We were new parents. Smitten. In love with everything about our children. We loved their leaps into the YMCA pool, we loved their shrieks as clowns twisted balloons into animals. The way they called our name. We loved their friend Randy tearing down sidewalks beaming, a tow-headed wonder in a red baseball cap, his parents racing to catch him. We loved his mom’s moxie, dad’s wry humor. The moment we met, we knew we’d be friends. We don’t know why now, but back then we knew things. We were launching, building, stepping into our lives. Side-by-side we pushed our boys on playground swings watching them glow and Randy always yelled, Faster, faster! We huddled on benches sharing animal crackers and raisins dreaming out loud about who our kids would one day be.
So many days spent together, year after year.
On crowded sidewalks, we recognized Randy on his Dad’s shoulders, reaching to flick every storefront awning. Could tell his mom’s crisp voice on the phone by her second word. We knew each other the way you only know families when kids are young and their bedroom doors are wide open and whole days are spent in each other’s kitchens. Now it’s a blur, except how we felt.
We don’t remember when Randy’s family moved downtown and began drifting away. Financial reasons, we think. We didn’t want to pry, and they didn’t offer. We tried to stay in touch. But things moved so fast. There were new teachers and school pals and coaches crowding our children’s lives. We called less and less, and so did they. Until we didn’t call at all. Once we ran into Randy’s mother, our kids were then in high school, promising we’d meet, but never did anything about it. When our boys left for college, we moved on to other things, forgot about Randy, his parents, that time in our lives.
Until the day we learned that Randy had left everyone.
There was an e-mail, a Facebook post, a story in the college paper. We phoned, emailed and Googled to learn why but found little. Hometown, Chicago; philosophy major; girlfriend, Liz. Who was this Randy? Ours sipped his mom’s tea at their butcher block table, and skipped down brownstone steps.
We thought of calling.
But had no idea what we’d say.
And so never did.
We couldn’t stop seeing his face, his empty bedroom, his shelf lined with snow globes, the glazed trivet with his toe-print because he’d pulled off his socks and pressed his foot, instead of his hand, into the clay. We thought of Randy when we woke up and before we fell asleep. A hurt rose from deep inside us. It rose from a still and quiet place where a parent’s love always lives. The place where we could still sense that lift we’d always felt when our children ran to us beaming. The place where something always told us to silence our yells so we wouldn’t harm them. The place where we still heard our kids’ voices happily singing. The place where there’s no room for the notion of our children ever leaving us.
Someone said it must have been depression, pressure. We needed to know for sure. And exactly how he did it. We hated ourselves for this but couldn’t help it. And so we asked, but no one knew. We pictured the boy with blond bangs and gun metal eyes and wondered if there had been signs – a latent flaw, hiccupping synapses, a disturbing tic, his parents’ marriage. We wanted to erect a thick wall of facts between us and our sorrow. Reasons why they weren’t like us after all, how they were different, why it couldn’t happen to our children – to us.
But there were none.
This just happens, someone said. The inexplicable commingling of fluctuating brain chemistry and opportunity.
Before entering the church’s darkness, its minor key and throngs of tears, we hugged our tall sons in dark suits, their solid arms and shoulders tense with life. Inside, our eyes traveled over hundreds of heads until we spotted Randy’s parents, bowed over, postures caved in and we looked down at stone.
Then it was over.
The church doors opened to May skies and we walked home in silence, past the school, past the YMCA and then came to their old playground now flooded in midday light. There we remembered one time, one afternoon. The conversation had paused and we looked up to see our little boys hugging at the top of the slide. We didn’t say watch out, be careful. We simply beheld something bigger as sun spilled on Randy’s face. Call it the life force, God’s hand, right there in front of us in Randy’s utter bliss, jubilant laugh – such absolute wonderment – before he took that step and slid.
Andrea Marcusa is a fiction and essay writer. Her work has appeared in River Styx, Ontario Review, New South, Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times and other publications. In 2013, 2014, and 2015, she was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Recently she was a finalist in the Dorothy Churchill Cappon Prize for essay sponsored by New Letters. You can follow Andrea’s musing about the flora, fauna and people of New York City’s Central Park via Twitter: @My_Cen_ParkNYC. She lives in New York City with her husband and Cockatiel, L.B.