By Derrick Galloway
Julius always seems to find himself in a dangerous and crazy situation every time I visit him and it seems to me that I constantly have to help him. Being his father, there is nothing that I love more than my son and I will always be ready and willing to do anything for him.
“Julius! I told you to stop climbing that ladder. Now come on down before you hurt yourself,” I say with gentle authority.
Being only four years old, little Julius does not understand the dangers of the world. Just last week I had to stop him from swallowing a whole pack of gumballs. “I’m scared to come down,” says Julius with his bright blue eyes turning toward the ground then hastily looking away. “I might fall.” His arms begin to shake as his hands clenched on to the sides of the ladder as hard as possible.
“You won’t fall and I will be right here if you do, ready to catch you,” I say determined to put his mind at ease. I lightly tap on the ladder a few times to let him know that I am right here under him. He begins to take a step down but can not muster the courage to release his foot from the bar.
Still shaking, Julius mumbles, “You sure you would catch me Daddy?”
“Yes son, I’m right here. Now take your time, one step after another,” I answer. My son begins to take another step, manages to get his foot off the bar but quickly places it back.
“Can you just catch me Daddy? I don’t want to climb down,” says Julius, defeated. Being only about eight feet above me, I am not worried about Julius falling as I can catch him easily. So, we are going to do just that. I promise Julius that if he falls I will catch him and, after a few moments, he decides to fall into my arms.
After catching him and letting him back down on the ground, he jumps up and down giddy with excitement. “That was so cool! You’re awesome daddy!” he says. Together, we walk away from the neglected beach camper and back towards the porch of our old house. Then, we manage to find a couple of worn down patio chairs and sit down next to each other and facing the overgrown backyard. The day breeze suddenly makes nearly every light blond hair on his head stand up and wave and, before you knew it, his hair was a mess.
“Tell me son,” I begin, looking toward the camper ladder, “How come you keep climbing up that ladder? What is it you want up there?” My son giggles as I look at him with a face of investigative curiosity.
“I wanted to see the world Daddy,” He says, making my heart sink. “And I can’t see all that much because I’m not as tall as you are. I want to grow super tall like you,” Julius points high as if I was as tall as the camper he was trying to climb.
“And it’s so pretty up there,” says Julius now referring to the view on top of the camper. A couple tears begin to stream down my face as I watch my son bounce around in the worn out chair with innocent wonder and curiosity. The whole world is interesting to him and he wants to see more of it. I look away and more tears begin to leak from my eyes and form streams going down my cheeks. I feel the cool breeze hit my face and the tears drip from my chin. Wiping my eyes, I turn to my son who is now at my side hugging me as tight as he can and telling me that everything will be okay.
After a few moments, I feel my wife Mariana’s hand on my shoulder. I place my hand over hers as she tries to console me once again but to no prevail. “It’ll be okay honey…” The sadness and fatigue in her voice only worsens my sorrow. A few moments later she begins again, “Julian, we got to go home and get dinner. We’ll be back next Sunday but you can’t stay here all night again.” Of course, she will never understand why being here is when I am at my happiest. But I know that me being here for so long during my visits is starting to worry her and make her unhappy. I know it is a sacrifice every time I leave this place and despite wanting desperately to stay, I allow her to convince me to head back to the car.
I say my goodbyes to Julius and follow her through the side fence, across the front yard and back to our new car. After opening the passenger door I turn back toward the house and stare, wistfully, for several moments. Upon hearing her softly calling my name for probably the third time, I finally turn away and get into the car. The sun begins to set as I lay my head against the window, shut my eyes and try to get lost in thought.
I still can not understand.
‘Why do we leave him all alone for a whole week at a time? Who is here to take care of him, keep him out of danger? No one,’ I keep thinking to myself, trying to make sense of the situation.
The clouds above us unleash gentle strains of tears and muffled thunder lightly booms in the distance as we drive away from true home once again.
The week drags by as I wait for Sunday to finally roll around the corner. Every day I spend thinking about what Julius might be doing, what trouble he could be getting himself into. I am hardly able to sleep at night not knowing whether or not my son is okay and, to Mariana’s expense, toss and turn in bed for hours before finally allowing myself to fall asleep.
Now, it is Saturday and my mind is rushing with different ideas for all the things Julius and I can do for tomorrow. There is a pool in the backyard of the old house and Julius’ birthday is coming up so I have been thinking that we can celebrate tomorrow by letting him swim. Although, I can not expect anything more than her typical response, I still can not help but tell Mariana. As usual, she fails to match my bursting excitement and instead provides the same sullen detachment.
During lunch, Mariana reminds me of my weekly obligation. As much as I detest it and see it as unnecessary, I know better than to miss my appointments every Saturday at the risk of upsetting Mariana. She has been patient with me and agreed to drive me to see Julius every Sunday as long as I go to my appointments. Thus, for maybe the fourth time, we go to see Dr. Keen who, of all people, tragically lacks any idea what is going on with my life. Although he tries, he simply will not understand why I have to keep going back to see my son and why I can not stop thinking about him. I, myself, have no clue why Mariana picked this guy to work through someone’s problems when he clearly does not seem to understand anything, especially about being a father. I open up about all of the things that Julius does when I am with him and the trouble he gets into every time. While all I want to talk about is Julius and how he is always getting into trouble, Dr. Keen always wants to talk about me and how I am feeling. At some point, I just stop talking and zone out.
My eyes wander around the mundane room that Dr. Keen calls his office while he carries on an equally mundane conversation with Mariana on how she is doing and if the new car is working fine. That, in fact, makes me start thinking about how I hate the new car’s smell. The old owner did not have it for very long but they definitely smoked in it enough to leave a permanent smell. For the life of me, I can not remember why we got rid of our old car. I remember it driving so much better despite being an older model. Granted, I have not actually driven the new car yet on the account of my busted leg. Fixing my eyes on the drab, gray wallpaper, I daydream about the bright and jovial atmosphere at the old house with Julius. Lifting him up high in the air so he can feel like he is flying above an expansive, green landscape with endless things to see or discover.
“Are you listening Julian?,” says Mariana irritably as I get dragged back into the cold, plain reality. Most of the time I am able to drone out the repeated statements and dialogue that goes on during our appointments. However, Mariana and Dr. Keen makes it their mission to convince me that I should focus on and try to understand my emotions, thoughts and other things I could care less about. Mariana continuously brings up how I need to get back to thinking about work and family and save all my thinking and ‘obsessing’ over Julius for the Sundays when I am supposed to see him. They specifically encourage me to focus on the bun Mariana and I have in the oven and the future.
I can no longer bear to listen to Dr. Keen go on and on about ‘present this’ and ‘future that’. “The baby is fine. Mariana has that taken care of. No one else is even thinking about the son we already have. I am the only one who actually plays with him, talks to him, gives him attention…” I say abruptly, cutting off Dr. Keen.
Dr. Keen looks down at his notes and tries to tell me, “I think after a few more weeks we should try to set your visits to your old house to every other Sunday.”
“No. No, absolutely not,” I quickly rebuttal.
Dr. Keen then repeats the same bullshit that he and Mariana have been telling me about Julius every session.
I quickly feel the heat rising in my body and my face fills with fire as I get out of the leather chair and begin pacing around the room. I feel a buzzing in my ears and a rough headache ensue. Next thing I know I am slamming open the door and marching back out to the car. There I wait a few moments for Mariana to apologize to Dr. Keen for me, come back out to the car and drive us back to our quiet, empty house.
It is now Sunday morning and Julius and I have been having a blast. I buy him ice cream and we play catch with a blown up beach ball for hours it seems. “Can I go swimming now Daddy?”, he finally asked me after getting bored of the beach ball and finishing his second bowl of ice cream. Mariana had told me earlier not to go into the pool because she did not think it was clean enough even though I had just made it spotless for Julius this morning. “Not only is it dirty but don’t forget about your leg. It still needs time to heal.” To put her mind at ease I told her I will not go swimming and I will just watch Julius. She settled and said nothing after that.
Julius finally gets his wish and gets into the pool and starts swimming around. I tell him that I have a few surprises for him after he gets done swimming. Prior this week I had gone school shopping for Julius because there is no way my son is starting first grade without the essentials he needs. Despite Mariana expressing immense disapproval, I purchased several nice outfits for Julius that I believed would make a decent impression on his teachers. He has gotten so big and most of the clothes he wears now just no longer fit him. “I tell you babe, by the time Julius is sixteen he will be even taller than I am. Maybe we should get him into basketball now, you know? See if he likes it.” Mariana just puts her hand over her face, turns and hurries away, sobbing.
Now it is just Julius and I for the rest of the day and I can not believe this boy. At some point, while swimming, Julius gets his trunks stuck on some inner part of the pool and panics. Next thing I know he was flailing around with his head coming up and down from under the water. Immediately, I jump into the pool, swim to him and raise him up above the water while I feel around and figure out what his trunks are stuck on. At first, it is a bit of a struggle, especially since my leg is in so much pain but it does not matter. I am going to protect my son. Coughing and sneezing, Julius apologizes several times for getting stuck and making me get in. “I know mom said not to…because of your leg.” Then he gets really quiet and says, “that’s because of me too, isn’t it?” as I lift him out of the pool.
“No, no son. Don’t worry about my leg. It’s nothing and it is definitely not your fault.” For the next hour I watch as my son opens his birthday presents and I can not be any happier.
“Why do you think he keeps getting into these positions where you have to help him escape danger?” ask Dr. Keen.
This session is a little different than the rest because Dr. Keen requested Mariana to just drop me off instead of staying here with us.
“Well, he just gets into trouble. He’s adventurous,” I respond.
Dr. Keen remains silent for several seconds before continuing. “How long have you been being put into these situations?” I scratch my head as the memories of Julius’ very early years are still a little hazy. Why can I not remember the first two years of my son’s life? “Well, um, I have been helping him out of these situations ever since he was three I think.”
“Three?” says Dr. Keen with some confusion. I then repeat what I had said and Dr. Keen proceeds to write something down in his little notebook and suddenly asks me to go on a ride with him.
We drive for about fifteen minutes before we come to a bank next to a river. The current of the river is strong as it can be heard all the way from the road. The road itself curves hard on the bank and the hill leading down to the river is steep. We park on the opposite side of the road and get out. Then, we cross and walk over to the bank and just stand staring at the river for several seconds. Dr. Keen finally asks, “Do you remember what happened here?”
The question throws me off because the location feels strange as if I have seen it in a dream. Slowly, an odd sense of dread begins to rise inside me.
“I don’t think I have ever been here before. It seems familiar but I don’t know,” I reply.
Dr. Keen asks a few more questions about the location and if I remember anything at all before he retires to his notebook. Although I have no recollection of where we are, Dr. Keen keeps acting as if I should and the longer we stay here the more chills I begin to get and the more I want to leave. Suddenly, the buzzing comes back as I wince in pain and finally ask to leave. Eventually, we get back in his car and drive away from that bank. When we get back to the office, Dr. Keen instructs me to ask Julius a very specific question when I see him tomorrow. At first, it seems arbitrary and pointless but the more I think about the question the more I realize that I do not actually know the answer.
I can not sleep. I just feel a strange amount of anxiety after that session with Dr. Keen. I am still over the top excited to see Julius tomorrow but I can not help but feel a sinking in my chest. ‘What is the answer?’ I keep thinking.
When I finally fall asleep I find myself driving in the middle of the night on a dark road just outside of town. I come up on a sharp turn and begin to turn when I see the brightest headlights I have ever seen coming at me fast. It is a much larger vehicle than my little car but before it can hit me I wake up sweating and gasping for breath. Mariana is still fast asleep but after that nightmare I can not go back to sleep. I just turn over in bed and try to keep my mind on Julius and off of whatever just shocked me awake.
As per the theme of the weekend, this morning has also a lot been more peculiar than usual. When I first got here to see Julius I had told him our plans which were to go to the park and practice throwing a football. Despite me encouraging him to join his middle school swim team all he wants to do this year is play football. So, I decide I might as well start getting him prepared. When we finally get to the park, Julius does not want to practice anymore. He seems off, quieter, less energetic. Matter a fact, I can not remember him actually starting middle school. I have some kind of memory of it but not really. Then, I remember the question I was instructed to ask him. “Son, you know I have to always help you in certain situations. You get into trouble a lot. Do you remember the first time I had to help you?”
Julius does not respond for several minutes and just sits there still before I finally ask again. Then, looking up at me, he says, “You saved me from the river remember? We got into a wreck when I was really young and you pulled me out of the water.”
In a second, everything gets really fuzzy and all I can hear is that damn buzzing noise. My head starts to hurt more than ever. Randomly, Julius stands up and starts running as fast as he can away from me. I try to chase him but he has gotten so fast. “Save me Dad!” he yells joyfully as he gets further and further away. I run after him until I am out of breath and collapse in the middle of the street. Mariana eventually finds me and drives me back home, telling me that we are going to have an emergency session with Dr. Keen immediately tomorrow.
Once we get home, I just lay in bed and try to figure out where he could have gone, what did he mean by “Save me Dad”? Is he going to the river Dr. Keen took me to? It is night now and instead of going to bed, I keep pacing around the house. Despite being told not to drive, I grab the keys from my wife’s purse and take off down the road in search of Julius.
I have no idea how I even remember how to get to the bend but I get there and as I drive up pieces of that nightmare I had last night start coming together.
My son was in the backseat strapped in tight. It was late and I had just picked him up from his grandparents who were babysitting him. The main road was closed and I had to take a detour. I was driving and then I saw the headlights.
While recalling more of the dream, I get out of the car and begin walking toward the bend. “Julius?!” I call out.
Then more pieces of the dream come together and I saw the headlights get even closer. They were so bright and I could not see at all. The truck had it’s high beams on and the driver was clearly intoxicated as he was driving in both lanes. The crash happened before I could react and our car was spinning out of control and sliding down the hill toward the river. Next thing I knew, my leg was caught in the smashed front part of the car and I could barely release it before the car was submerged in water. Within moments, I was being pulled out of the water by a group of strangers.
As I briefly snap out of the nightmare, I begin descending the hill toward the river. The buzzing has subsided a little but now my ears just ring and ring and I simply can’t think straight. “Julius?! Where..?!”
The people who pulled me out of the water helped me regain consciousness. As soon as I came to, I looked around for Julius but did not see him anywhere. I looked toward the river where the roof of the car was showing. In a panic, and with a wounded leg, I jumped into the water and swam toward the wreckage. I went under and opened the backseat door but it was too late. More people came and pulled me out again along with Julius, my two year old son who had drowned shortly after the crash.
Suddenly, there is no more buzzing, no more fog. Now, I am sitting at the edge of the river, knees in the dirt, in shock. Tears pour profusely down my face and fall into my lap as I try to wrap my head around everything. Eventually, police cars pull up to the bank and a few officers along with Mariana come running down the hill. The officers maintain a few yards distance while Mariana kneels in front of me and wraps her arms around me. I rest my head on her shoulder and soak her shirt with a flood of tears.
“He’s gone babe. Our son…”
Tears fall from Mariana’s face and onto me as she says, “I know baby. I know.”
“I’m so sorry…this whole time I thought, I believed…I wanted,” My voice trails as Mariana and I lay there in the water and dirt.
“It’s going to be okay,” she says as she moved my hand to her stomach.
I can feel the kicking of our unborn child.
She looks at me and smiles with tears in her eyes, “That is our future Julian. I want my husband back for the birth of our daughter. We have a future.”
It is now Monday morning and Mariana and I are visiting Dr. Keen who is surprised to see how compliant I am. He goes on to explain his analysis of my “mental dilemma”, he calls it.
“It seems you were in a severe state of denial and these delusions of your son were probably caused by you, on a subconscious level, delaying an extremely painful grieving process.” states Dr. Keen. “Based on the reports Mariana gave me about your Sunday ventures, you were never interacting with anyone or anything at all. You would simply arrive at your old house and stare blankly at certain places or sit for long periods of time and create these scenarios in your mind. For example, the story you told me about the pool. You never actually got in the pool at all and it’s actually been empty for months.”
He then proceeds to explain why taking me to the spot it all happened was necessary to combat my denial. I do not argue and I agree that I had to reach a breaking point before I could actually move on to acceptance. I lost my son several months ago at the age of two. I never got to watch him grow up or show him the world like I wanted to. Mariana wraps her arms around me, tears in her eyes again as I explain that I am ready to try to move on and pay more attention to her and the hopeful future, our unborn child.