink and taking a gulp, trying to be very cool about the whole thing. All I said was “Sure” at which she looked at me with gently probing eyes.
“I’m sorry Josh. That was a bit rude of me. But you see – well, there’s a connection of sorts.”
“Yes. See, Cody gets like this, all moody, when he’s able to get out of the protection.” I’m sure I gave her a quizzical look. “The diapers. It’s like a Catch-22: it’s not exactly number one on the wish list of a boy his age to need diapers, but when we’re finally able to get him OUT of them again he sulks like a little kid.”
Now, I’m sure I had a look on my face that was a combination of baffled and flush. I’d spent time thinking about Cody’s accidents, the times he’d come over with a diaper clearly peeking up over the top of his jeans, and something about it had triggered those protective feelings I had. But I’d never even said the word out loud around him, and here was his grandmother giving me the run-down on his diapers.
I remember nodding a lot as she told me a bit of the history. Explained her own feelings that she wanted to help her grandson lead a normal, healthy life. Explained her mixed emotions when, every time, he’d become moody and almost depressed after he was back to a life without protection.
“Oh dear, listen to me,” she said. “I’m really sorry, Josh, I shouldn’t have dumped all this on you. You’ll think the worst of me and it’s really my problem not yours.”
“Um, no, don’t be silly Joan.”
“It’s just that – well. Cody can’t stop talking about you. And you clearly didn’t make him feel uncomfortable. He seemed to think you knew about it and didn’t mind.”
I nodded. “Yes. He didn’t do much of a job hiding it. And I didn’t come right out and say anything but I didn’t think it was my place to judge.”
It was her turn to nod. And then she leaned over and placed a hand over mine.
“Josh. This is going to be really forward of me. And I know I risk your friendship and respect. But I’m wondering if you can do something for me. Please don’t hesitate to say no. It’s asking far more than I ever dreamed I could ask of even a family member, but there’s something about you I like and trust.”
“Sure, Joan. What can I do to help.”
“Well,” she said. “I have this idea. Think of it like a little plan.”