I’m 29 and my hair is still dark brown. When I look in the mirror, I don’t even notice the smile lines around my eyes. I’m pregnant for the second time and a rogue stretch mark has dared to creep above my belly button.
I’m carrying my second son and as his two year old older brother said at the single ultrasound we had during this pregnancy, “We havin a boy, we not havin a girl. And we all gonna be happy.”
And on a sunny, super warm day in January, when Henry decided to join us, we were oh, so happy. We were thrilled.
I spent the first month of Henry’s life nestled in bed with him. We snuggled and bonded and I’ll always remember it being pure bliss. Little did I know that during his toddler years my mom would be diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer and my one on one time with Henry would be greatly compromised. She passed away just before his fourth birthday and the arrival of his little brother, Davis. It was a very sad time for us in the midst of great joy.
There was a lot going on in our lives then and the days, they blur. I see Goldfish crackers in car seats and couch cushions. I see Legos strewn about, GI Joe action figures, costume boxes and juice boxes. I see some of the very best days of my life.
There are soccer games every Saturday where Henry plays defense like it’s American football and even though he gets a trophy at the end of every season, his sweet little band of soccer brothers (and sisters) never wins a single game.
The birthday parties, almost all of them Army themed, are sometimes held in our backyard, or our garage, or better yet at Camp Mabry where if you make a small donation to the museum, you can have your party there. You eat your cake in a little conference room on cold, basic upholstered chairs. Henry loves it each and every time we bring him here.
And then the blur turns to chaos. As the years pass, I’m failing at my marriage and making bad decisions and am so confused. My marriage falls apart and divorce follows. Through it all, Henry and his band of blood brothers soldier on.
We settle into our new normal and move forward. Henry never blames or asks the hard questions that I know he has wondered about. I’m sure he’s constructed his own truth and I sincerely hope that it’s one that he feels is honorable and does him justice. He deserves it.
There are moments, that flicker like frames in an old home movie, where I see Henry laying across my bed, not looking at me but talking non stop about school and friends and sometimes even girls. Before we know it, an hour or more has slipped by and inside I am literally floating because my quiet, stoic son has just talked to me for longer than a sentence or two.
Now I see Henry walking through the house in his cowboy boots, jeans and royal blue Anderson High school cross country shirt. When I ask him a question, he has to take the earbuds out of his ear to hear what I’ve said. While never rude, his answer is as succinct as possible to convey his message and nothing more. He’s always been a boy of few words, so that when he does speak, you know it really means something. He heads out to the game room, where he joins his band of virtual brothers to play video games into the night. When they’re done playing, he’s the one who makes sure the lights are dimmed and the doors are locked.
I’m 48 and my hair is brown by design these days. It’s demi colored and fading fast to expose the stark silver underneath, which I have recently decided to let take over. It’s just hair, I tell myself, and if I hate it, I can color it again. When I look in the mirror, the wrinkles now are the first thing I see and although I would like Botox, I just never get around to it. My body looks it’s age and feels it too.
Today, my second son has just texted that he signed his contract to enlist in the Army. And just like that, after all the days we’ve had together, this day is here. I text back “Congratulations!” as the tears slide down my face. The moment is so bittersweet it stings.
Does his life, the one that seems to have flown by in the blink of my eye, feel fast to him? Or does he feel like he’s waited forever for this defining moment, the fulfillment of his dream?How did we get here?
I’m 29 still. He smells like breastmilk and Dreft. Or I’m 35 and I’m helping him put on his soldier costume. Maybe I’m 38 and he’s tackling scrawny kids in soccer jerseys while I cringe on the sidelines. Wait, I’m 45 and he’s talking to me and telling me about how hard girls are to understand.
I’m 48 and he’s leaving. And when he leaves it will be far away. And when he leaves again, it will be to even farther away places I’ve never been and will never go. I want to think of this as an adventure, but this isn’t a costume box and these aren’t video games.
This time, he will be with his new band of brothers. The ones who have been a part of who he is from the very beginning.