Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A son's first broken heart

I recently had the fortune/misfortune of watching someone that I love suffer a minor heartache. I've been reflecting on the incident for a while, and thought maybe it would help if I would "talk" about it here.

Two weeks ago our family took a wonderful vacation to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It's an area that I've vacationed at for almost 30 years. I've taken my wife and kids there often, and we always have a great time. This year, my wife and I, our four boys, and a friend of the older boys went down. The week was absolutely splendid, one of the best weeks of my life. We had perfect weather, and just a wonderful family week. But this story is about one small portion of that week, so let me begin.

On Wednesday of the vacation, we decided to take an afternoon drive to a neighboring town. The thought of a nice seafood lunch, and the chance to get out, and take a small break from the heat and sun for a few hours seemed like a great idea. We decided to drive to Manteo, NC, a small town just a few miles from Nags Head. Manteo is the site of the original settlement in the New World, called the Roanoke Colony. This settlement is honored nightly with a play entitled "The Lost Colony." The town is a quaint, small, waterfront town. There are shops, and boats, and the like. Not exactly the type of thing that a ten year old boy is looking forward to doing, especially when we just left the beach, and the excitement that surrounds the ocean. Bottom line, Sean Michael Monaghan was not looking forward to "Manteo." "Why are we here? I don't want to shop!" was I believe the exact quote as we parked the car.

Walking into Manteo at the festival bridge, we immediately ran into a group of children. They probably ranged in age from 9-14, boys and girls, and they were sitting on the dock of the waterfront. The kids had been jumping off a bridge, about 10 feet high, into a little bay like area. Then they would swim about 75 yards back to the dock, and do it again. Immediately one of the young girls looks at my boys (Michael, 9 and Sean, 10) and says "You guys should jump with us. Come on. Try it. It's a lot of fun. We do this all the time." I could tell, he was hoping to hear those words. I instantly saw Sean's face light up. The day had turned. No boring shopping for him. A girl. A cute girl... He was nervous, unsure, and looked to Maria and I. "Have you done this before? Do you live here?" I asked. "Yes, we live here. We do this all the time, it's safe." she said to the two of us. Sean had no bathing suit on, just shorts. But he saw the opportunity for fun, and to do something cool, so he looked for our approval. I could tell, he thought there was something about this girl. He didn't want to disappoint her. He wanted to go. We agreed. So off the shoes and shirt went. Michael didn't seem as sure, but joined. "Come on, I'll go first," she yelled.

The kids walked out to the top of the bridge, about 8 kids in all. All the while she was talking, telling him that it was "cool." He instantly bonded with her. She helped Sean conquer his fear, his uncertainty. Helped him take a leap of faith. She went first, and showed Sean he'd be OK. She showed him how and where to jump, then waited in the water for Sean to join her. It didn't take him long, he followed her right in. "That was awesome!!!" They swam the distance back to the dock together, laughing the whole way. "Can I do it again?" he asked. "Absolutely son." I replied. A pure joyful childhood moment. Captured, I might add, on video. One of those small but perfect moments in life.

Michael was another story. He was still perched atop the bridge. He had climbed out over the edge, then back, then out over the edge again about 4 times. He didn't have the same motivations as Sean. He wasn't under her spell. More practical. Jumping from a perfectly good bridge into murky water seems dangerous. That's my Michael. It took him a total of about 13 minutes before he finally jumped. By that time, Sean and his young friend had probably taken about 4 more jumps. These were some jumps. He jumped with an abandon. A reckless abandon. You know the feeling. The kind of jump where you just give in to your heart and leap.

After an hour or so, the kids needed to be getting home, and we needed to be on our way. The children all got out of the water, and got dressed. One of the girls said "Kaitlyn, your mom called. You need to go home." Finally knowing her name, (although I have no idea how to spell it) Kaitlyn turned and said to Sean "You guys should come back on Friday. We'll be here. Let's do this again." I could tell by Sean's eyes, it was a date. No way we were going to miss that.

Sean was excited, and I could tell he had a little thing for this girl. He liked "Kaitlyn" and wanted to see her again. He couldn't stop talking about it all day when we returned to the condo. "Are we going back on Friday dad?" "Do you think we can go tomorrow, too?" The boys had really enjoyed the jumping, and the company. I like the small waterfront area of Manteo, so we said sure, we could go back tomorrow. "And dad, can you please not call me Seannie anymore, in front of people?" You got it, pal. When I told him we could go back, his face lit up. Girls have a way of doing that to boys some times.

On Thursday, when we arrived, we found a group of young girls, Kaitlyn included, swimming near the bridge. Sean was so excited. This time, Sean was armed with a bathing suit, and a towel. The boys both walked out to the bridge, but today seemed to be a "girls" day. No other boys around, the girls were laughing and swimming. Not paying much mind to Sean and Michael. Sean lept from the bridge, hoping to enjoy the events with Kaitlyn. But as I said, today seemed to be a girls day. She didn't pay him much attention. My wife, sensing this, broke the ice by asking Kaitlyn if the boys could jump with her and her friends, and she did. Once. But shortly, the girls exited the water and went down the waterfront.

Sean was embarrassed to approach her and strike a conversation. The boys made the best of the situation, and jumped from the bridge a few times. We strolled down the waterfront to "Marshes Light," a small lighthouse area the girls were now swimming and jumping from. It was obvious today was not to be Sean's day. The girls were wrapped up doing their own thing.

Sean sat, watched. Confused. Shy. Embarrassed to approach Kaitlyn, especially surrounded by other girls. It's hard when you're shy to jump into a group of young ladies and strike up a conversation. Afraid of the possibility of rejection. So close to this girl who had stirred something inside him. Then there was Kaitlyn. Laughing. Smiling. Swimming. Playing. Enjoying. With friends. Sean: Eyes welling. A tear. Sad. Hurt. Crying. Alone. Sensing that the opportunity that he sought was upon him, and he was watching it swim away.

It was painful for a mother and a father. Wanting to interject on his behalf. But trying to let him grow. Be independent. Wanting him to succeed, but not wanting to embarrass him. Feeling every bit of the pain he was feeling. Watching his first heartbreak. His tiny little perfect heart. Breaking. Just a few feet in front of us.

Are we bad parents for not helping? For not making sure that he had more time with her? Are we right in letting him allow that opportunity to slip? Should we have even brought him back in the first place? Sometimes, maybe, you should recognize those "perfect" moments in life, and just let them be. Don't try to revisit them, recapture them. Just accept the moment as perfect and commit it to memory. Keep it perfect.

As we turned away, Maria had to walk with him. Hold him. Explain to him. Help him understand. I tried to hold his hand as we walked back down the waterfront. He pushed my hand away. Wanting to hold on to a piece of dignity, in case someone was looking. Poor Kaitlyn didn't know she was why Sean was there. She never will. And I fear that Sean may never forget. May never forgive himself for letting that opportunity pass.

We never got a chance to go back on Friday, for the day she invited him. Hurricane Bill was close, the water got cold, and the sound higher, choppier, more dangerous. Today is September 2. Two weeks to the day since he met her. A ten year old, with romantic feelings stirred in his heart. Tomorrow is 2 weeks to the day since he last saw her. Two weeks since his broken heart. Three days ago I asked him "how are you doing pal? Do you still think about her?" He knew who I meant. That's a yes. He had told his friends at the park about her. That he had a crush on a girl. Crush. Some word.

Can a boys life change in one day? One fleeting moment? One opportunity passed him by?

I know that in the grand scheme of things, this is a "minor" heartbreak. But when it's your first, it sure hurts like it's a big one. And what about next year? We'll probably go back. Will she remember him? Will he want to spend his days in Manteo on the waterfront, looking for a girl? Will the Outer Banks feel the same to him?

I hope that he can get over her. I'm not sure that Maria or I have. Forget about her? No chance.

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