Please welcome Nick Wilgus and his new release
Ringo And The Sunshine Police
Thomas, an older gay musician living in a small Southern town, is ready to start a family. He fosters Jeremy, a special needs boy with no arms, and teaches him to play the drums so Jeremy can realize his potential to do anything he wants. Though it takes time, Thomas’s closeted boyfriend Randy steps out of the shadows to be part of what Thomas is working to build. With the advent of marriage equality, it’s a different world in the Deep South—one where the three of them have the chance to be a family.
Yet no one said it would be easy, and they soon learn the foster care system is far from perfect.
Just as Jeremy begins to settle in and thrive, his biological father reappears, demanding custody. Thomas and Randy know the man is unfit to care for Jeremy, but the law says otherwise. It seems they’re the only ones looking out for Jeremy’s best interests, and they face an uphill battle if they want to keep their new family together.
Jeremy Tripper stared at the television and hoped the man didn’t notice the smell. His smell. The way he, Jeremy Tripper, smelled. Mama always said he smelled, which was why she made him take so many baths and sit there while she scrubbed and scrubbed away at his skin, sometimes to the point where it bled and left his body covered with angry red marks.
“Why do you smell so much?” Mama would ask, sometimes in a rage, her eyes darting back and forth as though expecting someone to come along and notice that he smelled. “What is it with you? Why can’t you be like normal boys? I told you to use soap. Why can’t you use soap? Don’t you know the way you smell? Can’t you smell it? What’s wrong with you?”
So he sat, his eyes carefully on the television—he didn’t want to look at the man. Didn’t want to stare. Mama said staring was not polite. When people stared, Mama got mad. Really mad. “Why don’t you take a picture?” she would demand in a loud, aggressive, scary voice. “Or would you like me to take a picture for you? Is that it? I could mail it to you and you could stare at my son all goddamn day. Is that what you want? Do you want us to wait while you go home and get your camera? Is that it? Should we wait for you? Would that be more convenient for you?”
So… staring was not nice.
Did the man notice the smell? He didn’t seem to. You could never tell. Mama could tell, of course. Mama could always tell, and it didn’t matter how hard he tried to clean up, how long he sat in the tub, how long he rolled around, dunked himself, rubbed his body against the bubbles in the bath water as best he could. It didn’t matter. She could smell him. He fought with the soap, tried to grasp it with his feet, but it slipped away time after frustrating time.
The man had said nothing about the smell. Perhaps he was just being polite. Perhaps he could smell it, and it bothered him, but he didn’t want to say.
Still. He felt uncomfortable sitting next to the man on the couch. He wanted the man to like him. Didn’t want the man to worry that maybe Jeremy had a problem, maybe he smelled, maybe he wasn’t a nice boy. Bad enough to not have arms and be a freak, but to smell too?
When the commercials came on, he lowered his eyes. The man said something, but he didn’t catch it, didn’t know how to answer. Seemed like his voice was stuck in his throat. “Cat got your tongue?” He remembered Mama saying that. “Cat got your tongue? Is that it? Got nothing to say for yourself now?”
The movie… he couldn’t concentrate on it. Simply stared at the screen, hoped it made the man happy. The colors. The animals. The words. It was supposed to be funny. Wasn’t it funny? Wasn’t it? But it seemed he couldn’t hear it. Couldn’t hear the words. The words were plain as day and plenty loud enough but they made no sense. They came in his ears and died. Mama always said that. “Everything I say, it’s in one ear and there it dies. Your ears are where my words go to die.”
That wasn’t true. He wasn’t deaf. God forbid! He could hear just fine.
But… sometimes the words didn’t make sense. Might as well be speaking Spanish. Like that first social worker he had. The one who came for him at the hospital. What was her name? Everything she said… was she speaking English? They said she was from the Delta. They had an “accent,” whatever that was. He could hear just fine but it made no sense. It didn’t sink in. It was like she wasn’t speaking at all.
“Are you deaf?” he heard his mother asking in his mind. “Bad enough you don’t have arms but you can’t hear either? Gotta make me repeat everything I say over and over until I just want to scream and pull my goddamn hair out of my goddamn head? Why can’t you just do what I say? What’s wrong with you? Everything I say, it goes in your ears and there it dies! I’m sick to death of it!”
He’d been doing that a lot lately, remembering Mama, what she said, her voice, the way she looked, the way she loomed over him—she was a tall woman. Seemed like he was staring up at the Statue of Liberty, the way she towered over him.
He loved his mama. God, he loved her. So much. So, so much. But sometimes….
He did not want to think about that.
Seemed like every day now, his mama’s voice was in his mind, talking and talking and talking, increasingly frantic, angry, out of sorts. “Why can’t you do right by Mama? What did I do to deserve this? Don’t you know how hard it is? How I wish to God….”
He turned his head just slightly, sniffed at his shoulder to see if he smelled. It seemed okay, but he could never tell. He glanced very briefly, very quickly, up at the man, lowered his eyes when he saw that the man was looking at him.
“You okay, peanut?” the man asked.
Jeremy shrugged. He wanted to say he was fine, but the cat had his tongue.
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I read a draft version of this book a few months ago, and couldn't wait to read the finished product as well. The changes made were mostly subtle but made a difference.
Thomas is a gay man in his early fifties living in Mississippi. Once the drummer in a band, known for a one-hit-wonder, he has for many years longed to foster and eventually adopt a child. With recent law changes, and marriage equality being the law of the land, Thomas has begun his journey to foster parent and adoption prospect.
Having gotten to known the author via his FB page and watching him take a similar journey as his character only enriched my reading experience, as did the fact that I'm a foster parent myself.
Thomas' first (and long-awaited) placement is a young special needs boy who lost his mother in a tragic fire, and whose father is not in the picture since birth. This boy was born without arms, apparently a genetic condition, and requires additional accommodations and modifications to Thomas' home, which Thomas is only too glad to provide.
The author paints an accurate and at times painful pictures of what fostering a child can be like. It's not an easy choice to open your home repeatedly to children not your own, many of whom have experienced some form of trauma and need love and consistent commitment, and special needs children are notoriously limited as far as placement options are concerned. Not many foster parents can accommodate a special needs child, and many of these children are living in group homes with overworked staff. Most foster homes, in my experience, don't want to take placements for the kids that need help the most.
Fostering a child take a lot of love, patience, and a willingness (determination) to stay committed for as long as needed and/or possible. What these kids mostly need is stability, routines, and the experience that an adult in their lives is in their corner, protecting and nurturing them. I clearly remember my foster trainer drumming this in over and over - all children who are in foster care have experienced some form of trauma, and they need love and understanding and compassion from their foster parents.
As with all his books, Nick creates characters that are fully developed, characters the reader comes to love and in some cases hate. Thomas' lover Randy, still mostly in the closet, runs an art gallery downtown and support Thomas in his endeavors, to the point where he's willing to leave Narnia and exit the closet. I liked him a lot - he was a perfect counterpoint to Thomas, and while their relationship is not that of your usual romance novel (and this really isn't a romance anyway), the two men complemented each other well, and were supportive of each other throughout.
Another tidbit of foster care is that most child protective agencies and family judges will favor blood family over foster/adoptive families, in some cases to the detriment of the child. Many times, the foster home is likely a more stable environment, but blood relatives will trump fosters most of the time.
And so it happens in this book, when after some months of living and bonding with Thomas, Jeremy's father suddenly enters the picture and demands custody. The fact that he lives in a different state has no bearing on this, nor does the fact that for most of Jeremy's seven years of life, he was absent and paid not a single penny in child support - as the biological father, he gets "first dibs". And yes... that is one of the most painful parts of fostering - the simple fact that child could be sent from your loving home into a much worse situation because of a blood relation taking precedence.
You can surely imagine the heartache and pain Thomas experiences as he realizes that the child he planned to adopt will be taken from him, and there is not a damn thing he can do about it.
And I could completely understand how despondent Thomas was over the loss of this child, and how he felt like giving up. That he doesn't is fortuitous, and only due to Randy's prodding to visit Jeremy, which sets their happy ending in motion.
The author handled this difficult topic very well, and it is my hope that this book will open the eyes of many to the overwhelming need for foster homes in this country, and how messed up our system really is. Advocates are dearly needed, and there simply aren't enough homes open to these children, who've often seen abuse in its many forms. While Thomas' story ends on a very happy note, and while this is the desired and best outcome he and Jeremy both could have hoped for, it is also fact that even when children are reunited with their birth parents after foster care, many of them re-enter the system again at a later time.
Some people aren't fit to have children.
I should probably apologize for the preachy tone of this review, and I hope that Thomas will forgive me for using this review as a soapbox to help open your eyes to the plight of children in the foster system, and maybe even open your heart to consider the option of becoming a foster parent yourself.
It's not an easy job, no. But it's worth the heartaches and pain, because at the end of the day, you will have helped a child in need.
As I write this review, there are two children asleep in my home that we are fostering. Each day is a new adventure and a new opportunity to do right by those whom life has wronged through no fault of their own.
If you're so inclined, please check out The National Foster Parent Association to learn more about this invaluable service these caregivers provide.
This book is about a topic so near and dear to my heart, and so beautifully explores the wonder and pitfalls of fostering and adoption, I cannot help but give it all the stars.
** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher. A positive review was not promised in return. **
About the author:
Nick Wilgus sold his first short story to The Horror Show when he was seventeen and has since published more than a dozen novels and a screenplay. A former newspaper editor, he lives in Tupelo, Mississippi, birthplace of Elvis.
Promotional materials and excerpt provided by the author.