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Bittersweet Birthday

How well I remember that spring morning eighteen years ago waiting anxiously. The call came about 11 a.m. while standing at the Bookstop, ringing out the occasional Sunday customer. Excitedly, I darted into the hold books closet where I could momentarily talk and squeal with happiness at the newsthat my friend Becky had given birth to Nickalis and all was well.

A photo arrived about a week later, showing Becky at home, sporting that should-be-stylish exhausted “new mom” look, holding a tiny Nick sprawled across her arms, wearing a onesie and little hand socks. Becky was the first of my high school or college friends to have a baby and by default Nick became “our” first baby too. I think he was just a few weeks old when I made it down to Houston to visit for the first time. I smile today remembering what an outing it was to push the stroller through her apartment complex to get the mail.

Pete Maniscalco and Nick T. Halloween 1993We rejoiced with every milestone – first tooth, first words, first portraits, first Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. His first haircut and first birthday party - a picnic in the park wearing cute little overall shorts. My grandfather – who died before my own children were born – loved Nick playing at his feet. I remember the first time the man who would become my husband held Nick. Watching them together I knew what kind of father he would be to our children. These images are so bright and vivid and happy in my memory.

The promise and joy of that Sunday morning eighteen years ago is overshadowed now with grief. The pain of losing him ten months ago is like a crusting sore that you try not to pick at. Except on days like today when his absence is overwhelmingly crushing.

Today, we should be celebrating his adulthood.

He should be at school laughing with his friends over goofy presents and their plans for tonight.

He should be taking senior photos and buying his graduation robe.

But he is gone from our lives in a moment of self-desperation that we can never understand.

And those of us left behind wake up today wanting to scream and cry and beat something until there is nothing more. Until we are completely empty and numb.

But life doesn’t work like that. I walk outside and the promise of new life surrounds me. Spring is back, with warm fragrant air, birds calling loudly, azaleas bursting into color, and trees popping with new leaves. Life marches forward, pushing us through one milestone date to another. Somewhere in this day I will grieve and I will pray and I will remember that little boy of my memories and the man he almost became.

Happy Birthday Nick. We know you are with God today, though we very much wish you were here with us.

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