Two years ago, on Dragon’s 17th birthday, his friends gave me the best birthday present ever. They had a filled a mason jar with handwritten notes to Dragon — birthday wishes and memories of Dragon. For a mother mourning her son, longing for his presence, nothing could have been better.
A couple weeks ago, I reread the notes, one by one. Some of the notes were long paragraphs, eloquent remembrances of days past. Other notes were only a few words, a haiku of memories, sparse but meaningful. Some taught me things about Dragon as a friend, about his personality, or his approach to life. Others just made me laugh.
- Orion: the spontaneous hiking trip that Dragon, Justin, and I went on was the best last-minute decision I had ever made. We talked about things ranging from personal philosophies to our teenager problems. Dragon brought along his wooden sword, with which he forged his own path through shrubbery and cacti. Looking back on this, this is very representative of who he was as a person. He did things his own way. During our hike, Dragon & Justin would sprint ahead of me, forcing me to catch up. This is symbolic of how they would always push me to do my best. They were the best companions I could ask for.
- Andrew: Watching Dragon hit on Ashley at Disneyland.
LOL. His friends brought Dragon back to life again for me, if only for an hour.
When we picked him up from Camp Conifer that last year, 2015, we watched as each camper was called up and given an award. They were funny awards, private jokes and puns, or comments on a physical trait or personal characteristic. Dragon’s counselor, Evan, took the microphone and asked Dragon to approach the stage. “And this year, to camper Dragon Kim, we give the Rubik’s Cube Award. ‘What is the Rubik’s Cube Award?’ you ask. Well, every time you turn the Rubik’s Cube, you get a different face, each face a different color, each showing something new. And that’s like Dragon — there are so many sides to him, and it’s been fun watching Dragon as he reveals each one.”
The Rubik’s Cube award — so clever!
Two weeks later, I had to plan Dragon’s funeral. Those first days after we lost him were the bleakest days you could imagine. One of the only bright lights of those days were when friends, teachers, coaches, and family members shared with me story after story about Dragon. And that’s when the Rubik’s Cube Award came back to me. I thought I knew him. I didn’t. I learned so much about the different sides to my son. Even now, I keep learning about him. One of our Dragon Fellows told a story just last Saturday that I had never heard, though I’ve known Devon now for over three years.
“I met Dragon,” he said, “the summer before my freshman year. We were in a summer jazz camp together, and we would play frisbee. He was a good frisbee player. Dragon was the only kid that would throw the frisbee around with me.”
These are the moments in which Dragon lives on for me. Like this text this evening from Arie, about the Vietnamese pork pastries and spring rolls I brought in for lunch: “Thank you also for the lunch! I was so touched, and it was like taking a moment to know Dragon a little better. I didn’t get to know him, but somehow I miss him a lot.”
Me too. Somehow I miss him a lot.
Sometimes Dragon feels like a dream.
Last Wednesday, I was at OCSA after dinner, attending a parent meeting for incoming Seniors in the Film/TV Program. As I was leaving, I heard Dragon call out, “Mom! Mom!” I swear I heard his voice. It could be because I was standing in front of Symphony Hall, the site of all his wind ensemble symphonies. It could be because I had just come from our monthly meeting of the Compassionate Friends, a gathering of parents who have lost children. It could be because tomorrow is the anniversary of the day we lost Justin and Dragon. All these things put Dragon on my mind. But for whatever reason, I heard Dragon’s voice call out to me. I could picture him running up to me there on 10th Street, in that dusky twilight, asking me to hold his backpack so that he could go say hello to a friend. And it knocked the breath out of me.
I realized it’s been four years since I’ve heard his low, teenage voice. It’s been four years since I’ve touched his face. It’s been four years since he’s run up to me, and handed me his backpack. I realized that I’ve started the Forgetting — the Forgetting of exactly what his voice sounds like, and what it feels like to hug him.
I know it was obviously another kid that I heard, another teenage boy calling out to his mother. I know it wasn’t Dragon. But it sounded just like him. It was a gift, but it was also excruciating.