(verb) be deprived of a loved one through a profound absence, especially due to the loved one’s death.
He was happy. She stood in the middle of the campus courtyard and ran her fingers over the plaque, over the nine names of the “gone but never forgotten.” The world got blurry, and she forced her hands against the granite in front of her hoping she could find balance in it. It was strong and held her sturdy as the world turned, just as it had for the past year.
She thought about his smile. She thought about the way it glimmered. It was a happy smile. She thought about his laughter, and the way it was simply electric. It was happy laughter. She thought about the conversation they had just hours before it happened.
“The new pledges are in, so that’s all started.” He said.
“Are you being kind?”
She laughed, “I saw photos of you on facebook at some formal.”
“Yeah.” He laughed a little.
“Yes she is.” She could almost see his blushed cheeks on the other end of the phone call.
“Are you thinking about asking her out again?”
“Yeah. I might. I just don’t know if I want to be held back.”
She just sighed.
“Hey!” His tone shifted, “I think I’m going to try to work in New york this summer.”
“Really?” she sat up in her seat.
“Yeah. Can you ask around? Just see what internships are around.”
But now she’s here. She’s where he was when he called. She’s where he shared many of his glimmering smiles and electric laughs. She’s here, on the campus where everything fell apart.
She hadn’t been back to campus since the day she dropped him off three years ago. It was the safest of the colleges they had looked at, and the most beautiful too. It was in a rich area of California. The school was large, but the town was small, and the crime rate was low. She would be worried no matter where he went, but she felt such ease when he chose this one.
“Can’t you just see me here, mom? Can’t you just see the next few years right now?” He had said when they arrived to campus for freshman move-in day. He looked so small in the shadow of his towering dormitory building. His brown hair was freshly cut, and his face was dusted with the new growth of his youthful whiskers. She hadn’t seen him this sure of anything since the day his father left. She had never in her life seen him so proud of himself.
“It’s perfect, JD. You’ll do so well here. I can’t wait to see who you grow into.” He belonged. She could see it on his face. She could see it in his eyes. She could see it in the kids around him. This place was made for him and he for it.
A tear fell on the dark stone memorial and she was ripped back into reality. It landed on the name Allison White. She watched the tear roll down to Celeb Jones and wiped it away before her eyes could follow it to any other names.
She pulled away from the plague and stepped backwards, first just one step, then two, then the yards between her and the plaque increased until she felt her foot sink into the dirt of the garden behind her. She was suddenly way too aware of reality.
“My boy,” she whispered to herself, “My baby boy.”
Two years ago on this very day she had been at work. It was a sunny day, and the city was in a rustle as any other Monday morning. She sipped her coffee and looked out of her fourteenth story window at the excitement of her long loved New York City.
“Ms. Keller.” Her secretary beeped in.
She turned towards the intercom system and set her coffee on the black painted wooden desk. Then pressing her bright red painted finger against the button she asked, “Yes?”
“Mr. Robert Ramey is on line three for you.” With out even thanking the mousy voice on the other end, she picked up the phone and pressed the button for line three.
“Mr. Ramey!” Her voice carried the perfect balance of charming and professional, an art she had developed after years of the business world, “How are you today?”
“Hello, Margaret!” His voice was warm, a rarity in that world, “I can’t complain as of now, but the day is young. And you?”
“Oh, I feel the same way.” She gave a delightful and terribly unauthentic giggle, and continued, “How may I help you today?”
“Well I got your email this morning about your son.”
“Yes?” she urged.
“And we’ll of course have to do an interview, but his resume seems to illustrate a fine man for his young age. He seems a great candidate for our company.”
“Oh, he is a fine young man, but I am, of course, a little biased.” They both laughed, “I’ll definitely have him…”
An urgent warning email popped up on her computer screen from his school, and she was temporarily distracted.
“I’ll have him get in touch to set up that interview.” she continued, disregarding the e-mail. That school sent urgent warnings with the slightest drop of rain, with the smallest crime anywhere near the vicinity, with the most far-fetched of student written bomb threats on the bathroom walls. This was nothing new. It could wait.
There were three people who attended his funeral, but there were hundreds who stood outside the gates shouting their hatred. People had traveled across the country to express detest over his short life. She held on to her own mother and father as they lowered her son into the grown.
“That’s my boy.” She fell to her knees and her shouts could have rivaled any of the protesters, “That’s my baby boy. That’s my whole world.”
And life started to spin. Her world began to spin without him and it never stopped.
And just two years later she stood there approximately seven yards from the plaque, the plaque of Allison and Caleb, and seven others. Her once-blonde hair was dyed brown in attempt to disguise her from the hatred of those who knew her by association, but a new gray was slipping in at the scalp. Her body was thirty pounds smaller than the day she buried him.
She heard the bell tower, and she saw students begin to pour out of the building. It seemed the safest school of the three he chose. But safety goes beyond physical protection. He was happy, but happiness must go beyond his ten-minute conversation home.
“Caleb Jones. That was someone’s baby boy.” She whispered.
“Allison White. That was someone’s baby girl.” The thoughts tortured.
“Jackson David Keller.” She nearly wept his name as she remembered his curly hair bouncing as he ran at her. She thought of his apple-cheeked smile and his unsteady two-year old demeanor. She remembered his saggy baseball pants and the hat that tilted off of his small head to cover his big green eyes. She saw him in a graduation cap and gown with medals and golden ropes draped around his neck and over his shoulders. She saw him waving goodbye through the security fence at the airport as he boarded his flight to begin his third semester of college.
“He was my boy. He was my world. He said he was happy.”
photography by: Chelsea Sweet