Sweet 17

My double-jointed toes contort as I press them into the mostly dead grass. I squint as I listen to the voice of someone I've never met lecture, trying to absorb her words rather than sluff them away like I want to sluff away the stress of the day under an icy cold shower. A few phrases stick, enough for context, and I respond with rambling but mostly intelligible thoughts. My eyes pull toward the game as I hear the signature thud of Nick's bat striking home plate before he steps into the box. 

I watch Nick's at-bat and finish the conversation. I walk to the blanket spread on the ground near my parents and I carefully sit atop my now dusty feet while tucking my not designed for sitting on the ground work dress under in a half-hearted attempt at modesty. I release a big breath and try to put aside the the disappointment coursing through my cells after learning a truth was in fact a to-my-face lie.

The game ends and we eat a picnic dinner. I reach for my distracted mind and try to pull it into the present. I battle to be present. I lose. 

We pack our gear and trek to the car. I treat Nick to a Timber Joey milkshake during our drive home. We drag into the house and I open my mouth to holler at Steven that we're home when it hits me he isn't here; he's been gone since Saturday night on an adventure to Toronto with his dad. Three days without his quiet, reclusive, teenage presence and I forgot he wasn't simply upstairs. 

Is the pain and longing and love crashing over me like waves on the Oregon coast in January what a parent who loses a child feels, but without the comforting knowledge my child will be home in two days? Do they ever stop forgetting their loss is permanent? I don't pretend I have any sense of what it is like to lose a child but I keel over at the thought of forgetting before remembering.

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Yes, morbidity is an extreme reaction to a less than a week trip. I will go weeks and maybe months without Steven's upstairs presence in just more than a year. He travels to Chicago next week to compete in a week-plus national Future Business Leaders of America conference. He'll spend a week at Oregon State later in the summer, sharing a dorm room with a stranger, a college student life preview. Shared custody was our family's norm until his schedule became too hectic for a regular routine to continue; I grew a callus on my heart to allow me to live my daily life each time he left for a few days. 

The thing is, I don't know adult life without Steven. I didn't spend my 20s backpacking around the world or living in a city with lights, dancing, and action. I spent my 20s walking away from work projects and speeding toward the doors of daycare where I would pay $1 per minute after the cutoff time. When I sometimes carried a balance of much less than $100 at the end of the month, every minute mattered. I spent my 20s married, pregnant, divorced, married, pregnant. Steven is the only person I've consistently lived with for, as of yesterday, 17 years. 

For 17 sweet years he has been the reason for most of my big decisions. His smile can shake me out of a funk, his passion for learning inspires my own, his unabashed use of the words "mama" and "I love you" no matter the audience makes me glow. And, when I need to connect with him, he's been just upstairs or just down the hall or will be back soon. As I stood at the bottom of the stairs on Tuesday evening, I watched a preview for the movie that will debut Fall, 2016. If we were sitting in a dark theater, the preview was the sort that would inspire Bill to turn toward me and whisper, "are we seeing that one?" With my voice caught in my throat and tears blurring my vision, I would nod my head yes.