I had all the plans in the world to begin this letter in September. When that didn’t happen, I moved my goal to early October. Then mid-October. But then, well, you know what occurred: my Mom took a turn for the worse, and I spent her last days with her and then more days dealing with all the minutiae that comes with a death. (Not that I’m complaining. The small tasks we need to do are certainly the least things we can take care of for your grandma, and I’m not shouldering the burden alone.) My fear here is that this letter will not be the one I would have written before your grandmother’s death. This letter might, I think, be far more reflective and . . . dare I say, sappy.
And you don’t do sappy.
You barely put your arms around me anymore.
You’re more about the “ehs” that I wrote about last year than ever, and I’m still grateful for every one of them.
You see, next year at this time, you won’t be in my kitchen or in your room. You won’t be sullying the bathroom with your plethora of hand towels, wash cloths, and hair gel. Your soccer bag won’t smell up my back hallway, and your dirty dishes won’t clutter up the sink (that machine to the right of the sink? That’s a dishwasher. I know you know this because you unload it for me, often). I won’t hear the clanging of weights at midnight or receive texts that say, “Can you come up and take a picture of Benedict?” I won’t get updates on your philosophy class or contemplations on Euler’s Identity* on the chalkboard. You won’t leave your shoes out for me to trip over or your bag on the dining table or the car keys on the side table three inches from the key tree. (That key tree? It’s for keys. Novel concept, right?)
All of you, meaning your entire persona, your eccentricities, your things—everything I love about you, in particular, you, in bodily form—will no longer be in my home.
And let me tell you: I’M NOT READY.
Wait a minute, you say. Haven’t you been preparing for this day for eighteen years, Mom?
Why yes, Aaron, I have. I pretty much knew as soon as you began developing a personality with likes and dislikes that you would not be the sort who lives at home forever. (I should mention that really, your father and I are grateful for that; we love you, but not that much, I guess.) But let me tell you this: eighteen years goes by really quickly, much faster than I would like, and with four of you in the mix, I can barely hold on to all the memories.
Memories of you flying down the upstairs hallway in your footie pajamas, tying up action figures and launching them down the stairwell, stuffing your clothing with dead leaves so you can look like you bulked up (how prescient, I think now), running around with Shadow in the backyard, building snow forts and coming in with cheeks so red and lips so blue I thought for sure you’d frozen, spiking fevers every time you had strep, sleeping with your butt in the air for many years, stuffing orzo with sauce in your little mouth with my Mickey Mouse spoon, snoring in my ear when you came to sleep in my room, chopping tomatoes and peppers for your special salsa, running your heart out on the soccer pitch, playing the violin, sporting a toilet costume for Halloween, sucking your thumb and pulling on your ear, and so much more.
And now, I have newer memories too. You standing at the foot of your grandmother’s bed on one of her last days, nodding your head as I asked you for the twelfth time to pick up Melina from school, grunting as you confirmed you’d change the laundry from the washer to the dryer, smiling when you showed me your bleached hair, reading the responsorial psalm at Grandma’s funeral service, serving as a pallbearer at her burial.
This year, especially, you’ve become a different person more so than any year that came before. This year, different sorts of responsibilities have been thrust upon you, and you’ve picked them up with ease. This year, you’ve shown me that yeah, maybe you really are ready to be called an adult in some ways (not in others, we know). This year, you’ve shown me once again how damn proud I am to call you my son.
So while I might not be able to tell you anything about many of the topics you talk to me about, let me at least tell you this: I LOVE YOU.
After eighteen years, I don’t think you can doubt that, but if you do, come back to this letter and the letters that came before. I love you. All of you. Every molecule of your being. Every bleached hair (and I’m waiting for Little Red to be red again; I can’t wait). Every smile and laugh and grunt. And guess what? Your grandmother loved you too. So very, very much.
I have about eight-and-a-half months left with you under my roof. I’m hoping the memories I make of you during that time are too many to count. I’m also hoping that those memories aren’t stolen away by the disease that took your grandmother.
That topic, though, is for another day.
Much love and happiness to you, and of course, Happy Birthday.
*I don’t even know what Euler’s identity is. Actually, I do. Now. But I can’t explain it nor can I even replicate what that identity is. To be accurate, though, I looked it up. According to multiple sites, it is a “special case of Euler’s formula” and is “an exemplar of mathematical beauty.” Here you go, and you’re welcome: when evaluated for x = π. Somehow, adding math to one of your birthday letters is quite fitting.