FEBRUARY 18, 1991, My godson, Kevin, accidentally shot and killed himself.
Recently, I came across the tribute that I wrote to my friend Penny, for her son, Kevin. “He had so many friends,” she wrote at the time, “No big problems—he had friends from little kids to old people 70 years old and older. He’d sit and talk to them and really enjoy their company. He had the largest service this town has ever had – over 400 people came to his service and there were so many flowers….from the day he was born I had this ‘unreasonable’ fear that something was going to happen to him and spoke of it to several people. Often it would come over me, out of the blue. I see now God was trying to prepare me that I wouldn’t have him long…”
So, I wrote this tribute for Kevin because I was a mother of sons, too.
There are no simple answers.
There are no easy words.
Words come hard. Thoughts come and go.
From the time we bring them into this world, we are constantly in fear of and worry about the greatest of all our fears, that something, sometime, might happen to this child. We are struck dumb over stories of children being bused and battered by their own parents, and we ask ourselves how on earth anyone could do anything so cruel and heartless to their own child.
When they are babies, we watch them breathe and we listen for the slightest “wrong” sound in the night; we are up in a flash when they begin to cry. We encourage them to crawl and we hold our arms out to catch them when they take their first steps. We walk the floor with them when they are feverish and we rush to the emergency room with them when they break an arm or a leg playing baseball or soccer or basketball. We let them crawl into bed with us in the middle of the night, when they have had a bad dream. We hold them close and breathe the damp sweaty smell of their hair and we chase away the bad dreams.
We turn the pot handles on the stove around and we put covers on the electrical sockets and we lock up cleaning supplies and we put up little wooden gates in the doorways.
We let them out of our sight, sometimes, because we know we have to do that to let them grow and we heave a sigh of relief when they return unharmed. We warn them of the evils in the world, constantly, and our warnings fall on deaf ears for they are convinced that they are invincible. We tell them not to speak to strangers and to look both ways before crossing and how to handle a pair of scissors, and not to play with matches.
But they talk to strangers and they don’t always look both ways, and sometimes they handle the scissors by the wrong end and sometimes they light matches to watch them burn. They know that nothing can touch them.
We take them to little league games and band practice and we go to PTA meetings and teacher conferences. We walk them from house to house on Halloween night because it is no longer a world safe enough for them to go alone, and while they welcome our company when they are five or six years old, they chafe over having us along when they are nine or ten, far too old to have a parent walking alongside. But we tell them it’s our way or no way and they ungraciously concede defeat. Really, what could happen to them? They are invincible.
We go to open house and we admire their drawings on the wall and we stand foolish and open-mouthed over a teacher’s recitation…sometimes glowing, sometimes not so glowing.
We go looking for them if they are more than five minutes late getting home from school.
We fret with them over every test and we suffer with them learning multiplication tables and fractions and decimals.
We think we could say in or sleep did you do your homework, did you take a bath, did you wash behind your ears, did you pick up your towel, are you wearing clean underwear? And they say aw, mom, I’m not a baby. And then we drive to school half an hour later to deliver their homework or their lunch money or their science report.
They take driver’s ed and they drive too fast and eat too much junk food and sometimes they experiment with alcohol and smoking cigarettes. We lecture them on chewing their food and on brushing their teeth and eating the right foods and clogging their arteries with carbohydrates. They say aw, mom, and go right on doing whatever it is they were doing that we warned them about. They are, they know, invincible.
They acquire, along with baseball cards and Hot Rod magazines and their own telephone, their own TV and stereo system and several hundred cassette tapes of something loosely defined as Heavy Metal which they assure us is music but we are convinced is a plot to impair the hearing devised by hearing aid manufacturers throughout the country.
They acquire friends of the opposite sex and our heart does flip flops the first time they take a girlfriend into the bedroom and close the door. We find ourselves stuttering and stammering, explaining birth control. Condoms.
We hear ourselves sounding like our own mothers, when we open our mouths and start talking about what nice girls did or did not do ‘ in our day”. We were never going to sound like our mothers. Aw mom they tell us, they know about Trojans. They know what they are doing. Nothing can happen. We worry too much.
We hear other mothers bemoaning their offspring, hoping they will hurry up and grow up and get on with their lives, and we think they are crazy, because we aren’t ready for our offspring to hurry up and grow up and get on with their lives. People think we are crazy because we enjoy having them around and harbor secret dreams that they will stay with us for years to home.
Now, here we are. It’s come to this.
All the turned pot handles, all the incantations, the warnings, all the covered electrical sockets, all for —–
We stand on top of a hillside and we scream to the heavens. We cry to this child who no longer hears anything.
Why didn’t you listen?
Why weren’t you more careful?
And somewhere on the wind comes a faint whisper, aw, mom, you worry too much.
Nothing can touch me now
–Sandra Lee Smith