Tonight, I sit at home with the windows cracked open to welcome a cool breeze and the sound of fireworks. The 4th of July is one of my fondest memories of you. I remember when Dad wanted to meet up with his friends, to do the same thing with the same people you had always done on the 4th, before I came along. Instead, the three of us stocked up on fireworks at the Red Rocket and spent the evening alone together, shooting them off. You were so creative, staging entire war scenes with your little green Army men, lighting the firecrackers on platforms of cardboard amongst the rubble of tanks. You used my juniper incense from Nepal to light a fireworks display for us – I recall Mama Mia being one of the varieties we were particularly fond of. Buddy Boy was spooked from the sounds, so we let him inside. After the show, we went in to watch the evening news and all you could do was talk about how awesome the fireworks were. “You know what was so special about the fireworks tonight? We were the only three people in the whole world who saw them,” you said, as Dad shushed you so he could listen to the television news. My heart melted and I fell a little more in love with you that night.
Sometimes my heart hurts thinking about you. I want to be able to hug you and hear about your day at school. Next fall you start high school at my alma mater. What promise the future holds for you.
I loved watching you play hockey. Always the smallest guy on the ice, you skated beautifully and held your position. My heart swelled with affection when you’d make a good play. Our Bubba. Remember the tournament in Eau Claire? I took Brando for a walk while you were hanging out with your team in the hotel halls after the games were through. As we passed by, I heard you proudly tell your team “That’s my dog” and at that moment, like in many others, I felt like we were a family. To be sure, we had a rocky go of it. I hope for the most part you were unaware of some of the struggles Dad and I had, but I know how sensitive your heart is. I also know that no matter what, we were a family.
Four months after we met for the first time, we celebrated your 12th birthday. After you opened all your gifts, Dad ordered hugs and you made your way around the table giving a hug to your uncle, aunt, grandma and then you came to me and shyly said “Thanks, Kelly” without a hug and continued making the rounds. I jokingly scolded “what, I don’t get a hug?” You looked embarassed as other members of the family chimed in “come on, you can give her a hug” and your response was “she’s not related.” I felt bad for having made you uncomfortable. A year later, at the same restaurant, we celebrated your 13th birthday. That time, I got a hug. Dad later told me that when you went with him to pick up your friends before the party, you announced that this year you were going to give me a hug. “I just didn’t know her very well last year.” What a sweet, sensitive young man you are to have remembered that, and what volumes it spoke for the development of our relationship. I know Mom made it hard for you to love me. I don’t need to tell you that divorce is very challenging and she did the best she knew how. I think you are very brave for being true to your feelings.
It breaks my heart to think about the last day I ever saw you, when I needed to make a phone call regarding the gift card I bought you for Christmas that wasn’t working. “You can tell them ‘I bought this for my stepson’……well, kinda stepson,” you said. It was a word Dad nor I had ever used, though I always felt it in my heart. To hear you say it flooded me with warmth. You didn’t know we’d never see each other again after that. To you, we were still a family. How much I wish that could have been. Dad wanted it too. As it became clear that he and I didn’t have what it took to make a romantic relationship work, I think he panicked. I was really shocked when the two of you picked me up to go look at a house together. By then, we hadn’t spent much time together as a family like we used to, mostly staying at Dad’s house but with occasional overnights at mine. I guess maybe he thought a new house of our own together would set things right. You liked the yard, probably thinking of the motorized toys you could drive around on the land. We’d have a spot for Jenny, your boat we bought together. Brando would have a lot of space to run. “Look, Kelly, here’s your bath!” you pointed out as we toured the interior. I wanted it to be so badly, but by this time, I knew it wouldn’t. I couldn’t say for sure, but I’d imagine Dad knew it then too.
You know, I could go on forever with all the wonderful memories I have of our time together and all the thoughts I have of the boy who captured my heart. I loved watching you in the school musical and on stage for show choir performances (not to mention your brief stint with the clarinet in band), getting good night hugs from you, hiking with you as you’d stop to hug Brando here and there (“It’s Hug a Pug Day…. Hug a Pug Millenium!”) Your joy for life, optimism and heart inspires me. Remember when we’d sit on the couch, Simpsons style, all three of us in a row? And you told Dad that we should get three pillows for the couch, with our names stitched onto one each. When I gushed to Dad about that later, he grumpily told me that you got the idea from your mom – she stitched pillows – as if that should have made it less special for me. No matter how you got the idea, you wanted it for us. And I loved you for it. Remember camping, the three of us tucked in the tent along with Brando, as the crickets chirped and the embers of the campfire cooled? Remember the New Year’s Eve ski trip when you coached me down the hill? You and Dad were such great snowboarders, and I was lucky to snowplow down shakily on my skis. “Don’t worry, Kelly! You can do it!” Afterwards we swam in the hotel pool and accidentally walked in on a young couple getting romantic in the hot tub. We had so much fun, you and me. Sometimes we’d tease Dad pretty bad. I have to admit, the time we were driving to Door County and you and I were going after Dad with a vengeance, I questioned myself when you asked “Dad, don’t you just love your kids?” I guess I kind of behaved like one that day.
Dad wanted to have a formal goodbye. A last chance for you to see the pets and for him and I to explain why we were no longer going to be together. I thought it would be too hard for all of us and I didn’t want to make you sad. I told him that it was his job to talk to you about it and that I trusted him to explain that there is and always will be so much love there. But it wasn’t my place anymore. I hope you understand.
I hope you think of me fondly. I hope you still sing out “Pajama time!” at night like you and I used to when it was time to get in our comfies. I hope you still enjoy the heated blanket I got you for your last birthday with me – I knew you’d love it. I hope you know how much your “stepmom” and her pets still love and miss you, everyday. You are a tremendously talented, loving, intelligent and special young man. In the grand scheme of things, the years we spent together will seem like nothing as you go on to enjoy a full, happy life. But to me, it was everything. Thank you for your love.