Here’s looking at you, kid
I was sitting in a LAX brewpub, waiting for the daily flight back to Vail International Airport and another beer, only in reverse order.
The plane was late, my mind preoccupied.
The little boy was around three or four, crawling around the pub chairs with a toy car, making engine noises with his lips while his father patiently watched the basketball game on TV, doing his best to pay proper attention to both.
For the previous hour all I could think about was my “little” boy, who only a few days prior had been released from an L.A. hospital.
I watched the child, remembering my son at that age.
I had put a few thousand bottles in his mouth, and changed a few thousand diapers as a direct result. We played cars on the floor. We played ball out in the yard. We took trips together. I restrained him from being too rambunctious in public. I yelled at him when he misbehaved. He threw tantrums when he didn’t get his way.
I wasn’t home as much as I could have been.
He started school, made acceptable grades, played sports, graduated, went to film school in Florida, graduated, and was now an adult living on his own in California.
But a car crash had changed everything. He was not at fault, yet that point was temporarily irrelevant.
Back home in Vail the valley had just buried two other 19-year-olds. Both were from my son’s class of 2005, one from Battle Mountain and the other from Eagle Valley.
Both from accidents involving vehicles.
Both now gone.
If not for an air bag and a seat belt, my son would have, without a doubt, been the third local tragedy in less than two weeks.
A very sobering thought.
Seven full days of hospitals, hotels, insurance companies, car dealers, apartment management companies, California DMV offices, banks and 5 or 6 million of his newest friends and neighbors all simultaneously traveling on L.A. freeways at supersonic speeds was all I could take. But it was worth it for one emotionally trying reason: I could still hug my son.
It is not a reason I had been particularly aware of for some time, not out of ignorance or mental lapse on my part, just the hustle and bustle of everyday life always finding a way to get, well, in the way.
The depth of pain and suffering these two families have been through will never, ever be completely understood by any of us unless we go through such an ordeal ourselves. I cannot begin to comprehend their loss, but I can unequivocally say it has not left my mind for some time now.
If it lives, it dies; nothing in this universe is simpler, yet we are rarely, if ever, actually prepared.
I watched this little boy in a suds-aided mix between daze and a daydream, until suddenly I was snatched from my senses.
“Are you Richard Carnes?” asked the father.
They had stood to leave the pub, and he was standing next to my table. I was lost so deep in my own little world he could have been Osama or Obama and I still wouldn’t have noticed. I can only assume he mistook my puffy red eyes as a lack of sleep, not the held-back tears from watching his son and selfishly thinking of my own.
I looked up, shaking my head like I was Hoffman’s “Rain Man.”
“Yes … yes, I am.”
“I read you all the time,” he quickly replied. “Are you on the flight back to Vail?”
“Of all the gin joints in all the world …” is what I thought to myself, but did not say.
Instead we shook hands, exchanged a few pleasantries, and they wandered off towards the plane, the little boy still making motor noises with his mouth as they disappeared around the corner.
I wanted to yell at them to come back. I wanted to come clean with my emotions. Wanted to spill my guts about why I was in L.A., what had happened to my boy, how it could have been worse, so much worse. How he should enjoy these years, the young ones, while the two of them still can. Together. Get down on the floor and play cars with him. Make obnoxious engine noises, regardless of the glaring, perhaps even disapproving, looks from strangers. To hell with them, this is your boy.
But it was not my place. Nor was it my desire to come across as judgmental in any way or as anything other than just another Happy Valley local returning home.
I just wanted to tell him to hug his son. Hug him because he loves him. Hug him because of games they’ll play, movies they’ll watch, trips they’ll take, tear’s they’ll shed.
Hug him because he can. You never know when the current chance to do so will be the last.
Richard Carnes of Edwards writes a biweekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.