On Dragon’s first day of school freshman year, when I picked him up, I asked him, as moms everywhere were doing: “How was your first day of school? Did you make any new friends?”
“Yes, he replied. “I met a kid named Joanna. He’s in my Tae Kwon Do class.”
“Great,” I gushed, happy that my 9th grader, new to this school, had made a new friend. And then, confused, I asked, “He’s a boy, but he’s named Joanna?”
“Yes,” Dragon answered firmly. I let it drop.
A week later, Daniel asked Dragon, “So, how is school? How are the kids there? Have you made new friends?”
“Yes,” came the answer. “I have a friend named Joanna. He’s Korean.”
“Oh,” replied Daniel, confused. “Are you sure it’s not Jonah?” Daniel inquired.
At this, Dragon was starting to get annoyed. “Yes!” he countered, “Look, his name is Joanna.”
Daniel and I looked at each other, eyebrows raised, but then we let it drop. A couple weeks after that, over dinner, Daniel asked again, “So, how is school? How is your friend, Joanna?”
Dragon looked up a little reluctantly, a little sheepish.
“You were right,” he said simply. “His name is Jonah.”
We teased him about this for a long time.
Later that Fall, Jonah was supposed to join Dragon, Rafe, and Justin when the boys went together as a group to Homecoming, their first high school dance. But for some reason, Jonah didn’t go, so I didn’t get to meet him. Dragon and Jonah seemed to stay friends that year, but for whatever reason, I never met the elusive Jonah. He was like Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street: I was told he existed, but I never actually saw him.
That summer, Dragon was killed. We lost our son. All conversations about school, and friends, and homecoming dances stopped. All conversations with Dragon stopped. He was there one day, and he was gone the next.
I still struggle to wrap my head around this.
Last night, we invited our friends Peter and Han over for dinner. Han is visiting from Korea. It turns out, Han also invited his sister and her husband to dinner. They live half an hour away, in Fullerton. They would come after their daughter’s Tae Kwon Do tournament. An hour later, Young Hee and her husband, Bill, were at our door.
“Come in, come in,” we cried. It was so good to meet them! We all sat down for dinner.
“This is our daughter, Hannah,” we introduced. “She’s a tenth grader. She goes to OCSA.”
“Oh,” Young Hee said, “Our nephew also goes to OCSA. He’s a senior. He’s graduating this year.” And she took out her phone to show me a photo of her nephew in his Tae Kwon Do uniform. “This is him. His name is Jonah.” I looked at the person in the picture — a tall, handsome, young man.
She finished by saying, “Jonah is going to Johns Hopkins this Fall. He’s going to study Public Health.”