“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.