Images flash through my mind. The first is from the birthing recovery room, where I watch Valerie tenderly nurse Erik, just minutes after his birth. The nurse bends over close to my son, looks carefully at his head, and then points out that his ear is misshapen and that there’s no ear canal. At that moment, the roller-coaster ride began.
Another image takes its place. It’s March 1994, and I’m sitting on the basement floor with Erik. He’s playing with Legos, and the room is cool and dark. He’s in third grade, and he’s been having a rough year at school. When I ask how things are going for him, he tells me that he hates school and sometimes wishes he were dead. His words chill me.
I see other moments and images — Erik examining a dandelion in right field while a baseball flies over his head, Erik accepting a state award for scoring so well on so many AP tests, Erik hunched over a computer keyboard after staying up all night debating online with fundamentalist Christians, Erik taping the frame of his broken glasses with silver-gray duct tape, Erik calling me from school to tell me that his eighth-grade teacher just announced that a classmate and friend had committed suicide, Erik reading a thick science fiction novel while walking outside, Erik adding a fourth scoop of chocolate ice cream to his already overflowing bowl.
All these moments start swirling together, and I feel that I could drop down at any point in this whirlpool to pluck out a memory of Erik. And while each individual memory may have been full of pain or joy at the time it happened, it is now just one drop in the ocean of my life with Erik. Standing in the field at Reed College, with wet cheeks and a runny nose, I wonder if this is a foretaste of that moment at the point of death when my whole life will pass before my eyes and I’ll finally understand how it all fits together.