When I started this blog two years ago, my first entry was about pumpkins. You see, our family had a tradition, started when Dragon was just days old, of taking photos with pumpkins. I was more consistent about our pumpkin photos than even our Christmas cards. I suppose I loved the bright orange of the pumpkins, the simple pleasure of choosing a pumpkin to take home and carve. Halloween doesn’t have the pressure of gifts and parties that come with Christmas. So I have a consistent photographic record of Dragon and Hannah’s growth, year after year.
In 2015, as you know, Dragon was killed. Suddenly, the light went out in my world, and I wanted to die. Without mercy, just a few weeks later, Halloween rolled around, but suddenly there was no son to take to the pumpkin patch, to measure how tall he’d gotten by the hand-painted sign. For the first time in fifteen years, our family photo tradition was broken. Yes, we went to a pumpkin patch with Hannah, but it was not the same. It would never be the same. Last year, I didn’t even bother to go.
This year, it’s different. Time marches on. This year, on Halloween, the high school seniors that are Dragon’s friends were frantically finishing their college applications, as early action program deadlines were Nov. 1. So, this year, I didn’t miss the pumpkin patch. This year, I was hit by the realization that had Dragon been here, he would be putting the finishing touches on his college essay. He wouldn’t have wanted to go trick-or-treating; he would have put his foot down if I had suggested he take a break from his common app to help me choose the perfect pumpkin or to pose for photos. But he wasn’t here. For us, there was no high school senior scrambling to meet a college deadline.
But time marches on. Yesterday, we took Hannah to UCLA for her first college tour. It was a mirror of the college tour we took with Dragon to Daniel’s alma mater, except instead of going to the Engineering School as we did with Dragon, we visited UCLA’s School of Film, Theater, and Television. Hannah was impressed, both with the film school and with the UCLA campus. She loved the cool Fall weather, loved walking down Bruin walk with the leaves blowing around her feet. She loved checking out the coffee shops, the sculpture garden, Ackerman Union, meeting up with Lauren and seeing the whole college experience through Lauren’s eyes. Meanwhile, Daniel and I inwardly cried with every step, unable to shake the deja vu feeling of having done all this with our firstborn, remembering Dragon’s shy smile as his eyes opened to the idea of college. We were all picturing Dragon someday walking the paths of his own college, saying hi to his own friends, living his own adventure.
And tomorrow is Dragon’s birthday. He would be 17. The last birthday we celebrated with him was when he turned 14. He had his buddies sleep over. We made homemade pizzas. We had pumpkin pie and sang Happy Birthday. The boys stayed up late, and played pranks on each other all night. The next morning, Justin mysteriously had words and symbols drawn on him in red marker. Dragon was so excited to have smoked salmon and bagels for breakfast. We took the boys to the Newport Back Bay, where they went paddleboarding. They laughed as they pulled away from the beach, and though Hannah and I tried to follow, the boys quickly outpaced us and we lost sight of them. We finally caught up with them on their way back. Dragon aimed a spray of water at me, soaking me, making me scream. The boys started bumping into each other, making each other fall in, because what fun is paddleboarding unless someone falls into the water?
In the middle of a shallow area of the Back Bay, there is an island that we usually go around, a marshy land mass covered in tall grass. As we rounded the island, a rush of wings came beside us. A silver cloud of a hundred small seabirds ascended, circled, descended, and landed back on the island. “Wow!” I heard Dragon exclaim, exhaling a breath. And then we were silent, awed by the beauty.