This picture was taken about this time last year, right around the time everything was going to hell. It's funny, but it's not how I remember him best. This is what I remember, when I let myself go there:
I remember when he used to smile, a real smile, not that snide, too-cool-4-u smile I came to hate. I remember when his hair wasn't green and his nails weren't painted black, when he loved Legos and still slept with Barney on his bed. I remember when he made me laugh so hard I cried, when I couldn't believe how smart and witty he had become. Talking about the places we wanted to visit someday, trips we planned to take together.
I remember when the hair coloring was fun and funny. When he and Casey and I would go shopping at Hot Topic and we would put together outfits for him, thinking "Oh, this Emo thing is weird, but it's so much better than the non-fashion he followed before."
I remember when I could talk to him. When I still had some connection, however volatile or tenuous it might have been, with this boy, my first born child. By the time he left, I hardly knew him and I even had a hard time remembering the boy he used to be. But here it is, almost Christmas again, and my memory is recovering a little. Some memories are warm and make me smile, some just about kill me with longing and regret and sadness and hope.
This will be the first Christmas I have not spent with my son. I know, there are millions of parents who will be away from their kids this holiday season, and I don't ever mean to discount the emptiness in the heart of every soldier who won't be home this year. I don't mean to minimize the pain of any parent who has had to bury a child, or who will divide time this season between home and a children's hospital. Without a doubt, I thank God that my son is alive and well, and that I know where he is. It could be so much worse.
Still, I miss him terribly.