I met a man outside the hair salon the other day. He came out on the porch where I was sitting with the kids to tell me how beautiful they were. They grow so quickly, he told me. Cherish your time now.
It's something I hear often, from older parents, an admonition I never take lightly because it's something I already know: this time together, when they're tiny and funny, curious and needy, is finite. A nostalgic sap like me, of course I know it's slipping quickly.
"It gets harder," he said. I know this too. I've feared my children's teen-age years since before they were born, when they were still a concept in my newly-married head.
The man, a father of two boys, buried his youngest three years ago, a casualty of drugs and alcohol. "We did the same thing with both boys," he said. One succeeded; the other got trapped in the cycle of addiction at 14. You could almost see him shaking his head, all these years later, in a where-did-it-go-wrong kind of way.
The man told me that his wife was a PTA president and helped start a group at the high school to combat drugs, but even still, they had no idea their own son was using.
It's always been a mystery to me, how things go so wrong. I've never accepted the folks who blame parents for the children who get mixed up in bad stuff. A dear friend in high school came from a big family. Three kids did really well for themselves. The other two had a rough, tough time that included stints in jail, rehab and their own prisons of addiction. I always thought his parents were amazing, always felt terrible for what they suffered. Perhaps there was more going on than I ever knew, still, I've always known it could happen to me too as a parent. Knock wood, hope for luck.
The son died at 24. He had kicked drugs, his father told me, but quickly got caught by alcohol. He got drunk one day, borrowed his mother's car and crashed it into a tree.
He told me it's always there—the loss—but sometimes he has flashes of his son that are overwhelming. He sees him as he was, laying in the hospital in a coma. His name was Aaron, he said, toward the end of our conversation.
The man was doing business at the salon. His phone rang several times as we talked and he had to take the calls. Eventually, he walked back into the store and wished me a good day.
I sat on the porch this whole time while Desmond got his hair cut and the other three played in the grass or jumped from the steps. Esme had wandered over and heard most of the man's story. When he went inside, I turned to her there on the porch next to a busy commercial street and we had our first conversation about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.