I believe I am lucky to be married to my husband, Scott Rayson. Seven years ago, two days after Scott and I had celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary, our youngest son, Thomas, died. It was Father’s Day and Thomas was fast and I lost him in some woods late in the afternoon in East Tennessee in the time it takes for most any two and a half year old to run through a sprinkler, make a 90 degree turn and then apparently decide to play hide-and-go-seek. He had been playing a lot of hide-and-go-seek that spring much to the delight of his older brothers, his father and me. But on Father’s Day in East Tennessee in 2001 it took me 30 minutes to find him. I looked in all the wrong places while Thomas somehow navigated those woods alone through to the other side where he found a swimming pool with an open gate in a new subdivision.
Scott found me in the emergency room an hour after I found Thomas. I was sitting on the floor beside a stretcher where a team of ER doctors and nurses were still trying to revive him. When Scott came into that room he kept moving toward me, not stopping until he was down on the floor where I remember his face being very close to mine. He didn’t ask what had happened until after the ER team told us that Thomas was dead.
Scott is a blithe spirit, a good dancer and he tells very funny, inappropriate jokes. He can be a terrible tease, the big brother I never had. He has a fine memory for detail that includes specific golfing puts made with my father 15 years ago and plots from novels read in high school. He is generous with money with everyone but himself and so, much to the consternation and despair of our 14 and 12 year old sons, is currently driving around in an 11 year old car that he bought used nine years ago. He can fix anything but regularly loses his keys, glasses, wallets, watches and cell phones.
The man in fact has ADD and a busy law practice and on many evenings when he calls at 6:30 to say that he will be home for supper by 7:00, he doesn’t walk through the door till 8:00. This can be long after our four year old has fallen out on the floor crying inconsolably because the dog has chewed her favorite My Little Pony book or our 14 year old has broken the neighbor’s window with a really errant, wildly thrown, hormonally-driven lacrosse ball. And by then I am mad, really mad, telling myself that Scott is inconsiderate or that he wouldn’t be this late and not call if he were meeting a friend for dinner or that the children are going to be emotionally scarred by his constant tardiness. I resolve to start eating dinner every night at 6:30 with or without him.
Gratitude has seen me through many of the worst days since Thomas’ death. I am grateful that Thomas drowned because there are far worse ways for a child to die. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to try to revive him that afternoon before the paramedics arrived and I am grateful that Scott and I were able to hold his beautiful, sturdy, little boy body one last time. I am grateful that someone out there may be living on with tissue from Thomas’ heart. I am grateful that our church has a columbarium so that every time I enter that space I am near ashes from Thomas’ body. I am very grateful that we ever had Thomas at all. But seven years on as we approach yet another wedding anniversary and Father’s Day and so the anniversary of Thomas’ death I find that I am most grateful that Scott and I have a marriage that while forever colored by Thomas’ life and death is still very much alive. We are lucky that it was me and not Scott who lost Thomas that day in the woods because chances are I might not have forgiven Scott his lapse in parental vigilance and then he might have blamed himself for Thomas’ death. As it happened I stopped blaming myself years ago sustained in large part by Scott’s constant efforts to make it clear that he didn’t blame me for anything having to do with Thomas’ death. We didn’t lose ourselves, nor did our boys lose us, to grief or divorce. Scott and I have a 17 year old marriage that lets us laugh, fight, grieve, talk, get bored, joke, cry, still dance at parties, and sleep in the same bed at night albeit often with our four year old daughter arriving sometime after midnight.
One night this past week Scott is almost an hour late and counting getting home for supper. Our 12 year old, who is currently channeling Jim Morrison, announces that he needs my help to find a poem about “nature” for a homework assignment. I direct him, wisely I think, to Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry—he instead finds Wallace Stevens, of all people, a poem entitled “The Snow Man”. I read the poem and tell Jack it doesn’t have anything to do with nature. As Jack starts to protest I find myself thinking that in fact the poem is an incredibly coincidental description of a man so self-absorbed that he has become frozen, impervious to the mundane needs of his wife and children for a regular evening dinnertime schedule. Scott waltzes through the door right about the time that Jack is shouting at me that he doesn’t want to look at the Mary Oliver anthology and that really his homework is none of my business and he thinks the poem is indeed about an observant snowman alone in a wintry landscape, perfect for the purposes of his homework. So Scott reads the poem and agrees that the only way for man to be present in nature is to be still and quiet like the snowman. Jack brightens up, pushes some of the hair out of his face and exits the kitchen. Scott’s face is close to mine when he asks if I’d like him to make supper for all of us. And as often happens I am once again reminded why I believe I am lucky to be married to Scott Rayson.
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