As August 15th gets closer and closer on the calendar, I find myself feeling more emotional as well. I think back to 2 years ago and what my life was like then. Honestly, that summer really did sort of revolve around Andy. He had struggled in school in the past and I really wanted a clean, fresh, start for him in his new high school with all new kids.
Andy was always an emotional and tiny kid. His emotions guided him in everything he did. One moment, he would be flying high and the next moment, he would proclaim that he was ‘the worst ever’ at whatever it was that he was working on. I struggled to find ways to give him confidence. This emotionality really affected his friendships as well. He would come home, tearfully telling me about something mean someone had done to him. The next day, however, he would say that this very same kid was ‘nice’ because of something else that he did. For Andy, forgiveness came so easily. He never held a grudge. It sort of drove me crazy, because I didn’t want to just forget about the nasty thing that the kid had said or done the day before. Unfortunately, this forgiving nature made Andy so easy to pick on. He would just take it and completely forget about it by the next day. I guess I desperately wanted that cycle broken and wanted other kids to genuinely like Andy at school, to know and love him like I did.
We did really enjoy that last summer as a whole family. We spent lots of time up at the lake, riding on the boat and water skiing. He even spent two evenings a week attending informal practices with the aviation academy high school soccer team. I remember having to almost push him out of the car that first day because he was so nervous. He was so tiny, not even 80 pounds yet, trying to play with the varsity team. When I returned to pick him up, however, he was all smiles, talking about how nice all of the kids on the team were to him.
Over the rest of that summer, he went to the new student picnic, started formal soccer practice and even went to most of the two week freshman orientation. With each of these events, I watched Andy’s confidence grow. At the picnic, he ‘won’ a ride on the DeVos helicopter and rode with a couple of the boys he had met in summer soccer. After all of his hard soccer practicing, he made the JV team and was named a starter. After just a few days of orientation, I remember him coming home and saying, ‘The kids at my new school think I’m funny, Mom.” I smiled and said, “That’s because you are funny, Andy.”
I don’t think he’d ever experienced that before. I think kids laughed at him plenty, but he’d never felt confident enough to make jokes that would make people laugh. I found my heart so light as I saw these changes in my boy. My husband and I both really thought that he was coming into his own. Then, in an instant, everything was gone. The night before his last day of freshman orientation and less than an hour after soccer practice on Wednesday, August 15th, Andy was dead.
Now, I feel like I am reliving that summer in so many ways. It is my younger son, Peter, who went to the summer new student picnic. It is Peter who will start freshman orientation soon. It should be Peter trying to make the soccer team and attending practices with the team, but soccer is too painful for Peter emotionally. It is funny really – Andy loved the game so much, but it was always Peter who was better at playing it. When Andy made that JV team two years ago, I remember telling Peter that if he worked hard, perhaps they could play together on varsity when Andy was a senior and Peter, a sophomore. Peter’s response was that he would work so hard that he would make varsity as a freshman so they could play together for two years. That dream died with Andy. Peter, who used to play soccer in the yard with Andy almost every day, has never played in our yard once since that horrible accident.
Peter turns 14 this week, and will now be the same age that Andy will be forever. I dread the rest of this summer and the way 2018 returns to my mind with every milestone that Peter passes. I dread the first day of school for on the first day of school in 2018, we instead had a funeral for Andy. I guess a little bit of me fears that something will happen to Peter, and he will never be able to start high school either.