September 17, 2013
Dear Dillon, Dear Son,
I have been thinking about your early years, trying to remember some of the salient moments of your childhood, events that seem conspicuous in terms of our relationship. Of course, my take on these long-gone years is subject to the pitfalls that plague any would-be historian: the human tendency to airbrush the facts (Lord, how we want things neat and tidy!), to substitute supposition for detail gone AWOL, the temptation to steer our recollections along a biased trajectory.
I plead guilty on all counts.
Even so, I am compelled to attempt your story, albeit in vignettes. That is because I miss you more than you can know. Literally. And now that you’ve gone where smartphones are useless, I find any effort (even a faulty narrative) that brings you back to mind lessens the sometimes overwhelming sense of separation I feel. And isn’t that ironic, given an entire continent lay between us at the end.
But tonight I want to remember a closer time. I want to remember you as a toddler—or rather, an incident from that era. I want to recall how determined you were to work your will.
So … here is a memory, an episode in the story of Dillon Tyler Urquhart; maybe you recollect it too? And from a more advantageous angle?
The family is living on Mallory Street in Lafayette, Colorado. It is our first real home, your Mom’s and mine, and you are our first, our only child, as your sister Devon’s birth is yet months away. You are three years old, Dillon, and heart-stoppingly beautiful—and truth be told, a sometimes pain in the ass.
At nap time, for instance.
Indeed, the idea of a mid-afternoon snooze is anathema to you. God forbid anything should separate you from Mom or Dad for more than a few minutes at a time.
All morning, you play cherub on a baby-blue cloud; but come 2:00 p.m., you turn Devil, bring out the big guns—the cranky, screeching, red hot fire and brimstone tantrums.
Dillon, I don’t know how you manage it. Oy! Such an infernal ruckus from a little tyke! Such howlings as one imagines from the depths of Hell! Only imagination isn’t necessary on Mallory Street—not at nap time. Hell is right here on Earth. And it’s been this way for months.
Your mother and I have tried everything: consistent sleep schedules to establish a set routine, back rubs as you lay a-crib to calm you toward sleep, favorite crib safe toys tucked in with you. We check in at ten minute intervals as you lay shrieking to show you’ve not been abandoned. And God help us, we even try reasoning with you:
“It’s important you get rested up, Dill. That way you’ll have more energy for playtime later.”
Nothing works. In fact, things go from bad to worse.
It is just a matter of time before the neighbors, alarmed by your daily screams, take steps. This is Boulder County, after all—bastion of sensible, compassionate child rearing practices; citadel of Doctor Spock pediatrics. No, not the guy from Vulcan!
In plain English, this is ‘no-spank territory’.
All this by way of saying that outside intervention is inevitable.
It comes knocking at Mallory Street on a frosty Sunday afternoon—civic concern in the person of a formidable Policeman. Indeed, ‘Officer Burly’ all but fills the doorway and he wastes no time informing your bedraggled parents that a report of possible child abuse has been lodged. I think you must be listening from your crib, because right on cue, you oblige with an ear-splitting screech.
I can’t help it, Dill: I laugh outright, inquire if it’s possible to lodge a complaint of parent abuse, invite the officer to inspect first hand the source of all the commotion.
Of course, the moment Officer Burly approaches your crib, removes you for a closer look, you are all sweetness and light, nary a whimper. H-e-l-l-o Dillon, heaven’s little mascot!
A five-minute inspection and you are pronounced safe—fit for future tantrums. But luck is with your Mom and me today, for Officer ‘B’ is something of a child psychologist himself. A pop psychologist. Literally.
“Have you tried top forty?” he inquires. “My daughter was a screamer. Neil Diamond did the trick. She liked a catchy refrain: Sweet Car-o-line, nah-nah-nah,” Officer ‘B’ warbles. “Must’ve played that track a thousand times before she was four. Kids like simple rhythms. They like repetition. Something that’s always the same.”
You don’t say?
Talk about a godsend. That’s Officer ‘B’.
And John Denver—aka Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr.
It was his “Rocky Mountain High” did it for you, Dill—that and “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” Those tunes on eight-track were lullabies to hours of blissful sleep. There must have been something in Mister Deutschendorf’s soaring, beautiful voice. Something as reassuring and as permanent as the Rockies?
Which brings me back to where I started, Dill. For it’s clear to me that there really is something to that old saw, “like father, like son”; for our relationship even in those early days was, I think, a struggle of strong wills. A struggle that lasted to the end of your too short life, Dear Boy; a campaign that pitted your need for a familial always accessible safety net against your Daddy’s determination you should acquire the confidence that springs from self-reliance, from knowing you could stand alone when necessary.
So I didn’t want to get too close once you ventured out on your own. I didn’t want to stand next to your struggles lest you reach for the ‘net’ unnecessarily. And, in truth, I didn’t want the mess, the pain of witnessing firsthand the inevitable suffering that comes with growing up.
That was perhaps unpardonably selfish of me—and a terrible mistake. A mistake not to have offered more freely and more often the comfort of something Rocky Mountain solid. Something that might’ve soothed your sleepless nights in those final illness-plagued months. Something more than phone calls and letters.
And although it is too late now, too late to bring you back, I send these few words into the ether, along with a few of Mr. Deutschendorf’s finest, against the hope that they will find you. And help you rest.
His sight is turned inside himself, to try and understand
the serenity of a clear blue mountain lake.
And the Colorado Rocky Mountain high, I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky.
You can talk to God and listen to the casual reply.
Rocky Mountain high, Colorado. Rocky Mountain high.
Sleep tight, Beautiful Boy. Sweet dreams, Dear Son.