I wrote Del a story for his sixteenth birthday. I couldn’t think of a gift that he wouldn’t think was lame, and I didn’t want to get him a video game. The ones he liked weren’t cheap, and there were other adults in his life who would probably get that sort of gift for him. I wanted to give him something special. I knew that he might think a story was lame, but I hoped he would save it. I hoped that someday after he had grown up, he would find it in a box and know that I was someone who loved him enough to make up a story about him and his dog, adding in a bit of mystery, and a little Stephen King inspired chill. I don’t know if it was a good story, but I just read it again, and I think I did okay. I hope he does, too.
His father and I began to date when Del was thirteen, and I liked him from the moment we met. Del was quiet but open, easy to laugh and easy to talk to. I was glad that we got along. He was a good kid. When his father and I got married, Del was his best man. He lived, not far away, with his mom during the week and with his Dad and me on the weekends, and that went smoothly. There was never any trouble from him. He was the kind of boy who would groan before you took him to see a documentary, and then discuss it with you for a while over a meal afterward. He liked to play video games, but he liked political rap music, too, the kind that spoke about real issues. Sometimes he’d laugh at me if I said something seriously “uncool.” Sometimes I’d tease him about men wearing purses. I’d point out the car window when his Dad was driving, and say, “See there’s another one!” and he would say, “That’s not a purse. That’s a bag!” He was adamantly against dogs being dressed up in clothes and, me being a knitter and crocheter, he shut me down completely (but with a smile) when I showed him pictures of the handsome little sweaters I could make for his four-legged friend. There was the time I tripped and fell on a step while we were all in a restaurant. He laughed really hard, and he couldn’t quite stop even when I began to limp because I’d really hurt myself. He wasn’t being awful; he was just being young. He looked genuinely concerned and sorry when I gently explained to him how embarrassed I felt about falling, and being laughed at. It was the same kind of learning experience that we’ve all gone through. When he graduated high school I gave him a simple, yet stylish, quality wallet as a gift. It was a wallet for a man, and I told him so. There was a look in his eyes that said I wasn’t being sappy, that he appreciated the gift and what it meant. And he smiled, warm with the slightest quiver at the edges. We hugged.
It broke my heart when his Dad and I couldn’t make our marriage work. I tried to get in touch with Del to tell him how much I cared about him and to say goodbye. To let him know that I wanted to stay in touch, and he could call me whenever he wanted to, or visit any time. He was a young man, so grown up, out in the world, working and busy; I wondered if I would see him reach the future milestones of his life. I left him a couple of messages, and then realized that the ball was in his court, and I had to stop bothering him. After a few weeks he called, and I said the important things. He was polite but distant, then he said goodbye. We haven’t spoken since, and I just read his story again. I hope he has it put away somewhere, so that someday he can read it again, too.