My first son, Derek Michael, was born on February 10, 1986. I was so sick during my pregnancy I thought there was no way in the world he could be alive in there. He was though, all 8 pounds, 6 ounces of him. I only gained 20 pounds with my pregnancy so he must have been sucking up everything I ate!
He was precious from day one. He was beautiful. He was a great baby, such a healthy color, so happy, such a gift. Derek’s dad and I had moved to South Carolina from California, my home, a few years before we had him. We moved to Columbia first and then Greenville. When Derek was about a year old, I was very depressed and unhappy in my marriage. His dad had no ambition, his family didn’t do anything without alcohol being involved, and I realized I wanted more out of life. We separated at my request.
Derek was always my entire world. He was the cutest toddler and loved his mommy. As he grew, we always called ourselves a “team”. We’d talk about the fact that nothing would come between us. When he was about six or seven we had a two story townhouse. Both of our bedrooms were upstairs. During those frequent summertime electric storms, we’d open his curtains and blinds and lay across his bed watching the lightening. We often took trips to Kentucky to see Derek’s Grandma and Grandpa (my parents) and would play a game in the Smokey Mountains to see who could find the smokiest mountain. He was always my buddy. As he got big enough to ride a big wheel and then a bike we’d go to Furman University on the weekends to feed the ducks, have a picnic, and ride around the lake. My life revolved around Derek. I taught him how to hit a baseball, kick a soccer ball, tell the truth, be kind, read books. Every weekend was planned for, and around, him. Maybe that was a mistake, I don’t know. I do know that I don’t regret it.
As Derek grew, it was soon evident that he never made an enemy. Everyone loved him. His teachers, his daycare, his friends and their parents, you couldn’t help but love him. He was so incredibly funny, loving, caring, and thoughtful. All of his teacher’s would tell me what a great future Derek would have. When Derek was nine his baby brother Jamie was born. The day I was in labor with Jamie, I went shopping to buy Derek new clothes and then went to his school to watch a program they were putting on before going to the hospital. I was always so proud of him. He got straight A’s all through elementary school. Throughout his years, he played baseball, karate, football, soccer, and was in cub scouts. I tried hard to give him every opportunity to do anything he wanted to try.
Jamie worshiped the ground Derek walked on. I was a stay at home mom for a couple of years after Jamie was born. Every day that Derek was in school, we’d wait outside, on the swing in the yard, for Derek to get off the school bus so Jamie could then run to greet him. Jamie hated it, as did I, when Derek had to go to his dad’s house for the weekend. On those weekends, Jamie spent the entire two days asking how long it would be until Derek came home. When Sunday finally came, we played in the boy’s bedroom all day because the window faced the front street and we would be able to see when Derek pulled in. Derek was a wonderful big brother. He loved Jamie and treated him like gold. They would make forts together out of pillows, boxes, and blankets. Sometimes we’d have a fort that took up the entire living room and we’d leave it up for weeks. They played army together, jumped in the leaves in the fall, swam in the summer, and had sleepovers on the living room floor making beds out of blankets on weekends. We had a special “thing” about Snoopy in our house. Snoopy really lives in our house. We have lots of different Snoopys and every day before I got home with Jamie from work and daycare, Derek would place Snoopy in precarious positions around the house to show the trouble he got into while we were gone. One time he was in the crock pot with pepper on his nose. Another time he was hanging from the living room light with mouse traps all over him. Jamie couldn’t wait to get home each day to find out from Derek what Snoopy had done that day.
I always made Derek’s birthdays really special because he was really special, also because his dad never acknowledged his birthdays, and he deserved better. He had every kind of party imaginable including a skating party, a sleepover, a McDonald’s party, Chuck E Cheese, you name it, he had it. He deserved it. He was a great kid. One of my favorite memories of Derek was when he was about 14. It was my birthday and I remember being out of the house for the afternoon, maybe at school. When I came home Derek had baked me a birthday cake, and he and Jamie had set up party games all around the house, blown up balloons, and had a birthday party just for me. That’s how he was, always so sweet and thoughtful.
Derek’s dad wasn’t involved much in his life. He never came to a ball game, never saw a karate competition. He did come to one, however he left before it was Derek’s turn to compete. He never called or talked to Derek in between his weekend visits and often didn’t come and get him for months at a time. I was glad when he didn’t come because Jamie and I always wanted Derek to be with us, and because I felt better knowing he was taken care of with me. Nothing was as much fun without Derek. But I know it disappointed Derek. I always knew going with his dad wasn’t a good thing and I worried a great deal, but I couldn’t convince a judge of that. The weekends Derek went with his dad, Jamie and I never planned anything fun to do. I didn’t want Derek to feel left out or to feel like we enjoyed him being gone. I also wanted him to know how much we missed him and thought about him when he was gone so each weekend he spent with his dad I had a gift waiting for him when he got home. Sometimes the gift was as simple as a candy bar. Sometimes school supplies. Sometimes a toy he’d really wanted.
As Derek grew and moved into high school, he got more handsome, more fun, and more of a joy to be with. He always made people laugh. He was never in a bad mood and was so easy going. He joined the ROTC and from his freshman year talked about doing nothing but being in the Marine Corps. He was on the drill team and was amazing! He and his three best friends were quite the show stoppers. They could twirl those rifles, throw them, spin, catch them in a multitude of variations and difficulty levels. They were clearly the stars of the competitions and Easley High School’s pride and joy. Derek’s hands were always cut up from those rifles. They practiced every day for hours on end. They won tons of awards across the state and went to the national champioinships in Florida more than once. I went down there to support them, and as always, was so proud of him. His senior year, Derek was the Commanding Officer of Easley High School’s NJROTC. He had worked hard for it and deserved it. I struggled with balancing letting Derek become more independent and giving him space but also still being his mom and maintaining the appropriate amount of parental control. It’s hard being a single mom.
Every day of Derek’s life I told him how much I loved him, how smart he was, how funny he was, how proud I was of him and what a great future he had.
It’s hard to tell when, how, and why things changed. All I know is they did. Derek went to boot camp at Parris Island and graduated like a champ. True to Derek’s nature, at his graduation he had other young marines coming up to him and telling him thank you. That if it wasn’t for him they’d have never made it. Derek had earned the highest swimming qualification and, almost drowning, got pneumonia in the process. This was an honor nobody else in his platoon achieved. They allowed him one day in bed and then he kept on trucking. It was at the time of his graduation that I began to learn things about Derek’s life with his dad I had never known. His dad had made him keep secrets from me, telling him I’d stop his visitation if I knew. Yes, he was right about that, I would have. I learned secrets Derek had kept for years. Horrible things that should have never happened and Derek should never have been a part of.
Derek seemed to change very quickly. He was no longer interested in me being his mom or Jamie being his brother. It was hurtful. We mourned, cried, and grieved for years. It felt to us as though he had died. He walked out on us and never looked back. I learned that drugs are more powerful than I ever imagined. As a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Master Addiction Counselor, I learned that drugs can affect anyone and that I couldn’t help my son. I couldn’t drag him from the quicksand that pulled him in. Jamie doesn’t remember the Derek I just wrote about. He doesn’t remember any of the good. I tell him these stories but they are hard to believe because all he knows is the Derek who has hurt him. I want my son back. The old Derek. That sweet, beautiful boy I miss.