From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2

Music That Might Never Be Heard

I do not love him because he is good.
I love him because he is my child.

Rabindrath Tagore

Spring had slipped quietly into our neighborhood and across the mountains with wildflowers and the scent of fresh earth reminding me of happy yesterdays. It was Mother’s Day and we were celebrating with our three grown children and their families, picnicking and playing volleyball in our backyard. We were having a wonderful time, yet I ached for the one lost sheep.

Our youngest son, Brian, was gone. He had changed from a loving, tender, family-oriented person into an irritable stranger before he’d left school and the tennis team, and disappeared into the streets six months ago.

I longed for the days when he would bounce into the house yelling, “Mom, want to go over to the school and watch me practice my serve?” On Sunday afternoons, he would set up “Olympic” hurdles for his nieces and nephews and cheer them on to victory, making sure they all got a ribbon. Sometimes, he made beds for us all on the deck, inspiring summer sleepovers and star-watching.

We missed him.

Though Brian’s sensitivity and compassion had endeared him to adults and small children, he didn’t make friends of his own age easily and faced relentless torment all through school.

At seventeen, he battled depression. Unable to cope, he ran away and lived on the streets where he was accepted, but after a short time, he returned home with the promise to obey house rules and get his life together. One winter afternoon, his sobs broke through the house. “Mom, come here,” he said. “I’m scared. The world is so ugly.”

I ran to my six-foot-three son and cradled him in my arms. Sweat mingled with tears on his cheeks. I wiped his forehead. I could smooth his hair but not his pathway. “Brian,” I said. “You’re going to come through this hard time. The world needs a boy like you. We’ll get professional help, and we’ll all work together on this.”

But within days he had disappeared again.

I knew when Brian was born I would have to give him up someday—but not like this. At three, he had played outside rain or shine, laughed up at the clouds, shoveled sunlight, built roads and tunnels for his trucks. One morning he ran in breathless. “Mom,” he shouted, waving his arms, then whispering his secret, “Mom, my heart is so happy it’s tickling me.”

During his junior high years, he made friends with folks on his paper route. He would come home laden with plants to begin a garden. One widow gave him her whole stamp collection. Another of his customers was running for reelection as state representative. He left a note in her paper. “Mrs. North, I watched the election on TV last night. I’m glad you won.” He later served as page at the State Capitol with her recommendation.

A former teacher was on his route, and he helped with her sick dog. He sat with them many evenings and listened to tales about Chiquita, who could fit into Mrs. Hall’s pocket. The day Chiquita died he took lilacs to his grieving friend and left his dinner untouched.

I had rocked him through nightmares and fevers, panned “gold” with him at the river, led him up mountainsides and run with him in 5Ks. I wouldn’t give up on him now.

I opened the door to his room, stung by the lingering trace of his familiar aftershave as the silence screamed at me. I smoothed the quilt on his bed and kneeled down, burying my head in the softness, clutching for his presence, praying as mothers all over the world pray when a child is in need.

I grieved for the music in him that might never be heard, remembering his childhood notes—scrawled messages on paper—sailing under the bathroom door when I was bathing, his teenage knock on the wall to say goodnight after all the lights were out.

All those memories helped me through sleepless nights and dark days. After several weeks, Brian called again. “Mom, do you think I could come back? It’s awful here. I think I’m going crazy. Can you meet to talk?”

My feet barely touched the ground as I scrambled for my keys and ran to the car, praying all the way. There, in the dark restaurant, sat my son, hollow eyes peering from his haggard face. He looked like an old man, and at the same time, a lost child. As I approached the booth, he brightened briefly. “Hi, Mom. Thanks for coming.”

I sat down facing him, and he said, “I’m so confused. My head feels like it will explode.”

I put my hand on his arm. “If you can live by the rules, you can come home. You’re stepping in the right direction.”

He cupped his chin in one hand and looked out the window. “Last week I walked over to the park where I used to play tennis matches. If I hadn’t messed up, I could have earned a tennis scholarship to college. I climbed the hill where you always sat to cheer for me. It was lonely and quiet. I sat there in the rain till dark, then walked back to where I’m staying and slept in someone’s car.”

The pain in my son’s eyes tugged at my already weary heart.

He came back home only to disappear within a few days. Again he was lost to us. Worse, we had to live month after month with the terror of not knowing.

Somehow, the time passed. Mother’s Day came, my first without him. Bravely I’d picnicked and played, but in the evening, after our children had returned to their own homes, emptiness jabbed at my insides. I had enjoyed spoiling our grandchildren, grateful for our family day, but the house was all too quiet in the soft twilight. When a knock came at the door, I welcomed the distraction.

There stood Brian, his face thin, clothes wrinkled and stale, but his eyes revealing a faint spark behind the pain. “I had to come,” he said. “I couldn’t let Mother’s Day go by without letting you know I’m thinking of you.” He straightened his shoulders and smiled, holding out two pink carnations cradled in baby’s breath. I read the card: Mom, I love you, and you’re thought of more often than you’ll ever know.

His arms wrapped around me like sunshine breaking through black thunder, his voice barely a whisper, “Mom, I wanted to take my life, be through with the pain, but I could never do that to you.” I leaned against his shoulder and buried my face in the sweet, stale sweat of his shirt.

This time, Brian stayed. It was difficult at first, but now ten years later, he is doing well. And each year on Mother’s Day, I celebrate my son’s final homecoming, and deep inside I relive the wonder of this secret anniversary of my heart.

Doris Hays Northstrom

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