Sometimes, when I am lonely, I light a candle on the table of the apartment I use during the week. Last night, I lit one in honor of Tim. I was looking at a portrait of all the children that was taken in Hopewell when Tim was perhaps 18 months old. Their six sisters are gathered around a chair in which 10-year-old Mark happily clutches Tim to his chest. Tim looks as though, but for the hug, he might just slip from Mark's lap to the floor. Everyone looks delighted, except Tim, who appears merely to be tolerating the posing and fuss around him.
A few weeks ago, Tim did slip from our collective grasp to the floor of his room, where his mother had to perform CPR to save his life. He had used marijuana, then taken an overdose of pain medications given by a friend, then gone to bed when he found he could not concentrate on his homework. When his mother heard his strained gasps early the next morning, she ran to his room, found him unresponsive, and began emergency resuscitation. Molly and Mark were awakened by her yells to call first an ambulance and then me. Tim was transported to the emergency room, where he coded twice before being transferred to intensive care with aspiration pneumonia, sepsis and a collapsed lung. He now recalls a visit with his deceased grandmother, who told him to turn around to face his life again, and he did.
I look at the picture on the table and remember the pain on those very same faces, now 15 years older, and think how horror has changed them. On the day that Tim crashed, they learned the terror of realizing that what they had most feared, they could not, in fact, predict--or perhaps somebody might have caught Tim on the way down. The feeling they experienced--and I know too well--is pure outrage. We were tricked. And when we are not outraged, we feel guilty that family life has made us so gullible as to believe in a life free of trickery.
Of course, all children fall. To appropriate a religious metaphor from my past, adolescence is the long moment when we depart Eden and become ruined as our parents have been. Addiction is hardwired into my family DNA--experienced as alcoholism in generations before Tim's. Our youngest is not the first among his siblings to experiment with more current intoxicants. He only took it further, younger. And if the stakes are higher now, the reasons are external to him.
I look at that old picture, and I see the infant's cherubic indifference. How do I convince him that the fuss matters now?