You could hardly get to age thirty-four without learning something about loss. By thirty-four you’re bound to have lost your Swiss Army knife, your best friend from fourth grade, your chance to be center forward on the starting team, your hope of the Latin prize, quite a few of your illusions, and certainly, somewhere along the line, some significant love. Susan Selky had in fact recently lost an old battle, for her marriage to the man she was in love with, and with it, many ancillary dreams of more babies, and of holding his hand in the dark when they were old.
It may be that one loss helps to prepare you for the next, at least in developing a certain rueful sense of humor about things you’re too old to cry about. There’s plenty of blather, some of it true, about turning pain into growth, using one blow to teach you resilience and to make you ready for the shock of the next one. But the greater truth is that life is not something you can go into training for. There was nothing in life that Susan Selky could have done to prepare for the breathtaking impact of losing her son.
Susan Selky, bright, loyal, stubborn, shy. If you knew her professionally, you probably wouldn’t have guessed that whatever accomplished forays she made daily outside, she thought with relief of her narrow brick house on Fremont Street as if it were a shell. Inside, dumb and unguarded as a mollusk was the heart of life, her private days and nights with Alex.
Alexander Graham Selky, Jr., age 6 & 3/4, a freelance spaceman. A small, sturdy child with a two-hundred-watt smile and a giggle like falling water, a child who saw Star Wars once with Mommy, twice with Daddy, and once again with TJ. Owner-trainer of Taxi, an oversized Shetland sheepdog.
Taxi was a near-total loss in the training department. He had only managed to learn to start barking with joy when Alex got home from school, a full minute before any human could have heard his feet on the step, and to smuggle himself soundlessly onto Alex’s bed at night against orders. Most evenings when she went to kiss Alex one more time on her own way to bed, Susan found Taxi burrowed against her sleeping boy with his nose in his armpit, still as a statue except for the wistful eyes that tracked her approach and begged, “Pretend you don’t see me.”
“He thinks he’s my brother,” said Alex. “He thinks he’s a fur person.”
Alex Selky, going on seven, so eager to grow up, kissed his mother good-bye on their front steps on the hot bright morning of May 15, 1980, and marched himself down the street on his way to the New Boston School of Back Bay, two blocks from his corner. He never arrived at school, and from the moment he turned the corner, he apparently disappeared from the face of the earth.
The foregoing is excerpted from Still Missing by Beth R. Gutcheon. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022