He was a tall, slender boy with a soft mop of chestnut hair and grey-blue eyes. His father, a local school bus driver, would bring him to me for his regular appointments. We tend to build relationships with our clients, some for a few fleeting moments and others for many years. This was one of the latter. As he grew he continued to visit us. And then when he was old enough, he took his leave. Though he would not be absent from our lives for long.
As time passed, I would see him on my frequent (too frequent) stops at the local coffee shop. He would take my order and we would banter about. How was he? His mother? Was he doing what he was supposed to be doing? I would notice things, he would smile. All was well and he would give his best to his parents. Then one day, I received a call from the local high school asking if we would consider bringing him in as part of the technical education program? Of course!
Our sweet cherub had grown into a young man. No longer was he the carefree boy who bounded into our office. Now an older, more serious presence entered. He was lanky and when I greeted him with a hug his long arms enveloped me as he laughed nervously. I sat him down and had him sign off on the appropriate paperwork, creating a file for our once little guy who was now dipping his toe into what we actually do.
His resume listed career focus as: “Empathetic student completing a program at a technical high school and planning to pursue a career in the field. Excellent communication skills, loyal, and reliable.” He spent the semester learning our policies and processes and eventually shadowing others in our office. Then, the semester ended and he graduated.
A short while later, I saw an article in the local newspaper with his photo looking drawn and sad. It was a police photo. The article went into great detail about him having stolen women’s cosmetics from the local big-box store. He had been arrested. Nausea washed over as I processed what was before me. My sweet baby was nothing but 18 years old. People who have done far worse do not have photos on FaceBook news feeds. The comments to follow were vile, questioned his masculinity, and mocked his potential sentencing. And then it happened again, only this time it was far worse. He was running from the police after having gotten in an accident. It was then that I knew he was in real trouble.
I spoke to my husband about the defamation of his character regarding the first incident, and now fleeing from authorities. Although he was making poor choices he was being publicly shamed and I was worried we were going to lose him. One of the other prior interns suggested drugs were in play. My heart was heavy, so I did as we mothers do. I picked out the perfect card and sat down to pen him a note.
Dear Sweet Boy,
No mistake is beyond grace. Pencils have erasers for a reason. We all make mistakes and should not be held to live life permanently in their shadow. You have people around you, including me, who love you dearly. If you are in over your head, please reach outside of you and allow us to get you the help you need. I cannot imagine a world without you in it.
At his funeral just four months later, his mother and father recognized me and sobbed, “pencils have erasers.” I too sobbed, having had no idea the impact of that note. As the line waited and wound around the funeral home, they detailed his struggles. He had been in rehab. He was their only son. They tried everything. And then they explained in anguish that each night they would lie my note on his pillow in the hopes that it would sink in. My heart broke into a million pieces. For none of us bears children thinking that this is how it will end.
Today as I look at his signature on the paperwork he signed so many years ago my heart aches. I look at the words on his resume “empathetic” and think yes, he was very much so. His vaccine record dates are gut-wrenching to think of as a mother who has visited doctors with my own children countless times for vaccines and well checks. And then his name, in his own writing and his signature in black ink, as though he was just here. Tears. Shredding this paperwork is one more step in the process of him not being here, though it has been three years. Shredding the papers means nobody can accidentally trip across his name and think of the light and laughter he brought into the world.
For me, for now, this paperwork will stay in a special place in my drawer. May his memory be a blessing.