When Ryan started first grade, I went to the open house to meet his teacher. As I introduced myself and shook hands, I said “Good luck with him.” She looked at me quizzically, like I would think to disparage my own son. But I was just being truthful and wanted her to understand, “It seems to work best when you approach him sideways. Just don’t confront him head-on; he’s stubborn as nails.”
The young teacher smiled and nodded yet obviously unconvinced.
It wasn’t until later in the school year she sent a note home with his grades, saying to the effect, “I see what you mean,” then added “but he’s a wonderful child!”
Ryan was whip smart and stubborn as hell. His mother thought this life was a second go round for him and he was anxious to get on with it. He just couldn’t seem to grow up fast enough, particularly as it related to his older brother who he worshiped beyond reason.
When he was certain he was right, or pretended he was, that would be his stance. The boy made mules seem like compliant beasts. So we had no way to anticipate how he would take to school, given his home life as a one-boy wrecking ball. We were greatly relieved to hear back from that first teacher.
From his infancy, he was lactose intolerant — to put it politely. Though the pediatrician insisted he “doesn’t show the correct symptoms,” and doctors know about these things, right?
C. was breast feeding him, but when he and I were home alone, milk was all I had. Ryan would rage when he was hungry, and he’d rage after a bottle like Steve Jobs with a recalcitrant coder. Sometime later — even the next day — he would shit his guts out in a continuous, not to be denied volume all over himself and the nearby.
When C. decided we should take Ryan off milk, his little body finally settled down. As I wrote in a later poem, score one for the ‘helicopter mother’ and zip the phone-it-in doctor. Though Ryan loved him some pizza, so the Lactaid pills became a constant companion in one pocket or another.
Beyond stubbornness, he charmed anyone he came in contact with — including his teachers — like he was running for office except it was genuine. He wanted people to like him, particularly children.
Toddlers loved him, and he they. Remembering that fact later, it broke me to realize that no children of his own would get the chance to know him. He was a meteor arching overhead, brilliant and way too briefly passing.
Ryan killed himself at eighteen, jumping from his college high-rise dorm.