Eighteen and a half years ago Jeanette brought a little boy into our home. We knew his name was Alexander from well before he was born, even though, because we are just that way, we never found out if the baby was a boy or a girl until the moment he arrived.
He made our lives better the second he was in them.
We loved his little pudginess, we doted on everything he did, as parents do with their firstborn. We still remember his first word, about when he walked, how long we had to let him cry in the other room before he finally went to sleep. We remember sending him off to school the first time, and how we cried seeing that little child go off down the street. His first talk in church. His first fishing trip. His first (of many) pets.
And then that child was gone.
In his place was a very interesting, at times exasperating, but nearly always good young man. He got a suit. He started noticing girls (this was the exasperating part). He got a job making stained-glass windows. He ran for student government (great, great speech he gave). He was on every church committee you could be on. He dated. He drove (NO ACCIDENTS). Eventually his mother he even earned his Eagle Scout award.
Through all this, his presence in the house was pretty close to always positive. He, like his father and his father’s father, has a need to be the Smartest One in the Room, which drove his brothers crazy, but by and large he was incredibly fun to be around. Wherever he went, things happened. When people were crying, he cheered them up. He organized the games. What he was doing, they all did. There were two of them, then three. Then fourfivesixseveneight. Hanging out with Alexander was how you could make your day better. His two just-younger brothers were with him so often we called them the three musketeers.
He did fight with his mother on occasion, a credit to his mother, who was willing to wade into the vicissitudes of teenagehood and do battle with the demons there. He never really fought with his father, and that’s a credit to him, because Heaven knows there was often what to fight about, but when I dished it out Xander took it and either shrugged it off because it wasn’t worth anything (often true) or separated the nasty tone from the nuggets of wisdom, internalized them, and became someone better. I was very hard on him. Vicariously, I was backhanding my own self as a teenager, seeing in my eldest son all those things I still hate so much about myself. But Xander could see that, too, and he allowed me to be an idiot without holding it against me. He was better than I was. Probably, he always will be.
And now, he is gone.
Physically, he’s only just down the road about four hours. With Facebook and cell phones and reasonably reliable transportation he’s never going to be all that far away (except when he goes on his church mission, about which much more in eight months). But just as the little boy, my first little boy, is gone forever, so now the young man is gone, and he will never return.
That is the way of things.
I did not design the plan for us here on this earth. I approved of it, or I wouldn’t be here, but I cannot help thinking that times like this, separating ourselves from people we love so fiercely it makes breathing an agony, were not comprehended when the plan was presented to us. How could we have understood? Only the Father knew what this would be like – was already like, for Him – and He though this was a good idea. He told us so. And so because I have faith in Him I believe that He knows what He is doing.
Because I do not.
My head knows that Alexander cannot become the person he is meant to be without leaving the place where we are. My head knows it. My eyes don’t, because they are weeping. My heart doesn’t, because it’s breaking.
He walks out the door at 1:30 today. I’ll be there, and I’m trying to do my crying now, because his mother will need me to be done with that, so she can have her turn. My father will be there as well, to take Xander down to school, and he’ll be smiling inside, remembering when his firstborn son walked out the door and how he felt then, with the perspective of another 25 years of adult friendship to foreshorten the ache of that day.
But I don’t have those 25 years with Alexander yet. I don’t have an adult association with my son, and a relationship with his children, and the greater joys that will come with that as he and I grow together. Not yet I don’t. The patch on my soul where my infant son used to be has healed over now. The patch where the little boy ran and giggled has mostly ceased to hurt. The place where the young man was, just a second ago, is raw, and bleeding, and it hurts like…well, it hurts like Hell, because that’s what Hell is, to be separated forever from those you love best.
I am proud of him. He is good. He is strong, and he is happy, and he knows everything I know and a thousand things more. He’s as well prepared to shed this skin as any young man I ever knew. He is and will be a delight and a joy to us, to Jeanette and myself, all the days of his life, and forever after that.
But couldn’t I have just one more day with that little, little boy? Just one. I wouldn’t yell at him this time. We’d go fishing. Or play golf. Or legos. Whatever he wanted. One more day. Just, please, just one…
Tomorrow I’ll be thrilled. Tomorrow I get to start knowing the adult Alexander Christopher Jones, and the prospect is wonderful and delicious to me.