As my life unfolds and I look back upon it, almost all of it seems inevitable. Of course I went to college. Of course I married Cary. Of course there is a wild seven and a half year old sleeping in a bunk bed right down the hall. But as it rattles around my mind, Errol’s death feels like the opposite of inevitable. In fact, what seems inevitable is that he should still be here with us now. After all, the hopes we held for our frail boy were so real, the future we imagined so vivid - the boy turning seven, learning to talk, learning to walk, graduating from his beloved school – that my mind plays tricks on me, and at times these aspirations meld with my actual experienced history and seem completely real.
Our family is out to eat, sitting around a thick wooden table, telling stories and playing games, when Owen becomes distracted by a girl with Down syndrome, who wobbles into the restaurant, hand in hand with her younger teenage sister. Her family is slightly embarrassed of her heft and the amount of space she takes up as she totters into the restaurant and they look down to avoid the eyes they imagine will be gawking at her. They have good reason to feel this way and I worry they will see Owen staring at her and scold him for gaping, but I know what he is seeing: himself with Errol in the future he imagined. But instead, this girl is here, plodding through the room with her slow unwieldy steps, hands entwined with her sister, and Errol is a year and a half gone.
Memories of Errol reverberate though our days like aftershocks of his life, disrupting our plans to move forward.
As the family stands there, waiting for a table, I want to walk up to them I know how hard their life must be, tell them how jealous I am of them, hug each and every one of them. Instead I watch Owen watch them walk off to their table, and I remember the elderly woman at the cafeteria two years ago who kept looking over at me feeding Errol his special bottle.
The old woman turns to us, across the room and through tears says, “They really are special.” I nod, lost in the shuffle of buttering Owen’s biscuit and mixing up another bottle for Errol. “I lost my boy when he was 32.” She says, and then went back to eating, unable to keep her eyes off our little family the whole meal. They sit for a long time after they have finished eating then her husband takes her arm to help her out of the restaurant and she looks back through glassy eyes at Errol laughing at his brother pushing slices of Jell-o across the table.
I remember thinking, that’s sad, unable to imagine Errol dying at 32, which seemed so far away, much less at 3 and a half. And now I realize that she was a prophet and I wish I had listened more closely to her warning and held Errol even more closely after that meeting.
I steal a glance at the family seated uncomfortably around the table, their younger daughter helping her sister keep her straw in her drink, and my mind is full of memories of Errol – imagining him here with us, wondering if things could have turned out any differently.