He was two years old when I met him, clinging to his daddy’s leg, the bulge of diapers stretching his khaki pants, contrasting against the army green of his daddy’s flight suit. His hair was blonde, what I always called “toe headed.” So blonde the strands were almost white. It was March 23,1986. I know that because I went on my first “lunch date” with his daddy on his daddy’s birthday, March 25th just two days later.
I would be untruthful if I said I remember exactly what he was wearing, but khaki pants seems right. His daddy liked to dress him in Osh Kosh and Carter’s from the outlet at Lake Park, a bustling source of discount clothing and household items in 1986. I can’t say that I remember anything he wore really over the years. I bought lots of clothes for him as I watched him grow up. I dressed him, fed him, rocked him, kissed him goodnight, lay in the bed with him before he slept, wiped away tears, caressed that head of hair—all the things parents do for their children, only he wasn’t mine—or at least I didn’t birth him.
On Friday, October 19th, via a live stream on the school’s Facebook page, I watched him slip a white coat over his shoulders and stand taller than ever. His hair is not so blonde anymore—more of a dishwater color. I studied the rows of young men and woman lined on the stage, four or five rows—I couldn’t be sure from my angle where he stood. I studied their faces looking for the one I knew so well. The stage lights from overhead glowed and cast a bright light on the faces of the students so the image on my computer screen was blown out. I squinted at the screen until I thought I saw the top of his head.
He stood on the back row where a young woman next to him opened the folds of his coat and let him slide his arms through the sleeves. Then, he did the same for a black haired man next to him. The coat rested on his shoulders as he turned and clasped his hands together in front of him. I could envision the stance, I’ve witnessed it so many times. Feet about a foot apart, knees locked—if you could see the legs inside the fabric of his pants, they were slightly bent, each knee cap pointing a little off and not directly in front. And he wore a gentle smile, one of those that looks like a grin, no teeth exposed, just a line across his face like an orange slice. As he walked off the stage and passed the camera where I got a close up, I saw the sleeves of his coat bore patches from the medical school. I thought his name would be stitched on the pocket, but it was blank.
On this day, he wore a blue shirt, with a dark blue tie. All grown up. Ready to embark on the journey to being a doctor. But as I watched, with my eyes full of tears and a big lump in my throat, all I could see was that little boy, still in diapers, his tiny arms wrapped around his daddy’s leg.