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His little voice quavered through the phone like he was talking through static. It wasn’t, though, it was tears.

“Honey? Hi, honey! How are you?” I wasn’t sure yet, whether he was crying or not, just that I so rarely get a call from him, that I wanted to hold the phone to me so tight I was afraid I would break it.

“Mama, I miss you!” A lost little wail that broke my heart. “I love you sooooo much, and I miss you mom, so much.” More tears.

How can you stand it? How can you stand hearing a child cry out for you when you’re not there to comfort him? How can you stand knowing that it’s the choices you made that put him there?

I don’t know. I just cried.

“Oh honey, I miss you too.” My eyes are stinging now, and it’s a little hard to see. “Baby. Baby, don’t cry. I love you, son. I miss you too. What’s the matter?”

“Mommy, I miss you! I was ‘posed to go to bed but I love you and I miss you…” The rest of what he’s saying is garbled up with phone static and more tears, almost sobs by now, and I can’t imagine for the life of me what brought this on but I am so touched and saddened and just…grieved…that I hug the phone tighter to me, with both hands. No way am I letting go.

“Can you feel that, honey? I’m giving you a hug through the phone. And blowing you kisses!” I make the appropriate “muah!” sounds, hoping to cheer him up. “Can you smile for me? Just a little bitty one?”

He says he can, and I know he does, little brave kid. I hear his dad in the background, and I hope against hope that he’s not upset with me for making him cry harder, because all I’m trying to do is make it better. All I want to do is comfort him, but instead he cries more, and more.

Is there anything more heartbreaking than a child crying from hurt? Heart hurt, not skinned-my-knees hurt.

I try to talk lightly for him, tell him about the things we’re going to do this weekend, and it works for a minute or two. I try to keep the sadness from my voice, to protect him from my hurt, because he doesn’t need more sadness right now, he needs love. And I want to give it to him, the comfort. I don’t know if it works.

We talk about exercising in the park, and going to pick up a movie, and he’s almost smiling…until we go to get off the phone and he breaks down again. Finally GoodMan takes the phone away and explains that there’s been some tension that he’s picking up on, and he’s feeling a little stressed right now, it’s nothing, really, they’ll work it out, and I want to just go over there, you know? Go over there and sweep my boy into my arms and bury his head in my neck and shield him from life. From reality. But it doesn’t work that way, does it? It doesn’t work like that.

So I listen, and I feel for him. I feel for my son, and for the life he could have had but didn’t, even though I know it was for the best and that things have a way of working themselves out in the end, and that I can’t shelter him forever. Even though I want to. Oh, how I want to.

“Goodbye, son. I miss you.”

“Bye mom, I miss you too. I’m so sad right now.”

“I know you are, honey. I know. But we’ll see each other again, really, really soon, I promise. Think of all the fun things you want to do and we’ll try to do them, okay?”

“Okay. Like drive in the Jeep?”

“I’ll try son, I’ll try.”

“Okay mom. Thank you.”

No, son. Thank you.

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