The Postman Delivers

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I still get mail for him.

Collection agencies with medical bills that wouldn’t have been paid even if he were still alive.

Pre-approved credit card offers.

I opened one yesterday with a loan guaranteed for $1000.

And today one contained an actual credit card in his name.

It was an extra card for an account he had created in someone else’s name.

I had spent these two years paying off the balance.

I had looked through the piles of junk mail, bills and IRS notices to see if a current card had been sent.

It had.  In fact several had been sent.

Two bore the names of the people I knew were on the account.

In a separate envelope came the surprise.  A card in his name.

For a moment, I am taken aback, wondering if he is out there somewhere.

I look at his name on the card.

I look back at the envelope.

The address still doesn’t seem quite right.

It should say 116 Princeton Road.

But his name stares at me, defying what I know is true.

 

Susan talked to Brooke the other day.  She had seen a medium. Had a session with him.

He insisted on sitting right across from her, pushing all the other spirits away.

Needing an audience just with her.

I ask Susan, “What did he say?”

As if he really were there.

I don’t believe he was.  But I want to.

This man died too young.  He wishes he was there with you guys.

She sees a man with a buzz cut. He wants her to draw him with long hair.

steve looking at Henry Andrew and Steve

Susan sends me the sketch.

Of course, I want to believe.  It sounds like him. I could pretend that the sketch looks like him.

Susan asks me if I would want to go.  To see the medium.  To talk to him.

If I were to go and to believe, I think I would never be able to leave.

How could I leave him there alone…again?

 

It is too much and not enough just to see his name.

Everything brings him to mind.

I get an email every week or so with new science teacher jobs.

I had signed up for that alert when he was hoping to pursue a career.

He had worked in several jobs.

I didn’t know he was in trouble.

Emails from Stockton.

He was so proud to have finished and gotten the degree.

They want to hear from their graduates.

I think about filling out the survey today.

What would I say?

 

Those alerts. I could stop them.  I could unsubscribe if I took a minute.

But I don’t.  They help me pretend that he is here.

 

So does the mail.

I fool myself into thinking, just for a second, that someone knows something that I don’t know.

I open the envelopes…and sometimes I leave them sealed.

Sometimes I throw them away.

Sometimes I keep them and think of the conversation that I’ll have with the person at the other end when I call and say, “Stop sending him mail.  He is dead.”

I want them to hurt like I hurt.  To be brought up short and have nothing to say.  To apologize.  To stammer.

Because what other reaction should anyone have?

It can’t be true that a mother could lose her baby.

It can’t be something that is ordinary or accepted.

 

I have other mail.

The notecards that I crafted and re-crafted so that they were just right.

The notes I meant to send to thank the many people who boosted me up and helped me through what I thought I’d never survive.

I have a pile in my desk drawer all addressed and ready to go.

I don’t know where my list went.

I don’t know who I am missing.

And it’s been two years.

I couldn’t afford the postage after spending too much on the notes.

And I hadn’t sent them.

Funny thing is, I did the same thing when I lost my mom.

I made beautiful notes with a carefully crafted poem inside and her watercolor of our house on Sailer’s Way on the front.

I think I mailed some of those.  But most stayed addressed and unsent in the big chest in the mudroom among some of her other things.

Best laid plans.

 

I’m sure it is about more than just an unfinished task.

It is probably more like the boxes holding the remains that sit in my living room.

I have my grandmother and my mother, my father and my son…all in one drawer.

All in a holding pattern because I won’t let them go.

 

If I mail the notes…

If I open the letters…

If I go through his clothes…

If I bury or spread the remains…

If I say good-bye…

 

Then it will be true.

Two years have passed.

He will never be older than 31.

 

I talk to the envelopes when they come.

What is wrong with you people?  Why do you keep sending these?

I ought to call you up right now.

But secretly…

I’m glad.

I like seeing his name.

The First Slice

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The first slice is the hardest.

I hold the handle of the rolling blade knife over the fabric.

I can’t hesitate any longer. Time seems to slow down as I move it towards the tiny sweatshirt.

Why I have chosen the hardest piece to cut first, I don’t know.

I watch myself as I smooth the fabric of the tiny clothes.

I touch it gently, smooth it so it is just so on my cutting board.

I remember cutting Kathy’s clothes. It was my first time. I worried that I would ruin them, not know how to work them in with the other fabric, not have enough pieces for each of the grandchildren. How can you try something out for the first time on these precious possessions? But I did it. And I was successful.

This feels different.

I know the love of the mother who saved these small clothes for so many years.

Each time I move the fabric it is as if the tiny body is there.

I take the lonely sleeve and fold it ever so carefully, taking the wrist band and tucking it next to the elbow and then the shoulder. I pat it and gently place it into the bag in which it rested before I began.

I know I will take each scrap and return it to the bag. Nothing is disposable.

The hood curls around as if warming his tiny ears.

How can I not use it? But even as I smooth it and measure it, I know that it will join the other scraps.

I curl the fabric in on itself and place it gently in the bag.

I want to include the pockets, the logo. I have to measure and cut carefully to be sure the seam doesn’t obscure either. While the zipper seems appealing and I think about putting other fabric behind it so it can actually open, I realize quickly that it will be too hard to include. I slice it out and hope that in doing so, I can maintain the pockets and look of the sweatshirt.

I know there is no use for the zipper or the hood or the sleeves, but I cannot let them go.

The zipper drops into the bag.

I feel confident that the t-shirt will be the right size and that I can make two squares from it. The armhole openings encroach on my square, but I eke out just enough.

I smooth the fabric under my trembling fingers.

I think of this small boy and of his parents.

This t-shirt bears the world of hope that lies in front of this young mother and father.

The symbol of their alma mater splayed across the front beckons a future their baby boy won’t have.

Did they know that then?

There are a few little stains. Signs of life inside the shirt.

I see him wriggling in his high chair, asserting his independence as he feeds himself.

I touch the fabric and smooth it again. I pick it up and hold it close.

I think about my boy’s clothes and how I haven’t washed them or moved them. I bought the batting and fusion backing for the jersey fabrics. I thought I might be able to look at them this summer. Make them into something usable for those of us who are left here without him. If I could put them to use, rework them into something we could have and hold, maybe it would be like the memories that I’ve put into writing. I can put them aside, knowing that I will have them forever. I can live beside them.

I wonder if by making these quilts for others that I will be able to move forward myself with his things.

I cannot look at the tiny clothes as fabric, though I must treat them as such.

The larger t-shirt appeals to me because I know I will have ample fabric.

But as I smooth and straighten the stripes, I think of this almost-teen, skateboarding or running in the woods, playing baseball with friends.

How can I cut these remnants of his life? Turn them from clothes worn by a real live boy into squares that need support with iron-on backing and that must fit into the pattern.

Slice.

I cut the arms.

Slice.

I measure the square. I make it a little bigger than it needs to be.

I make another. And another.

I lay out the squares in a pattern so that the colors read well together.

Is it feminine enough for a baby girl? Masculine enough for a boy? Babyish enough?

I move the squares with the pockets away from the top. They will come as a sweet surprise.

The pattern starts to take form.

Patting the squares into their spots, I am finally satisfied.

The sewing can begin.

The brown bag sits on the floor, filled with tiny scraps and full pieces.

The receiving blanket is folded among the scraps of clothes.

It can be used to wrap the new little dumpling, the reason for all of this cutting and sewing.

And in the new quilt he or she will be wrapped in the love and memory held by his grandparents and mother.

He or she will know that love lives beyond a worldly life and is held in the hearts of those still here.

The soft quilt will envelop mother and child as they rock and nurse and fall in love.

It will be the platform for learning to lift a head, begin to scoot, roll over, fall asleep.

The hands that caressed the toddler and young boy who wore the clothes were felt by the hands that folded and patted the fabric.

Their love will be felt by this new life, this miracle, this baby.

I will someday be able to look at the clothes of my boy this way.

I will have the courage to make that first slice.

I am just not ready now.

The finished quilt warms me and gives me hope.

Missing Most

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What do you miss most about him?

An odd question, I think, immediately conjuring a Letterman top ten list in my head.

I begin with a prologue to the answer (which, astonishingly, I have) and before I can be heard, she is answering it herself.

Oh, I know; you miss everything.

The other woman is nodding and remarking about how horrible it must be and how sorry she is.

They both continue to speak as I try to begin to answer.

I do have an answer (sort of).

You know, it’s interesting…

They keep speaking not really saying anything.

I recently noticed that….

It’s a bigger answer than she wants, but I keep going.

I was looking at a picture of him…

Here I pause and look at his face gazing through the cracked glass on my phone screen. (This wasn’t the picture I meant. I see it every day.)

They laugh at my outdated and broken phone.

Here is a picture of him. He is with Henry.

Oh he is so handsome. Looks like you.

I think I have others in here.

I push the screen with my finger and the picture tries to move and then pings back.

I try again.

Here he is. I took it when I went to the Freehold…

Oh, he is handsome.

They look but don’t listen.

I try again to explain the circumstances of the photo… I am anxious to talk about him.

Finally, she notices the baby. Oh is that Henry?

Yes.

I relax and try to find the other pictures.

I think there are others.

But there are only two saved as screen savers, and I flip back and forth between them.

Well, anyway, I look at his picture and…

I want to tell them and yet the question seems to have faded away. I want to bring it back. Have a reason to speak, to tell…

My eyes well up.

     I miss hugging him.

There it is – my answer.

Oh, did you have that kind of relationship?

Gosh.

She had just told me that she had read my blog.

And she is asking this question – did we have a hugging kind of relationship?

I think that I haven’t been clear.

Sami is right. I need to paint the picture of the time before.

But there is no time for that now. We talk about the blog. They are so kind about my writing. We talk about memoir and catharsis and helping others.

I can’t help but talk about James Frey. When I read A Million Little Pieces, I knew it was the real deal. I talk to them about my truth as opposed to the truth. They talk about how brave I am to write about it. I know that honesty is a quality of good writing, and I am proud of myself for being honest while still knowing that there would really be no other way to write about him.

Are you still writing?

That’s a hard question for me. I am sad that so much time has passed since last I posted. I talk about the strength of audience and the challenge of audience. I count on my readers and I fear displeasing my readers. I worry about the readers who know things that I may not want them to know. But I have chosen to go public.

I wonder how she has found my blog. She is a Board member about whom I have written in at least one post. What did I say? I know I was upset about the lack of support from my school community – or I should say from the Board of Education and some of my fellow administrators. And if I continue to write, she will be in my head. I will worry about what she takes away. I will worry about the public perception. And yet here I am writing about this encounter. I must be true to myself. And to him.

I know I can’t answer the question in the moment. Did we have a hugging kind of relationship?

So much is tucked inside of that question.

An addict doesn’t have a mother who loves him that way.

An addict doesn’t hug or maybe no one wants to hug an addict.

An addict is different from the child who has the support of a “normal” family.

An addict isn’t her kid.

I know she means nothing by it. It isn’t new to me.

But here I am – trying to explain.

Our relationship.

He was everything to me from the moment he was born – maybe even before.

I will not have Novocain to numb the pain of a cavity being filled while pregnant. No drinks, no unhealthy choices. No drugs for delivery. No lights, no harmful interventions. He will have everything that I can give.

Every moment following his birth full of joy and devotion to him.

Every day sharing him with my parents – the miracle of one day turning into the next – each minute change a miracle.

Walking, nursing, rocking, soothing. My ponytail becomes his lovey. We are tied with an umbilicus. We are one.

With teething comes a breast infection. I pump and dump and nurse and persist. He will have only the best. No formula, nothing but me.

A babysitter? A list of words (phonetically written), every tiny routine, just keep him happy. Don’t let him be sad – ever. I return home to a diapered (only) boy in the midst of climbing the stairs with a face and tummy sprinkled with Oreo crumbs – his sparkling eyes and smile tell the story. Perfect.

Sleeping? Not so much. And not without me. He doesn’t like to be alone. He loves his Ba and Mu, but he doesn’t like to be away from me at night. And naps are only caught in the car after MUCH driving.

Michele talks me into leaving him with Tricia B. She couldn’t be sweeter. He couldn’t be more miserable. I am sick. I don’t have anywhere I need to be without him.

Pre-school. He is a social being. He doesn’t want to leave me, but he loves to be with others. And I think it has been fine. Until I find out that they never understood what he was saying – all year long.

The next pre-school. A bus. Andrew and Jeff. He walks to the bus and hardly even waves back to me. But he is glad to come home. And even happier to play with his new-found friends. Friends he would have his whole life long. I would become the support system for that. Glad to do it.

School continues to bring challenges. But his kindergarten day ends with The Price is Right and his Ba and some fried chicken.

In first grade he falls in love. Mrs. Zurawa loves him into loving school and believing in himself.

His dad and I split when he is entering second grade. He and the girls go with me to my mom and dad’s house. He wants to change schools to be with Jeff and Andrew. Although I’ve tried to explain to the principal the type of teacher who will be a good fit, he gets Mrs. “Wrong.” And an open classroom. Snide comments abound. She derides him for chewing the front of his shirt. She derides him for ripping the edge of his paper. She tells the class that they won’t have to worry about him next year because he won’t be moving on to third grade with them.   Finally I have him moved. His new teacher is the mother of one of my students, and we agree to care for these energetic boys together.

My parents split.

I decide to try my marriage again. Even a thirty-something doesn’t want to be the child of divorce.

We return to our neighborhood school, and I give the teacher a heads-up. She works with me – and with him. Doesn’t want him to do homework right after school. “He needs to be active.” And he is.   But he is scarred from the second grade experience.

And scarred from the ultimate divorces of his parents and grandparents.

In middle school he starts to believe that school isn’t for him and that he isn’t smart.

A colleague (friend) agrees to test him (off the record), and we find out he has some slow processing speeds and some extreme abilities. And ADHD. We share some of the results with him – especially those highs – and decide to try medication. It flattens him out (read: makes him more appropriate for school) and for a time, it seems like a solution. One day when doing the laundry I find out that he has taken the scores from his tests (where he scored at an over 30-year-old level) and has ripped off the piece of paper and is carrying it with him. Pete Guza, with his quick tongue, had been torturing him mercilessly for not being smart. My boy wants to prove that he is. The school tests him, and he is classified. He gets extended time for some testing and is able to show what he knows – at times.

But still, school is not for him.

Nor is medication.

High school could be a posting in and of itself. It took him five years and five vice-principals to get through. An occasional person recognized and capitalized on his strengths. Most did not.

And risk-taking behaviors ensued.

Andrew’s heart condition meant no sports and no sports meant more time for mischief. His best friend had to be kept company.

I guess I should interrupt here. There were lots of hugs along the way. Even though his friends took center stage, I was always his return-to-center person. He didn’t like spending time with his dad because he didn’t want to be away from his friends, but he craved his attention – to the end. He didn’t like his step-father. Or his grandfather’s new wife with her plastic-covered furniture. And he missed his grandfather (moved to Florida).

None of this explains anything. I see that now.

There is much to tell, but it isn’t about any of that.

My heart beat because of him. He demanded more of my attention than the other kids and got it.   They thought it was because he was my favorite. It wasn’t that. Each child only added to my capacity to love. I know you can’t say you love them all the same because that’s not really it either. I just love them all…completely.

But they didn’t have the learning challenges that he had. They hadn’t been born with a cephalohematoma. They hadn’t fallen down the cellar stairs in a walker at 9 months when Emmy ran up the stairs (hearing the mailman and leaving her puppies) and left the door ajar. Back in those days, I greeted the mailman and paid the bills that very day.

Maybe those things made me protect him more. Maybe I just didn’t know how to let him learn from his struggles. I wanted everything to be perfect for him.

Did we have a hugging kind of relationship? Yes. We were close.

What do I miss?

I miss his laugh. And smile. And twinkling eyes.

I miss his insistence. (Try it. Watch it. Do it. You’ll like it.)

I miss his generosity.

I miss his smell. (He insisted on a special brand of Old Spice deodorant, but even without it, always smelled clean and fresh. I have the clothes he last wore and haven’t washed them.)

I miss his desire to play – all day, every day.

I miss his desire to be with family.

I miss the future he could have had.

I miss his friends.

But when I think about him or see his darling face in a picture, I want to reach out and hug him.

The story I wanted to tell that night was that I had looked just the other day at a picture of him from Susan’s graduation. It is hanging in my office. But I looked at it differently that day and I yearned to touch his face, cradle it in my palms, to hold him, to feel him in my arms. I realized that I could look at pictures, smell his clothes even, but that I couldn’t touch him, and that shook me to the core. I wanted to hold him.

I guess I miss hugging him most of all.

If I could do it again, just once, I would never let him go.

Day After Day

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They lived together. Just the two of them. The others had grown up and moved away. Father/husband had made a new family. Never looked back.

She was getting older now but was still able to get around enough to take care of him. Work had fallen away as retirement set in. Her other children called now and again – on her birthday and holidays – to report on the grandchildren, their jobs, their spouses. She would say something about him. The conversation would quickly end. She learned to listen and say little. They didn’t come to visit.

He never seemed to change. He stayed in his room most of the time. Played video games, read the occasional book, ate sandwiches, chicken fingers and cookie dough ice cream. It was a simple life.

They had become comfortable in their routines. She rose early in the morning – old habits die hard – even though she no longer needed to complete early morning tasks before her drive to work. She still checked her email and social media for the latest pictures of her other darlings. The little ones were no longer little and had their own pages to which she hadn’t been invited. Teenage secrets.   She understood. She drank a few cups of coffee – still sweet and light even though she knew she should drink it black or not at all. She watched the morning news as she puttered around doing laundry and dishes. Perhaps “watch” isn’t the right verb. But the TV played in the background of her life.

He slept the morning away. His video game friends were with him at night so the daytime was for sleeping.

Eventually, she would hear a rustle upstairs. He was stirring. Sometimes it was just a stirring – going to the bathroom, she assumed. At other times, or eventually (later in the day), she would hear him call to her. “Mom. I’m hungry. Please bring me a sandwich. Please….” She had tried for years to encourage him to come down to eat, to make his own food, to get out and about. But that time had come and gone. She had sold his car. He didn’t come down.

So she would hobble into the kitchen. Her knees had needed to be fixed long ago, but she abhorred doctors and just lived with the pain. Untwisting the tie around the sleeve of white bread, she would remove two slices and pop them into the toaster. Then she would pull out a plate and go to the refrigerator for the turkey, ham, cheese and mayonnaise. Two slices of each in a pile, microwave for 45 seconds. Then as the toast popped and the microwave beeped, she would assemble the sandwich, slathering mayo on the top piece of toast before piling it together and slicing the sandwich diagonally. Some chips on the side, and it was ready to go. Pink lemonade over crushed ice was his drink of choice.

Climbing the steep stairway with plate and cup in hand provided a challenge. She needed the bannister to pull herself up. It was a delicate balancing act. She would slide the food inside of the doorway and hear a grunt of, “Thanks,” before she descended, one step at a time.

The day continued in much the same way as it began. There was some TV “watching,” some chores and crafts and reading done. She would hear another call for food. “Please bring me a bowl of ice cream. Please…. I’m hungry.” And she would provide. She would make something simple for herself to eat as well.

As night fell, she grew weary. She tried to tidy up, but projects were left undone and sometimes she didn’t move the clothes from the washer to the dryer. She could do it in the morning, she’d say to herself. She would mount the stairs for the last time, having extinguished the lights and TV. She would often hear the video game playing in his room. She would murmur, “Good night,” but not too loudly in case in doing so it would ignite another food request. She didn’t want to make more food and climb more stairs. She was tired.

So the days rolled out along the length of their simple lives. Day after day, few changes or interruptions. The routine wrapped her in a blanket of comfort.

Until the days were no more. She had grown old and frail. And then could go on no longer.

The other children came to remember her and clean out the house.

They sobbed and regretted.

In his room, they found the cups filled with melted ice and old lemonade. Moldy sandwiches and soggy chips uneaten. Bowls of melted ice cream teeming with ants. Slowly and painfully, they emptied the room.

On the dresser stood a picture of them together. She was looking up at him with adoration and joy. He was young and handsome, beaming with pride and love. It was a picture taken at his high school graduation. Taken just weeks before his death. Twenty-three years ago.   When he wasn’t just a figment of her imagination. When he was her real live boy.

Is There a Fault in My Stars?

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I am listening to a book in my car as I travel to and from work. I have lost the time (and energy) for reading outside of my work day. Even my weekends are packed with work tasks and exhaustion. The books I yearn to read feel out of reach. Until now.

I am listening.

The book is a current YA hit, The Fault in Our Stars. Dennise told me that the writing is awful. I had just purchased the book. Disappointing to hear. But Marion liked it. Diana has read it twice. And the movie is coming out.

So I begin to listen.

At first, I am listening for the awful writing. I am reminded of my efforts to read aloud a sports book to Conner a few years back. The interruption of “I said” and “He said” is bothering me. I had just talked to Sami about conferring with students about making dialogue and dialogue tags move the story along. The plot can be forwarded and character sentiments revealed. I thought of James Frey and how he was able to make clear to his reader who was talking without the use of any quotation marks.

But I am getting drawn into the story nonetheless.

I am starting to care about the characters, imagine them, see them.

I think about the latest concerns in education – Common Core standards, close reading, nonfiction overtaking fiction at the center, parents grumbling and pushing (in the wrong direction) – and I think that it is all wrong.

What is happening to me is what matters. And what is happening to me is that I’m making a “text to self” connection. This has of late been scoffed at by many close-reading enthusiasts. Staying within the four corners of the text is what is important. Using text evidence to support your claim. Connecting what you are reading to your own life is superfluous.

Some smart people live within the world of close reading. Kate Roberts and Chris Lehman are two. When I hear them speak or read their book or blog posts, my heart is full. They know that close reading is about living a better life. They talk about the five corners of the text – including the reader’s experience within. I am gratified that they understand and are writing for the world about it.

But so many do not understand.

They are missing the power of fiction and even narrative non-fiction (what I tend to write). I know much of what people read in their lives is informational text. Kids need to know how to navigate it. I get it. But I think back to David talking about doctors needing to read Shakespeare. To really be a force in the world, to really understand other people, you need to read beyond information texts. You need to understand what motivates people; you need models of behavior to emulate or abandon. Behavior to strive for or fight against.

Story matters. You need to lose yourself in it.

That is what is happening to me as I “read” The Fault in Our Stars. (Love the Shakespeare reference for David.)

My heart is breaking.

All of the recent school struggles – the fall resulting in my broken elbow after the 2 AM Board of Education meeting with crying parents fighting against the non-renewal of teachers, the resurgence of questions about the curriculum (my job is director of same “C” word), the teachers who I’ve nurtured and loved feeling apart from me (because I am one of “them” and maybe for other undisclosed-to-me but behind-my-back reasons), the quick-trigger responses to satisfy stake-holders – all of it and more has led me to investigate retirement. I am yet too young and too in debt.

Those struggles were occupying every corner of my mind and heart. Coming to work each day found me lugging a fifty pound weight of sadness and disappointment with me. No joy. No room for my sorrows either.

Now I “read” a novel in my car on my way to work.

Now I make text-to-self connections, even though I shouldn’t.

And all I can think about is him. I haven’t written about him for months. I don’t talk about him much, unless someone affords me an obvious opening.   People are uncomfortable with it. So I have closed it off. Closed him off.

Until this book. Listening to a death book – a death book about children dying – has opened the flood gates. How can I even be walking around each day? It hasn’t yet been two years since his death. I have continued working and living as if my insides hadn’t been kicked out and left with sawdust in their place. I act as if I have feelings when instead I really wonder if there is a fault in my stars that has turned my life into this disaster.

Hazel’s mother said she wouldn’t be a mother anymore if Hazel died. Hazel was her only child. I have other beautiful wonderful children. And my darling grandson. But sometimes – and I know this would hurt them to hear – I feel as though I’m not a mother anymore because I lost him. It isn’t as though I don’t love them, worry about them, get angry on their behalf, have my stomach fall to my toes when they are in danger (even just perched on top of a plastic slide). It isn’t that. It is just that I miss him.

There was something so needy about him – from the very beginning – that installed this instinct in me. It still ignites for all of them. But sometimes when it does, I don’t feel empowered and sure that I can save them, protect them, be their everything.   Sometimes when it kicks in, it makes me feel so useless. Is it that I couldn’t save him so why should they believe in me to be there for them? Just as the naysayers at school have undermined my confidence as an educator, losing him has undermined my confidence as a mother.

Oh, I know it’s crazy to feel that way. So I usually don’t even indulge the thought enough to let it take shape, certainly not enough to let it form words.

Sarah walks down the stairs as I sit here and write.

“Smell my shirt.”

I do.

“It smells just like him.”

How does she know I am writing about him, sniffling about him, curled in my pj’s for the second day in a row because of him?

They all know more than I think they do. They just act as if not because if they act as if, we will all crumble.

Hazel and Augustus are realistic and honest in facing their fate. I wish that I had had that perspective with him. I never believed he would leave me. Didn’t imagine a real good-bye. I read of parents’ responses to dying children and feel more like Peter Van Houten than Gus’s mom. My connection to this world is for other people. For me, I would just as soon disengage. I do – on weekends. Yesterday I slept for four hours midday.

I listen to the story as if I am turning the book’s pages or watching my soap opera that is recorded on the DVR. I slow it down and pause when I get to the good parts. I save it and savor it.

I wipe my eyes when I get to work, trying to act as if my heart hasn’t been ripped out.

I want to tell the parents and the teachers who fuss over the “c” word or their working conditions (in a wonderful small-town school) that they are missing the point, missing what matters.   They won’t understand, so I don’t. I try to drag myself into caring about the work that must get done, but each day it seems harder and harder.

The book seems to matter. The story of these children matters. It is making me feel again. Making me remember my wonderful boy, making me grieve for him and for my loss.

Too bad the feeling is gut-wrenching sadness and loneliness.

Too bad.

I have saved the end of the last disk for my ride tomorrow.

Maybe I’ll buy another book to listen to once I’m done. I can’t promise I will stay within the four corners of the text. That fifth corner makes all the difference to me.

Chops and Cutlets

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I almost cut an edge off of one of the pork chops left on the platter in the kitchen.  I didn’t really want another helping of dinner, but another bite of pork chop was calling to me.

And then I thought of you.

You would do that whenever we had chops or steaks.  Didn’t take a plate.  Just stood over the platter meant for everyone and took a bite.  Or two or three.   You would salt it, right on the platter for everyone.  Add some hot sauce or steak sauce.  Without worrying whether or not anyone else wanted it.

If it was mentioned to you, you would say that it tastes better that way. (It usually did.)  Try it, you’d say.

Oh, it made Kevin so mad.

So tonight when I thought about taking part of the chop, I thought about you and Kevin.  Thought it would make him mad, even if I did it.  He would act like that chop could no longer be eaten.  He is probably right.

I wondered if I was the one who trained you to do that – to steal that prime piece of meat as if it didn’t really count.

And then I didn’t do it.

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Tonight it is chicken cutlets.  You used to pour lemon juice all over them (too much). Again – regardless of whether others wanted any.  The remaining cutlets swam in the pool of lemon.

I remember Sarah turning up her nose and Kevin cursing.

The bottle of Real Lemon sits out tonight next to the cutlets.

Sarah doesn’t like them now without the lemon.  She knows enough to put it on her own plate.  And Kevin doesn’t comment.

I don’t use any lemon juice.

But I smile thinking of you.

Play Boy

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I’m sorry, Honey, that I didn’t come out to play with you when you asked over and over and over again.  I’m sorry I didn’t come out just to watch – you loved that just as your dad had, and I never did it enough.  I didn’t understand why you would want me there just to watch.

Now I do.

I wish I had scooped up all of the views of you while I could.  I wish I had captured every laugh, every wry smile, every bit of exuberance you had when you were at play. I would like to have them now – all of them.

Watching Conner playing lacrosse (and Loren and Rob watching him) brought me back to your days in high school.  Lacrosse was a club sport, but it was just right for you.  When your Ba came to visit, we traveled to watch you.  We craned our necks to see every play and cheered (not so quietly).  At the game’s conclusion, your arm around Brooke, we both beamed. You were living the life we had imagined for you.

You weren’t a super star with colleges and coaches seeking you out.  You played because you loved it, but I would have loved the glory for you.  I am not even sure now what position you played; I think it was defender.  But I didn’t go to every game as Loren and Rob do.  And, though you asked, I didn’t have the skill to throw the ball around with you.

Oh sure, I played an occasional game of HORSE (usually reduced to PIG) but never stayed outside as long as you wanted me to.  You loved that I could make that one layup shot and how I struggled with the outside shots that you always presented to me.  You wanted me to play more, though, and I guess I thought I was too busy for play.

When you got your first Nintendo system, I could keep up for a while with your five-year-old self.  But soon, even when I practiced after you went to bed, I couldn’t keep up, couldn’t get to those other worlds…and I slowed you down.  You found other playmates who could keep up.  And I stopped trying.

The new principal at my school is only a few years older than you would be.  He and another young male teacher were talking the other day outside of my office about the newest Xbox and PlayStation systems.  I listened as they talked about how they used to play Golden Eye or Madden, the moves they made, the tricks they knew.  I asked a few questions.  I wanted you there to tell them how you had played those games and bettered them; I wanted to be able to tell the story of your playing – but I couldn’t.  I hadn’t watched as you played those games, though I know you would have loved it. I guess I was too busy.

Today we had a paddle tournament in your honor.  The second one since you left us.

Your friends were there.  The day was perfect – sunny and chilly but not windy.  I brought bagels and beers.  The guys played hard – Dan and Basil won the tournament.  Sami put the brackets together, even though she really didn’t know how.  Jeff’s uncle Jim rented the courts for us.  Some people came just to watch and to remember you.  Dan said you brought us the good weather.  All I could think about was how much you would have loved the day.  You would have loved to have had your family there with you, watching you play.  I would have loved that, too.

The guys all knew which paddle you played with.  They knew your moves.  They all would have wanted you as their partner.  I knew that you loved to play and that you were good.  But I don’t know the details.  Didn’t play with you or watch you enough to know.  All I could do was watch the other guys and imagine you there.  I could see you sometimes, running hard and making the best play. Smiling that smile.

I can’t tell you how often I have given advice to parents about playing with their kids.  You taught me that.  I tell them that they don’t have to offer rewards to their children for doing good work or the right thing.  I tell them that the best thing they can give to their child (one who is usually struggling with something) is time with them.  I tell them how the greatest gift I ever gave you was time alone with me – usually playing a game.  I know this.  I knew it then.  I wish I had done it more. But I was busy.

When you went to Rob’s house for the Fourth of July, you always asked all of us to go with you.  We were shy, didn’t feel comfortable.  You wanted us there with you. Rob won’t mind. His parents won’t mind.  They love me.  You are welcome to come with me.  Billy went a few times.  I went once.  I couldn’t relax and enjoy like you could.

But seeing Rob’s sisters today at the paddle tournament, I know you were right.  They all loved you.  And they would have accepted all of us, have accepted all of us, because we were part of you.

Brian posted on FaceBook about the day.  He wanted to be sure we hadn’t forgotten to get the bagels at Bagel Masters.  We didn’t forget.  But I got them near home at the Corner Bagelry.  I’m sorry.  I know that isn’t what you would have wanted.  But I was busy – trying to get ready to be there. I didn’t want to miss a minute.

And I didn’t.  I stayed until the very end.  And then I couldn’t wait to see the pictures that people posted of the day.  Cory sent me two.  Susan and Sami posted some.  I saw your beautiful face – mutual friend.

I couldn’t resist.

I clicked on your FaceBook page.  Stacy posted about the day there.  There were some Likes.  I clicked on your photos.  I saw you looking handsome, arms around your friends, laughing and loving it all.  I cried.  The tears just kept coming.

Looking at the hard days is sad and heart-breaking.  Looking at pictures of you as a baby and a young boy brings me back.  But it is almost like that was another life.  And I look back from afar.

But looking at the pictures of you as an adult is the hardest of all.  That is the you that I mourn the most.  That is the you just beyond the grasp of my fingertips.  The you that could still be here with me.

Yes, you wanted to play more than you wanted to work.  Yes, you always played full out – too much when it came to the parties.  And it was never enough.  You always wanted more.  But that is the you I want back.  I want more chances to just watch you play.  I want more chances to just give in and enjoy you.

I’m sorry I was too busy.  Nothing will ever be as important as you.