Ronan. A bedtime story for you. An unconventional story. The best kind of bedtime story. Because you never got the chance to grow up and hear this story. So, I will tell it to you now. Enjoy, little one.
My childhood, Ronan. So whimsical. So unstable. So honest. A childhood full of love and chaos. But not the good kind of chaos. The kind of chaos that ends up in divorce. Because parents fight too much. The kind of chaos that makes a little girl, develop thick skin. Which I am thankful for. Which I have always been thankful for.
A childhood, where rules did not really apply. But dreams did. Dreams that were my own to create and nobody else’s. Dreams that were shattered into a million pieces. But you learned how to put them back together, one by one. Alone. A small town. A very small town. Full of people who all looked the same. Until one day. Until one day, this man appeared as he had dropped from the heavens above. Tall. So tall. Your Daddy’s tall. 6’7 at least. To a little girl, like me, he looked like a giant. Curly, shoulder length black hair. Coal, dark, skin. As dark as night. The whitest smile. The biggest smile. The MOST sparkling, chocolate, eyes. Well…. almost;) My first encounter with the sparkly eyes. The laugh that could have stopped the world, dead in its tracks, and would have taken anyone who was full of ugliness, and turned their soul, beautiful. A man, that took a sad little girl, and gave her a reason to smile. And laugh. And love. One of my first teachers, about life, love, and loss. True loss. Painful loss.
I don’t know where this man came from. This man whose name was Roger, but we all called him Leo. Leo the Lion. He became a part of our family. My parent’s took him in, like he was just one of us. Uncle Leo. He would show up at our house often, out of nowhere and would stay for lengths of time. He would go on trips with us. Whenever he would come, I always knew our house would be filled with happiness. It was a given when he was around. My parent’s were magically happy. It was as if had cast a spell on them. He loved us. We loved him. We were family. It didn’t matter how different he looked from us. I never even noticed. I just thought he was beautiful. And so kind. A gentle soul. Even at 10 years old, I knew he was special. That his soul was different. I was a wise little girl. I soaked up the fact that my parents treasured him. That he created a world of happiness, just by being in his presence. They accepted him, for as different as he may have been, to our small town. There was gossip. Whispers. Looks. I was taught to ignore them all. There were not many people who looked or acted like Leo in our town. I respected my parents for not conforming to the “rules.” We simply lived the way they wanted to. The way, they believed in. An honest way where they didn’t hide much. No matter how ugly it may have been at times.
One night, Leo, appeared at our house. He had driven in from the town he lived in, which was not close by. A few hours from us I think. I was so excited to see him. I remember he was standing in our kitchen, and the way he seemed to glow to me. To illuminate a light. He pulled up his shirt, to show my parent’s some sort of wound that was on the side of his stomach, and it was not getting better. He was sick but was not sure with what. I remember feeling sad, but not scared. I was more concerned and confused as to what it could be. I wanted to know how I could fix it. Or how my parents could. Surely it was nothing. It was quickly brushed aside, and Leo made light of it. He was all about happiness and did not want to worry my parents or intrude with something that he was sure, was nothing.
Time went by. Years passed. My parents got a divorce. I saw less of Leo. I went to live with my mom. Leo was my Dad’s best friend, and I didn’t see a lot of my dad, which meant I saw less and less of Leo. A phone call one day from my Dad. Although we didn’t see much of each other, hours of phone conversations existed between us. Honest phone calls. Always brutally honest phone calls between and father and a daughter. I must have been about 15 when I got this phone call from my Dad. “Leo is sick. Leo is not getting better. Leo has a disease called, AIDS.”
“AIDS,” I remember saying. “Like Magic Johnson?” I was devastated. I knew AIDS was a death sentence.
“Yes,” he replied. “But I am going to take care of him and try to save him by taking care of him, the naturopathic way. Nobody else knows what to do.”
And I’m also pretty sure, Leo, didn’t have insurance.
“O.k., Dad. I’m sorry. Please give Leo a hug.”
Years passed by. My dad took care of Leo, for many more years to come. My Dad took better care of Leo, than he did of me. It’s o.k. I understood. It was never an issue; Leo needed my dad, more than I did.
My dad fed him organic everything. Organic juices, fruits, vitamins, meditating, everything he could do, until they could do no more. My Dad watched Leo die.
I remember being so sad. It was my first encounter with death from somebody that was not 85 years old. I was older when he died. I believe I had moved away to Arizona by this time. My heart ached for Leo, for my Dad, who had lost someone who was like a brother to him. I wouldn’t learn, for about a year after his death, that Leo was not your stereotypical male. This was never an issue in our family. To us, Leo was just a person, who loved everyone. And what is more beautiful than that?
It took me a long time to get over losing Leo. I still miss him but I miss him in the most beautiful way. When I think of him, I can still hear his laugh, see his smile, and I am reminded on why it is so important to be true to who you are, in this life. I will never forget his sparkling eyes, and I often hope, that if there is another world, where we are reunited with our loved ones, that he is off playing with you, Ro. I hope you are great friends. Leo was my first teacher, other than my parents. He showed me what it was like to live a life of freedom. What it meant to truly be a free spirit. How to embrace my inner Inca and to not be afraid of things that were “different,” to the norm of society back in 1988, when I was just a little girl, growing up in the deep, dark, forest, of a very small town.
He showed me light in the darkest of days. I need his light now. I am searching for it, constantly. It’s as I have been transformed back into the life of a 10-year-old little girl, trapped in a life of sadness. Lost in the deep, dark forest of 1064 Harmony Drive. Without anybody’s hand to hold because the only person’s hand that I want to hold in all of this, is yours. And you are gone. And I am here. And life is not fair.
The End. For now. But not forever.
I love you my never spicy, extra naughty, monkey boy. I hope you are playing with Leo. I hope he is keeping you safe, happy, and you two are waiting together, for me. I promise to make you both, proud. I love you and miss you, so much.