Sunday, October 30, 2011

What Leif Really Wanted to Be

 From the time he was very small, Leif wanted to be a jet pilot. I suppose some of the things that influenced that desire were visiting Air Force bases, traveling on jets when we moved from one continent to another or traveled, seeing movies like "Top Gun," and all the science fiction movies he saw with incredible flying machines. Two more big components would have been his love of speed and the skies. And lastly, the glamor of it, the cool factor, appealed to him.

He wanted so badly to be a pilot. We were the kind of parents who always tried to help our boys learn more about their interests and be supportive of them. When we lived in Hawaii, Peter W. took Leif to the reserve component of Hickam Air Force Base where a pilot gave Leif a tour and took him up into the cockpit of a jet fighter. Leif was in his element. It was a very special day for an 8 or 9 year-old. This would have probably taken place in 1984. Unfortunately, the photos don't have dates on them.

Leif lived his childhood dreaming of this career and planning on it. Although we all knew he could not definitely count on being selected for AF pilot training, he assumed that was what he would be.

I've posted before his high school essay about when he found out his eyes would not pass the flight physical and what a blow it was to him to have to give up this dream. It must have been even harder on him when his brother, who didn't really want to fly, was at the Air Force Academy and was selected for pilot training. Life is full of ironies we cannot foresee.

Leif tried to capture the feeling of speed by driving his cars and motorcycles like a demon, and would have dearly loved to be a race car driver. He would have been a good one, but that career was closed to him, too, due to the financial requirements.

I read a quote, which I can no longer find, that the death of one's dreams is one of the saddest things that can happen to a person, and that unless we replace the dream we've lost with a new one, a new plan or hope for the future, we flounder.

Leif did try to find new dreams or hopes, whether as an Air Force officer (starting with ROTC), or as an army enlistee, whether with love, or with the gaming and gadgetry he enjoyed, but none of those hopes and dreams came true. It was as though the heavens had determined that nothing he tried would work. How thankful I am that I did not have to live through all the disappointments he suffered.

In the past couple of weeks, we have, as always, had so many reminders of Leif. Yesterday I drove past a Japanese restaurant where we took him to dinner one December. We watched the movie, "Thor," and talked about what Leif would have thought of it. We went out to dinner at another Japanese restaurant and parked next to a silver RX-8 like the one he used to drive. Today I used the computer he built to check how something looked and worked on a Windows machine. Every day I use phones he gave us.

When he died, we lost some of our dreams, too, dreams for his future, dreams of how our future might be with him in it. I miss him every day.

I thought yesterday, after watching an episode of House, about all the babies that die before they are even born, the miscarriages that take their tiny lives, often because they are in some way not viable. Then there are the children who never make it to adulthood because of some congenital problem or disease. And then there are those who do make it to adulthood, but are cut down by, again, some congenital problem or disease, and lead short and sometimes problematic lives.

Perhaps Leif fit into that latter category in some way we will never be able to know for certain. Perhaps that genetic heritage of depression doomed our beautiful son in a myriad terrible ways. But that doesn't mean that he wasn't beautiful, brilliant, funny, loving, generous, kind, and loved. That his meteor only burned a short time and was gone doesn't take away from all that 33 year streak brought us . . . the good and the bad, the happiness and the disappointments. The memories are ours, those we treasure and those we wish had never occurred.

We don't get to choose in life just to have the happy moments. We have to take it all, the good and the bad. Life isn't fair, it just is. It certainly wasn't fair to Leif, and it still hurts every day to think about how he reached that point where he decided to put a bullet into his head. But I'm still glad I had the chance to love him. Still glad of all I learned from him. Still glad he was mine.

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