Just a few months after Adam died in 2017, I saw a post on Facebook of his best friend Avery with car keys. He’d just turned 16, gotten his permit, and was about to learn to drive, significant milestones my precious loss would never see. … Of course my heart was torn from my chest … But pretty quickly, after a few tears in my kitchen, (this is weird) for some reason I just stopped swirling deeper into the sadness, which of course would have been totally appropriate under the circumstances. Instead a certain Adam-like something (I’m reluctant to use any phrase with teenager, death, or humor together, so I won’t name it) prompted me to reach out and connect with Avery’s mom, Ann.
“Well I never thought I’d see a silver lining in the tragic death of my 15 year old, but I gotta tell you… teenagers, driving…. well I can honestly say I won’t miss that. ….”
Perhaps it’s needless to say, Adam was not finished.
Fast forward, August 17, 2020. Derek, a friend from the football team, texts to acknowledge Adam’s 18th birthday. I invite him to come by, and though we had a relationship before, it blossoms. A few months later, after a successful first semester attending community college, he mentions one day that he might want to give college football one last shot. I offer to assist him however I can, and it’s suggested (by Ray Rice – more on that in the book and here in the blog in the coming weeks) that we begin by looking into HBCUs (the college application was another process I had lightheartedly not missed with Adam…and I suddenly find myself learning a whole new one). We make lists, work on NCAA clearinghouse requirements, email and communicate with coaches, etc. … It was during one of those times together that Derek mentioned that though he had his permit, he’d never gotten his license, or even tried to drive.
Next thing you know I’m in the passenger seat of my white mini SUV BMW (read the book for that story too) in the NRHS parking lot on a Sunday afternoon with this 240lb., 6’4” guy in the driver’s seat (which is pushed all the way back with his knees still straddling the steering wheel).
“Ok. Now. I want you to put your foot on the break, all the way down. Now, put the car into drive, and just very slowly lift your foot…” Circles around the lot, a young adult acclimates to controlling a moving vehicle, jokes about the people watching a big black guy and me in my little white car, Adam stories I never heard before, chuckles, lightheartedness, and I comment, “Ok, So you wanna hear something kind of weird, but funny?” I tell him about my comment above to Ann, finishing with, “And, I guess Adam had the last laugh, ‘cause here I am teaching you to drive.” Our driving lesson led to regular lessons (and even a lesson for Adam’s friend Corey), powerful conversations on complex topics, bonding, and finally a trip to Fishkill this past Monday for his road test. He passed!
I’ve been on a bit of a high since Derek texted me with his results (they don’t tell you on the spot since Covid, and you have to check later online), and I’ve spent time thinking about how and why my feelings about teaching a teen to drive changed…. Is it that I’ve learned to cherish things I didn’t before losing Adam? A new appreciation for something once I missed it with him? Or maybe it’s that it wasn’t my own kid, less emotion. Could it be related to the joy I feel having this young man in my life? Though he can never fill the hole of my son’s loss, nor I his in the loss of his own mom as a toddler, somehow we have still filled something more than special for each other. …
Or perhaps, after everything, I’m now just able to more appropriately balance the angst associated with mistakes and missteps of youth with an appreciation of the awe of watching a young person grow into adulthood….
I’m really not sure… but this I know. I’m excited for next November, when Jude turns 16, to take him to get his permit, post a pic of him with the keys on FB, and put him behind the wheel in the New Ro HS parking lot.
…But if you happen to bump into me around that time, I might need a reminder….