– i wrote this blog with Chris’s blessing and permission. there have been a lot of questions asked, and a lot left unasked. i hope that from this, you will understand, how important it is to be aware. every day. of the struggles teens go through. and that even the smiling kid, can have a lot of things going on under the surface that you know nothing about. and as a parent, that is terrifying. talk to your children. tell your children to talk to other children. really, thats all you can do. sadly.
this is about casey, and my relationship with him. about his place in our family, and in our hearts. always.
The most frequently asked question is: “do you know WHY? was there a LETTER?” Overwhelmingly these questions come from other parents. The real question is “how can i prevent this from happening to my child?” The answer is: you cant. You can try. You can do everything in your power to do things “right”. But in the end, sometimes things happen that you can not imagine, fathom, understand or make ok. They just are. All you can do is move on, and try to find some way to honor the person who decided they had had enough on this particular trip on the marble
The first time I met Casey he was 8 years old. I’d been dating his father for almost 6 months before I met the boys for the first time. Chris and his ex-wife were only separated a short time when Chris and I met, and his ex-wife got remarried something like 80 days later. To say the boys had been through a whirlwind was an understatement. So, while Chris had been spending time with my kids, this was my first meeting of his.
We decided to meet at Chuck E Cheese, despite my youngest childs abject fear of the mouse. I was nervous to say the least. I’m reasonably good with my own children, I have a hard time with other peoples children. I took my sister with me as back up. Not that she’s better, but you know. Safety in numbers.
I remember when Chris walked in the door with the boys. Two adorable rosy cheeked little boys. One with eyes just slightly greener than his fathers. One with the blue eyes of his mother.
It was an awkward few minutes. Introducing your children to your new girlfriend/boyfriend is about the most uncomfortable thing a single parent can do. Really. The 4 boys took off and played and the Smochs family was born.
There is a lot that can be written about integration of a blended family. Its not easy. But at the center of the nucleus were two boys. Casey and Chase. The two closest in age. Just under two months apart. Two wildly different kids. One outgoing and gregarious. A risk taker, a social being. Willing to ride down a hill as fast as possible with no helmet. That was my Casey. And his step bro, always watching what Casey was doing. My shy, slightly timid, reserved, abiding the rules middle. Chase. The rest of the kids circled around that nucleus. Taylor as the oldest being the “big sister” to all 4 boys. Harrison as the youngest being left out of the fray to a certain extent, but with Casey gently and consistently making sure he was treated fairly. Bear being the go between. While Chase and Casey were closest in age, Bear and Chase also formed a close bond in their goofy antics and general silliness that Casey tended to rise above as the oldest of the Ochs boys.
Our first vacation as a family was about 8 months after we started dating, and just a few months after that first introduction. The kids spring breaks lined up so we decided to take the children to mammoth caves in KY. We loaded up Chris’s dads RV and set out on our first of many adventures. Camping with the Ochs was a new experience for the Smiths. The first indoctrination was watching Casey come flying down the hill of the campground on a bike through the gravel, grin on his face, me with my mouth agape, hands on my head in pure fear of the landing. He skid to a halt at our site and just belly laughed. Chris laughed. Chase looked at me like “can i do that?!” Oh hell no. That kid was fearless. Watching Casey hatch at wood with a machete. Watching Casey play in the dirt. These were all new things my boys hadnt experienced in a life with a single mom. Eyes were opened. We celebrated my daughters 13th Birthday that trip. 13, almost 9, 9, 7 and 6. Our family.
Distinctly I recall the first time I tucked Casey into bed and told him I loved him. I was always very cognizant that the boys had a mother. One that they adored. My job was not to be their mother and also to not step on the toes of that relationship. I saw my role more as a mentor. As an ancillary support to the system. I was hesitant to get too close. But i coudnt not tuck them in. I couldnt not tell them goodnight and I couldnt not speak the love in my heart for them. I didnt expect the words back. And i didnt get them back often. But when i did. They meant something.
Life went on. Changes took place.
Casey grew. I watched him play baseball, then basketball, then football. I saw his father, father him. Mentor him. Teach him.
I saw the struggles as Chris’s boys worked through the juxtaposition of living in two households. Chris and I spent hours upon hours dissecting all 5 kids, what was working. What wasnt. We adjusted. Adapted. changed to accommodate them.
Casey watched. He watched everything intently. He watched my youngest and nurtured him. He saw the ways he could lead chase. He pushed him outside his comfort zone. He was a patient teacher. He could teach anyone anything. He had a gift for sharing his passions.
He observed Chris and I. He watched how we interacted. He watched me and the things I did. And he vocalized them. Casey always made me feel like I could do anything. And i wanted to show him I could. I wanted him to be proud that i was his “mother figure”.
Casey and I had some really great conversations. He could talk to me like an adult and I treated him the same. I always relished our times just the two of us. They were rare. But he always was very open with me. About how he was feeling. In retrospect, I wish i had taken a more assertive role in how things in his life were handled. But that wasnt my job or role. I was supplementary.
My best and strongest memories with Casey were the last year Chris and I were together. I think we all knew the end of our relationship was coming and i paid special attention to everything.
if I could sum up Casey and our time together this jumble is what is in my head:
urban bike rides. he loved the city as much as he loved the country and the lake. he took great pleasure in discovering the seedy underbelly that is city living. running down the pier at night going free balling with his 3 brothers. i can still see those white asses streaking down the pier in the dark. the giggles and casey swimming up under where i was sitting at the very far end, far enough away so the boys wouldn’t be shy about their escapades and scaring me by swimming up silently and grabbing my foot. the random hugs hed bestow on me when no one was watching. acknowledging the bond we shared that was between us that was something we both silently understood and shared with no one. i had his back. he knew that. the billions of times i cleared his plate when his dad wasnt looking, or threw away his wrappers or washed his favorite shorts, or his football uniform or hung up his towel or changed his razor blade or sent him a text or an email letting him know i was there.
and conversely. the way he’d grab whatever was in my hand on the walk back from the boat. the way he’d always grab the heaviest thing in my hand, even when i’d say “i got it, go. go run with your brothers.” and he’s say “no, let me help you”.
one of the last times he was with the smiths, long after his father and I split i stopped to air my tire. Casey got out to do it. I told him ‘get in, i got this’. And he said “i know you do. you always do. i sometimes forget. but let me do this for you. please?” and i let him.
the last day i saw casey. was a brief moment in the best buy parking lot, not too long after the holidays. i had the same feeling i always have, “oh, my casey. so grown up. GIVE ME A HUG!” and out loud I said “oh, give me some LOVE!” and he did. That boy always hugged me like he meant it. I watched him and his father walk into the store. My heart happy and heavy all at once. I had no idea, that would be the last time I saw him alive.
I have a thousand memories in my heart and my mind. I spent 50% of my life helping raise that boy for 5 years. I was a part of his life for 5 of his 15. A small fraction. But what I saw was a brilliant boy. a scared boy. an unsure boy. a cocky adolescent. a young man on the cusp of great understanding. a striking resemblance to his father. both in his heart and his manner. with the potential to do amazing things.
and somehow. somehow. for some reason. he opted out. this is the part i can not accept. this is the part that shuts me down. he opted out.
were there reasons? obviously there were. do any of us know completely what they were? no. no we do not.