I can't describe what it's like to want to scream every minute of every day.
Two years after a terrifying night of pain destroyed his normal teenage existence, Aaron Downing still clings to the hope that one day, he will be a fully functional human being. But his life remains a constant string of nightmares, flashbacks, and fear. When, in his very first semester of college, he's assigned Spencer Thomas as a partner for his programming project, Aaron decides that maybe "normal" is overrated. If he could just learn to control his fear, that could be enough for him to find his footing again.
With his parents' talk of institutionalizing him-of sacrificing him for the sake of his brothers' stability-Aaron becomes desperate to find a way to cope with his psychological damage or even fake normalcy. Can his new shrink control his own demons long enough to treat Aaron, or will he only deepen the damage?
Desperate to understand his attraction for Spencer, Aaron holds on to his sanity with both hands as it threatens to spin out of control.
With the surprising success of Aaron, we’ve invited Michelle Downing to talk with us today about her son, his continuing progress, and the effect his experience has had on their quiet Midwestern family. So please welcome Michelle Downing.
Hello Michelle, thank you for joining me today to talk a little about Aaron.
Michelle gives a shy wave and a little nod as she looks around her living room where the interview is being conducted.
First, what did you think when Aaron told you he’d contacted an author to write his story? Have you met J. P. Barnaby?
Well, at first, I was concerned, to be honest. Aaron had already been taken advantage of in the worst way possible. I was afraid that a reporter had found his story and decided to exploit it. I don’t think I realized, at first, that the person Aaron contacted was a novelist, not a reporter. Once I met with Ms. Barnaby, I felt much more comfortable. She was compassionate and almost reluctant to write the book initially. Something about Aaron seems to resonate with her. She seems to be able to articulate some of Aaron’s experiences so clearly, like she understood. It really helped Aaron to get that out of his head.
What is your fondest memory of Aaron?
Oh goodness, let me think. I have so many great memories of Aaron. He was always such a happy kid. I hate that his happiness was stolen from him. I uhm… I remember when he was about five, we used to walk down to the park every day. When we got back, I’d put Allen and Anthony down for a nap we’d sit on the back porch eating peanut butter and jelly—just us. It was our special time together. He’d sit there on the step and just chatter away for an hour about anything.
Now, I just wish I could get him to say more than four words at a time.
Tell me about Juliette.
Juliette… Juliette was the sweetest girl, not shy or quiet but never mean. Even though I knew Aaron was gay, Juliette was such a great match for him. Yin and yang, I suppose. I think Juliette knew about Aaron being gay, but it didn’t stop her from having a crush on him. I could see it in the way she continued to watch him even when he turned away to do something else.
Even in those dark times when I let my mind go back to that garage and wonder, I can’t even imagine what she must have gone through. I just… I can’t.
Do you keep in touch with the Martins?
I should say yes, but even the Christmas cards we exchange every year make me feel guilty. My son survived while Nancy’s daughter didn’t. I want to tell her that I wish I’d have found them sooner. Maybe those few extra minutes would have saved her, but the paramedics said once her… once they cut her, she wouldn’t have survived no matter how fast we got to her.
I want to give her her daughter back, but I can’t and I’m sure she doesn’t want to be reminded. I think her son Ben stayed behind when they moved to Florida, but I don’t stay in touch with him either. He was a year or two older than Juliette and Aaron. I heard J.P. did a book with him too, but I don’t know much about it.
Tell me about that night.
Michelle’s mouth opens, and then closes again, seemingly unable to begin.
When did you know something was wrong?
It only took Aaron about half an hour to walk home from the school. So about forty-five minutes after debate practice would have ended, I started to get a feeling. An hour after, when they were half an hour late, I called Nancy to see if they were there. She said she would call her son Ben to go out and look for them. Half an hour after that, when they were an hour late, everyone was looking for them except me. I sat by the phone and waited, praying that Aaron would call. Finally, it came.
How did you find him?
I had been trying to get the cell phone company to trace his phone, but because he hadn’t been missing twenty-four hours, and I didn’t have the service already activated on his phone, they wouldn’t do it. When I got the call from Aaron, when I heard the broken way he cried, I screamed at the woman at the phone company even as John called the police on his cell. I told the woman the police were on the phone, and she finally gave me the location of his phone. I gave it to the police and programmed it into my phone. We got my sister to watch the boys, and were there maybe fifteen minutes after the police. The paramedics were already inside and they wouldn’t let us in. We waited until they brought him out and then followed the ambulance to the hospital.
When did you know the extent of the damage?
Physically, we knew within the first few hours. Psychologically, I think we’re still seeing the extent of the damage, and I’m not sure we’ll ever really know. It took him two years to… to tell me that sometimes he wishes he hadn’t survived the attack. I can’t…I can’t tell you what it feels like to hear your son say that and know that he means it.
How do you keep from falling apart?
Knowing that he needs me, that all of my boys need me. For a long time after the attack, I lived only for them.
How do you survive not being able to touch and comfort your son after such a horrific experience?
It’s one of the worst feelings in the world, wanting to hold your child when they’re scared and hurting and knowing that you can’t. Knowing that if you touch him, the pain will only get worse. You want the selfish comfort for yourself, but you can’t risk making his pain worse. It’s… indescribable, to be honest.
How do you let any of them (Aaron, Allen, or Anthony) out of your sight?
Oh God, I don’t want to. I want to lock them in their rooms and put in a panic room to keep them all safe—john too. But they can’t live like that. Allen and Anthony need to experience life so they know how to deal with it. Aaron has dealt with more life than he ever should have.
What kind of an effect has Aaron’s attack had on Allen and Anthony?
(Michelle sighs, a weary sound of deep seated pain.)
They know what happened to Aaron, well, the fundamentals anyway. There were certain parts that we kept from them because kids that age can’t process things like… well, things like rape. It’s not something I’d ever talked to them about. Now that Allen is sixteen, I’ve talked to him about it and he understands, to a point. But we haven’t sat Anthony down for that talk yet.
They miss their brother. He was an idol to them. I mean yes, they fought, all boys do, but Aaron was a great older brother. He took them to the movies, to the arcade. He didn’t shoo them away like some other kids did with their younger siblings. They were close. I’d like to see them be close again.
How has the strain of caring for Aaron affected your marriage?
I’d like to say that it hasn’t, but that would be a lie. In some ways, it’s made us stronger, but sometimes one of us has a weak moment. The night John talked about institutionalizing Aaron was one of the weakest. I slept in the spare bedroom that night, the one Allen had vacated to move to the basement with his brother.
I can’t remember ever having done that before.
Tell me about Aaron’s first day at college.
I was a wreck, I’ll admit it.
What did you do?
I wanted to read, but I couldn’t get my mind to focus on anything except the sound of the phone ringing. I knew they’d call and tell me he had some kind of issue. But he didn’t. Instead, I scrubbed the kitchen floor on my hands and knees and tried not to think. It’s never been so clean—before or since.
Tell me about Spencer.
Spencer is sweet and quiet around us, but I can hear them laughing up in his room when they think no one is paying attention. I love that he can get Aaron to laugh. It’s been so long since he has. I will be forever thankful to him for that. More than that, I think he’s good for Aaron.
How did you feel about JP Barnaby using a gay porn star as the cover model to represent Aaron?
I was surprised, to be honest. But once they sent me the book, I could see what she saw in him. He does look an awful lot like my Aaron, and the scar they drew in. It was uncanny.
What is your biggest wish for Aaron?
My biggest wish for Aaron is that he finds (either with Spencer or with another relationship) someone who can see past the fear and the scars and love him for the truly amazing person that he is. I think through love, both ours, and other people’s, Aaron will be able to find peace within himself.
Thank you, Michelle, for talking with me today. I know some of the subjects we discussed weren’t easy to talk about, but Aaron’s fans love to find out more about him. Unfortunately, he gave that single interview, but has been pretty shy about doing it again.
You’re welcome, and yes, he is rather shy – but he’s working on it.
About author J. P. Barnaby
Award winning gay romance novelist, J. P. Barnaby is the author of over a dozen novels including the Little Boy Lost series, the Forbidden Room series, and Aaron. As a bisexual woman, J. P. Barnaby is a proud member of the GLBT community both online and in her small town on the outskirts of Chicago. A member of Mensa, she is often described as brilliant but troubled, sweet but introverted and talented but deviant. She spends her days writing software and her nights writing erotica which is, of course, far more interesting. The spare time that she carves out between her career and her novels is spent reading about the concept of love, which, like some of her characters, she has never quite figured out for herself.
Official Website: http://www.JPBarnaby.com
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