Friday, April 4, 2014

A Dream of a Lost Son and A Motorcycle

It has been a wonderful week full of sunshine and what I knew was the illusion of peace. Too busy to grieve, and too happy enjoying the sunshine, it felt like life was good. But sleep pushes those illusions away, sometimes.

I woke shortly after 5 a.m. today to a dream of what felt like a long conversation with Ethan, and a motorcycle, and the scattered bits of unreality that often make up dreams but which, at the time feel so real.

He was so much the Ethan that I lost. He had just got out of jail for something to do with a wreck that he didn't think he was to blame for and he wanted to go kick someone's ass. I had gone to get him and was bringing him home with me although I had no idea what I was going to do with him and his dreams for the future were as unrealistic as they ever were. I asked what he was going to do about work and he answered that he thought he'd go to Christiansburg, and that what he needed was some new Kindle that would do the trick. The motorcycle was mine -- a three-wheel version of some sort that I was trying to persuade him to ride. Instead we were somehow talking as he walked along with me.

Of course, when I woke the dream and my reality were shattered and there was no chance that I'd roll over for another hour of the sleep I so desperately need.

Instead, I knew what had triggered the dream and while I cried for the loss of the brief glimpse of my son I also cried for the family of another boy-man who was swept away on the wheels of a motorcycle just two days ago.

The 19-year-old went to the same high school as my son, although they would never have been at the school together because of the difference in their ages. Even if they had been, they would never have been friends because he was a football player and Ethan had already gone to that dark place he chose to live where athletes were some evil society that he wanted no part of. Here I have to confess to nicknaming him the "Future Quarterback" at birth because he weighed in at nearly 10 lbs with the requisite blond hair and blue eyes and when I worked for the papers I referred to my children by nicknames in columns. As far as I know he never played a game of football, although as I held my newborn son I looked forward to sitting in the stands and watching the games.

Wednesday afternoon, according to news reports, this young man I'll never know was motorcycling with his father, possibly on a bike he had just gotten, when he lost control and wrecked, crossing the center line and being run over by my son's best friend's father. Yesterday someone had posted on Facebook that we grieving mothers need to reach out to his family, but I was barreling wide open through the day and didn't know them. Still, all the seeds were sown for my dream -- my hyper awareness of it all.

Because I was a newspaper reporter who chased ambulances for 25 years, because my brother was once in a motorcycle wreck while following his girlfriend (she was in a car) down the road, I know what the wreck scene was like. Because I've lost a son, I know what life now is like.

I'm sure the father noticed his son was no longer behind him as he checked his mirrors and turned around. By the time he arrived the police officer who had been involved in the accident may have realized what had happened and did his best to keep him from seeing his son. Pain and shock were so thick in the air that anyone nearby had to feel it.

Twenty years ago, I remember being at an accident scene where officers had to physically restrain a father. His son had been drinking and driving and had hit an older couple (I use the term elderly less frequently now) head on on the main road between two of the Virginia towns where I worked. The road was, of course, blocked and he was on his way to work knowing that his son was likely some distance ahead of him. He recognized the car his son was driving. I can still see the firefighters trying to free the young man from the wreckage, the broken steering wheel and the blood running with antifreeze down the road.

I understand a father's anguish so well because not long ago it became my own, and so I know that sudden plummet from life as we knew it. No, I wasn't a few short feet away knowing that my son was there and yet was no longer anywhere I could reach him. I hadn't been with him just a few minutes earlier having a good time, sharing something I enjoyed and was happy he enjoyed it with me. It was a phone call, not a broken motorcycle on the ground that told me life had abruptly changed.

Even without the dream, yesterday I had thought of the family and the guilt I know they will struggle with because they "let" him get the motorcycle, just as I sometimes struggle with my own guilt over the imagined list of things I could have done differently. An internet search for an obituary this morning revealed his college football information and a different last name for his mother -- and I imagined a broken family like my own where it will be so easy to cast blame and so hard to heal new wounds. Of course, there was no obituary, because their world has fallen apart and planning a funeral was not on anyone in the family's to-do list for the week.

I know that while nothing I can say can change what happened or the reality of life after this, that the people who have been there and have reached out to me have been what keeps me afloat sometimes. When I'm floundering in the sea of grief, I've discovered their hands are the ones that can still reach me and help me find my feet again, because they're still walking along the shore close by and all I have to do is reach out for them. I know their words, which are filled with an understanding no one else can grasp, are more helpful than any platitudes, even if the truth is harder than the false hope that "it will get better" any time soon.

Still, I'm fairly new at this. I message a friend we have in common and ask her to let them know I'm here. I leave a Facebook message that will land in an "others" folder. Beyond that, I don't know how to reach out, how to touch a stranger.

Instead I wake at 5 a.m. from a dream of my lost son and motorcycles, of the things that unhinge a life and leave it flapping in the wind like an old barn door.

And I cry for all we've lost with our sons.

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