Sunday, November 16, 2014

Growing Closer to Remembering Goodbye

This is going to be a tough month.

Not November, necessarily, but the 30-day span between Nov. 15 and Dec. 15, the time when a year ago my son was leaving me for the last time.

I'm all too acutely aware of the date that is approaching, too keenly remembering how things were a year ago, too often asking the unanswerable "why?" and struggling with the "ifs." I'm angry, and guilty, and struggling to accept how things are now, which is so different from how they were last year or how I imagined they would be a year ago. I'm beating myself up for the things I wish I'd done or said when I still had the chance -- how I'm not sure he knew that I thought he was beautiful, and talented, and still so full of potential and that I loved being his mother.

Just to be sure I remember, Timehop yesterday reminded me of what I was thankful for on Nov. 15, 2014. I was thankful for Ethan, thankful that he was still alive and had a chance at recovering, living, being the person I knew he could be.

My mom showed him the post when he visited her house a day or two later and he was enraged. I had told everyone he was a drug addict, when I hadn't even mentioned it. There was a blast of text messages, then a cutoff in communication. What I had intended as a good thing and an expression of my love for him turned into something else to fight about. I told him I knew he was getting high again and I just wasn't going to fight about it, that I loved him all the same but that I didn't truly believe he was happy as he claimed.

A couple of weeks later, he announced to my parents that he wasn't going to join them in coming to Thanksgiving dinner at my daughter's house. I'm sure it was because he was still mad at me, but the disappointment of not seeing him that day weighs all the more heavy a year later. He should have been with us that day instead of choosing his addiction and loneliness. Maybe it wouldn't have made a difference, but it would have at least given me a more recent memory to hold when they found him dead in December.

Not too long after that he picked up the phone and we resumed talking as though nothing had been said. Although he frequently cursed me in texts, calls, person, or Facebook posts when he was angry, I never asked for, expected or received an apology. I never put any requirements on our conversations or receiving my love. I tried to let him know that was unconditional, even if I wouldn't buy him the latest games and gadgets or send him money.

Now I'm struggling because I'm so aware that a year ago I could have gotten in my car and drove to see him. I might not have been able to get him to the door, or he might have been high, or he might have been glad to see me. A year ago, he was still within my reach but because he was so unpredictable and hard to be around I chose not to seek him out and risk being unwelcome. I chose to let him make his choices, always holding onto the mistaken idea that eventually he'd grow tired of the path he was on and come back to me.

I truly believed that what was broken within could be mended and that he would see that his addiction wasn't moving him toward what he wanted out of life -- a woman to love, a good job, children. I suppose I just cannot understand the power of an addiction, not completely. I cannot understand how the desire to feel a certain way to cause a person to push away everything else and knowingly risk death time and time again. I'm thankful that of all the mistakes I've made in my life, none of them ever lead me down that path.

All the holidays ahead have already passed once without Ethan. He wasn't there for Thanksgiving, and we were hurt and angry that he chose to stay away. This year, I'll just feel his absence and picture him with his ridiculous hat of the day digging into a pile of macaroni and cheese and a helping of stuffing and potatoes. By Christmas, he'll have been gone more than a year and I'll have marked the anniversary of the hardest day of my life.

Knowing this final month of the first year without him is counting down, I'm crying more and looking for more distractions -- harder to come by with cold weather descending. I'm struggling with too little sleep, unexpected memory flashes that sometimes bring me to tears, and the mental countdown to Dec. 15. I'm frequently distracted and moved to either smile or cry when I glimpse a face or figure that could have been him -- a young man walking on the side of the road hunched against the cold in an oversized sweatshirt, a pudgy middle schooler at church, a teenager with long, bushy curls waving at me from a yard as darkness fall.

I imagine how things were a year ago. He was sinking deeper into his addiction, developing pneumonia from chronic use of cough suppressants that kept him from even knowing he was sick, in pain from the infection in his lungs, calling to talk with his tongue so twisted from the drugs that we couldn't understand him, choosing to stay in his apartment and self medicate rather than go to a doctor who might question his drug use, his mind not functioning properly and not realizing he needed help, too grown up and stubborn for anyone else to make that decision for him.

Finally, it was too much and he turned on water in the bathroom sink and stretched out in the floor, maybe to listen to the water run or maybe just to try to catch his breath before splashing his face with cold water. He cocked one leg to the side and folded his hands on his chest -- the same position I lie in when I sleep on my back -- and slipped away.

I try to close my eyes and see him as I did on the day of his funeral, rising from his broken body with a glow of absolute joy on his face and pulled into the arms of the angels. But too often, I find myself feeling his pain and loss in my bones instead, stretched on my back as he was, clasping his memory against the pain in my heart.

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