I dreaded the calendar flip from November to December, dragging me into a month of reminders that you are gone. Knowing the anniversary was creeping, often speeding towards me, I desperately tried to cling to the emotional stability I had achieved, I tried to stay busy. Still, the quiet moments were consumed with flashbacks to the morning I learned you were gone. Most of this month has been about pretending I could celebrate Christmas for the sake of your child, my Plum. The Christmas tress were up, all the presents purchased with the help of online shopping to avoid people and music and merriment, the cookies baked. Plowing ahead, moving forward as if each day were a separate 24 hours to get through. Then I saw the comet (lens flare?) and I regained some footing. I imagined you dancing through the sky, playing with your beloved Pony dog and my heart became lighter. Another day closer to the anniversary but also another day I had survived and glimpsed a moment of peace and clarity.
Next I went to dinner with my mother-in-law and was given the chance to really remember you. My mother-in-law has Alzheimers, she doesn’t remember you died. While at the restaurant celebrating her birthday, she asked me repeatedly how you were doing. What could have been excruciating, to tell her again and again that you died, I chose instead to recognize that she only remembers that you lived. With her diminished capabilities, she gave me the greatest gift. I too could focus on all the other days of your life and not just on the one day that you left us. “He is doing well, I think,” I replied the first time she asked. The next time, I considered carefully and stated, “He is strong and healthy and happy, I believe.” With each question, I affirmed what I had been told, by the comet and the pastors and my friends, that you are in heaven and no longer in the grips of addiction. I got to see you as you are, I got to talk about more of your story and not the last chapter.
Time continued without any help from me, today marks one year since you began to fly in the heavens. I remember you, your silliness and your laughter. I remember how much you made me smile. I see you cuddling pets, always cuddling pets and realize you are now taking your beloved Pony (the black lab we rescued after he was found swimming following hurricane Katrina. Please don’t ask me how he came to be called that) for walks in heaven, oh how you loved that dog. I am convinced there is Sriracha sauce up there, that you are eating steak and hot fries and one day I will join you and make my special pancakes for you.
I am sure you are listening to your son and glowing with pride at his wit, at his ability to play with words and cock his eyebrow just as you did. I cannot forget your face if I wanted to, I cannot escape you when this child is near. The same blue eyes, the same silly looks, I think each time that I am seeing you for a flash and that you will never fully be gone while this child walks among us. I can hear you laughing, delighted in his teasing of me and his quick quips. He has your intelligence and also your deep well of empathy. He sees the invisible around us, he reaches out to those who are vulnerable. I remember in elementary school when you chose to sit at lunch with the child others shunned. You came home and asked if you could share some of your clothes with him, did we have an extra coat? You had all the charisma, you drew everyone to you just by walking in to a room, and yet you often chose to take your place around those who had none. You elevated others without fear of your own standing. Your child does the same, he recognizes the lost and the hurting and shares his heart with them. H doesn’t worry what others will think, he thinks for the crowd and pulls them in the kindest direction. I know you are watching him and your smile outshines the stars I gaze at each night.
I have long seen you as an arrow, as a child with a choice of the direction you would fly. I didn’t consider that and arrow lays still without intervention, without a force to propel it forward. I tried for most of your life to be the bow, to hold you steady and direct your path and I failed. Or maybe I didn’t, maybe I became broken and loose and not able to withstand repeated walking, running to pick you up and start afresh. I do know that I gave you all of me until there was so little left that when you died, I became empty and useless and emotionally dead as well. A year, 365 days of surviving without purpose and then this morning I a reminded of a conversation with you shortly after you returned home from prison. You chastised me, your direct honesty and wise words are echoing within me today even more than that horrible phone call, the screaming and crying. You told me to stop, just stop mourning the estrangement with your sister and start living again. You said my sadness was robbing you, Plum, Chef of me. You said I needed to get a shower and stop wearing pj’s all day and begin laughing. I didn’t know then you were preparing me for this very day. You were showing me that I was more than the bow to hold you up, more than a punching bag for your sister. I was needed each day for a greater purpose and I needed to stop wallowing in past hurts and see the new day ahead as opportunity to find other parts of me. I hear you, I still hear your words and I know, just like the comet I am being given a new perspective if only I chose to see it. You have become the bow, I am the arrow.
I often say that you I am more than one chapter of my story, sometimes I say it with conviction, others I whisper it and wonder when it will feel true. By focusing on only the last chapter of your story, I lose the joy of remembering all the ones before, the ones filled with your huge presence and silliness, “Mom did you know mom upside down is wow?” and all the notes you left me, scribbles of sweetness and a request for a certain breakfast or a wake up time early enough that we could spend time together. I remember you Nick, with every breath and with each second and today I will try so very hard to shower and put on real clothes and do something, anything to take a step forward. The shower and clothes may be the only steps but forward, into the search for life and not mere survival without you. Today I will remember that you lived, that you loved and that you are forever a mama’s boy who took pride in that relationship. The hundreds of letters I have from you while you were in prison are beautiful reminders of the love we shared, the hopes you held and the successes you experienced.
You and I, we know our truth and we know you are living free and healthy and flying with support of the strongest bow, One who will not tire or lose strength. You are living fully now and I am given the choice to follow your example and your life and your words. Today, on the anniversary of your last breath, I will try to fill my lungs and begin to live again.