heartache, hardship and joy

Ethan bounces a basketball in the driveway. Inside, Ben holds Abby on a couch the same color as her coat. She licks his face. As dusk begins to fade, mosquitoes hover while Maddie and Zack are out on the boat with Michael. The faint hum of the motor skips across the bay. I sit on a padded chrome chair in the middle of the dock with my sister-in-law, Betsy, who straddles a dry-docked kayak. Her husband Sean takes the other chair while Rudy noisily paces around dragging his paws across the corrugated aluminum deck. It is a perfect moment. The nip in the air and the chill of white wine in glasses as big as our smiles gives me shivers. Dinner is done and Calvin is behind doors fast asleep in the vacation rental, which sits on a bluff just feet above Quahog Bay. Gma and Gpa pull up chairs on the upper deck to spy the red light off the butt of the boat as it drifts into the dock. David and Lisa join just as an osprey flies overhead.

We had taken our young nephews out on the boat earlier, Calvin too. It was my first ride of the season and two summers since I’d last had Calvin on my lap in the boat. He squirmed and screamed with some sort of excitement, perhaps irritability, perhaps indigestion. As he did so, I held him tightly so that neither of us got hurt. Ethan took a hesitant try at steering the boat while Michael shot a few pics of us from the bow.

“This is the best family reunion ever,” Ethan had told his grandmother, and continued, “No offense, Grandma, but this is better than the one in Amelia,” and he went on to explain—with a no-offense lead-in each time—that he preferred that the reunion was an airplane ride away from home and was near Calvin’s house. No offense was taken.

“Calvin is my most favorite nine-year-old,” Ben chirped a few times, “I can’t believe he’s going to be ten next year,” and I recalled how Ben was ten the last time he visited us with his Dad, and in my mind I compared the two: the boy with Autism versus the boy with epilepsy who is missing part of his brain. His mother Lisa, my other sister-in-law, showed me the handful of pills she was about to give each of her sons and said lovingly, “See, you’re not alone.” I began to say how glad I was not to be alone, but then retracted that gladness replacing it with regret that either of us—anyone—must endure the hardship and heartache of children like ours, children that bring us so much despair yet so much joy.

photo by Michael Kolster