When a mother conceives, she immediately starts to fret. She frets over whether she has what it takes. She frets about how the kid will turn out, and whether she’s got any control over it either way. She wonders why anyone in their right mind would let her leave the hospital with a living, breathing, newborn baby. Before that birth, the world is about you and what you’ll have for breakfast, and how you look, and how you feel. But once that baby comes out it all changes. Your world falls away like the skin off a good peach and everything that was ever important to you falls away for that bouncing bundle of joy. Your world is his, and he is your world.
And in my case, I did it all alone. Little Jacob Danton Jr. was born on November 3rd, 2004 at 3:53am, by which point his namesake disappeared somewhere in Afghanistan. I was alone when Junior was born, but I sure as hell haven’t been alone since. And I never will be again.
My heart would have been empty without Junior. See, a widow’s got room in her heart for her little boy two times over with her man departed. She’s got to make up for two parents’ love and attention, or that kid isn’t turning out right. So I give Junior nothing less than my whole heart. The bond between a mother and son is unquestionable and unbreakable. It’s the love she always needed, and he’ll never go without. It’s an ever-evolving friendship designed by God himself. It’s the bond that cushions the fall of all others. If not a single person remained on this good earth besides Junior, I know I’d still be alright.
When I lost Jacob, I thought I’d lost everything. I’d never tell Junior this, but I almost gave him up for adoption. The thought of going on without a companion to help me raise my little boy was unfathomable, but it was my mother who made me go through with it. She told me there would be no greater joy in all my life, and that was the best advice she’d ever given me. Now, I couldn’t imagine life without him. Frankly, I don’t know if I could bear to live without Junior by my side. He came to me at the perfect time to give me hope when all hope seemed lost. He’s all I care about – all I have left.
Every day, my little boy gives me just the serving of sugar I need. He lifts me up on my heaviest days, give me laughter when things seem too somber, and shows me the color in a hue of darkness. One time at the county fair amidst four janky rides and a few creepy carnies, little Junior still managed to remind me of my own childhood. Running through the field with him was just like the days I’d do the same with my best friend Annalise before she moved out to the city. Every summer we’d go and ride every ride for the three days the carnival was in town the same way I did with Junior. I forgot it wasn’t Annalise running beside me more than a few times. Junior and I must have ridden that Ferris Wheel ten times, and the dragon roller coaster another fifteen.
And then there were our lake trips in the summers. My little boy tried to see how long he could hold his breath underwater every time we went. I’d ask him if he wanted to go kayaking or rent out a couple paddle boards, but I could never get him to do anything but hold his breath. A few times I challenged him to contests to see how long we could stay under. I would come up six times in ten minutes before he came up once. He’s a talented kid. When he wants something he sticks to it, just like his father.
These days I wonder whether Junior needs me as much as I need him. He’s getting older now. He’s hitting that age where they start to get stiff with you and talk a lot less. He doesn’t come to his mama for anything anymore. He used to want to play army men or hide and seek, or watch the Toy Story movies on repeat for the hundredth time. Now he stays cooped up in that basement doing God-knows-what to his heart’s content. He used to love going outside and staying active, but Junior can’t be coaxed out anymore for a million dollars. It would worry me if it wasn’t what every parent went through with a kid his age. He’s getting pale down there and a little chubby too. I started putting bug traps down there to keep the maggots out of his eyes – they’ve already gotten some of his skin.
I remember the day my little boy decided to hold his breath forever. His competitive side he gets from me came out when I challenged him to another breath-holding contest at the lake. This time he never stopped. He’s got to be setting some kind of record now. I go down and visit him in the basement to see if he’s finished yet. I’ll congratulate him when the time comes, but until then I’ll keep the flies off his body like any good mother would.
I stroke his hair softly to make sure no more of it falls out. I smile at him and know he’s living his dreams. Such a talented little boy. He’ll always be that same jubilant Junior from the county fair who took me on all the rides. I smile and kiss him on the forehead. He still smells like the lake. “I love you, Junior,” I say. He doesn’t answer, but he doesn’t need to. I walk upstairs humming a lullaby to him. I shut the creaking basement door once I reach the top, and flip the lock back. My sweet little boy.