By Wendy Hodge
My son is missing. Not in the physical sense. He still lives in the same town, as far as I know, though I haven’t laid eyes on him in months. But my son – my real son – is not the man who wears his clothes and uses his name. That man is someone else entirely. Addiction kidnapped my real son, as surely as a terrorist with a gun would do.
And the loss of him has damaged us all.
To understand the depth of our loss, you would have to have known my son before. He was born smiling. The nurses admired the length of his dark eyelashes and the dimple in his chin.
The first time I held him, skin to skin, he instantly became still and his gaze locked onto mine. I had already fallen for him from the moment I knew he existed, but in that moment I fell into a love that only a mother can know.
In the first months of his life, I did what new moms do. I watched him sleep to make sure he didn’t stop breathing. I changed his diapers and bathed his sweet baby skin. I worried when he didn’t seem to eat enough, and I worried when he seemed to eat too much. I checked my “What To Expect In the First Year” book many times a day to reassure myself that my boy was healthy and well. And I took pictures of everything. Every little thing. Because every little thing was momentous and priceless.
And then when he developed colic, I worried some more. And wondered if I would ever actually sleep again. The days and nights ran together with the soundtrack of his frequent crying echoing in our house. My baby was hurting, and I tried everything I knew to make it stop. I held him and bounced him and rocked endless miles in the rocking chair my parents had given us.
We drove around the block ten thousand times. I played soothing music. I even strapped his car seat to the dryer hoping the vibration and the hum would lull him to sleep. In the end, the best comfort we found was curled around each other in our gray recliner. So he and I spent the majority of those weeks in that recliner…. eating and burping and napping and starting all over again. The OJ Simpson trial was on the television, and that was how I knew there was still a world outside those four walls.
And then one day, I woke up with my cheek pressed against the gray fabric and with the sun streaming in the window and was startled by the sound I heard. It was silence. The baby in my arms was sound asleep with a smile on his face, and he had been that way for several hours. It took a moment for me to realize we had turned a corner and we could once again sleep at night and emerge out into the daylight. Like humans.
Never once, during all those days and nights that bled together, did I regret being my son’s mom. In fact I felt a sense of purpose I’d never felt before. I alone was this child’s mother, and what an amazing joy he was.
He became the child who taught himself to read so he could play video games. He was also the child whose favorite food changed every few months. We lived through a winter of instant mashed potatoes, a summer of macaroni and cheese, and a spring and fall of hot dogs (without the bun). He had a laugh that filled the house and a love for Buzz Lightyear that we thought would never die. Everywhere we went, whether I was the driver or a passenger, he absolutely had to hold my hand. He would reach forward from the back seat and wrap his chubby fingers around mine.
My shoulder became double-jointed, I swear, from the repetitive backward reach. But I loved every second of it. All was right in my little boy’s world as long as he was holding my hand.
But he was also the child who seemed to feel other people’s sorrow more acutely than any child should. There was a day when he was five years old that he came to me in tears because he’d seen a commercial about starving children. He asked me why we couldn’t go to the grocery store and buy enough for their dinner too….and his little boy heart broke under the weight of the realization that not everyone is well-fed or safe or even loved at all.
After a night spent crying because he’d seen a spot on the news about over-crowded animal shelters and how many pets never have a place to call home, there was a “no news channels” rule in our house. Only Power Rangers and Mario Brothers for my big-hearted boy!
We “camped out” in the living room inside the dome of his Buzz Lightyear tent, and we watched Toy Story until I could recite every line. We played games and read books and always we laughed.
Of course he grew, as we all want our children to do. He became a tall, lanky boy who was quiet and sweet. He was fiercely loyal to his friends. He was the big brother my daughter adored. And he was protective of me, always watching to see that my heart was okay.
And then he became someone else. Not overnight. It was a slow process, this moving away from himself and from all of us who loved him so much. It was a painful road, full of tears and arguments and regrets. An ocean of regrets. Did I do too much? Did I do too little? Was anything I did the right thing after all? I will ask myself those questions forever, I suppose.
I remember the last time we sat together and ate a meal and were truly ourselves and happy. I remember the last time he lived under my roof and I was not afraid of what the world was doing to him and of what he was doing to himself. I’m glad I was oblivious to what was coming.
Because now those memories of that joy are all I have left of my little boy. Memories and the hope that someday he will come back to me. And to himself. And when that day comes, I will be proud to be his mom. Just like I have been since that first moment I saw his face and said out loud “There you are. I’ve been waiting for you.”
Hodge is an Opelika native, an empty nester and lover of all things Opelika.