On a June day eight years ago, I had a conversation with HJ jr that went something like this:
“Hey, I wonder if I can remember every piece of chocolate cake I’ve ever had.” HJ jr said.
Sure I had misunderstood him, I asked for clarification.
“What did you say?”
“I wonder if I can remember every piece of chocolate cake I’ve ever had.”
“Umm, I don’t know. Can you?” I asked.
We’d just picked up a chocolate cake for my sister’s birthday party (so HJ jr’s musing wasn’t as out-of-nowhere as it might seem) and we were alone and driving across town. It was a rainy, wet day and the trip took about 45 minutes. As the wipers sluiced rain from the windshield and I negotiated the rain-fearful drivers we encountered, HJ jr proceeded to recount to me his memory of every piece of chocolate cake he’d ever had.
Though he was only 10 years old at the time, it turned out he’d remembered (and remembered) A LOT of pieces of chocolate cake.
Flashforward 3 minutes, and we’re driving him to his high school graduation ceremony.
On another rainy day a few years later, Stretch had a soccer game and HJ jr and I were in attendance. I was cold and wet and returned to the car. HJ jr went off to wander and roam. He’s always loved the rain. After a few minutes, I received a call from him.
“Hey,” he said, “can you come get me? I’m in a hole.”
“I’m sorry, you’re what?”
“I’m in a hole and I can’t get out.”
I discovered, after I found him, that he’d slipped into a bowl in a skate park, the cement icy-slick from the rain.
I pulled him out.
“Want to come back to the car?” I said.
He wanted to wander some more.
I returned to the warmth of the mini-van, settling in until the end of the game. Then the phone rang.
“I’m back in the hole.”
Flashforward 2.5 minutes, and we’re in our seats in the arena, trying to see him as he marches in with his class in red robe and mortar board.
During the fall of his freshman year, I am sitting with him at the dining room table and we’re work our way through his homework. As an English teacher, I have no trouble with freshman level humanities assignments and an incredible amount of trouble helping him with his Algebra. He struggles there because of long diagnosed learning issues and through the course of the year, it becomes clear that he’s not getting the support he needs to succeed in math and the class is an academic disaster for him.
He decides he wants to transfer from my alma mater and bravely tells The Cinnamon Girl and me that things aren’t working.
He moves on to Eaglecrest High School with confidence, going from a class of 175 to a class of 600. He doesn’t miss a beat. He excels.
Flashforward 2 minutes, and he’s sitting a few hundred feet from us, ready for his name to be called and, in the graduation program, the asterisk by his name denotes that he’s graduation with highest honors.
HJ jr set very high goals for himself, especially after what happened in math his freshman year. He wanted to be in Advanced Placement Calculus by the time he finished high school and wanted to take the AP test. In order to do this, he would have to convince his new school to let him take concurrent math classes. Following that, he’d have to teach himself a year’s worth of calculus in an online course. After that, he’d have to prove to the teacher of the AP Calculus class that he knew enough to succeed in the course.
He did it. He did all of it.
Flashforward 1.5 minutes, and he’s standing up, handing his name card to a diploma reader, ready to walk.
I am sitting with The Cinnamon Girl and we’re reading his yearbook. What his teachers have written is incredible. Both The Cinnamon Girl and I are teachers, and we’ve inscribed hundreds of yearbooks between us. I’ve never read what I’m reading.
“It will be generally impossible, in my opinion, to find another student as hard-working, as motivated, inquisitive and respectful as you.”
“… so few are there of your caliber.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Flashforward .5 minutes, and his name is announced, he’s got his diploma in hand and I am tearing up.
There is no other kid like HJ jr. I can think of no other young man as reflective and confident. When I married his mother, I got an amazing bonus son in bargain. My life is more rich and more full because he is in it. From chocolate cake to Pomp and Circumstance, the journey has been both quick and rewarding. And I will miss you as you move on to college.
Thank you for who you are.
Sous Chef and Stretch are lucky to have you as a brother.
I am lucky to have you as a step-son.