Aaron: Uhm, hi Lisa. I’m Aaron, and this is my boyfriend Spencer. So, JP said it was okay to talk to you, that you were really nice and that she trusts you with us. That’s pretty epic. She’s never let anyone else interview us before. She always did it herself. But…uhm…I’m better now. And, yeah, can we just sit here on the couch together?
[Aaron pulls Spencer to the small couch and pulls him down so they can sit together. Spencer wraps his right arm around Aaron, who grabs old of his left with two small hands. He appears nervous, but animated.]
TNA: [Interviewer’s note: I’m a toucher. My natural reaction upon meeting someone is to reach out and shake hands or touch a forearm in greeting, so it’s only at the last moment I remember not to reach out to Aaron, and to offer a wave instead.]
Guys, you have no idea how much I value that trust. I feel as if I’ve been on an emotional journey with you, so thanks to both of you for sharing that with all of us.
Spencer, you and Aaron go through some real challenges in this book, to say the very least, but lots of growth and healing, as well. Without giving away too much, what was the most difficult part of this story for you, which revelation was most difficult for you personally to share?
Spencer: I. Had. To. Think. About. This.. At. First. I. Thought. It. Would. Be. Leaving. Aaron.. But,. It. Was. Not. That.. The. Worst. Part. For. Me. Was. The. Pain. In. Aaron’s. Face. When. Ever. He. Thought. About. Testifying.. The. Helplessness. I. Felt. Because. I. Could. Not. Make. It. Better..
TNA: That’s something we readers can only imagine and probably still not coming close to understanding.
Aaron, I don’t even know where to begin with you. To borrow an ancient ad slogan, you’ve come a long way, baby. How do you feel about some of the more personal things that are going to be revealed in Spencer’s book? Was it a little bit cathartic to let this story be told?
Aaron: I revealed personal things all the way through the story. I really don’t think I have any secrets anymore. Everything has been exposed—like a nerve, raw and open. But was it cathartic? I think it was. Getting everything out, getting an outcome that allows me peace and forward motion helps put my life in perspective.
TNA: I guess, in the end, that’s the best any of us can ever hope for, perspective. That you found it is a pretty amazing gift.
You guys have been through so much together. Would you share a happy moment with us, one of the best memories in your relationship so far?
Spencer: I. Think. Our. Very. Favorite. Memory. So. Far. Would. Give. Away. The. Ending.. So., My. Second. Favorite. Memory. Of. Our. Relationship. Is. The. First. Time. Aaron. Cuddled. In. My. Arms. To. Watch. A. Movie. In. Bed. With. Me.. We. Watched. Shrek..
Aaron: I liked that too. I feel safer in Spencer’s arms than I ever feel anywhere else. But I think my favorite memory of Spencer was kissing him for the first time. That was the day I found out that he wanted me no matter what kind of scars I had—inside or outside.
TNA: Having been through so much, what would you say is the single most important thing you’ve learned about yourselves and each other?
Spencer: The. Most. Important. Thing. I. Learned. About. Myself., Especially. Lately., Is. That. I. Can. Take. Care. Of. Myself. And. I. Can. Take. Care. Of. Aaron..
[Aaron leans his head against Spencer’s shoulder for just a moment, before sitting up and looking forward once more.]
Aaron: I think the biggest thing I learned about myself since I met Spencer was that I’m not actually dead. I thought, for those first two years, that I’d died, but my body just hadn’t caught up. I don’t think there’s a particular reason I survived that night, but if there is, I’d like to think it’s so that I could meet Spencer. He gave me a reason to live again.
[There’s a knock at the door, then it opens without pause. Two men step into the room, and I realize instantly who it is. Zach Tyler and David Evans’ story was told so eloquently in Rowan Speedwell’s Finding Zach. I motion them over, and after a bit of chair shuffling, we’re ready to continue.]
TNA: Thanks so much for joining us, guys.
Zach, how did you become a conference speaker and advocate for abuse recovery? Was it something you had to think long and hard about, or did you jump at the opportunity when it was presented?
Zach: I guess it mostly came out of that damned book Brian wrote. I didn’t think it would be a big deal, but all of the sudden people started wanting me to do interviews and stuff, and before I knew it I was the face of abuse or something. I feel like an idiot doing it, though. What happened to me was bizarre. What happens to most kids who are abused is horrific and way, way too common. Mine was like, like war or something. When it was over I could walk away, and I had closure. Too many kids live with it day in, day out, for years, and some never walk away. And they never get closure. So I felt like if I had—whaddaya call it? The bully something?
David: The bully pulpit. Means you’ve got the attention.
Zach: Yeah. If I was gonna have that, if I was gonna have the attention, I wanted it to mean something to someone.
TNA: David, were you an influence in Zach’s decision, or was this something you felt he needed to work his way into (or steer away from) on his own?
David: Oh, man, it scared the hell out of me. He’d do these interviews after the book came out, and he’d be just drained. He didn’t talk about it for years, and now he was out there talking about it to everyone. And I knew it was hard on him. I admit I didn’t want him to do it. I wanted him to put it behind him. But Zach’s like a force of nature—once he’s made up his mind, it’s full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes. I think that’s why he survived as long as he did—he’s a stubborn son of a bitch. And since that’s what brought him back to me, I can live with it.
TNA: That’s… that’s got to be pretty empowering.
Zach, when you were asked to speak to Aaron one-on-one, what was your initial reaction?
Zach: Scared. Terrified. I mean, I get up there and talk, and it’s just general and about me and what I’m feeling and what I did, and so on. It’s general. But here this kid wanted to talk directly, and I knew that what I said to him would matter. It wasn’t just a talking head up at a podium. It was one-on-one. Two people. And I knew he was going to hear what I said and it was going to matter to him. And it would affect him. That’s scary. Because if I say the wrong thing, it’s gonna affect him. So I had to know what I needed to say, and it was scary.
TNA: Wow. No pressure there, huh?
Aaron, what was the one thing Zach said that made you realize how strong you are and that gave you hope?
Aaron: He said that I could take back my power. They stole it in that garage, but if I stood up and I told my story, I could take it back.
TNA: Zach and Aaron, this question is for both of you: I’m sure there are times when you feel like there’s no one in the world who could possibly understand how you feel or what you’ve been through. What’s it like for you knowing you’re not alone? Does it help or hurt knowing someone else has felt your pain?
Zach: Jeez. Um. Both? I mean, everyone’s experience is different, so sometimes it’s hard to relate, so you gotta figure other people are gonna have a hard time relating to you. But I have talked to people who’ve survived captivity and torture and stuff that I can relate to, as well as the sexual abuse. It’s a whole spectrum. It hurts when I think about other people going through shit I can only imagine, but damn, when you talk to someone and their eyes light up and they get it, and you know you’re connecting on a kind of primal level—that gives you a whole feeling of relief. It’s like “I’m not alone” sort of thing.
Aaron: I didn’t know, at least conceptually, that other people had gone through what I had. I mean, had I sat and thought about it, of course others had or there’d be no word for it, but I never had any reason to explore it until I…until I was raped. Then, I went online and found support groups for all kinds of people, people who understand what it was like to be terrified of everything and nothing. Talking to them, listening to what they do to cope, that helped.
TNA: Guys, where do you see yourselves going from here? What does your future look like, or are you still just working to live life one day at a time?
Spencer: My. Future. Is. Exactly. Aaron. Downing. Shaped..
[Aaron laughs and smacks Spencer on the arm.]
Aaron: I think she was looking for a serious answer there.
Spencer: I. Was. Being. Serious..
Aaron: Forever, Spencer.
I’m sorry, uhm… Anyways, my future? I see myself getting a job with Dr. Mayer. I see both of us finishing our degrees. I see us writing software together. I see us loving each other. Anything else, we’ll take as it comes.
Zach: School. I still have a lot of catching up to do. Eventually, hopefully, a job in medical nanotechnology, building things that will help cure illnesses and conditions in ways that are safer and more effective than what we have now. And to keep talking to people until I don’t have to anymore. That would be cool.
David: With Zach, I’m living my future every day. What more could I want?
TNA: [I can’t help but smile at that.]
Thank you, all four of you, so much for agreeing to sit down and talk with me, to all of us. It’s been an honor.
A Survivor Story
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.
BLURB: A Survivor Story
It’s been nearly five years since Aaron woke up in the hospital so broken, he couldn’t stand the sight of his own face. The flashbacks no longer dominate his life, but he’s still unable to find intimacy with his lover, Spencer Thomas. With time, patience, and the support of his family, his therapist, and his loving partner, Aaron has figured out how to live again. The problem is, Spencer hasn’t. His life has been on hold as he waits for the day he and Aaron can have a normal relationship. Hoping to move things forward for them both, he takes a job as a programmer in downtown Chicago, leaving Aaron alone.
Reeling in the wake of Spencer’s absence, Aaron receives another shock when his attackers are caught.
Now, he must testify and verbalize his worst nightmare. Publicly reliving his trauma without Spencer at his side destroys his precarious control. But he finds someone who can understand and empathize in Jordan, who watched his brother cut down in a school shooting. With Spencer gone and the DA knocking at his door, Aaron seeks solace in Jordan, and Spencer will have to risk everything to hold on to Aaron’s love.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Award winning romance novelist, J. P. Barnaby has penned over a dozen books including the Working Boys series, the Little Boy Lost series, In the Absence of Monsters, and Aaron. As a bisexual woman, J.P. 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 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.
BLURB: For five years, Zach Tyler, son of one of the world’s richest software moguls, was held hostage, tortured, and abused. When he is rescued at last from the Venezuelan jungle, he is physically and psychologically shattered, but he slowly begins to rebuild the life he should have had before an innocent kiss sent him into hell.
His childhood best friend David has lived those years with overwhelming guilt and grief. Every relationship David has tried has fallen apart because of his feelings for a boy he thought dead. When Zach is rescued, David is overjoyed—and then crushed when Zach shuts him out.
Two years later, David returns home, and he and Zach must come to terms with the rift between them, what they feel for each other, and what their future could hold. But Zach has secrets, and one of them might well destroy their fragile love.
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