When I close my eyes at night, I can imagine just about anything.
I can picture my stepson Matthew walking in the front door. I can almost hear his keys jingling at the lock, followed by the squish of sneakers going up the steps to his room, which he shared with Michael.
"Come in and say 'HI!' before you go upstairs," David would call out to him from the kitchen.
"Come in and say goodnight," David would ask of him before he hit the sack, when he knew Matthew would be out late.
Reliving this dialogue in my head can be very convincing that it's happening in real time.
If only it were.
Yesterday marked five years since Matthew passed away.
One of our little neighbors, Johnny, just turned 5. He rides a bike on his own and is a big bad first grader. His whole life has taken place in the time frame that Matthew' s been gone.
This is a most shocking and sobering measurement of how long it's been.
While it's true that the passing of time helps the healing process, it can't eliminate voids of this nature.
However, these days while tears are less constant and more sporadic than they were for the first year or two, it's unnerving how the triggers can come from anywhere and at anytime.
Take going out to dinner. The waiter comes to our table and says, "Welcome to Mexican Food Factory, my name is Matthew and I'll be taking care of you."
Immediately, I ask myself, Couldn't we have a waiter with a different name? Maybe I should check that before we sit down next time.
Seemingly harmless conversation with friendly people can turn from entertaining to dreadful in a matter of seconds.
A common topic - at a Bed & Breakfast, during breakfast when unfamiliar couples sit together - usually starts with establishing everyone's home states and then almost always moves to the children..."Do you guys have kids? How many? "
I've become more assertive with taking control of the conversation from the getgo, which plays an important role in keeping the exchange light.
I also dig into my meal at a fairly rapid pace so that we can make a quick getaway before it's our turn to answer potentially difficult questions.
But when I realize that the predictable questions are unavoidable, my heart goes out to the person or couple asking so innocently about our Brady Bunch configuration, knowing the potential for darkness is looming in the information I'd be about to pass on.
There are times I have to admit that I've wanted to say that we have 4 kids, not 5, but I'd be disappointed in myself to leave Matthew out of the equation just because it's easier for me.
It's not because I don't have great memories of and stories about Matthew and a desire to share them, but the road to them is too painful.