In one of life's ironic twists, Jesse died at the same age I was when my father died. So now I see dawning adulthood from two different mortal points. At 21-22, it's rare to already have an adult relationship with your parents. I was sorriest of all that my father and I didn't know each other that way, that I was barely able to reach across the chasm of our ways to him. I had learned to indulge him some of his fantasies of me-- he had lectured me before Christmas, that I needed to marry as soon as possible out of college so I wouldn't be tempted to commit a mortal sin (I'm sure the Catholics out there know which one he meant). I didn't laugh in his face or tell him to go screw himself. Nor did I lie or meekly say, yes Daddy. I was growing up a little. And two months later he was gone.
So I search for indications that Jesse was trying to tolerate my parental idiosyncrasies. I'm sure they existed, and I can guarantee you I tested his tolerance more than I realized at the time (or even now). I can never ask him this. I can never know what it would be like to sit down with my first born and just talk about life like two grownups. And that was what I had been waiting for, for half his life. Don't get me wrong, I cherished every conversation we had. I knew all of his life that each moment we had together was special, irretrievable, precious. I don't know why I knew. I used to think I was just lucky to have some perspective, because of the loss of my father. Looking back though, I realized that somewhere in time, I would lose Jesse. I had recurring nightmares about it. I couldn't sing a lullabye without crying. Even before I became pregnant with him. He lived far beyond those premonitory dreams, though. I had him until adulthood. In my nightmares he never aged beyond fifteen.
Truth is, I cringe when people speak as if they take loved ones for granted. Calling a partner their "ball and chain" or complaining about the kids being around all summer. Or worse, openly wishing for them to grow up and leave home. They say they're only kidding around, but it hurts me to hear it. I want to shake them and tell them how horribly they may regret these words one day. How awful it is to buffer yourself against love like that.
Many of my most recent memories of Jesse were of him expressing some form of disapproval of me. His moving back home was rough on him, and, as with the divorce, I took the brunt of the blame in his mind. I'd made up my mind to just accept it, and wait for him to come out on the other side of that, too. Now I'll never have that. All I can do is replace the memories of his distance with the earlier Jesse, the younger Jesse who loved me unconditionally and lit up when he saw me. At first this seemed unfair of me: who am I to deny who he had become at 22? But then, who am I to deny his entire range of his life? If the closest time we had together is what sustains me, then that is what I'll take. Jesse may not have been very happy with me three years ago, but that was only a small portion of his short life, and to fix him at that point would be unfair to his nature. He wasn't the kind of person who would want anyone to be miserable for the rest of their lives over something he'd done in the distant past.
And I don't believe his unhappiness with me would have lasted, but suppose it had? Why should I pay for it now?