We went out to dinner today to have our birthday dinner for Merrick’s 18th birthday. The Cheesecake Factory has been our family spot for celebrations since we’ve lived in Chicago. As we sat waiting for our table I watched a family leaving the restaurant. A little girl of about 7 was holding a book upside down as she walk out. I turned my head and read the title, “The Stinky Cheese Man.” The book is a parody or “The Gingerbread Man,” and other fairy tales. Jordan whose wit and humor started at a young age loved that book. He loved to read it to himself and aloud to his brother. I touched Merrick on the shoulder and pointed to the little girl. He saw the book and then looked back at me poking his lip out in an, “Aw,” moment. We had talked about Jordan so much in the last weeks and now we watched as one of Jordan’s favorite childhood books passed by.
As we make our way through October, reminders of Jordan seem to be everywhere. Thoughts of Jordan’s death and memorial service and then Merrick’s birthday collide at times. Merrick works hard to feel celebratory on his special day. Merrick and I talked about his ambivalence about turning 18. He sees it as much as the close of a chapter on childhood friendships that will necessarily separate as he and his friends go off to college next year; as he does the burgeoning of adulthood that he must ferry without his big brother as promised guide.
I’ve told him that he never has to put on a face or emotion of happiness or excitement if that’s not how he feels. The notion I had of what turning 18 would be like for Merrick are tempered by the trauma and tragedy that have encroached on his month. Merrick claimed the month of October as his own. Now we struggle to push through the month without losing our bearings. Today a childhood book expressed our loss. I never thought, “The Stinky Cheese Man,” would make me cry.