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They laugh at my outdated and broken phone.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?
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?
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.
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.