He doesn’t like it when I stare. He says it is creepy. Honestly, I don’t even realize I am doing it. The whole package is just so familiar. It’s like a re-creation.
My eldest son is newly 14 and finishing the eighth grade. That was the time in my life that I was closest to my first cousin, Heath. Today, I still count him as my best childhood friend. Often times he and his family lived with us. When they did not, they were always visiting. My dad and his dad were extremely close brothers.
It was a rough go for the both of us, but my life may have felt a bit more stable than his. We didn’t know or understand that we had it hard. It was just life, and we lived it, usually together. Junior high, however, had an uncanny way of revealing to us just what was missing. Everyone started dressing so nice. Their shoes seemed to sparkle, while I longed to cover up every hole I found in my garments, to hide my embarrassment. We both had switched to a new school and had been taken away from all the friendships we had to carry us through. I had a slight head start on the endeavor and found it a little easier to make friends with the girls. Heath, well he was shy, and even a little humble. I hold many memories of him hovering close to the walls in hallways and the corners of rooms. But I stayed close to him. Wanting him to have my friendship at least.
If junior high was not traumatizing enough for Heath, his life fell apart even more as eighth grade came to a conclusion. His parents decided to separate, and he moved away. I’m quite certain that I missed that shy, humble boy more than he missed me. I did see him now and then and continued to visit him whenever an opportunity arose, but a combination of his newfound friends and lack of parental government had caused the most unexpected metamorphosis. It was almost a day and night difference. He was now a loud, ostentatious rooster.
The next four years of my life seemed to only take us further apart. I was blessed in my youth to hold very little regard for mischief. I had no real desire to experiment with vices, but that certainly was not the norm from what I saw around me. As I saw it, I was surrounded by a culture that lived only to molest oneself at every opportunity. So, it was not just Heath. But he was the loss I felt.
Small rural towns seem to lack a bit of variety and excitement for young adults. If given a chance, they will make whatever excitement or adventure for themselves they can, mischievous or not. The two years I was entrenched in high school were the worst two years of my life. I had friends, but the priorities and the attitudes they had toward life were a little less than inspiring. I did not make it out unscathed, although I counted myself lucky to attend the local community college for the two remaining years of my high school career. The separation from my peers gave me an opportunity to see juvenile stupidity for what it truly was, and my heart hurt for Heath.
I never got more than a glimpse of my innocent cousin back. He barely graduated, and when he did, he took a job and worked only for the weekend, living for the thrill. Somehow, my inexperienced heart could not see everything he had done to himself, but the consequences of his nightlife never allowed his day life to get anywhere of consequence in our small town. In the end, this world we grew up in only offered him a criminal record, and drug addiction I did not learn of for many years.
I remember the last time he visited me that year. I was renting a little home on 80 acres outside of town. He came to stay with me for a day. He had recently spent a month in jail. I had visited, but I could not possibly understand the effects that it had had on him. I could tell it was a very real change of pace. The silence seemed to surprise. The stillness seemed to whisper. I remember watching him slip on his boots as he told me he was going to go for a walk in the back field. I watched as he just slowly strolled out into the middle of the field and looked around. From my vantage point it almost seemed as if he were still in jail, mentally trapped and looking for a way out, trying to find a new fulcrum to change the balance in life. Just badly wanting change. Something was different about him, and for a brief moment, he resembled that shy, humble child.
Then he left. I had no warning or goodbye. He just left. I found out he had decided to move to North Carolina. He had wanted to remove himself from the vices he had surrounded himself with. Access and peer pressure seemed insurmountable, so his move was strategically designed to empty that from his life. This was his attempt at shifting the balance. He easily acquired employment, because, well, he was Heath, and who couldn’t love him. It seemed so simple for him to go and start anew, but still, he was gone and he never came back.
Years later I went to his wedding and saw the beautiful life he had built for himself, and his bride. I was so grateful in my heart that his intentions had come into fruition. In that moment, I also realized, fully, I would never get to spend much time with him again. The finality of it all left me feeling a little abandoned.
I was pregnant with Samuel the day I watched Heath get married. Like a gift from God, Samuel came into my life. I have watched this boy grow and learn. I have swooned and indulged at every opportunity, nurturing his shy, humble heart. I try not to over-indulge, but it is hard when you are living vicariously for such a strong memory. He is young, he is beautiful, and he is innocent. I want nothing more than to offer him a life without the vices formed inside the world of a misspent youth … and there he stands at the age of 14 asking me not to stare.
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Origionally Posted on May 26, 2020 by Samantha YeVohn Brown