It has taken a very long time to come to terms with all of this and to be able to write about the profound effect it has had on my life. All of it is totally out of the natural order of things. I am certain that it influenced my decision to have a therapy dog that works with young people and also to be part of the youth leadership team at church. I am writing about two young men that I loved dearly and they loved me.
Meet Bill –
Bill was my younger brother, almost five years younger than me. He was my parents pride and joy, nice looking with a sharp wit, very smart, and he had many friends. We had a fairly normal childhood relationship, he loved to tease me, but we were pretty good friends. When we were little and Bill teased me, our mother would ask, “Why do you keep teasing your sister?” Bill would say, “I like that little dance that she does.” I might be sitting quietly, watching TV, and Bill would come and put his blanket across the screen. If my father was around he would say, “You are the oldest, you need to set the example.” l am afraid I was not always a very good example.
Whenever I had friends over, Bill wanted to hang around and be part of the action. When we were a little older and eating Sunday dinner one day, Bill announced to me, “I am always going to follow you everywhere, if you go somewhere, I will be there, too.” Of course I wasn’t too happy about that. At that time I just saw him as an annoying little brother, but I came to realize later that he wouldn’t have wanted to be around me and tease me so much if he didn’t love me.
How many teenagers would be able to convince the mother of a friend to let them set up a foosball table in their living room for two weeks and have the house filled with young people? Bill was one of the popular kids and friends were always hanging around.
I came home to stay with my parents during my first pregnancy so that my first husband could finish college with minimum distraction. Bill was about to turn fifteen and he was fascinated by girls, cars, and as it turned out, babies. He came to the hospital with my parents to see Bobby and me, but since he was under sixteen, he couldn’t come in. He sat out in the car listening to the radio and decided to play with the car. He managed to spring the driver’s side door and break his arm in the process. But at least he was at the hospital, right?
When we were discharged a couple of days later, Bill couldn’t leave Bobby alone. The baby was constantly disappearing as Bill took him out to show off to the neighbors. He was so proud of his nephew. I wasn’t thrilled because Bill had a cast on his arm. This period of time was the last that I spent with Bill because Bobby’s dad finished college and we moved to Richmond. Bill finished high school and went on to college.
One weekend Bill wanted to bring friends home to go to a Vietnam war protest in DC. He had to get our father and his friends to agree not to discuss the war. The weekend went off without a hitch, Bill could have been a diplomat. Our father had made his career with the Federal government and although I don’t believe he endorsed the war, he was definitely pro government.
Our father only wore white shirts with his suits for years. One Christmas Bill gave him a blue shirt and said to him, “I can keep you from looking like a square but I can’t keep you from being one.” From then on Dad wore shirts with color.
Bill only had a couple of serious girlfriends that I was aware of. He went with Cindy in high school and college and I saw her frequently on visits home. He started seeing Joan after college when he was back home working to save money for graduate school. We were visiting at Christmas of that year and Bill wanted to take all three of his nephews (my sons) over to Joan’s house. He really seemed to enjoy spending time with them. I was actually surprised at how good he was with them and protective of them.
Even though Bill was only twenty two, he seemed to have a premonition. During the holidays he told my mother, “If anything happens to me, I sure have lived a good life”. Three weeks later he was killed by a train during a hiking trip.
The day of the funeral we arrived early to find Cindy sitting alone in the front row of the chapel, next to Bill’s casket, sobbing. She had placed a single red rose on the casket that was later buried with Bill.
I never really got a chance to grieve Bill’s loss because I had a family to take care of and my marriage was breaking up. I sure missed him though, it was very hard to go home without him there. One thing that changed about me at that time was that I began to have an attitude of if not now, when? Those urges became destructive. I didn’t want to wait for anything.
Almost two years ago I reunited with Cindy and Joan on FB. They still had their own memories. I was in closer contact with Cindy and she told me Bill’s loss had left her with a deep sadness that had never gone away. She had finished college, become a correspondent for UPI, and was sent to Lebanon. She refused to come home when war broke out. She later married and had a daughter and a son. She seemed to be especially close to her son.
Cindy was living in WV and I was thinking of trying to go see her. One year ago she fell down the steps and suffered a brain bleed and died a couple of days later. Right after her death while I was making plans to attend her memorial service, I fell down my steps and broke my leg. Same fall, I broke my leg, she died. At the time of her service I was in surgery.
Joan lives in AZ now and has five grown children of her own. She reached out to me first on FB and we shared stories from the past forty years. I met the man she later married one time and I couldn’t believe how much he looked like Bill.
Bill definitely left his mark in the hearts of those who knew him.
Enter Nick –
Nick was the grandchild with a twinkle in his eye and mischief on his mind. When he was small there was always something going on. He was tall, with blond hair, blue eyes, smart as a whip, he could have been an outstanding writer/poet. I was always encouraging him to write. He was also a good athlete and we went to all the games that we could. I spent more time with him than with my other grandchildren and he even lived with us for awhile.
Nick couldn’t catch a break. He was always found out, no matter what he did. None of us were able to catch the signals, but Nick’s unhappiness began when his parents moved into another neighborhood and he lost his friends and sports teams. Then his parents decided to divorce and the downward spiral really began.
He kept getting into trouble and was ordered to perform community service. We started taking him with us when we volunteered for a parrot sanctuary. He loved animals and he was great with the parrots. A few years earlier I went with Nick to help him pick out a puppy when he was about eleven.
I remember one All Stars game when Nick was about sixteen when he was the only player that didn’t get to play. He was so devastated that he left crying. To this day his dad, my son, regrets that he didn’t have a word with the coach on Nick’s behalf. We all felt helpless. The coach called later to apologize but it was too little, too late.
Nick finally got kicked out of school for having drugs in his possession on school property and his parents sent him to a facility for boys where he could finish school and he got himself kicked out of there too.
That was when he came to stay with us. While he was with us he helped Gerry paint the inside of the house, put mesh over the porch screen, and many other odd jobs that were difficult for us to do. He and I talked often about the future and the consequences of bad choices, but many times he would shut down. It was clear though that he had a deep love for his family, especially his two younger sisters.
It is hard to paint an accurate picture of Nick because he was such an introvert. He didn’t understand the difference between introverts and extroverts and felt there was something wrong with him. After all the life of the party got the girl. We had many talks about this subject but I wasn’t able to get through to him. He became more and more withdrawn.
Over the time Nick was with us he took Gerry’s truck late at night and ran with his friends. Eventually Gerry got steering wheel locks for both vehicles. Other things happened that I would rather not talk about but Nick never took anything of mine. He always showed me respect. He had been with us about nine months when he stole one of Gerry’s small pistols and robbed a hair salon for drug money. He was arrested, charged, convicted and sent to prison. All of us visited him faithfully and tried to help him plan a productive future. Gerry felt betrayed, however, and was not able to make amends until Nick came home. But the first time they saw each other the past fell away.
When release time came near, Nick was frightened. He told me that he was afraid that he would get into trouble again. None of us had the right words. At dinner to celebrate his upcoming birthday I could see the depression was beginning to return. He told me that he felt so behind because his friends had jobs and were starting families and again I tried to encourage him, after all he was only twenty three. He wanted to go to the beach and we were planning to take him, he never made it.
Nick was only home for eleven days when the pull became too great and he began using again. The day after his twenty third birthday he was found dead from an accidental overdose on the bathroom floor. The theory is that he tried to use the same amount he had used in the past and his body couldn’t handle it. His final words to me were, “I love you.” When I visited him prior to cremation, I wanted to crawl into the box with him. I don’t think I have ever felt such pain.
This had been a difficult piece to write and bring to life. Maybe a little easier to write about Bill than about Nick because Bill died a long time ago, Nick’s death is still raw. I relived Bill’s death while I grieved for Nick, I also grieved for my son who lost his son.
I move ahead, putting one foot in front of the other, working with my dogs, and trying to appreciate each day. I have very special memories of two very dear souls trying to find their way in this crazy world gone long before their time.