Mom, did you know that pollution makes sunsets more colorful? Mom, did you know that being a chemist is one the most dangerous jobs, because of your daily exposure to deadly chemicals? Mom, did you know you get wetter if you run than if you walk in the rain?
A boy with a curious mind.
There was a brightness about him.
Dragon used to pepper me with facts and figures. When he was little, he would do so in the bath. When he was older, he would do so on our way home from water polo. I’d ponder these nuggets, praise him for his curiosity, and ask him further questions in return. These moments came flooding back to me the other day as Hannah and I sought cover from the rain. Without an umbrella to shield us from the downpour as we left the store, I started running to our car. “Mom,” Hannah reminded me, “we’ll get wetter if we run. We should just walk. That’s what Dragon used to say.”
His was a mind fluent in numbers, energized by scientific concepts. Mom, we got to blow something up in Science class! I’ll admit that I lost interest after high school biology – I think my mind just doesn’t work that way. But Dragon embraced biology, chemistry, physics, math. He might have been the doctor that my parents, both physicians themselves, always wanted. Or he might have gone the opposite direction and been a musician. When Dragon was little, Daniel’s father used to pet Dragon on the head and call him, Vitality Boy. He was that – vital and full of life. Dragon was the first son of the first son of the first son.
Cry, the Beloved Country is the deeply moving story of the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son, Absalom, set against the background of apartheid-era South Africa and a people riven by racial injustice. It is also a story of the loss of two sons. They made the book into a movie, which I saw years ago. The only line I remember from the movie is one that Pastor Kumalo remarks to James Jarvis, about Arthur, Jarvis’ son: “Your son,” said Kumalo, “there was a brightness about him.”
Years later, that line came back to me, out of nowhere. In my vanity, I thought that line about my own son, about Dragon. There was a brightness about him. There was an intellect and a curiosity, a sparkle and a spark. There was seriousness and humor, wisdom and wonder, strength and beauty, kindness and love. Oh God Oh God, where has he gone? The light in my world has died, and I am exiled to a different planet. You all still live on Planet Earth. I now live on Planet I Lost My Son.
The second year has been harder than the first. I didn’t think it was possible, but this second year has been worse. The first year, I was in shock. It was like I was periodically under anesthesia. When you go into surgery, they put you under, because you couldn’t handle them cutting open your heart without it. The second year, my heart still gets ripped out, but now without sedatives. The pain comes less frequently, but somehow, it is even more raw.
That, and Daniel and I keep fighting. The first year, we were gentle with one another. We gave each other a lot of grace. I looked at Daniel and saw a man broken from his pain. In me, he saw the same. Our shared grief engendered a tenderness. But now, this second year, we can’t stop hurting one another. All our bad behaviors are back with a vengeance. All the tenderness, gone. I lost my son – will I lose my marriage too? Dragon, did you know, that when it rains, it pours?
Frankly, it was a terrible winter break. Last Christmas was hard, but we barely survived this one. And now, a torrent of storms. Real, physical storms to accompany the emotional, metaphysical ones. California needs the rain, and I am thankful for it, but it’s always hard for me, the rain. Sometimes, when the rain comes beating down, and I’m inside, dry and warm, I can’t help but think bad thoughts: He’s out there in the rain. Vitality Boy. There was a brightness about him.
Mom, did you know that you get wetter when you run than when you walk in the rain?