When my nephew Jacob was little, maybe five or six, I bought him a kite for his birthday. It was a big, black nylon shark with a red open mouth and white pointy teeth showing. When I went to visit my mom's house, where he and my sister lived, we took the kites to the beach to fly--his new shark kite, and the rainbow-colored dragon kite that had been in my mom's garage for years.
I don't remember many specifics from that visit except that we went, and I remember how the two kites looked way up in the air, and the nearly violent flap-flap-flap of their tails in the off-the-ocean air.
Jacob, now 16, spent this past weekend in the hospital with terrible injuries sustained from snorting ecstasy at a party. There was a hole in his bronchial tube, a diaphragmatic hernia, and kidney failure. In the course of his stay he told about months and months of drug use--regular use--different kinds and in different contexts. He has been in counseling for the past year, but said he didn't find it helpful. He has his use under control, he said, and as soon as he heals, plans to start again.
I remember the nihilistic, ignorant arrogance of 16. I remember that not all the kids had it, but a lot of us did. I remember that at the time, I thought there was nothing that anyone could do or say that would have changed me. I saw myself as being carried on a tide, and being part of a wave--even a sad, self-destructive one--was better than being alone because alone meant unworthy of company and facing a self that I didn't like all that much. I remember that time in my life, my whole adolescence and into young adulthood, 14 to 22, being reactive, impulsive, unmoored, and angry.
1997. Me, 20, trying to come back to life, him, a month old, coming to it for the first time.
I want my nephew to want more from his time on earth, and now, not later, because if multiple organ failure isn't the catalyst for an epiphany, I don't know what comes next.
At some point I took the rainbow kite home with me, and it has moved in and out of four houses with us. Woody, Fox, and I took it out yesterday to the park. There was a strong, high wind, and even though it was cold, it was sunny, and we were glad to be outside. Woody had the first turn with the kite, got it up quick, and did a few trick loop-arounds with it. The sun was so bright it was hard to see it against the sky; it was almost impossible to tell where it was in relation to the ground.
All of the sudden, something happened and the kite took a sharp turn down, diving right into the high branches of a tree on the edge of the field. The string and the tails were hopelessly tangled. I pulled and maneuvered and climbed up to try and coax it down, but it was stuck.
We cut it loose and stood beneath the tree for a minute, watching the kite flounder and flap, wishing some lucky gust would bring it back to us, but of course nothing did.
We spent the rest of our time at the park on the playground. Woody said it made him a little sad, but he was glad for the fun we had had with it. He tried to explain this perspective to me because he could tell I was feeling quiet and unsettled. I thanked him for his words of consolation, and inwardly, I let the sadness of an out-of-reach, tangled-up kite sit for a while in my heart.