Shortly after Rich’s own birthday in 2015 (when his fistula returned), he and I went to Target and bought birthday cards for Ian for his 7th through 18th birthday. I took a picture of the receipt, because I take pictures of everything, and I felt like there was a story on that piece of thermal paper.
Rich wrote out notes on all of the cards, closed them in envelopes, and put them in the fire box. About a year later, he handed them over to Travis to be their custodian.
This year, Ian wanted to have a birthday adventure versus a standard party, so we spent the weekend in Luray going to the caverns, playing around the log cabin we rented, trying out a canoe on the pond, and zip lining in the trees. However, we made sure to be home on Sunday evening in time to have pizza dinner with Travis and Zoe.
As we were unpacking the truck from our trip in anticipation of their arrival, Ian said, “It’s kinda messed up that Daddy wrote all these cards and expects me to read them when he couldn’t even bother to read all the notes that I wrote for him when he was dying.”
That’s my kid, dropping truth bombs in the driveway.
I agreed that it’s disappointing that Daddy didn’t read the notes that Ian wrote. I reminded Ian that Daddy didn’t feel very good then. “Well, yeah, but he could at least have had you read them to him if he was too sick to read them himself. I put a lot of thought and effort into those notes.”
I asked him if he knew what it meant to be in denial. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that. But it’s still messed up.” I nodded.
We went inside, had pizza with Travis and Zoe, opened his present from them, opened his card from Daddy, and played a board game together. Not a bad way to spend the evening.
Last night, I reminded Ian that he needed to finish his chores before we headed out to Atlantis Games for Tabletop Tuesday. As he put the vacuum away, I heard some rustling in the front room. He walked out with the stack of notes he had written to Daddy from the fire box and just handed them to me. “Here.”
I asked him what he wanted me to do with them. “I dunno. I just want you to see them. To read them. I want you to know what I wrote. I want someone else to know.”
And so, even though we were about to walk out the door, I went to the dining room table and read every note again, lovingly turning them over to see the illustrations and noting the dates I had penciled into the corners. I put his 7th and 8th birthday cards from Daddy with them and put them back in the fire box.
As we drove to Atlantis, Ian asked me, “What did Daddy do to get cancer anyways?” I explained that in some cases cancer is directly because of something you did (like smoking cigarettes or being exposed to chemicals) but a lot of time it’s just bad luck.
“Yeah, like, oh I know, here’s this kid who has a great relationship with his dad so let’s just give his dad cancer and ruin that kid’s life.”
I actually laughed out loud at that. I’m not sure if that’s an appropriate response but it was just so matter of fact about how shit happens and it’s not fair.
We talked about life being unfair (I mentioned this super great dude named Buddha who talks about suffering) and he pontificated about how “they” should have picked somebody without a kid to get cancer and die. Somebody that nobody would miss.