Disclaimer: All characters represented from Station 51 and Rampart Hospital belong to Universal Television and Mark VII Limited.
Author's Note: Having read and enjoyed very much Peggy's piece, "Rite of Passage”, it got me to thinking of yet another possible scenario that could have taken place in Johnny Gage's life.
Dedicated to the family, scattered as they are.
Cap answered the phone that rang in the station house. "Station 51 – Captain Stanley speaking." He listened for a moment and said, "Yes, ma’am, hold on one moment, please."
The captain turned toward his crew and called out, "Gage, phone call for you." At his young paramedic’s questioning look, Hank could only say, “Well, it’s a woman."
"A woman, Gage?" called out Chet, ever ready to harass his colleague. "Probably another one ready to bite the dust, eh, Gage?"
"Very funny, Chet," retorted Johnny as he took the phone from his superior. "Thanks, cap."
For the life of him, John could not imagine who was on the other end of the line. He was currently between girlfriends, so Chet's comment was way off. He looked at the phone with a bit of trepidation; something wasn't right. He put the phone to his ear. "This is John Gage, may I help you?"
Meanwhile, the rest of the crew couldn't help but watch with curiosity as the scene unfolded. Chet, of course, was waiting with baited breath to see what new piece of information he could learn to use against his favorite target. Mike, Marco, and Hank were a little curious but had no ulterior motives.
Roy, on the other hand, watched with more than the usual interest. He was well aware that his partner's current love life was at the status quo, so Chet's teasing was all for naught. Roy knew John Gage well enough to recognize the emotion on his partner's face; something wasn't right, that much he could sense. He waited impatiently to see what the outcome of the phone call would be.
"Oh - hi," John began, "it's been a long time."
As the men listened, albeit surreptitiously, to John's end of the conversation, Chet kept up a running commentary of what he thought it all meant.
"I bet it's a
long-lost girlfriend." He listened
a little more and then exclaimed, "Holy crap! I'll bet you ten to one that she's knocked up!
"Chet!" Roy hissed, "I'll knock you flat if you keep it up! Cut it out!"
Roy didn't want to deal with Chet's nonsense - at least he hoped it was nonsense - to distract him from whatever the real problem might be.
"I'm sorry to hear that," John said quietly into the phone. "I know - I know you must be very upset."
"See? I'm right! Damn, Gage is going to be a papa!" Chet declared with way too much glee.
Captain Stanley turned on his underling and issued an angry order, "Kelly, if you do not keep your ridiculous thoughts to yourself, you will see yourself on latrine duty for the next six months. Do I make myself clear?"
Chet immediately shut closed his mouth and looked over at Johnny. For the first time since John had answered the phone, Chet saw what Roy and the captain saw when they looked at Gage's face. The man's pallor had become chalky, and it appeared as though he was having trouble taking even breaths. When they looked closely enough, they could also see his hands shaking slightly.
"I know. I understand that's what you want, but -," he hesitated for just a moment, "- but I can't do that. I can't call them for you. I can't ask them to do this. I'm sorry, I just can't."
The rest of the men could now easily hear the trembling in their colleague's voice as well.
Roy stood up and eased in closer to his partner. Something was wrong, and he wanted to let Johnny know that someone was there to lend support.
"I know, really I do! I've never wanted to see you hurt; none of us have. I don't want to hurt you, but please, don't ask me to do this."
Roy took another step closer but still remained a yard or two away from him. He was near enough, though, to see just how upset Johnny was feeling.
"Oh, please, please understand. I can't do it." He shook his head as if the caller could see him. "I won't," he rasped.
Roy finally could stand it no longer and moved within touching distance of Johnny. Roy reached out to place his hand on his partner's shoulder, but John shrugged out of his reach quickly.
"I'm sorry," he said into the phone, "but I just can't do what you're asking of me. I love you -"
Everyone's heads popped up at that last declaration.
"I really do love you, but I can't do this - not even for you, Aunt Eileen."
Aunt? Now the alarms were really ringing in the minds of Station 51's A-shift.
Johnny hung up the phone. Roy again held out his hand toward his partner, but John once again moved quickly out of reach. "Don't -" his voice was laced heavy with emotion.
Roy stopped and raised his hands in a defensive posture. "Okay, Johnny, okay." The younger man nodded slightly in acknowledgement. Roy then said, "Let me know when you're ready to talk."
John nodded, gratefully aware that his partner made the correct assumption that he would indeed need to talk about this, eventually. It just couldn't be right at that moment. Not yet.
He looked over at his shift mates, who were trying hard to wear expressions that bore less of nosiness and more of the concern they all truly felt. It was obviously a delicate balance that they were not succeeding all too well with.
John left the kitchen for the dormitory area.
The rest of the men sat in the TV room and quietly speculated as to what was really their friend's problem.
"Who's Aunt Eileen?" asked Chet. "Did he ever mention an Aunt Eileen?"
"Didn't he used to live with an aunt?" asked Marco, hoping to establish some background to better understand their friend's predicament.
"Yes," informed Roy, "but that was his Aunt Mary. She was his mother's sister."
"So, who the hell is this Eileen?" asked an aggravated Captain Stanley.
They all shook their heads in equal frustration, unable to answer the question. Some time passed before the conversation continued. Finally, Chet asked, "How come we know next to nothing about Gage?"
"What the hell are you talking about, Kelly?" asked Cap, as he wondered what line his station prankster was going to cross now.
"I mean, how come, for a guy who can talk your ear off, we know practically nothing about him? I mean think about it. We all know about Roy's family - hell, we know where they're going on vacation before he does - and my life is pretty much an open book."
"Well, that's a pretty short book, isn't it, Chet?" asked Marco good-naturedly.
"Funny, Marco...just don't give up your day job," retorted Chet. "But you know what I mean, don't you? We're all pretty much open books; well, maybe not Mike here, but that's because he's so damned quiet, but even so, if we ask you a question, Mike, you always give us a straight answer. But Gage? He don't hardly ever give us a straight answer when it comes to his personal life, does he?" Though the question wasn't meant to be rhetorical in nature, no one had a good enough answer to respond to it.
"Maybe it's time to go find some answers," Roy said quietly. He stood up, and just as he was about to walk toward the dormitory, Chet spoke up.
"Good idea, Roy. Hopefully the klaxons -"
"-Don't say it!" shouted out Marco and Mike.
"Sorry," Chet said sheepishly, knowing full-well he nearly jinxed them all.
Roy wore a small smile. He knew that if they were going to be toned out, all of the superstitions in the world weren't going to stop it from happening. But he could hope with the best of them.
The walk to the dorm felt like a mile instead of a just a mere few yards. Roy stopped at the entrance and peeked in. He saw his partner lying down on his bed, with his arm characteristically covering his face. John might have been sleeping; Roy wasn't sure, but somehow he didn't think so.
"Hey, Johnny, ready to talk?"
There was no immediate answer, but Roy decided to wait him out. Finally, the arm moved up from his face and lay wedged behind his head. John opened his eyes and looked at his partner. "To be honest, I don't know."
"Mind if I hang out with you for a bit?"
Johnny had to
smile. When Roy got a notion in his
head, he was like a pit bull. There was
no way he was going to let this go until Johnny spoke with him; but Roy DeSoto
had to be the politest pit bull Johnny'd ever encountered.
"No, I don't mind." He spoke in whispered tones, and Roy carried on with the quiet demeanor. Johnny watched Roy pick up a chair, turn it around, and swing his legs over the seat. As he sat, he leaned his forearms against the back of the chair and rested his chin on top. Johnny, in turn, sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed so he could face his partner.
"You feeling any better?" asked Roy.
Johnny sat quietly for a moment before answering. "No."
Roy nodded, but didn't ask anything further. He figured it was in his partner's court to determine just how quickly he was going to share. Several minutes passed; it had gotten to the point where Roy didn't think his silent companion was ever going to speak. His patience, however, was rewarded.
"That was my Aunt Eileen."
"I heard," Roy acknowledged. "I knew you had an Aunt Mary, but not an Aunt Eileen."
"Yeah, well, Aunt Mary was my mother's sister. I went to live with her after my mom had died."
"I remember you telling me that," answered Roy. He waited a moment or two and then said, gently, "So, tell me about your Aunt Eileen."
Johnny nodded, but couldn't find his voice at first. Each time he tried to speak, he choked up and closed his mouth. Roy stood up and went into the bathroom. He came back with a paper cup filled with water. "Here," he said, to which Johnny gratefully took the cup.
"Thanks," he whispered. The younger man took a deep breath and composed himself. "Aunt Eileen is my father's sister."
Roy nodded, but kept quiet. He figured Johnny would reveal the necessary details in his own, good time.
"She's a good person. I mean, even though the rest of my father's family gave us grief, Aunt Eileen was always pretty good to us. She'd send us birthday cards and gifts when we were little; even after we'd moved to the reservation...." John was lost in thought and several moments of silence passed before either man said anything.
"How come you moved to the reservation?"
"Mom couldn't afford to take care of us any other way."
"My brother and sister," he explained. James is six years older than me, Ellen is three years older. I'm the runt," he said with self-deprecating humor.
"What about your dad?" asked Roy gently as if he knew just how hard it was going to be for Johnny to talk about the man.
"He left us, Roy. It got too hard and he went for the easier choice."
"Handle what, Johnny? Choice? What choice did he have if not to support his family? Forgive me, but I really don't understand; I want to though, but you have to explain it to me."
"I know, and I appreciate it, but it's just hard." Roy nodded his agreement, but he continued to hold his friend's gaze so that he would know that he fully intended to sit and wait for an explanation.
John understood, and as much as it annoyed him to be put on the spot, he was also thankful to have a friend who obviously cared so much. Johnny understood this was probably difficult for Roy to go through as well.
"I guess my father couldn't handle everything that went along with having 'squaw' for a wife and three half-breed kids," he said with surprisingly little disdain; in fact there was little, if any emotion at all being expressed by the younger man.
Johnny saw the puzzled expression on his partner's face and explained, "Look, it was never easy for him. My father wasn't exactly, well, he wasn't exactly the sharpest pencil in the box, if you know what I mean. Apparently, he was never terribly ambitious, and life just got more complicated than he could handle.
"So," he continued, "he found something he could deal with more easily, and it turned out to not include my brother, sister, or me. It took a while for me to come to grips with it, and as an adult I think I can better understand that it probably got pretty tough for him, but-"
"But he didn't give up on an adult son, he gave up on three children and their mother," concluded Roy.
"Yeah, pretty much. But you see, along with all of his other baggage, he faced a lot of prejudice, Roy. Not just from the outside world, but from both sides of the family. Even though he was white, he was discriminated against all the time whenever the world saw him with my mom and us kids. It got to the point where he'd lie about having a family so that he could get a job, but after a while someone would find out and squeal on him. We kept relocating so that he could get a fresh start; hell, the year I was in first grade we'd moved three times.
"Do you have any idea how hard it is to learn how to read when you've changed schools three times in one year?" Johnny shook his head at the memory that was still indelibly printed in his mind. "It was awful, Roy. It really was awful."
"So, when did he leave?"
"The year I'd entered second grade. He just came home one day while we were at school and my mom was at the store, packed his things, wrote a quick note, and took off with his new family."
"His new family?" echoed Roy incredulously.
"I told you; he needed something he could handle more easily. A nice white woman with one nice white son was about all he could handle." The pensive look returned to Johnny's face. "The kid was around the same age as me, as a matter of fact."
"Oh, Johnny, I - I didn't know. I'm so sorry."
"There's really nothing to be sorry for, Roy. It took a while for me to finally realize that, but it's the truth. Mom was really, really cool about it, you know? She never bad-mouthed him in front of us kids. I remember James started going off on him, and Mom put a stop to it immediately. She said if you don't have anything good to say about someone, it was best not to waste the energy on saying something bad. 'Didn't accomplish anything' she used to say."
"Sounds like your mom was a pretty wise woman," offered Roy.
John smiled. "Yeah, she was, Roy. You would have liked her, a lot." He became silent, and then the smile became bittersweet. "When I was little, just after he'd first left us, I remember writing letters to him. It was a pretty hard thing for me to do at the time, but I plowed through it and Mom never told me to do otherwise.
"When I'd asked her for his address, she'd just say she would mail 'em for me. It wasn't until I was older, and we'd cleaned out her things, that I found out the truth. Ellen told me that she used to put them in a shoe box that she kept up on the closet shelf after I'd gone to sleep. She couldn't mail them even if she'd wanted to; she didn't have a clue as to where he was. But I still have the letters. Mom was smart enough to realize that they were important to me, and even if they would never reach the intended reader, they were worth saving.
"It took a while after her death for me to come to the realization that his leaving wasn't our fault. I'd never done anything wrong," John continued. "Neither had my brother or sister, and Mom sure as hell tried the best she could to keep the family together. It was his decision to leave us. It was his loss.
Now it was Roy's turn to sit quietly and try to absorb what his partner had just told him. Knowing Johnny as well as he did, Roy could only imagine the torment he went through as a child, pining for a man that chose to exchange him for a different model. Finally, he asked, "And he never contacted your family?"
"The only person he ever spoke with was Aunt Eileen. She'd write us letters and tell us that she'd spoken with my father and that he told her he loved us. James always thought they were a crock. Ellen really didn't care all that much - she had our mom, so she wasn't feeling the loss as much as James and I were, I guess. It wasn't until I was older and actually asked Aunt Eileen about it that I found out that James' version was closest to the truth, though she never came right out and said she'd made the whole thing up. Like I said, she's a nice lady and I think she was just trying to make life a little brighter for us kids.
"Anyway, when Mom couldn't afford the apartment we'd been living in, 'cause Dad never sent any alimony or child support, we moved in with Mom's relatives on the reservation."
"Why didn't she take him to court?"
John smiled at his friend's naiveté. "Roy, Mom didn't have money for lawyer's fees and there weren't many people back then that really cared enough about one poor Indian woman and her need to get money from her white husband. Hell, they'd never even officially divorced because neither one could afford the legal fees."
Roy nodded and then, in an attempt to find some way to reconcile his friend's early life said, "Well, at least you were with your family, right?"
"Oh yeah, Roy - they just loved having a woman who betrayed her people by marrying a white man and giving birth to three half-breed kids." The sarcasm practically dripped off of Johnny, and he quickly apologized for his tone. "You don't deserve that, Roy. I'm sorry."
"Don't worry about it. I'm just trying to imagine how it was for you; it must have been incredibly difficult."
"Well, I don't like to complain -" At that Roy chuckled and Johnny smiled as he rolled his eyes. "Okay, I don't usually like to complain about the big things...." Roy nodded at the truth in that statement. "It was hard," he said. "Though I guess it was hardest on James. He looked the most like Dad; he was so fair skinned, and his hair was just a shade or two darker than yours, Roy. He was really ostracized and left the rez as soon as he turned eighteen. He enlisted in the army and went off to Nam. When he got back - well, let's just say he didn't come back exactly the same."
"Do you ever hear from him?" Johnny shook his head, sadly. "What about Ellen?"
"Oh, she's doing okay, I guess. She ended up having to get married when she was like seventeen to a guy from the rez. She's got at least four kids already; she's happy, I suppose, but it's not exactly the kind of life I'd want for my kids. But that's just me, I guess." At Roy's unspoken question, John said, "We exchange Christmas cards every year. She sends me a picture of the kids, and every year there seems to be another baby in the photo.
"But life on the rez isn't easy, Roy. It's hard," and then as if he couldn't quite believe it himself, he whispered again, "It was real hard."
"So how come you got out?" asked Roy.
"Mom died the year I turned sixteen. James had come back from Nam, but no one knew where he'd disappeared to, so I couldn't stay with him. Ellen was already married with one kid and another on the way, and given that they didn't have two nickels to rub together, I certainly wasn't going to live with them. So, I went to live with my Aunt Mary here in Los Angeles.
"Her husband had passed away a couple of years earlier; he was white, too, by the way, but I guess people were more tolerant in California than they were in Montana. She worked her way up in a clothing factory and was some kind of manager. Anyway, when Mom died, she said it was okay if I came to live with her, and that's how I got to Los Angeles."
"Was it okay? I mean, was your Aunt Mary good to you?"
"Yeah, Roy. She was and she still is." He smiled when he said, "She looks a lot like my mom did. I still see her about once a month; one day you'll come with me and meet her."
"I'd like that, Johnny. I'd like that very much." John nodded and both men knew they'd just reached a new level in their friendship. John's invite as no idle pleasantry; Roy knew he would be receiving an invitation for dinner very, very soon, and he looked forward to learning more about his partner's life.
But there was one more matter that needed to be aired. Roy asked, "So exactly what did Eileen want?"
"Oh. Right." John sighed, almost as if he'd forgotten the real reason why he and Roy were having this conversation. "She called to tell me my father died. She wants me to call Ellen and try to find a way to contact James, too."
"And -" Roy knew there was more.
"And, she wants us to come to the funeral. As I'm sure you figured out, I told her that I wouldn't come. She got a little upset over that."
"As did you, my friend."
"Yeah, I guess. I don't want to hurt her; she always tried to do the right thing by us, you know? But there's no way in hell I'm taking time off from work to travel to Montana to attend the funeral of a man I haven't seen since I was seven years old. I did my mourning a long time ago, Roy. I don't feel a need to do any more grieving for him."
"Have you considered going out of respect for your aunt?" asked Roy tentatively.
"For about a second and a half, but Roy, all that amounts to nothing more than emotional blackmail. She knows how I feel about her, or at least she should know. If she hasn't figured it out by now, my going to a stranger's funeral isn't going to change that."
"Okay, I can respect that." But Roy knew there was something more; there was something Johnny wasn't saying. "So, what gives? What's really bothering you about this whole thing?"
Johnny shook his head; it always astounded him how well his partner knew him. "I don't know quite how to put it," John began. He looked at Roy and knew the man would be patient and wait him out for as long as he needed. "I guess, well, I can't get over the idea that I feel - God, Roy, this sounds so stupid."
"Just say it."
"I can't get over the fact that I feel nothing over the death of this man. I mean, he was my father, and I feel nothing. I don't feel sad, I don't feel happy, I don't feel angry, I don't feel depressed - I feel nothing, except..."
"Except, what?" prodded Roy.
"Guilt. Isn't that a kick? I feel guilty for not feeling bad that my father is going to be buried in a few days." He shrugged his shoulders and said, "And I don't even know if I should feel guilty."
Roy sat and mulled over his friend's confession. He understood the ambivalence; he'd experienced similar feelings when it came to his own father's death. But he knew Johnny was expecting some words of wisdom to help him get through this, and Roy didn't know if he had the right words in him to give.
"Roy, am I wrong to feel this way?"
"No." Roy answered automatically, and the words suddenly came to him. "You're never wrong to allow yourself to feel what you're really feeling. Don't doubt yourself, Johnny. Your mom raised a fine boy and your Aunt Mary helped to raise a fine man. Don't ever doubt your intentions and your feelings. No one has a right to dictate to you how you're supposed to feel and live your life, as long as it's a life that's positive and brings no harm to yourself or others. You've done that, John.
"The fact that your father chose not to be a part of that life is sad, but certainly not one that should make you feel guilty. The choice was his to remove himself from your life. You said it yourself; he was a stranger. John, you live a good, honest life. Feel proud of what you've accomplished. Don't feel guilty for doing things your way. You never wished the man ill, but he's gone and there's nothing you can do about it now. Go on with your life, John Gage. It's the best and most decent thing you can do."
Johnny nodded. "Yeah. That's what I thought, but sometimes I have these doubts. I wonder what if I tried harder to contact him; what if I'd made more of an effort? But then I think about what it felt like to be abandoned, and I just didn't want to take the chance of that happening again, you know?"
"I can only imagine, John. You've done right by yourself, your family, and your friends. You have nothing to feel ashamed or guilty about."
John looked at his friend and smiled. "Thank you for helping me see what really matters."
"You ready to come back in and join the others?" Roy asked.
"Soon. There's something I need to do first." He pulled out some notepaper from the nightstand near his bed and picked up a pen as well. At Roy's questioning expression, he explained, "I'm going to write Aunt Eileen. My father was a stranger, but Eileen tried her best. I don't want to lose contact with her."
"That sounds like a good idea," Roy agreed.
"Thanks for listening, Pally. Thanks for helping me to see what really matters."
"Anytime, Johnny, anytime.”