Even as a completely exhausted middle school teacher, I have decided to work this summer. Mostly because I do not want to lose myself, as I almost did last year, free-falling with no safety net, into the many minutes left wide open to the darkness. Also, because I was offered a job at Hopkins, Jordan’s alma mater, employer and second home, which had me hoping I’d feel his presence up there on the Hill more than I feel the hole his death left behind.
On my first day, ascending the steep driveway, I braced myself, as best I could, for all the feelings I knew would come. I was immediately comforted by an empty parking space marked with a large 38, Jordan’s number, and I giggled at the silent pact made with him to park there every day this summer.
Crossing the parking lot, I paused before climbing the stairs that lead to the top of the infamous Hopkins hill. Those stairs, the very spot I dropped Jordan off for school every single day, for four years. Those stairs, the spot where I’d steal my hug good-bye and he’d grumble about how early it was. Those stairs, where I’d watch his back as he walked away and I’d wonder: how well does he navigate the world on the hill? Those stairs, where I’d find him sweaty, beat, yet exhilarated after football practice. Those stairs, where he’d sit and laugh with friends until I got there, the same stairs I pulled up to and caught him kissing what's-her-name. Those stairs that lead to countless experiences and opportunities, the same stairs that lead to what I was sure would be a beautiful future for my son.
When I reached the top, I turned and stood to face the view of the city below, and I thought of how many times Jordan stopped to experience the same spectacular view of New Haven, or perhaps more likely, how many times he’d walked right by it without noticing-- as he rushed to class or socialized with friends. I paused there, wanting so badly to feel his presence, to connect with him on some spiritual level, to hear that he was proud of me for being strong enough to return. Instead, I was lead to notice and imagine all that lay in my line of vision in the skyline beyond: the hospital room from which Jordan could see Hopkins, the cemetery I pass and blow 38 kisses to each day on my ride to and from work, his and my shattered worlds.
I pulled myself together, as I always do for Jordan, and ultimately survived my first day of work. But not without imagining him sitting in one of the chairs in my classroom, not without picturing him eating lunch out on the Heath patio, not without remembering him down in The Pit playing the sport he loved so deeply. And not without experiencing first hand how terribly sad and complicated working at Hopkins must be some days, for my nephew Diege, who was closer to Jordan than anyone.
Being a student at Hopkins was not always easy for Jordan, academically or socially, but it certainly was a blessing. One he would acknowledge to me later in his life. He learned to navigate prep school life as a public school kid. He made friends there that meant the world to him. He was beyond prepared for college and graduate school. And he was proud to return to Hopkins in his role as Coach Sebastian. The Hopkins family has supported Jordan and our family in ways too sad to relive. Hopkins continues to support Jordan’s legacy innumerably; it is a blessing. But damn, Hopkins hurts.
So why am I there? Because no matter where I go, I hurt. I remember, recall, replay Jordan’s life in my mind. I imagine what could have been, what should have been in his future. I have no choice but to live in pain; It is the price of love. On some level, being at Hopkins allows me to live a happier, more hopeful period of Jordan’s life, at least in my mind’s eye. And lastly, working at Hopkins is temporary, but learning to live in my pain will be my life’s work. I cannot skirt it, avoid it, get over it. He is my son. I won’t ever stop loving him, missing him, grieving him.
Instead, I will stand at the top of Hopkins hill, or anywhere life takes me, as Jordan’s proud mother, tending to my pain, counting my blessings, (even in a world obliterated), knowing that my grief is as deeply rooted as my love, eternally intertwined and essential to being alive. And I want to be alive.