The Martian Child: A Novel About a Single Father Adopting a Son

The Martian Child: A Novel About a Single Father Adopting a Son

by David Gerrold
The Martian Child: A Novel About a Single Father Adopting a Son

The Martian Child: A Novel About a Single Father Adopting a Son

by David Gerrold

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Based on a true story, The Martian Child is a heartfelt novel about a single gay father adopting a son—the basis for the major motion picture starring John Cusack, Amanda Peet, and Joan Cusack.

When David Gerrold decided he wanted to adopt a son, he thought he had prepared himself for fatherhood. But eight-year-old Dennis turned out to be more than he expected—a lot more. Dennis suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome, the son of a substance abuser and alcoholic who abandoned him in a seedy motel at the age of one-and-a-half. His father died of an overdose. Seized by the state, Dennis was shuffled between eight different foster homes in less than eight years. He was abused and beaten severely in at least tow of his placements. Dennis was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and put on Ritalin and then Disipramine. He was prone to violent emotional outbursts. His case history identified him as "hard to place" —a euphemism for "unadoptable."

But for David Gerrold it was love at first sight…

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780765320032
Publisher: Tor Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/04/2007
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.44(d)

About the Author

David Gerrold was barely out of his teens when he wrote the script "The Trouble With Tribbles" for the classic television series Star Trek. Nominated for a Hugo Award, it was listed by Playboy magazine as one of the 50 Greatest Television Episodes of All Time. And in a 1997 FOX TV special it ranked as the most popular science fiction episode on television of all time. He has written dozens of novels and twice has been nominated for both the Hugo and the Nebula awards. His novelette The Martian Child won the SF triple crown: the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the Locus Readers Poll as Best Novelette. In addition to novel writing, he has written television scripts for Babylon 5, Tales from the Darkside, and The Twilight Zone. He served as a story editor/producer for the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. A frequent guest at SF conventions here and in Europe, he began a charity in 1988 in which money earned from charging one dollar for autographs—plus profits from the sale of other SF memorabilia—is donated to AIDS Project Los Angeles.

Read an Excerpt

Toward the end of the meeting, the caseworker remarked, “Oh—and one more thing. Dennis thinks he’s a Martian.”

“I beg your pardon?” I wasn’t certain I had heard her correctly. I had papers scattered all over the meeting room table—thick piles of stapled incident reports, manilafoldered psychiatric evaluations, Xeroxed clinical diagnoses, scribbled caseworker histories, typed abuse reports, bound trial transcripts, and my own crabbed notes as well: Hyperactivity. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Emotional Abuse. Physical Abuse. Conners Rating Scale. Apgars. I had no idea there was so much to know about children. For a moment, I was actually looking for the folder labeled Martian.

“He thinks he’s a Martian,” Ms. Bright repeated. She was a small woman, very proper and polite. “He told his group home parents that he’s not like the other children—he’s from Mars—so he shouldn’t be expected to act like an Earthling all the time.”

“Well, that’s okay,” I said, a little too quickly. “some of my best friends are Martians. He’ll fit right in. As long as he doesn’t bring home any giant alien slugs from outer space.”

By the narrow expressions on their faces, I could tell that the caseworkers weren’t amused. For a moment, my heart sank. Maybe I’d said the wrong thing. Maybe I was being too glib with my answers.

The hardest thing about adoption is that you have to ask someone to trust you with a child.

That means that you have to be willing to let them scrutinize your entire life, everything: your financial standing, your medical history, your home and your belongings, your upbringing, your personality, your motivations, your arrest record, your IQ—even your sex life. It means that every selfesteem issue you have ever had will come bubbling right to the surface like last night’s beans in this morning’s bathtub. And that means—whatever you’re most insecure about, that’s what the whole adoption process will feel like it’s focused on.

The big surprise for me was discovering that what I thought would be the biggest hurdle was not. Any concerns I might have had about sexual orientation disappeared at a conveniently timed set of seminars on legal issues, held by the Gay-Lesbian Community Center in Hollywood. Two female lawyers, very thorough in their presentations, addressed adoption and custody issues.

Just tell the truth,” they said. “If you lie about who you are, the caseworkers will find out—and then they’re going to wonder why you’re lying, and what else you might be lying about. And you won’t be approved.

“It has taken many years and a lot of hard work by a lot of people to educate caseworkers and judges. There are now six thousand adoptions a year by gay people, mostly in major urban areas. If you are committed and qualified in every other respect, you have the same opportunity as anyone else.” And that was all I’d needed to know. After that, it wasn’t an issue.

No—what unnerved me the most was that terrible, familiar feeling of being second best, of not being good enough to play with the big kids, or get the job, or win the award, or whatever was at stake. So even though the point of this interview was simply to see if Dennis and I would be a good match, I felt as if I was being judged again. What if I wasn’t good enough this time either?

I tried again. I began slowly. “Y’know, you all keep telling me all the bad news—you don’t even know if this kid is capable of forming a deep attachment—it feels as if you’re trying to talk me out of this match.” I stopped myself before I said too much. I was suddenly angry and I didn’t know why. These people were only doing their job.

And then it hit me. That was it—these people were only doing their job.

At that moment, I realized that there wasn’t anyone in the room who had the kind of commitment to Dennis that I did, and I hadn’t even met him yet. To them, he was only another case to handle. To me, he was…a kid who wanted a dad. He was the possibility of a family. It wasn’t fair to unload my frustration on this committee of tired, overworked, underpaid women. They cared. It just wasn’t the same kind of caring. I swallowed hard—and swallowed my anger.

“Listen,” I said, sitting forward, placing my hands calmly and deliberately on the table. “After everything this poor little guy has been through, if he wants to think he’s a Martian, I’m not going to argue with him. Actually, I think it’s charming. This kid is alone in the world; he’s got to be feeling it. At least, this gives him some kind of a handle on it—the only one he’s got. It would be stupid to try to take it away from him.”

For the first time I looked directly into their eyes as if they had to live up to my standards. “Excuse me for being presumptuous—but he’s got to be with someone who’ll tell him that it’s all right to be a Martian. Let the little guy be a Martian for as long as he needs.”

“Yes. Thank you,” the supervisor said abruptly. “I think that’s everything we need to cover. We’ll be getting back to you shortly.”

My heart sank at her words. She hadn’t acknowledged a word of what I’d said. I was certain she’d dismissed it totally. I gathered up all my papers. We exchanged pleasantries and handshakes and I wore my company smile all the way to the elevator. I didn’t say a word, and neither did my sister. We waited until we were in the car and headed back toward the Hollywood Freeway. She drove. She sold real estate; she was in her car all day long. Maybe she could deal with surly traffic; I couldn’t. Driving wasn’t fun when there were too many other cars on the road.

“I blew it,” I said. “Didn’t I? I got too…full of myself again.”

“Honey, I think you were fine.” She patted my hand.

“They’re not going to make the match,” I said. “It would be a single-parent adoption. They’re not going to do it. First they choose married couples, Ward and June. Then they choose single women, Murphy Brown. Then, only if there’s no one else who’ll take the kid, will they consider a single man. I’m at the bottom of the list. I’ll never get this kid. I’ll never get any kid. My own caseworker told me not to get my hopes up. His caseworker says there are two other families interested. Who knows what their caseworkers are telling them? This was just a formality, this interview. I know it. Just so they could prove they’d considered more than one match.” I felt the frustration building up inside my chest like a balloon full of hurt. “But this is the kid for me, Alice, I know it. I don’t know how I know it, but I do.”

I’d first seen Dennis’s picture three weeks earlier; a little square of colors that suggested a smile in flight.

I’d gone to the National Conference of the Adoptive Families of America at the Los Angeles Airport Hilton. There were six panels per hour, six hours a day, two days, Saturday and Sunday. I picked the panels that I thought would be most useful to me in finding and raising a child and ordered tapes—over two dozen—of the sessions I couldn’t attend in person. I’d had no idea there were so many different issues to be dealt with in adoptions. I soaked it up like a sponge, listening eagerly to the advice of adoptive parents, their grown children, clinical psychologists, advocates, social workers, and adoption resource professionals.

But my real reason for attending was to find the child.

I’d already been approved. I’d spent more than a year filling out forms and submitting to interviews. But approval doesn’t mean you get a child. It only means that your name is in the hat. Matching is done to meet the child’s needs first. Fair enough—but terribly frustrating.

Eventually, I ended up in the conference’s equivalent of a dealer’s room. Rows of tables and heart-tugging displays. Books of all kinds for sale. Organizations. Agencies. Children in Eastern Europe. Children in Latin America. Asian children. Children with special needs. Photo-listings, like real estate albums. Turn the pages, look at the eyes, the smiles, the needs. Johnny was abandoned by his mother at age three. He is hyperactive, starts fires, and has been cruel to small animals. He will need extensive therapy.…Janie, age nine, is severely retarded. She was sexually abused by her stepfather; she will need round-the-clock care.…Michael suffers from severe epilepsy…Linda needs…Danny needs…Michael needs…So many needs. It was overwhelming. How do you even begin to figure who a kid might be from this kind of description?

And why were so many of the children in the books “special needs” children? Retarded. Hyperactive. Abused. Had they been abandoned because they weren’t perfect, or were these the leftovers after all the good children were selected? The part that disturbed me the most was that I could understand the emotions involved. I wanted a child, not a case. And some of the descriptions in the book did seem pretty intimidating. Were these the only kind of children available?

Maybe it was selfish, but I found myself turning the pages looking for a child who represented an easy answer. Did I really want another set of needs in my life—a single man who’s old enough to be considered middle-aged and ought to be thinking seriously about retirement plans?

This was the most important question of all. “Why do you want to adopt a child?” And it was a question I couldn’t answer. I couldn’t find the words. It was something I couldn’t write down.

The motivational questionnaire had been a brick wall that sat on my desk for a week. It took me thirty pages of singlespaced printout just to get my thoughts organized. I could tell great stories about what I thought a family should be, but I couldn’t really answer the question why I wanted a son. Not right away.

The three o’clock in the morning truth of it was a very nasty and selfish piece of business.

I didn’t want to die alone. I didn’t want to be left unremembered.

All those books and TV scripts…they were nothing. They used up trees. They were exercises in excess. They made other people rich. They were useless to me. They filled up shelves. They impressed the impressionable. But they didn’t prove me a real person. They didn’t validate my life as one worth living.

What I really wanted was to make a difference. I wanted someone to know that there was a real person behind all those words. A dad.

I would lay awake, staring into the darkness, trying to imagine it, what it would be like, how I would handle the various situations that might come up, how I would deal with the day-to-day business of daddying. I gamed out scenarios and tried to figure out how to handle difficult situations.

In my mind, I was always kind and generous, compassionate and wise. My fantasy child was innocent and joyous, full of love and wide-eyed wonder, and grateful to be in my home. He was an invisible presence, living inside my soul, defying reality to catch up. I wondered where he was now, and how and when I would finally meet him—and if the reality of parenting would be as wonderful as the dream.

But it was all Fantasyland. The casebooks were proof of that. These children had histories: brutal, tragic, and heartrending.

I wandered on to the next table. One of the social workers from the Los Angeles Country Department of Children’s Services had a photo book with her. I introduced myself, told her I’d been approved—but not matched. Could I look through the book? I turned the pages slowly, studying the innocent faces, looking for one who could be my son. All the pictures were of black children, and the Country wasn’t doing trans-racial adoptions anymore. Too controversial. The black social workers had taken a stand against it—I could see their point—but how many of these children would not find homes now?

Tucked away like an afterthought on the very last page was a photo of the only white child in the book. My glance slid across the picture quickly. I was already starting to close the album—and then as the impact of what I’d seen hit me, I froze in mid-action, almost slamming the book flat again.

The boy was riding a bicycle on a sunny, tree-lined sidewalk; he was caught in the act of shouting or laughing at whoever was holding the camera. His blond hair was wild in the wind of his passage, his eyes shone like stars behind his glasses, his expression was raucous and exuberant.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the picture. A cold wave of certainty came rolling up my spine like a blast of fire and ice. It was a feeling of recognition. This was him—the child who’d taken up permanent residence in my imagination! I could almost hear him yelling, “Hi, Daddy!”

“Tell me about this child,” I said, a little too quickly. The social worker was looking at me oddly. I could understand it; my voice sounded odd to me too. I tried to explain. “Tell me something. Do you ever get people looking at a picture and telling you that this is the one?”

“All the time,” she replied. Her face softened into an understanding smile.

His name was Dennis. He’d just turned eight. She’d just put his picture in the book this morning. So, no, she didn’t have much information about him. And yes, she’d have the boy’s caseworker get in touch with my caseworker. “But,” she cautioned, “remember that there might be other families interested too. And remember, the department always matches from the child’s side.”

I didn’t hear any of that. I heard the words, but not the cautions.

Because I knew.

I called Verona, my caseworker, an earth-motherly black woman, and told her that this was the one. I called his caseworker and told her that I had to meet this boy. Because I had this feeling.

So they set up a meeting to tell me about him—all the stuff I needed to know. Verona told me to bring a family member—my sister—and she cautioned me ahead of time: “This might not be the child you’re looking for. He’s hyperactive and he has other problems as well, so you don’t want to get your hopes up yet.”


I knew the word, but I didn’t really know what it meant. Calvin and Hobbes. Dennis the Menace. Attila the Hun. Stuff like that. All the stereotypes. A kid who fidgets and squirms, who can’t sit still, can’t concentrate, can’t finish things, can’t be controlled. No, I definitely did not want a hyperactive kid with emotional problems, but—

I couldn’t shake the feeling.

The thing about writing books, you learn how to look things up.

So I posted messages all over CompuServe asking for information and advice on adoption, on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, on emotional abuse recovery, on behavioral issues, on everything I could think of—what were this child’s chances of becoming an independent adult? I called the Adoption Warm Line and was referred to parents who’d been through it. One woman had raised three hyperactive kids; she made it sound like a war zone. One doctor was downright pessimistic. It made me angry. These people didn’t even know this little boy.

I hit the bookstores and the libraries. I refused to accept the bad news. I hadn’t signed on for failure. I called cousin Ken, the doctor, and he faxed me twenty pages of reports on attention deficit disorder. And I came into the meeting so well-papered and so full of theories and good intentions that I must have looked the perfect jerk.

Verona sat on one side of me; my sister sat on the other side. Emotional bookends. At the head of the table was a supervisor and a couple of her aides, all women. At the other end of the table was Dennis’s caseworker, Kathy Bright. After a brief exchange of pleasantries, she opened her folder.

“This picture was taken last month, when he turned eight. The bicycle was his present. That was his one big wish. We didn’t really have it in the budget, but he needed it.”

She turned the page.

“Dennis’s mother was a substance abuser and an alcoholic; she abandoned him in a motel at the age of one and a half. His father died of a self-induced overdose. Dennis has been in eight foster homes in eight years.”

I reacted sharply to that. “What? Why has he been in the system for so long?”

She ignored the implied accusation. “It took a while to have his mother’s parental rights terminated. There were legal issues.” She explained: “He was abused in two of his placements. In the first one, the abuse happened between the ages of two and four, so we’re not exactly sure what happened; he wasn’t able to tell us clearly. He had to testify against the woman. That was very hard for him, and it delayed his availability for adoption.

“And then we had trouble finding a suitable foster home, because he acted out. We had to remove him from his next placement because they were beating him with a belt. That happened when he was five.

“Dennis is hyperactive,” she continued. “Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He’s on Ritalin for the hyperactivity—and Clonodine to counteract the side effects of the Ritalin; the Ritalin gives him muscle tics. We also had him tested for fetal alcohol effects. The results were inconclusive. Here’s a copy of the doctor’s evaluation.

“Dennis sees a psychiatrist once a month to have his prescription renewed. He’s been diagnosed as severely emotionally disturbed. We were hoping he would stabilize, and for a while he did seem to improve in the Johnson group home, but as you can see by the incident reports, his behavior has been deteriorating. We’re going to have to move him again soon. Probably to a long-term facility. He’s classified as ‘hard-to-place.’” She finished her report and put her papers down.

Hard to place.

A euphemism for unadoptable.

“We don’t know if Dennis is capable of forming a lasting attachment. He engages well with adults, but it’s shallow. He knows how to work the system—all the children do—but we don’t know if he can bond with a parent. He has no real experience living in a family, he doesn’t know how to behave, he acts out, he’s obstinate-defiant, and he’s destructive—are you sure you can deal with him tearing up your house?”

That gave me pause. I’d been remodeling, adding on, fixing up, sanding and painting for almost twenty years. The house was actually beginning to look like a home. I had to wonder, what kind of damage could one little boy do?

The choice she was asking me to consider was my house or my son. Asked that way, it was no contest. This was a little boy who must be so frightened and angry and hurting, it was beyond comprehension. All I could think of was how desperate he must be. What kind of damage might he do? It didn’t matter.

Very quietly, Verona put her hand on mine and whispered, “Don’t be a rescuer, David. That doesn’t serve you, or him.”

But how could I not be a rescuer? This boy needed

And yes, I’d heard every word they’d said, and even though part of me was horrified, another part was arguing that it couldn’t possibly be that bad, and even if it was, I still had this unquenchable belief that enough love could cure anything—I’d gotten that from my grandmother, who had been the most loving person I’d ever known in my life.

All that stuff, all that bad news—it wasn’t a reason to quit. It was a reason to commit. I couldn’t walk away from his need.

Anybody else would have said never mind and run screaming from the room. I wanted to say it. This was not the child I had imagined. This was outside the lines I had set; but no matter what they said, I still couldn’t escape the feeling that this was my son. The boy in the picture had grabbed my heart so completely that I’d suddenly forgotten all my preexisting ideas of what kind of child I wanted.

Then Kathy Bright slid over a foot-high stack of “incident reports.” Things that had happened in the group home. I didn’t know what to do with all these papers, the crabbed handwriting, all this incriminating detail.

I don’t know why I did it. It wasn’t something I’d ever seen anyone else do, and I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I picked up the stack and flipped through it, riffling the pages like a flip book, skimming through the dates on the upper right corners of the pages. And I noticed something—

“All of these reports are from the same month, September,” I said.

Kathy Bright frowned, remembering. “That was when we took him off the Ritalin and put him on Disipramine. That didn’t work at all.”

And then—again, I don’t know why I did it or what I was looking for—I flipped through the stack again, this time skimming the signatures on the bottom left corners of the pages.

“All these reports were written by the same person,” I said. I looked up, inquiringly.

“That was a group-home worker who had control issues,” Kathy explained. “He was only there for a month. He didn’t work out.”

“Oh,” I said.

For a weird moment, I had a nightmare vision of this poor little boy, buried under a stack of reports and opinions. If somebody wrote the wrong thing, it didn’t matter—it still went into the file. Everything went into the file, no matter what. And if nobody ever questioned the validity of all this paper? If they all just accepted it at face value? What if all of this was wrong? And what if this kid was being defined by other people’s misjudgments and mistakes?

I put the reports down. I didn’t want to read them. I couldn’t trust them. “So all of these incident reports, written about a kid on the wrong medication, by a guy with control issues—these really don’t reflect who Dennis is, do they?”

No, they admitted. I felt as if I’d won a small victory. For myself and for Dennis.

“What were his Apgars?” I asked, for want of something else to ask—I was desperate for some good news. Apgar numbers were a measure of a child’s health at birth and five minutes after.

Kathy shuffled through her papers. “Eight and nine.” Those were good.

“And how does he rate on the Conners scale?”

“That’s the ADHD rating, isn’t it?” She looked confused.

I opened my own notebook and pulled out two different reports and a ratings sheet. “Here, this is what you need to know about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and how to gauge it.”

“Oh, wait, I have something here. Is this what you’re asking about? I’m not sure how to read these numbers—” She passed over more paper. It wasn’t good news. Minus two. Dennis was textbook-perfect ADHD.

Part of me wanted to push all the paper aside, thank them for their time, and head for home.

But the other part of me—the part that had fallen in love with a picture—refused to walk away.

“Look,” I said. “All this paper, this isn’t Dennis. This is all the bad news, all the stuff that didn’t work for someone else. And every time something else doesn’t work, it goes into one of these reports and it’s another little label this boy has to carry around. I don’t see Dennis here. I just see a lot of opinions. Informed opinions, yeah, but—” I looked up and down the table. “Where’s the good news? Are you telling me there isn’t any? I can’t believe that.” I pushed the papers aside. “This doesn’t say what he’s really like. To you folks, he’s just a case. One more in a whole stack of cases. To me, he’s a little boy who needs a dad. I have to meet him.”

I looked around the table. Their expressions were bland and unreadable. This was just another meeting to them, one more in a long string of meetings with prospective parents. This was about process, nothing else—and reaction wasn’t part of the process.

The supervisor changed the subject. She asked, “Kathy, what’s your relationship with him? Do you like the boy?”

Kathy Bright said calmly, “No, I don’t. He kicked me once.” Then she added, “But I do care what happens to him.” As if that somehow excused not liking him. “He worries about his future. He asked, ‘What’s going to happen to me?’ He told his counselor, ‘I don’t think God listens to my prayers. I prayed for a dad and nothing happened.’”

And they didn’t want me be a rescuer? How could I not be a rescuer?

There was one other surprise.

The supervisor abruptly turned to me and said, “It says here that you’re gay. Is that correct?”


“Exclusively gay? Or bisexual?”

I shrugged. “You can say bisexual.” If it makes you more comfortable. If it looks better on your report.

Explaining it would take a short novel—or maybe a trilogy. There was the red-haired young man—Peter Pan in a white Rambler who went back to Neverland much too soon—who showed me that love has nothing to do with lust. And then there was she-who-will-not-be-named who demonstrated even more horrifically that lust has nothing to do with love. There was she who loved gently and she who loved loudly. And there was he who loved and he who didn’t. The only thing that all of these situations had in common was that I was there. The only thing proven by this history was that I was an incurable romantic—I had never stopped believing in the possibility of love.

She jotted her note, apparently satisfied. And I didn’t pursue it. I don’t like classifying people by who they fall in love with. That kind of distinction doesn’t make sense to me. The only thing that fits in a pigeonhole is a pigeon.

But we weren’t quite done with it yet. Kathy Bright said, “Before David meets Dennis, I’ll have to explain it to Dennis.”

Before I could open my mouth, my sister spoke up. She said—in that tone of voice that she reserved only for stopping train wrecks before they happen—“No.”

Everyone looked to her.

“That will be my brother’s responsibility. He’ll choose the appropriate time and place.” She left no room for discussion, let alone argument. “It isn’t a conversation that anyone else should have with the boy. It’s David’s job to tell him, and it has to be done after they’ve met, not before. Otherwise, you’re influencing the situation unfairly.”

Kathy looked like she wanted to object, but the supervisor spoke first. “It’s not an issue. Let’s move on.”

And then Kathy Bright said that thing about Dennis being a Martian and I went off to Fantasyland, relieved to be talking about something else for a minute. At least, I knew fantasy. I was an expert in that.

And then…it was over.

I’d made my case. And all I could think of was all the stuff I should have said instead. Instead of trying to be so smart.

I leaned my head against the passenger side window of my sister’s car and moaned. “Dammit. I’m so tired of being pregnant. Thirteen months is long enough for any man! I’ve got the baby blues so bad, I can’t even go to the supermarket anymore. I find myself watching other people with their children and the tears start welling up in my eyes. I keep thinking, ‘Where’s mine?’”

My sister understood. She had four children of her own, none of whom had ended up in jail; so she had to have done something right. “Listen to me, David. Maybe this little boy isn’t the right one for you—”

“Of course he’s right for me. He’s a Martian.”

Alice ignored the interruption. “And if he isn’t right, there’ll be another child who is. I promise you. And you said it yourself that you didn’t know if you could handle all the problems he’d be bringing with him.”

I’d admitted it to her, no one else. It was the first time in my life I’d ever doubted my ability to do something. “It’s just that I feel like…I don’t know what I feel like. This is worse than anything I’ve ever been through. All this wanting and not having. Sometimes I’m afraid it’s not going to happen at all.”

Alice pulled the car over to the curb and turned off the engine. “Okay, it’s my turn,” she said. “Stop beating yourself up. You are the smartest one in the whole family, but sometimes you can be awfully stupid. You are going to be a terrific father to some very lucky little boy. Your caseworker knows that. All of those social workers in that meeting saw your commitment and dedication. All that research you did—when you asked about the Apgar numbers and the Conners scale, when you handed them that report on hyperactivity, which even they didn’t know about—you impressed them.”

I shook my head. “Research is easy. You post a note on CompuServe, wait two days, and then download your e-mail.”

“It’s not the research,” Alice said. “It’s the fact that you did it. That demonstrates your willingness to find out what the child needs so you can provide it.”

“I wish I could believe you,” I said.

She looked at me. “What’s the matter?”

“What if I’m really not good enough?” I said. “That’s what I’m worried about—I can’t shake that feeling.”

“Oh, that—that’s normal.”

“That’s what it feels like to be a parent?”

She nodded. “That—and the lack of sleep. When Jon was born, when we were leaving the hospital, I said to the doctor, ‘You’re sending this baby home with two people who’ve never taken care of a baby before.’ And he said, ‘I do it almost every day. And it still scares the hell out of me.’

“I’ll bet that’s what those caseworkers are feeling right now—panic. Even worse than you. Because they need to find a home for this little boy. There’s so much at stake here for this little boy. It’s a big risk. You heard what they said about adoptions that fail. It hurts the parents as much as the kids. So, you’re right to be scared. Maybe the time to worry is when you’re not.”

She hugged me. “You’ll do fine. Now let’s go home and call Mom before she busts a kidney from the suspense.”

Two centuries later, although the calendar insisted otherwise, Ms. Bright called me. “We’ve made a decision. If you’re still interested in Dennis, we’d like to arrange a meeting.”

I don’t remember a lot of what she said after that; most of it was details about how we would proceed, but I do remember what she said at the end. “I want to tell you the two things that helped us make the decision. First, it was very clear to all of us that you’re committed to Dennis’s well-being. That’s very important in any adoption, but especially in this one. The other thing was what you said at the end of the meeting—about understanding his need to be a Martian. We were really touched by your empathy for his situation. We think that’s a quality that Dennis is going to need very much in any family he’s placed in. That’s why we decided to try you first.”

I thanked her profusely; at least, I think I did. I was suddenly having trouble seeing. And the box of tissues had gone empty.

Copyright © 2002 by David Gerrold

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