Friday, February 28, 2014
My Son's Best Friend Brings a Gift of Memories
If Ethan could have had a brother, he would have been Nathan. The same was true with Nathan, and Ethan's loss has impacted him in ways young men in their early 20s don't expect to be hit.
From the time we moved to North Carolina when both boys were 7 and I worked with Nathan's mom, it seemed the two boys often grew up in both homes. Even their names made them sound like twins separated at birth. Our homes are full of pictures of both boys; Nathan's mom and I both feel maternal toward both young men, we both worried and tried to get help for Ethan and we both mourn that he's beyond our reach now.
Nathan and Ethan started skateboarding together and he was staying with them when the boys decided to use a nearby hill to luge on their boards and Ethan wound up with multiple fractures in his lower leg. They were here playing video games and raiding the refrigerator or playing with Ethan's decorative sword collection. They harassed each other's older sisters.
When they were a little older, they used drugs together. I've never had the nerve to ask whose idea it was. It doesn't really matter and some part of me almost believes it might have been Ethan, raising the bar a little and thinking it was safe.
By Ethan's senior year, he had lived away from home for about eight months and was probably already an addict, although I didn't know it. Our relationship was strained when he came home to finish high school. He refused to ride the bus and I refused to provide parental transportation. Instead he rode with Nathan, and most days I think they made it to school -- at least they went often enough to graduate. Nathan worked and had a license and a pickup and a girlfriend he later married, things I tried to encourage Ethan to do. He had the girlfriend, most of the time, but they never actually dated and in fact weren't supposed to see each other.
I knew about things happening in both our homes. I knew about sex and pot and sneaking around, but I didn't know their darkest secret.
I didn't know about the dextromethorphan that they both used, that their girlfriends used, that they both became addicted to and which eventually destroyed Ethan's life and very nearly Nathan's as well.
In many ways, Nathan and Ethan, although they worked so well together, are polar opposites. Ethan was big and blond and a talker; Nathan is slight and dark-haired and quiet. At the same time, being around Nathan is a dose of "what might have been" for me. He found a reason to get straight, something Ethan never managed to do, and he's married with two children. Being around me is probably a reminder of Ethan for him as well, as Ethan was pretty much the masculine version of me -- amplified, a bigger bone structure, a deeper voice -- and I know that both boys surely spent a lot of time dissing their moms as we struggled with their teen years and addictions.
Yet I think each time we manage to struggle through those emotional hurdles, to navigate our different schedules, and share the same space for a little while it is healing for us both. We manage to let go of little bits of guilt and find better memories of the young man we loved.
Immediately after Ethan's death, when my mom and I addressed his meager possessions (a person with no job and an often temporary home doesn't accumulate a lot), Nathan wanted something of Ethan's to hang on to and remember him by. Last Friday he got a video game and one of the old swords he remembered from he and Ethan's golden days. I also gave him Ethan's favorite video game Final Fantasy.
He said driving to my house brought back all those days when he hauled Ethan back and forth to school. That Ethan was always different, but it was a good different. Ethan, however, just wanted to be like his friends, I said.
"You were a good friend to Ethan," I said, knowing that he had tried to get Ethan to quit when he did. Knowing that Ethan had stayed at his home and lied to him like he did everyone else who loved him and wanted to help.
"Not always," he said.
I knew he meant that they used together. "You didn't know," I said. "Neither of you did. You thought it was an easy way to get high and stay away from the 'bad' drugs. You were both so young that you didn't know what could happen."
"We never thought it would end up like this," he said.
We hugged before he left, promising to stay in touch, which we have managed in cyberspace for the last two months.
I hope I gave him something that will bring back happier memories. Memories of a boy who still laughed and smiled, had a great imagination and was super smart.
He gave me hope that we didn't lose them both and that someone else still treasures the memory of the young man we lost.