Friday, April 23, 2010
Christopher Brown was really little. In a class of third graders he was teeniest among all of us. He was also the most spirited. I adored him, so we fought constantly. I was a masochist for those bickerings and used to stare at the small gap between his front teeth as his mouth moved around them proving me wrong in little bursts of animation.
This is not a story about childhood love. It is not a story about friendship. Despite the presence of these things, this is pure ache and a lesson that broke my heart to learn. I will not go into sharing the details of what made Christopher a spectacular being wrapped up in the package of an 8 year old boy. I trust you find me credible and will believe this. I also ask that despite the longevity, in Chris' honor you read this.
On the first day of summer in 1990, Christopher was playing baseball with his brother, sister, and babysitter in his back yard and the ball went over the fence into a neighboring construction site. He climbed his swing set onto his father's shed, then jumped from the shed roof over the fence to get the ball. I cannot picture this in my head (either because the logistics are not clear or because my mind is protecting itself from this visual) but when Christopher jumped the fence his hand hit a latch on a crane which released two cement highway dividers. He fell and they fell on top of him. A very cherished 8 year old lost his life that day.
There was no closure. My mother felt that attending the services would be too traumatic and kept me from saying goodbye in person. I understand, but still. I agonized for years about this, even into young adulthood. So many blanks I could not fill in. I did not know where he was interned, when his birthday was. The specific day he died. Every milestone I had, I wished for him. On first days of school I would find his seat in class and then mentally spite the child who sat there. On last days of school I would be sick at the excitement around me. I'd imagine Chris's thoughts as the final bell rang and he dreamt of ponds and trails and popcorn at the drive-in, not knowing he would die by next nightfall. For years I just carried him with me. The night before my high school graduation I dreamed of him approaching through the crowd, as grown as I, and hugging me. In tears I type this.
Honestly I do not recall the specific details of the sentiment that I poured into 7 handwritten pages, but my message was strong and clear. I missed Christopher, I loved him still, and I REMEMBERED. Always I remembered him. The letter I received back I held with trembling hands, but never could I have been prepared for what Christopher's mother would share with me.
She spoke of the myriad of emotions that my letter brought forth, and I expected that would be the case. She broke me down entirely when she went on to write that receiving my letter was a true miracle that had breathed new life into their son. She shared that tragically, the loss of Christopher was so painful for others that he became rarely spoken of.
. Mary and I stay in touch and I am smiling this moment over the profound friendship I found in Christopher's mother.
I visit his grave when I am happy and seek to share that with him. I go there when I am hurt so I can have solitude but not be alone. My husband and I picnic with our young daughters there and they like the bells that softly chime in the fir overhanging his grave site. He is truly my forever friend, and my gift to him is ensuring that despite his life being stifled, his legacy never will be. Now you know Christopher. He was small, mighty, and magnificent. I would be beyond humbled should anyone repost his story as daily I fear that in his 8 short-lived and bittersweet years of childhood, not enough people had the chance to know his name.
In my heart of hearts I pray that people see these pieces and realize that despite the overwhelming pain in losing a child, there is healing for parents to simply know people remember.