Sunday, November 27, 2005

Happy Birthday?

Today is Jeremy's 24th birthday. He was born at 1:50 a.m. on a snowy morning in Provo, UT. I was all of 19 years old and his father was 21. I went into labor with Jeremy Thanksgiving Day, so I didn't get to have any of the Thanksgiving feast that the rest of the family had.

Jeremy's changed my life more profoundly than anyone else has ever done. He did this once by his birth, plunging me into the world of motherhood for the first time. And he did it again with his death, taking me into the world of unthinkable sadness and grief.

Today, instead of birthday presents, cake, ice cream and sharing a beer with my only son, the firstborn of my womb, my husband and I will be going to the cemetery where we will leave roses, smoke a cigarette and drink part of a beer to remember Jeremy.

That's really all we have left now, is our memories. I have pictures of him, pieces of his artwork from when he was a little boy, his computer, some of his clothes. Jeremy really didn't have very much in the way of possessions. For a long time I couldn't look at pictures of my handsome boy because they broke my heart and I would cry for hours, missing that face. I knew I would never be able to caress that face the way I had always done throughout his life. I knew that I would never again look into his dark, expressive eyes and I would never again see his smile.

Today I mourn my son, the loss of that life so precious to me and my family. But I also honor the birth of a baby boy who made my life so complete, so right. The little boy who sat in the rocking chair with me and watched Big Bird on Sesame Street, who loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Smurfs, and most of the rest of the kid-related shows on TV in the 80's when he was little.

I cannot talk about Jeremy's life without including his sisters. Eleven months after Jeremy was born, I gave birth to a little girl, Danielle. Jeremy and Danielle were very close growing up, almost like twins. From the day I brought Danielle home from the hospital Jeremy loved her. He would walk up to her crib and put his arm in through the bars to pat her on the head. As soon as he could figure it out, he started calling her "Sissy", a name that stuck with her for years. The two of them were inseperable for most of their lives. They had most of the same friends until they were in high school. They were competitive and what one didn't think of doing the other did, constantly keeping me on my toes. The two of them were constantly in trouble!

Jeremy and Danielle develed their own language when they were little, a language that only the two of the understood most of the time, though their dad and I could understand some of it. It took a couple of years of speech therapy to work all of that out, but they eventually did.

The funny thing was, Jeremy was honest to a fault as a little boy. So honest, in fact, that he often ended up tattling on himself! I knew I could trust him because he would end up telling me if he did something he shouldn't have.

When Jeremy was five years old, his baby sister, Jaime, was born. Again, he loved her instantly and there was never even so much as a moment of jealous when she was little.

One time our family took a vacation to California so we could go to Disneyland and the beach. Jaime was about five or six at the time. She was playing in the water close to the waterline and Jeremy was a little bit further out. Jaime started calling for help as she got caught in a rip tide and couldn't get a footing in the same, so Jeremy went running to her and caught her as she went under the water and brought her out of the water. She was scared and clinging to her big brother. They both talked about how Jeremy saved Jaime's life for years (Jaime still does). That was a proud moment for Jeremy. He was only 12.

Looking back, that was pretty characteristic for my son, although I didn't realize until his death and other family events came to light that I had been kept in the dark about. Jeremy always felt he was the protector in our family and it was his responsibility to take care of me and his sisters. He and I butted heads constantly over this. But he didn't think his dad was doing a good enough job (rightly so) and so he took it upon himself to be the man in the family.

I even miss the things about Jeremy that I found extremely annoying and obnoxious about him. Things like the fact that he would wear a pair of pants or a shift until it fell off of him before he'd wash it. But he'd shower and shave every day. I couldn't understand that. He could make the most annoying sounds when I wanted him to be quiet. He was stubborn as hell and equally smart. In the ninth grade he had to write a paper for an English class, which he did. He had me check it over for spelling and punctuation and that was all the help he had. I watched him do the research and write the paper. But his teacher didn't want to accept the paper because she thought he had plaigerized and there was no way any student at this level could write something so good. I had to go to the school and vouch for him.

Jeremy's teenage years were full of a lot of angst and trials. He did his time with drugs and had run ins with gangs. We lived in a tough part of the Dallas area. He spent time in rehab and in counselling. Eventually he refused to go to school and locked himself in his room, refusing to leave the house or have anything to do with his friends.

The year after he graduated from high school, we moved to Houston. Ten months later his dad and I split up and divorced. Jeremy was angry about that for a long time. He and I really experienced some trials throughout the next couple of years and didn't get along well at all. When I remarried Jeremy threatened his stepdad and caused a lot of problems, which I won't get into. Eventually he came around and realized that my new husband only wanted for me what Jeremy had wanted all along and they became the best of friends.

Jeremy joined the Army in January or February 2001, months before 9/11. He was in the Reserves. The Army was good for him and I am glad for it and what it did to help him mature and change into the amazing young man he eventually became. I saw the most dramatic difference in the months after he was called to active duty until his death. Facing the prospect of going to a war zone, Jeremy let his walls crumble and his love for his family show.

I miss my son. I wonder what he would be doing today if he were still alive. He would have finished his degree at ITT and be working. Maybe he'd be married or at least have a girlfriend.

The baby picture at the top of this entry is the first picture I can remember that was taken of Jeremy. All I have left is my memories, my pictures, a few of his possessions and one dirty old shirt that still smells like him.

Love never dies.

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