My first son was born in 1981. I named him after his father, a lifelong friend of my brother's. I first met Wade in the wee hours of the morning at Good Guys, a strip club my brother worked at in D.C. I meandered in after a night of partying with some girlfriends and sat at the bar. My brother poured me a healthy shot of Jameson as he bellowed, "Come on, time to GO!" and flickered the lights. The girls had left the stage long before but there were still some stragglers fumbling for coats and chugging the last of their drinks.
Wade walked in the back door and echoed my brother's demand that everyone leave, gesticulating aggressively toward the exit. He was small in stature but big in self-confidence. His dark wavy hair, full beard and three-piece black suit—unusual attire for a bar—added to his commanding presence. He moved through what was left of the dwindling crowd with the aggression and stealth of a highly trained special forces operative.
Standing at the bottom of the staircase leading up to the street, he shook hands with every customer, shooting them each a look not even a drunk could confuse with anything other than "Get out!" The place emptied within minutes.
I couldn't take my eyes off him.
I was a bit shaken myself and fired down my Jameson. I spun around on the stool to face the bar only to find my brother laughing and shaking his head at my reaction to Wade. He was 8 years older than me, but we had been very close since my mid-teens. I didn't even have to ask the question.
"Don't even think about it!" he said. "He's a great guy but he's crazy, way too much for you and I mean that in a brotherly love kind of way."
"Too much for me? You're kidding, right?" I shot right back. I turned to look for Wade but he was nowhere to be found. The club was empty except for a few dancers huddled at the end of the bar counting their money.
I took the opportunity to hit the ladies room and freshen my eyeliner and lipstick. I was long, lean, blond, quite pretty and, at 25, nowhere near new to this cat-and-mouse game. My brother and I came from an abusive home and were feral kids. What we lacked in happy childhood memories we made up for with quick wit and street smarts. The fact that Wade managed a strip club and was surrounded by young, naked women all the time—facts that would repel and even disgust many young women my age—didn't faze me in the least.
I returned to find my brother and Wade discussing the events of the evening, going over the cash receipts and paying attention to everything but me. I sat perched on my stool, ran my fingers through my hair, letting it cascade loosely over my shoulders.
"Hit me up, bartender," I winked at my brother. It was a perfect opening, confident but coy, and showed I had no apprehension given the fact I had no business being there.
They turned around simultaneously. Wade's eyes locked on mine and the electricity between us was palpable. My brother broke the silent voltage with an introduction. "Wade, this is my sister, Mary. She stopped in on her way home for a drink."
I couldn't speak. I was lost in him already. He asked what I was drinking, poured me a shot, grabbed a beer and sat on the stool next to me.
"Here you go, Fox. Cheers!" and as our glasses clinked, I was jarred out of my daze. I will never forget the look on my brother's face. It was a combination of panic, amusement and concern. He witnessed Wade and I falling in love—instantaneously and absolutely. He speaks of it to this day.
Eighteen months later, I gave birth to our son. And six months after that, Wade was gone. My son and I never saw him again. He kept in touch from Florida, calling every Saturday relentless in his plea for us to join him there, assuring me a life of love and security. He had left to establish himself, had opened his own extremely successful club and soon after purchased a home for us.
But motherhood and the hardships of raising a child alone had changed this "Fox" and the thought of raising our son on the profits and drama that generally surrounds such a business was something I wasn't willing to tolerate. I just didn't want my son to grow up with a taste for the seduction and lucrative potential of the business that drew his father to it and away from us.
I never hid Wade, his occupation or his larger-than-life personality from our son and left the door wide open for the two of them to meet. Neither one ever attempted to open it.
I learned from my brother that Wade died several years ago. I asked my son if he wanted to pursue the details of his death or perhaps try and contact family members. He declined, saying he'd accepted the fact that neither of them, for whatever reasons, were destined to meet.
My brother recently moved back to D.C. after living in California for 18 years. My son and I met him for dinner recently and did a lot of catching up. After dinner, my son sauntered off for a moment to speak to his girlfriend.
"Christ, he IS Wade," my brother said, with that same look of astonishment he had from behind the bar all those years ago. "He speaks with his cadence, he walks with that same confident gait and has all his mannerisms. I could literally see Wade, sitting here at this table with us! I've never experienced anything like it."
Of course, I've felt and have seen this for all of my son's life, but hearing my brother say the words, it hit me even harder—the resemblance to a man I once loved so fiercely. When it comes to raising kids, some say nurture; I say nature. I've often wondered if that's why they never chose to meet. Perhaps there was no need.