gratitude and sorrow

At Niles' request, I had brought Calvin downstairs Saturday to greet Michael's documentary photography students who had gathered here for dinner—something Michael has been doing for eighteen years at the close of every college semester. Poor Calvin, having had a good day despite some seizure harbingers (sour breath, warm hands, rashy butt) had spiraled into his "ooh-oohing," seemingly oblivious to anything but his fingers mad-snapping mere inches from his face. The students watched our son in relative silence, seemingly not knowing how to respond to an uber-awkward child so remote and unresponsive.

Just before they arrived, I'd been upstairs changing that hour's third, foul, poopy diaper which Calvin had gotten his hands into and within minutes proceeded to spread shit onto his pants, sheet and the toys that he mouths. Multiple wipes and four applications of hand sanitizer did not remove the reek from his fingertips. Thankfully, shortly after Calvin met the students, he went to sleep without too much trouble, and I was able to join the crew.

The young men and women, students of all races and backgrounds, sat around the coffee table gabbing and eating pizza before doing a Yankee swap with their photos. I stood from the dining room, sipping wine, looking on, making jokes and commenting on their photos. I talked too briefly with Octavio, whose brother Daniel, a Fulbright scholar, had also been a student of Michael's. I spoke with Brennan about a photo book he is publishing, and we talked about his love—and my curiosity—of Russian literature. At the end of the evening one of the students—I think it was Nate—asked how Michael and I had first met. I blushed telling them that when I was unemployed, before I began my design career at Levi Strauss in San Francisco, I'd been one of his photography students in a community college adult education class when we were both thirty-four. They laughed when I told them that Michael gave me an A- in my intro class, prompting me to take a second class to get the A. It was at the very end of that second semester when he and I began hanging out.

As students of an advanced class, I'd met all of them previously when they had come over as beginning photography students. After the photo swap and some brownies and ice cream, the group lingered a while before all but five of them left. For the next couple of hours, I sat amongst the beloved stragglers—J.P., Niles, Cirque, Nate and Brennan—as we discussed religion, photography, English as a major, parents, Rumspringa, and college professors. Even at ten o'clock I was still alert, energized by the lively conversation and feeling comfortable—like I did as a child with four brothers—amongst a bunch of guys.

It was impossible for me to sit there on the floor of our living room and not wish that any of the boys—young men, really—were my son, all of them witty, talented, kind, college undergrads, the kind I once dreamt a son of mine might be.

Eventually, sleep deprivation got its grip on me and I had to say goodnight. I hugged them all, hoping I'd see them again sometime. I went to sleep feeling gratitude and sorrow—gratitude for our ability to know, laugh and engage with these bright, curious, open individuals, and sorrow because we'll never experience any of that with our own boy.

Then, at three-thirty on Mother's Day morning, my sweet, vulnerable child did what I thought he might do: he seized in his bed for ninety seconds. I dabbed lavender on his pillow, then crawled in next to him and held him like the baby he once was, and still is.

Me and Octavio

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