Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Dream

June 16, 2009

I had a dream several weeks ago and parts of it keep popping up while I’m awake over and over. Mostly it’s one particular image, which leads me to think of other things. In the dream, Zach was dead and the funeral and everything was over, but his body was lost. The whole thing was kind of like a CSI setup where one clue led to another to another until we finally found him.

He was wedged in a tree between the trunk and a large branch. I really like trees and this tree was my favorite tree. He was really stuck in there. Some guy standing next to me (I never actually saw him) said that we were going to have to cut the branch or maybe even cut whole tree down to get Zach out. I thought that would make the whole clump of trees where this tree was located look odd. Zach’s body was leaning on a large branch that led to a cluster of smaller branches that made up about 1/3 of the whole tree facing the front. Suddenly when I looked at the tree again, the whole section he was leaning on was dead. I wondered if there was a way to cut that section out without mangling Zach and I just couldn’t figure it out.

In the dream I was frustrated over not knowing whether or not to cut the dead section out. I imagined what the tree would look like without it and it would look very odd and sad. I didn’t even know if the tree could survive with one third of itself missing like that. I imagined the whole tree gone and it looked even worse.

The image of that tree with Zach and the dead section keeps coming back to me. Almost every time when I go to Trinity Lutheran Church/School, I look over at a certain tree next to the parking lot. Last fall, I took a picture of it before it lost its leaves. I wanted to try and draw it. I don’t know why I’ve been drawn to it so much, kind of strange. One day (after this dream) when I got out of the car I looked over and saw that the tree is missing several large branches and sections. It just doesn’t look right anymore. It looks wounded. Its trunk still stands tall and the leaves on the remaining branches still reach out for nourishment, but it just isn’t right.

At times I feel angry because I don’t understand why the branches were cut. I think, “Why did they have to deprive the tree of its needs? How is it supposed to survive without its branches, without reaching out for what it needs? How can people be so cruel?” In the middle of the night one night when I couldn’t sleep, I actually cried about it. I know that pruning trees is sometimes necessary and it can promote new growth, which can be healthy for the tree. Admittedly, I don’t know much about tree health. I’m just reacting (actually over-reacting – it is, after all only a tree) to the whole situation emotionally. I’m angry and sad every time I look at the tree at the edge of the parking lot. I want it to be the way it was. It never will be the way it was. It’s all different now. It’s ugly and is just part of itself now, it will never be whole again. Nature may cover its wounds. The white, raw ovals on the trunk of the tree will darken in time, but there will always be scars. The scars may be hidden by superficial sprouting of leaves near the spot where the branches used to be. But, the tree is forever changed and I don’t like it.

I’m angry that the city cut major branches off of all of the trees lining my street. Again, it seems cruel to deprive them of what they need. Those who are suppose to be responsible for the trees are cruelly depriving them of what they need – in fact severing the ability of the trees to get all of their needs met. The trees on my street are small, like children. The tree at Trinity is like an adult, once standing tall and proud, now flimsy and uncertain.

The River

The River
Barb Dreyer

The River of Life provides support, transportation and protection to so many. As I sat by the bank of the river, I watched it flow gently with its edges lapping playfully at the bank. White cotton clouds dotted the deep blue sky. The breeze was brisk and provided comfort in the heat of late morn. I leaned against my favorite tree. The mighty oak that provided so much solace – shading me from bombarding rays and allowing me to blend in with the surroundings. It seemed to engulf my very being, nothing could penetrate its invisible hold.
A feeling of uneasiness bubbled within as I noticed my young visitor had not yet arrived. I searched the horizon for signs of his presence but all was quiet. I pressed closer against the tree, hoping it would protect me from this dread brewing within. I shook the feeling off, certainly all is fine. I gazed upward and noticed the changing edges of the clouds as they drifted uncaringly by. The breeze felt warmer and its strength on my cheek almost felt like a slap.
The sound of the water changed. It was so subtle at first that I did not notice, yet it forced me to look down. The water’s edge no longer lapped playfully, it moved with purpose and swiftness. I looked upstream and gazed in disbelief. Jumping to my feet, I screamed! The River of Life showed its other side. Just as the River gives, it sometimes takes away. The approaching river looked like a gray wall with chips of paint falling leaving white specks. As it neared and grew larger, I realized the paint chips were white cap waves.
I trembled, at first unable to move. I thought of my young visitor, he always took the same route to meet me. Because of the landscape, I knew he could not have escaped. The River of Death had come for him and he had no choice but to submit. My heart was heavy, I felt numb, surely the River would take me as well. As the water grabbed my ankles, the fear became overwhelming and I felt myself turn to run. I couldn’t hold on to my protector any longer. I had to leave the oak who had served me so well for so long. As I climbed clumsily up the slippery, jagged hill, I left the hold of my comforter. I was exposed. My eyes burned to see the world around me in a different light.
I turned to see the rising current. The eddies, waves and surge were unstoppable. “Why” was the question I heard in the back of my head. I didn’t have time to reflect on the question, the River was pursuing me. I fell and slid down. It seemed the River had widened its mouth to greet me. Its edge was teasing me. The hill I was attempting to climb seemed like a mountain. I struggled to climb, grabbing anything I could find. I felt weak and heard the River of Death calling to me, “My water is cool and soothing, it will cleanse your wounds. Come to me. Relax and let gravity bring you to me.” I was sure I had no more reserves, the beckoning of the River was enveloping me, just as my mighty oak had done before.
Suddenly I felt a surge, a push on my back. I felt comfort. I don’t remember climbing to the top of the hill, but I was there. I turned just in time to see my mighty oak uprooted and whisked away. It could not withstand the forceful current.
The water slowly receded and the River of Life was again peaceful and giving. I surveyed my world. It was destroyed. I noticed that many much, much smaller trees were still standing. Although they sustained some damage, they were not uprooted and whisked away. The mighty oak had been foolish. It grounded itself in the shifting sand and did not have the support it needed to withstand the devastating current. The smaller, quieter trees were well-grounded in heavy dirt and they depended upon each other for support. Their roots were intertwined. They learned to hold hands in times of trouble. The oak was lonely and did not hold hands and therefore it could not survive.

Purple Petunias

For years on Mother’s Day, my son, Zach, would ask my mom and dad to take him to the garden store so he could get me a plant or hanging flower basket to put in the front yard. This year was the first Mother’s Day without Zach and it was very hard. However, my daughter Brenna, gave me a beautiful hanging basket with purple petunias (with the help of my mom and dad, of course) for Mother’s Day and it helped bring a smile to both of our faces as we shared memories of Zach.

I got rather depressed and busy in July and forgot to water Brenna’s beautiful gift. Brenna cried when she saw the wilted, dead flowers. I apologized and felt like a failure as a mother. I couldn’t keep the flowers, or my son, alive. I left the basket in the front yard, not having the energy to throw it away. Also, it brought back memories of Zach’s last Mother’s Day present as I looked at the empty basket all Winter and early Spring as I yearned for Zach.

Suddenly, about a month later, there was new growth in the basket. The plants grew quickly and more flowers than ever emerged on the young plants! We were all stunned. Brenna and I believe it is a sign from Zach that he is well and watching over us. Maybe a sign that he died and has been reborn?

As Fall came and it grew colder, the basket of flowers hanging on the opposite side of the front porch slowly wilted and died as the plant could not take the freezing temperatures at night. However, the new purple petunias are still alive and well. We have had several hard freezes so far and the plant is sturdy and flourishing, although it did lose a few flowers. Today I decided to take the plant inside to repot it. It is so special, I can’t bear to leave it struggling in the cold all alone.

I have been told from several books I’ve read and from people in my grief group that the process of grief is grueling, hard work. I’ve heard it compared to a dark ravine, which you must move through and emerge at the other end. I’ve heard that by going through this “ravine” you endure much pain, loneliness and that part of you dies. I’ve been told that when you emerge from the other end of the ravine, you are a new person. You are stronger and able to overcome life’s difficulties and are able to flourish and live life more fully.

I don’t know. I haven’t emerged from the other end of that horrible, rocky, ravine filled with peaks, valleys, dark tunnels and sharp rocks. I have had glimpses of the other end. I see faint light off in the distance and my suffering is eased now and then by the beauty of a blue sky, a peacefully gliding bird, or a sturdy, flourishing petunia.

November 15, 2008
Barb Dreyer

Alone and Empty

People surround me – at work, in public and at home
Wherever I go, I never appear to be alone
Yet, inside me is a cavern so dark and deep
I struggle not to fall, it’s so hard, and I weep

I reach out and tell some I thought were so close
My pain, my memories, my grief and remorse
Only to be met with stabbing words or turned backs
Shallow words without meaning feel like sharp tacks

I don’t want to go through the motions in a sea of indifference
To live this way to me just doesn’t make any sense
So much conflicted pain inside and no one can see
That I am trapped in quick-sand that resides in me

Just when I think there might be a glimmer of hope
It’s just a tease, a mirage, a terrible joke
I want so badly to be good and right
But the mirror does not lie, I don’t like its sight

To be in a sea of people you see,
Is meaningless, pointless and empty
I’m surrounded by an ocean of water with nothing to drink
I’m thirsty, longing, empty…I sink

Barb Dreyer
9-29-08

Cheated

I feel cheated. I know that’s selfish. My son is in Heaven – Paradise. I’m happy for him and am thankful to God for that. However, here, in my own little corner of the world, I feel, among many other things, cheated.

I was looking forward to seeing how tall Zach would be. I was excited about his future and wondered what career path he would follow. I imagined him attending college for a year or two in England because he loved it so much over there. I was looking forward to seeing who he would marry and if he would have kids.

Although I won’t have to endure the pain that other parents experience when their teenage driving children are late, believe it or not, I feel cheated about that as well. I feel cheated when I pass the stadium on a very brisk autumn day. I should be freezing in the stands with the other parents while watching my son in the marching band.

There will be no prom, no graduation. There will be no arguments as he struggles to find himself and becomes a man. There will be no gradual letting go as he learns to fly.

Letting go suddenly, unexpectedly and permanently is too hard. I’m jealous of the parents who get to experience the turmoil – as well as joy – of their children’s adolescence. I still complain when I have trying times with my almost-seven-year-old little girl. But, deep down, I cherish it. I would give almost anything to experience anything, even turmoil, with my boy.

I miss you, Zachy, more than anyone can know…

8-14-08
Barb Dreyer
Zach Hughes’ mom

And I miss you, Zachary Hughes

It’s late at night but I cannot sleep
My mind is racing and into
my head thoughts of you creep
and I weep, and I weep

I miss your laughing and your
talking and your dreaming
I miss your smile and the way
you would stall at night
Mostly I just miss your sight

Your outlook on life was one of a kind
You were thoughtful and loving
and had a witful mind

I praise the Lord for our time together
Even though I knew it wouldn’t be forever –
I thought I would be the first to leave
Isn’t that what most parents believe?

You were the best son a parent could ever have
- a true blessing and a treat
You brought happiness to the
people you’d meet
And I miss you
Zachary Hughes


Barb Dreyer
October 2007

"What?" I said.

7-2009
August 5, 2007, I got a phone call from Steve (Zach’s dad). “I know this is going to sound strange, but , have you seen Zach?” Zach spent the night at his dad’s house that night so he could tell his dad, step-mom Laurie, brother Blake, and step-aunt Angie all about his trip to England he just returned home from on August 2nd. Actually, he was suppose to come home on August 4th, but I told him to just spend some time with Angie while she was in town and he could come home after church on the 5th.
“No…he was suppose to come home after church but I haven’t seen him yet. Did he go to church?” I missed church that morning and was sitting in a chair doing a word-find when Steve called. Steve told me that when Angie got up, Zach’s alarm was going off, but he was nowhere to be found. He said he was forming a search party to find him. He laughed and said, “Knowing Zach he’s curled up at the bottom of some tree after taking a midnight hike because he couldn’t sleep. He was having trouble sleeping because of the jet lag, you know.” I knew. He had trouble sleeping the night he came home.
I had a bad feeling in my stomach but thought Steve was probably right. I was annoyed that he allowed Zach to leave the house in the middle of the night and thought that was too much freedom for a 15 year old, but we disagreed about that. The whole summer, actually starting the latter half of Zach’s freshman year, Steve and I had several heated discussions about Zach, and cars, and living arrangements, and rules. I consulted an attorney in June or July for advice on what to do about Steve “luring” Zach away with promises of a car, no curfew, choice of going to school in a town far away from Davenport, among other things. Her advice was that he would eventually see through it and if I let him go, he would come back. She recommended that I let him go with some very clear, well-stated restrictions, on a trial basis. Then she said something I’ll never forget, “Besides, what better, safer place for a boy to be than at a Boy Scout Camp.”
It was almost 2:00 p.m. and I hadn’t heard anything. I couldn’t stand it any longer and had to call. Tim and his step-son were standing in front of the t.v. talking. I went to the kitchen and called Steve. When he answered, I asked, “Did you have any luck yet?” The next voice I heard was unknown to me. “Ms. Dreyer? This is Officer ____(I can’t remember his name).” I think my heart stopped beating as I felt it drop into my stomach. “Yes? Where’s Zach? What’s going on?”
“Ms. Dreyer, there’s been an accident. I’m going to need you to come out here so we can discuss some things with you. Is there anyone who can drive you?”
“Yes. Somebody can drive me. Is Zach alright? Can I talk to him?”
“We really need you to come out here. I can’t discuss anything over the phone. Steve wants you to bring your father. Can you arrange that?”
“Ummm, I think so, I’ll get there right away. I need to know about Zach.”
“We’ll talk when you get here.”
“O.k.” When I hung up the phone, my heart had sprang up into my throat and was beating wildly. I yelled for Tim, “Tim!!! Oh my God!!!! Steve wouldn’t talk to me and handed the phone to some cop and he wouldn’t tell me anything and said I needed to go out there and that I needed to have someone else drive and they want my dad to come with and they won’t tell me anything and I need to see Zach !!! Why won’t they tell me anything?! We have to go, we have to go now! I’ll call my dad. Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God. Please let him be o.k. What if he’s hurt? What if he drown? We have to go. I have to get out there right now!” I remember speaking faster than I’ve ever spoken before. Tim said a bunch of things to me, but I don’t remember anything he said. I don’t even think I heard him. He started to get ready and I called my parents’ house. Nobody was home. I got dressed and got my shoes on. Tim was getting ready the way he always does. I yelled at him, “You don’t have to do all that! You don’t have to be pretty! Just get dressed and let’s go. I need my boy. I need my boy. I need my boy….” He stopped what he was doing and got dressed.
It was the hottest day of the year. The high temp that day was ______ and the humidity was _______%
I rocked back and forth and cried on and off the whole way from Davenport to Camp Loud Thunder. The drive was excruciatingly longer than usual. I kept saying over and over, “Zachy will be o.k., Zachy will be o.k. Please God, let Zachy be o.k. Why are the police there? What won’t they tell me? That can’t be good. I hope he just got in trouble or something. Maybe he tripped and fell in the lake. Maybe he’s in a coma. Maybe he’s paralyzed. It’s alright, we’ll help him through it, it’ll be o.k.” I knew it wasn’t o.k.
When we pulled up the driveway, I saw so many police vehicles and there was ugly yellow tape blocking the way. There were lots of people standing in groups of three or four. Tim told me to stay in the car while he found out what happened. I started yelling again. “I’m not staying in the car! I’m going to find out where my boy is!” I started walking toward a group of officers behind the yellow tape. They started to hold their hands up to keep me back when they heard what I said. A very large African-American uniformed officer came up to me along with a short light brown haired plain-clothes officer. They were trying to get me to sit down in my car. I refused to sit down. I told them I was absolutely not getting back in my car. I did a half sit-stand against the front of somebody’s minivan. “There, I’m sitting, is this alright with you? I’m NOT getting back in my car.”

I saw Steve up a small hill close to the house pacing. He saw me and looked away. I saw that my brother and Dad were there, “How did they know? Oh, that’s right I called Dad’s cell phone. Muscatine must be closer than Davenport.” I thought to myself.
I glanced over at my brother. He was fidgeting and looked angry and uncomfortable. I saw a man I didn’t know standing there. He looked to be about 60 or so and had a weird grin on his face. I wondered what he was all about.
The short officer introduced himself. “Investigator,” I thought. “You have the bluest eyes. You look kind. Why are you telling me such terrible things?” I remember my thoughts more than I remember his horrible words. He was so matter-of-fact. He looked right at me and said, “Zachary hung himself.” I was stunned. I was expecting him to say that he was driving his four wheeler and it flipped over and he’s at the hospital or something. “What?” I said

All Emotions

9-11-07
Sometimes I feel like I’m going crazy. I feel numb, outside of myself. I feel all emotions, but the intensity is dulled. I hear what people say to me, but I don’t. I think I understand and then I’m confused. I have to hear it over and over again. So many people tell me I’m handling it so well. That what I’m doing to spread the word is brave and honorable. I don’t feel brave, I don’t feel well. I am glad that I have had many responses from people telling me that they will warn their children. I’m glad that maybe they won’t have to endure the horrible suffering of the loss of a child. But, still, it doesn’t help – I know that Zach would have made a difference and would have helped the world be a better place. Now he’s gone. There are so many things to say still. I miss listening to him talk about everything. I don’t think my life will ever get better. I have to try, though, because Brenna needs a mom who is there for her. I have to stop now, I’m crying too hard to type.

A Deer Appears

6-3-09
While working today, I needed a break. I thought I’d just run through a drive through. I found myself at the cemetery because I’m missing Zach more than usual today. As I cleaned off the dried, mowed grass from his gravestone, I started crying. I said out loud, “Zach, nothing is right without you.” I looked up and to the left and again, just as on his anniversary date last August, a deer walked out of the woods and just stood there. It was such a beautiful golden brown color and so peaceful. It swished its tail, nibbled on some leaves, took a few steps, paused, and slowly walked into another clump of trees in another part of the cemetery. I’ve had three personal experiences with deer since Zach died. My sister-in-law, Toni, has had some also. Just as my despair and crying reaches a point where I can hardly stand it, a deer appears. This deer appeared as soon as I spoke. What a wonderful gift…

Things that Fly

7-17-09
I’ve been thinking of another memory about Zach when he was about 2 years old. He was always fascinated with the timer on the microwave, and I’d pick him up so he could watch it count down while I was heating a cup of coffee or something. When it got to 10, I’d say the numbers out loud, and he was soon counting backward from 10 to ‘off.”
Also, remember how often he’d bring that book “Things that Fly” to me, and he’d twirl his finger in the air and make the helicopter noise?
Love, Mom

Christmas in German

From Cindy Mahr
A memory I have concerns when he wrote us a best wishes at Christmas time in German. I have looked high & low, but can't find it now. At the time, I figured I would have plenty of time to get to know Zach better. I feel robbed because now I don't have that chance. Maybe when you get done compiling your memories you can share & that will help me get to know who he was at least.

Bracelet for Mom

From Mary
This will probably make you cry, but I have a story about Zach. I don't remember if this was after I moved back from Phoenix or while I still lived there and was visiting. Zach and I were at the mall shopping, I think it was specifically for him to buy you something either for your b-day, Xmas or mothers day, I can't remember. We were at Younkers and he found a bracelet with your birthstone and wanted to get it for you. It was rather expensive in regards to a gift from a kid. I wasn't sure if I should let him so I called mom to ask what she thought and she said since he was so adamant about it to go ahead and let him. I was concerned that it might not fit so I tried it on to see, Zach was so anxious because he really wanted to get it for you. It was something he really wanted to do and I could tell it gave him great satisfaction to be able to do it.
This also reminds me of the time the three of us went to blue grass for the all city garage sale. Zach bought something for himself but also something for you and mom. He was such a thoughtful young man!!!

Toys for Tots & Hugs

From Grandma Ruth:
I think of Zach a lot, and when I do, I just keep remembering him doling out those hello and goodbye hugs. I’d say “I love you” and he’d say “Love you, too.” As far as specific stories about Zach, I think you know all the same ones I know. I think my two favorite memories are 1) When he came home from school, telling you all about how some kids weren’t going to get Christmas presents, and that he wanted to donate stuff to Toys for Tots (his caring nature); and 2) When he plastered leaves all over himself on Halloween and went out as a “tree.” (his silly side).
Mostly, though, I remember the hugs and “love you, too’s.” Maybe that’s because it’s what I miss the most.

Baby Shower

7-16-09
from Kathy Gillespie:
Hi Barb,

I did have something in mind about Zach but haven’t yet wrote to you. I remember going to a baby shower for you before Brenna was born. Your mom had invited some of us to her house and I had never been there before so hoped I wouldn’t get lost. My sense of direction is not good. It was a pretty summer afternoon. I drove slowly down the street looking for the address and then I saw Zach sitting on the steps very patiently waiting for guests to arrive. I smiled when I saw him and he got up to greet me and get the door for me. He really helped out at the party and showed his love for you and his grandparents.

Bright Red Ears

7-15-09
One of the many things I loved about Zach was his inability to lie. Every time I think about it, it makes me smile. Whenever he was ‘less than honest’, so to speak, his ears turned bright red. Luckily for his father and I, Zach chose to wear his hair in a buzz cut so his ears were always visible. Of course, the telling smile on his face and the fidgeting to and fro, and the avoidant glances just helped verify that he wasn’t actually embarrassed instead of lying. To me, that just showed me that he had a strong sense of morality. Yes, I know he was lying, but his ears told me that he knew it was wrong. He usually couldn’t even get through it before telling on himself. He was human and did make mistakes and I’m not blind to that fact…
How can someone so smart do something so stupid??? Zach, I know you never meant to hurt anybody, but you did. You hurt us all very badly!. Sometimes I just can’t stand it and it’s been almost two years….

"Ugh! Everything's a song!"

7-13-09
Poor Zach. I tortured him. One day while driving around, I was acting more silly than usual. Zach looked over at me and said, “Mom, you’re such a dork.” I laughed and replied, “Well, it’s my job as a parent to embarrass the crap out of you. How am I doing?” He just shook his head and sighed a hopeless sigh. I laughed even harder. Another way we tortured him was unintentional…most of the time. Tim and I are often reminded of songs in daily conversation. For example, if someone says, “It may take some time…” we may start singing the Little River Band Song, “Take time to make time, make time to be there. Look around, be a part….” Zach often said things that reminded us of songs. He would get thoroughly disgusted when we would start singing, “Ugh! Everything’s a song!” and he would storm out of the room.

"I Smell a Snake"

7-4-09
One of my favorite memories of Zach was when he transitioned from a crib to a “big boy bed.” He was feeling a bit apprehensive one night about going to bed. He had to have one more story read to him. He had to have one more drink of water. He had to try to go potty one more time (which of course he didn’t really have to). I thought he had finally fallen asleep and I settled into my spot in the living room to watch some t.v.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a figure slowly coming toward me down the hall. I pretended not to see him and thought to myself, “Now what?” I looked over and there was Zach looking down while shuffling his feet with his hands cupped in front of him, “Umm, umm, Mommy?.”
“Whaaat?” I asked.
“Umm….I smell a snake” he said with an impish grin, looking at me with big blue eyes out of the top of his head.
I had to fight the urge to laugh, “A snake? Did you see one?”
“Umm, no, but I know it’s in there. Maybe it’s under the bed.”
I went with him to look for the imaginary “stinky” snake in his bedroom. I wondered the whole time what a snake smells like? Zach sat on his bed as I shined a flashlight in his closet, then under his bed, then under his dresser, then behind his dresser and finally behind the door. Each time, I explained, “Nope. No snake!” Zach seemed to thoroughly enjoy watching me shine the light from place to place looking for his made up snake. Finally, he came to the conclusion that the snake must have crawled out the window or something. I tucked him in one more time. As I walked down the hall from his bedroom, I thought to myself, “Yeah, I smell a snake, alright!”
I know Zach was “playing” me that night, but I didn’t have the heart to be hard on him about it. He was nervous about the new bed and his new freedom. He just needed reassurance that I would help him if he needed help. I think it shows how big his imagination was even at such a young age. He often told me stories while we drove in the car or while I fixed supper. I wish I would have recorded them. He started speaking a little later than some of kids, but made up for lost time. Once he figured out how to talk, he didn’t stop. I thoroughly enjoyed it, although at times it wore me out. Being an introvert, I liked having an extroverted child.
Zach made friends wherever he went and he rarely met a stranger. He had a knack for small talk and most waiters and waitresses (especially waitresses) found it endearing. If something was forgotten from the order, he would very politely ask for it. One time, he was probably three or four at the time, we went to the Iowa Machine Shed for a family dinner. My mom, dad, sister (Mary), brother-in-law (P.J.), and brother (Danny) were all there. A very cute waitress in overalls came to take our order. Zach had been studying the menu very seriously (although he couldn’t yet read it). He very politely said, “Umm, Sir, I’d like the cow” and he pointed to a picture of a cow on the menu. He sure must have been hungry that night!

Signs

5-13-09
Tonight I am struggling with guilt, remorse, and regret. I’m having memories of Zach exhibiting signs that he was playing the choking game. I believe he did not just try it once, but had been doing it for some time. He may have been addicted to it and I had no clue. I am trying not to fall into that guilt pit filled with depressive muck, but it is a slippery wall and I’m so easily ensnared.
Zach showed so many signs and I missed them all!!! It's true that hindsight is 20/20, but knowing that sometimes just doesn't help. I remember one time Zach and I saw a snippet about the choking game on some news show. They talked about how it's the intelligent kids who seem to have it all together that do this. I'm ashamed to say that in an offhanded effort to dismiss it and show disapproval, I said, "How smart can they be if they're doing something like that?" How many times have I heard someone say or seen someone write that same thing since Zach died??? It was a horrible thing to say, I should have talked to him about it and asked him about it, if he knew of anyone who did it. But, I didn't. I dismissed it and forgot about it. Zach's response to my comment was a nod and "Hmpfff." I should have known with that response - that was his "I strongly disagree with you" response. That was Zach arguing!!!! Was I a lucky mom or what!? How many moms of teens would like to have a kid that argues that way? I was lazy, I didn't pursue it.
Another time, Zach's step-brother told me that Zach had ropes in his drawer that he didn't want me to see. He told me that Zach didn't want him to tell me about it. I asked Zach about it and opened his drawer and there were ropes from his dad's camp (his dad was the Boy Scout camp ranger) and there was duct tape in strips and on rolls and broken plastic bags. They were all there in a drawer right next to his head!!!! How stupid was I??? I just said, "Zach, why didn't you want me to know about that? I don't know what the big deal is, I know you boys tie each other up to see how long it takes to get loose, it's no big deal." I feel sick. I was so gullible. Another thing he said that should have been a clue - and this really makes me sick - was when Suddam Hussain was sentenced to death. I said, "What a horrible way to die. I think suffocating would be the worst." Zach quietly said to me, "People don't suffer when they hang. It's actually quite humane." I looked at him, very puzzled, and said, "You really think so?" He just said, "Yeah, that's what I hear anyway."
Oh, God, please forgive me!!!! I feel numb. Nobody understands when I tell them what a horrible mom I was. I'm so sorry, so so sorry. I've offended every victim. I don't feel like I can ever be forgiven. God gave me the most precious child and I made so many bad choices. I didn't cherish him enough. It hurts. It sucks. It's indescribable. I wish I could say something to help us all feel better. I will never feel better. I will never forgive myself. Zach would. He was that way. But I can't.
In addition to the above, Zach exhibited some of the “classic” warning signs that I tell kids about at presentations. He had daily headaches. He had red splotches on his face, which I passed off as eczema. One major danger sign came when I was called at work by the school nurse. It was near the end of the school year his freshman year. She told me that I needed to come and take him to the emergency room immediately because they thought he had a stroke. He was found in the locker room in his gym clothes. He was extremely confused. He didn’t know the names of some of his friends. He didn’t remember changing clothes. He thought it was the semester before and he was suppose to be at a different class. She told me his face was very flush but he didn’t seem to have a fever. I raced to pick him up and took him to the hospital that specializes in heart and vascular problems. He was checked out right away. Everything was fine. The doctor, an older gentleman, asked Zach what he had to eat for breakfast. Zach informed him that he hadn’t had anything to eat or drink. The doctor diagnosed hypoglycemia and told me to take him out to lunch.
Most nights I went into Zach’s room after he was in bed just to tell him goodnight. I liked to “tuck him in” even though he was 15. We had a few minutes of quite time together to talk and plan. I would “pet” his fuzzy head once and a while – when he let me get by with it. One night I had a sore leg and didn’t feel like climbing the stairs so I told him I’d just say goodnight downstairs. He seemed disappointed. I decided to go on up and ignore the pain. I went into his room unexpectedly. I couldn’t see what he did, but I noticed that he moved his hands very quickly when I came in the room. His face was flush and I thought I embarrassed him. I noticed that he had a mark on his neck and I asked him what happened (I didn’t notice it earlier). He said, “Oh, out at camp I got clothes-lined. Some guys were messing around and I didn’t see the rope and I ran right into it.” I was appalled. I said, “Zach, something like that can collapse your windpipe and kill you! You guys really need to be more careful!” It scared me and I got angry at his father for not providing more supervision. In hindsight, I think Zach was lying to me. Zach had this endearing quality. He was a horrible liar. When he lied, his ears turned bright red. Luckily for us, he wore his hair in a buzz cut so we could always see his ears. I didn’t notice that night that Zach had red ears, probably because he was already flush. Another example of my na├»ve, gullible nature and just plain stupidity.
The summer before Zach died, we went to a hardware store. We went down one aisle and Zach was intrigued with the large variety of ropes. He commented on how soft one was and he wanted to buy some, he claimed, for practicing knots at camp. I told him that I knew that his dad had lots of rope at the camp and he could use that. If he wanted something special, he should ask his dad to buy it for him. I’m very glad that I didn’t buy him any rope that day.
The more I write, the more I am remembering about the signs I missed. How many other things have I missed? How many other behaviors were there that were signs of dysfunction? Was I such a horrible mother that I drove him to need to find an escape? Some of these things are signs of quite a crafty person. Was he addicted to this and I was blind to it????
Why did I chose myself over him so many times? I really hate myself. These are some examples of how I chose myself over my own child:
1. Zach enjoyed St. Alban’s Church and they loved him. He was baptized there and chose to be baptized. He wanted it more than anything. He was 3 ½ or 4 at the time and answered the questions himself. He was very emphatic in his answers and meant every word. He was proud. A year or so later, he stood up in front of a room full of people at a dinner and told everyone that his favorite memory of St. Alban’s was “I was bathatized by Kafoleen and now I’m a children of God!” Kathleen Milligan, the minister who baptized him had tears in her eyes. Everyone else melted, including me. Because of some conflict between some parishioners and I, I chose to stop going to St. Alban’s. Many people asked us to come back, most people who talked to me asked if I would drop Zach off at church because they missed him. My own pride, stupidity, loneliness, extremely poor choices led me to not take him back. He asked me to go. I just slept. I wouldn’t get out of bed until after church was over. I let my bad choices and depression get in the way of what Zach needed. It was important to him. I should have ignored the petty disagreements with two women.
2. Many times when Zach was young, he asked me to play with him outside. I was depressed and alone and I told him so many times that I was too tired. Yet I made time to go to the bars with my friend Patty at least once or twice per month.
3. Because of my insecurities, I often (actually most of the time) wouldn’t take Zach to new places because I was afraid to be around all the people. I would make excuses and so when we did do something, it was the same old thing.
4. There are many, many, many more examples. I just can’t remember any right more right now.

"Mike"

4-29-09
I have so many wonderful memories of Zach. He was such an “easy” kid! I thanked God every day for giving me such a great kid to take care of. Of course there were ups and downs and like any teenager he could be moody. However, when I watched other kids his age interact with their parents, I considered myself incredibly lucky. The reason I’m writing this is so that Brenna, Zach’s younger sister by 9 ¾ years, will have a chance to get to know him better and so I won’t forget our time together. I can’t imagine how I could possibly forget, but there’s so much of my past that I don’t remember that I just can’t take that chance. Also, by writing, I hope to remember some things that aren’t at the forefront of my mind.
Zach was born at Mary Greeley Hospital in Ames, Iowa on December 17, 1991. Because Zach’s dad and I lived in a small rural town so far from the hospital, we opted to have labor induced. We didn’t want to chance a major ice or snowstorm slowing us down during labor. We were especially cautious since this was our first child. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Zach shared December 17th as a birth date with my fraternal grandmother and my cousin, Steven. My grandpa always believed we chose that date on purpose in honor of my grandma. I just let him believe that since it made him happy.
One day, when Zach was still very small, just a few months old, Zach and I visited my grandpa in Davenport. We talked and laughed for awhile and then it was time to go. I didn’t even realize that Grandpa hadn’t held Zach that day. I had Zach all bundled up and ready to go when Grandpa said, “I’ll hold Mike the next time you come.” I looked confused, “Mike? What did you say?” He pointed at Zach, “yeah, you know, Mike.” Apparently he didn’t like Zach’s first name and opted to refer to him by his middle name, Michael. I laughed and hugged him tightly and said, “o.k., Grandpa.” It was the last time I saw Grandpa Dreyer alive. I have regretted ever since, not taking the time to unbundle Zach and stay just a little longer so Grandpa could have held him. However, the memory of Grandpa calling him “Mike” still makes me laugh.

Mom's Memories

“Where you boy?” asked the waitress at Fortune Garden. This was one of our favorite restaurants. Zach had many conversations with the waitress asking where she was from and what it was like there. She was a very kind woman from South Korea.
“He’ll be back in about two weeks. He went on a trip to England with a friend.” I explained.
Her eyes grew wide with excitement, “Oh, he will have many stories to tell you! How come he go and you stay?” I swelled with pride as I explained how he saved his money for three years planning this trip. I told her how hard he worked and the plans he made. He bought maps and showed me everything he was interested in and all the places he wanted to visit. He reached his goal and went to London with his best friend, Jonathan, and his best friend’s father. They stayed with a friend of the family, Jonathan’s adopted granddad.
Zach was a history buff. He especially liked World War II history and devoured books on the subject. He played computer games and board games relating to strategy surrounding World War II. He started reading before Kindergarten and his love of reading grew as he did. He read well beyond his grade level and actually understood the concepts of the books. He started writing a science fiction book of his own at age 14 and had detailed drawings of space ships and living quarters. Zach started the next chapter of his book the night he returned from England. He couldn’t sleep due to jet lag.
Jet lag…as I think about that concept now, tears fill my eyes and anger pierces my heart. My head is full of those dreaded “If only…” thoughts that serve no purpose but to destroy us. So many things bring those feelings flooding back so strong and almost unbearable. “Just wait,” I remind myself, “it will pass.” It does pass, but it saps my reserves each time it happens. After 19 months, I wonder if this is the best it will be.
Zach arrived earlier than I expected on August 2nd. I was so happy to see him. He dragged his luggage into the house. He told me that he mailed his dirty clothes so that he could bring home some souvenirs. He had carefully packed approximately ten large Cadbury Bars, three or four six packs of Coke, and several packages of chips, all from London. He explained that the Coke in England is made with real sugar and it tastes much better that way. The chips are not chips, they are “crisps.” “You gotta try these Mom, they’re awesome!” We didn’t have time that night to share some, as he wanted to go to his Grandma and Grandpa’s house to show them what he got.
He also brought with him about twenty flags from European countries. He had his step-father, Tim, and I guess what each flag was. I knew very few of them but impressed him on the last flag when I said, “Algiers!” His eyes lit up and said, “Wow, that’s great, I’m surprised you knew that one!” He asked if we could go see Grandma and Grandpa Dreyer so he could show them all his goodies. I said, “Sure, but when you show them the flags, be sure the word Algiers faces the back.” He was so disappointed that I “cheated” in his game. Tim and I laughed so hard we almost fell over.
When we arrived at my mom and dad’s house, he gave them each a bottle of Coke and a Cadbury Bar. He played the flag game with them as well, grinning from ear to ear the whole time. He showed all of us the postcards, pictures, coins, pamphlets about Parliament, etc. that he purchased on his trip. He showed us some World War II items that he purchased and excitedly explained, “Here in the States these are worth more than I paid for them. But, you don’t sell them now, you sell them when you’re old. They’re an investment, Mom.”
He was so excited that he spent his money wisely and purchased investments. He was talking about the future. Zach purchased a World War II chemical warfare uniform with a gas mask. It was too large to pack so he mailed it home. He and Jonathan had plans to walk down the street in their full uniforms, gas masks and all. He thought that was hilarious. He wondered how long mail would take from England. He mailed it on August 1st.
We visited my mom and dad for about an hour but had to get home so his younger sister, Brenna, could get to bed. It was late when he went to bed because of the time difference. At about midnight, Zach wondered up to bed even though he wasn’t tired yet. He was going to read and write in his book for awhile until he got tired.
The next day I had to go to work. He was excited to tell his dad, step-mom and brother of his adventures. I picked him up and we went to lunch. I asked him about driving in England as I believed Jonathan’s granddad, who lived in London, had a car. Zach looked stunned, “Mom, you have to be daft to drive in London!” He said it so matter-of-factly I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. He told me that people just walk out into traffic and expect the cars to stop and that there are lots of unexpected lane changes in the congested streets. He thought taking the train was one of the coolest ways to get around. I dropped Zach off at his father’s house after lunch and planned on seeing him again Saturday, August 4th.
I received a call late Saturday afternoon from Zach. I heard the frustration in his voice. He didn’t know how he was going to get back to Davenport. He was staying at Camp Loud Thunder outside of Illinois City in Illinois, the Boy Scout camp where his father was camp ranger. His father stayed at the ranger’s house and Zach’s bedroom was in the basement. His aunt, Angie from St. Louis, was in town staying with them. He wanted to spend time with her since she didn’t come to town very often, but he wanted to come home with me as well. I told him I could pick him up. I immediate recanted and said, “You know what? Since Angie is there, why don’t you stay there tonight and spend some time with her and tell her all about your trip. When you go to church tomorrow, I’ll see you after that. You have band camp starting Monday morning and won’t have a lot of time to go to your dad’s this next week. We can catch up after you get back from church. What do you think?” His voice sounded much more relaxed and he said that sounded like a good idea. We both said, “I love you.” That was my last conversation with Zach.