Eighteen years ago today, a baby was born. 7lbs and 10oz. of wriggly, wrinkly, cheese-covered joy. The entire world was open to him, any conceivable possibility was his to explore. He was born over three weeks late. He was supposed to be a September baby. He was born to two people who already disliked each other. None of that was his fault.
For the next 18 years, he got to see his parents fight. His sister was born just a little over a year and a half after he was born, so she got to see us fight too. And their brother further down the line too.
I remember the tough times with my son. He cried a lot. Sometimes all night. He was a colicky baby. He would often scream all throughout dinner if he wasn’t being held, much to the displeasure of anyone else in the restaurant. But there were moments when he laughed too. A chubby baby with such a capacity to just giggle and laugh, I’ve never met anyone so ticklish. You didn’t even have to touch him to get him to double over, laughing from the intent to tickle him. He fought nursing.
He used to roll from place to place, so stubborn not to crawl. One day, about a week after he learned to crawl, I stood only a few feet away and he just stood up and took his first steps. His first word was “Da-da”. He was obsessed with letters and for Christmas one year, when he was just a little over two years old, one of his presents was a set of foam letters to play with in the bathtub, which he just kept repeating the names for over and over again until he had to go to bed. By three he had taught himself to read.
He read everything. In time, he became more withdrawn. He preferred his books to the company of his sister, but they were still very close. He didn’t care much at all for the herd of dogs and cats we had around the house, but he did take interest in the parakeet we had.
He loved Teletubbies and Boo-bah (which he called Bee-bah), and the Wiggles. We all used to sing with Halloween and Christmas albums in the car. He really liked Maroon 5 and Switchfoot, and singing off-key to his Kidzbop karaoke machine. Making mixtapes of “fresh music”.
I was there for every milestone, from his first breath, first tooth, first word, first steps, first day of school, first cold brought home from school, first trip to the ER for problems breathing. Doctors appointments. Asthma and allergy treatments. He used to hold my hand, just clutching one or two of my fingers as we crossed the street or walked through the store. He used to cackle with delight at weird things like the Winnie the Pooh game on his V-Smile gaming console. In time he graduated to Playstation and then to Xbox 360 and beyond. I taught him how to ride a bike, which he would ride to school and I would carry home every day at lunch during my lunch hour, when I took him to school.
He had a few friends when he was little at school. It seemed like everyone knew him whenever we walked through the halls at his elementary school down the street. Until Second Grade, his teachers said he was so bright and that he was their favorite student. His second grade teacher couldn’t have been more opposite to this attitude. But she disliked my daughter and youngest as well.
Past then, the mark of being a difficult troublemaker followed him. His curiosity wasn’t encouraged. He was chastised for reading constantly. He didn’t know the names of any of the kids who all knew him. He acted out. He had meltdowns.
Things at home degraded. We were poor, and I was the only source of income in the house. Things got strained, but that is more my story than his, though he was affected by it. The word Aspergers was thrown around and soon the school had an IEP on him to treat him as such. Some things improved. Some didn’t. He still doesn’t have an official diagnosis, but it seemed to help.
Five years ago, just a few weeks after his 13th birthday, I left his mother, whose mental state had become too much to deal with. I wanted to give all three of my kids a somewhat normal life. He couldn’t handle the contrast and left to live with his mom full-time a year and a half later. The familiar chaos and demands were more comforting to him, it seemed, than a quiet home with structure, discussions, and no yelling and screaming. He wasn’t being interrogated anymore going back to his mom’s if he had no information to surrender. As far as I know, he became a surrogate dad, picking up where I left off with chores, discipline, and raising his brother and sister.
Then there were the CPS visits. The reports of abuse and neglect, not just made against me, which I have spoken of in length, but at his mother’s house as well. Cries for help that the local government does little to nothing to address.
I haven’t spoken to him in nearly four years. It was “his decision” to not return to my house one April morning. I am nothing to him now except a piggy bank for his mother. She refers to me as a “sperm donor.”
All I hear about him now comes in snippets. He’s a Senior in school. He goes by his mother’s last name. He wants nothing to do to me. His story, in my mind, is now only memory or rumor. He doesn’t sound happy. That baby who was born with all the possibilities in the world has been hammered into something someone else wanted for him. He has no friends. He escapes reality in books and social media and video games. His brother and sister have often told me, “I know you lost a son, but I also lost a brother.”
This is his last year of high school. From what I have seen, his grades are awful. His options are more limited now than being a helpless, fussing baby in a blue knit cap, his new lungs dragging in every breath and the moments of his life adding up as the days remaining began to tick down, like the rest of us.
I miss my son, Gabriel. Named for an angel, one of the sweetest people I have ever known. Sensitive, brilliant, odd in his own way. I still love him, even though I no longer know him. The little guy I remember lives on in my memories. I hope that one day, that feisty creature rekindles something inside my son and he can find his own path, as was supposed to be what he got in life. Even if he and I never meet again, I love him, and I wish him the very best.
I pray for that kid every day, and hope that one day he finds his way. I hope at least I planted some seeds in his heart that lived, which will grow and help him become the man he can still be.
Happy 18th Birthday, kiddo. May you find everything which is good in life, and may it be yours one day.