He was just a kid.
I wanted to be a role model for him, to lead by example and show him that hard work pays off. That being an adult often means making some sacrifices but it’s all worth it to make the people you care most about happy.
But life gets busy. Juggling a toddler, a full time job and helping launch a new business leaves very few moments in the day. I regret the times I said I was too busy to grab dinner. I ended up just being a model of someone that’s too busy all the time.
I knew how much he’d struggled in the past. And he was always so open about it. To me it showed a level of maturity to be able to not only face that demon head on, but look it in the eyes an understand that it was this dark side that had to be treated with caution. 4 years sober seemed like a long time to me. And the people that were there with him during those years seemed to think it was an okay idea for a change of scenery and a fresh start. I wanted to provide that opportunity and be there for him since I wasn’t all those years before. I’m the type of person that rarely takes credit for others’ success, but almost always feels responsible for their failures. I needed to do whatever I could.
In the back of my mind I always knew there was a possibility he could slip up; that temptation might overpower or find an opportunity when he was vulnerable. And I was ready to make hard decisions and take action to ensure he got the help he needed if that ever should happen. Again and again we’d remind him that school is a priority, stay focused on graduating and limit your socializing so it’s not a distraction.
I thought for sure I’d see warning signs. Maybe I did. Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention. Then again, maybe I didn’t really know what to be looking for.
I did not, at any point, think that it would result in this; this extreme of a consequence for a poor decision.
Now we’re left with more questions than answers. Nearly all of them will remain unanswered. In my anger at the situation I wonder, “What the fuck was he thinking?!” But that doesn’t seem fair. Instead I’ll forever look back and think, “How did I let this happen. What could I have done differently?”
If I could only rewind time; even just a few weeks. I should have realized that he’d need a little more help or guidance when he moved into his own place. For all the times it felt like we were nagging him about staying out too late, missing a morning class, or even questionable eating habits, it probably provided a sense of security that someone was still looking out for him, keeping him conscious of his missteps. When he moved out on his own we lost that. I had to rely on occasional visits and text messages — usually just goofy exchanges or looking for advice on things that I felt much too old and out-of-touch with present day 20-something-life to be giving — to get a sense whether he was still on the right path.
And for the most part it seemed like he was. He’d stop by with a skinned knee and tell me all about how his ankle gave out again (his weak ankles were a constant problem and I often chastised him for exacerbating the issue by having too many drinks) and I’d typically laugh it off as another incident of being clumsy. He had the jovial aloofness of a daydreamer that forgets about his surroundings if deep in thought or conversation.
From the time he was little, his strongest asset was his innate ability to connect with people. He moved 2,000 miles from home and made friends the first week of school. They went on road trips, and explored the city and did all the things you’re supposed to do in college.
He was just 26.
For some, that’s not that young. But his addictions overpowered his late teens and early twenties. There was a whole period of young adulthood he wanted to experience; unencumbered by his addiction, parole visits and travel restrictions. It seemed like for the first time he had the freedom to find his way, to figure out who he was. And he had made so much progress already — in so many aspects of life. I wanted to see him succeed more than anything.
I suppose it’s comforting to know that these brief 8 months in Washington were some of his happiest times in a while. But in some ways that also makes it that much more difficult. There was so much I wanted to show him. Places I knew well and knew he’d love to see. It truly was just the beginning of a great new adventure, and an opportunity to redefine himself.