The hill at the back of my dad's childhood home separates a modest expanse of grass--a tiny backyard haven where we picked apples from my grandpa's apple tree and poked sticks into the water in the birdbath--from a multi-lane highway. When my sister and I sat atop the hill, we felt the breeze on our cheeks from the speeding cars while we stared at the towering buildings and dreamed of how different it might be on the other side of the highway. Though I felt safe alongside my big sister, the butterflies in my belly served to remind me that my fate might be different if I wasn't careful. There was danger at the bottom of the hill, but I knew well enough not to venture beyond the grass, and I had my big sister to pull me back when I was tempted. Summoned to wash our hands before dinner, we knew the quickest way to the house was by rolling down the hill from the direction that we had come.
Grandma had sold the house and moved to a more manageable place some years after Grandpa died. The big boys were too young to have been allowed to sit on the hill, which, when we returned to visit, looked smaller and even closer to the highway than I had remembered. I wondered how two unbridled little girls had made it through childhood sitting up there alone.
The fear of being unsteady atop the hill returns with the phone calls from school, the meetings where those around the table are perplexed as we are, and the defeat of yet another day where things didn't go as we had hoped. The tumultuous emotional states hold us captive, with each day, each hour therein, leaving us wondering where we will be when the dinner bell rings. It's no one's fault; nobody has done wrong. We are all just doing the best we can with what we have been given. And sometimes, what we have been given doesn't seem like enough for where find ourselves.
It has been a challenging year for my middle-schooler. The hard stuff started before this year, though, and this year is not worse. We are all another year older, and we are still bewildered. Our questions are just the same. A collective of things that happened, some not even on this side of the earth, impact his every step, and ours. He does, though, love middle school wrestling.
I think it's good that we don't know what the next day will bring. The force of anxiety propels us to the next hour, when we check the grades or when the call comes from the office, when we learn whether he will even be allowed to do the very thing that equalizes him to his peers. It has been a season of "maybe" and "almost," wondering if he will make it through his day without getting reprimanded for--sometimes--his own trauma, wondering if he will be eligible to go to one meet or another, and wondering, most of all, if this will be his last turn on the mat.
Thus far, we have not been able to quell all of the demons any more than we have been able to get people to understand that our son's reactivity has reason. I can't stop asking,"What happened before?" though I already know. I know, too, that if he sat atop that hill, there would be days that he could not resist the temptation to run to the highway. If he did, though, would they know that he was just a misunderstood little boy, and that he was afraid? That's a lot to expect the world to understand, but he is worth it.
At his last wrestling meet, the last of the regular season, he didn't have a match in his weight class. I had my camera ready to record his event, but he stepped forward with his arm held high in the air for victory, winning by forfeit, before I even had the chance to take a picture. I had missed my chance. I hoped it wasn't the end, just as I had hoped each day before.
He came out from wrestling practice yesterday with an extra skip in his step. He was excited that his season wasn't over--not yet, anyway. There would be one more practice--one more day--and that was all he needed to know.
We wouldn't dare take the little boys to the hill. It's a good thing someone else lives there now; it's out of the question. I wish I had a picture of my sister and I sitting on that hill; I'm not sure one was ever taken. Maybe we don't need one, though. I still remember just how it smelled, just how it felt, and just how much we loved being up there.
Our son is a champion, even without proof in a photo from that last match. He stands so close to the bottom of the hill, to the danger of the highway, on so many days. I'll remember all seventy-eight pounds of him, with his smile to light up the gymnasium, whether he takes the mat ever again. He'll remember, too, I hope, how he was loved and celebrated not for raising a hero's hand but for standing as tall as the highest hill, even when no one was watching.