Son's gift gives family's memories strong roots

“Breathe! Breathe! Breathe!" I shouted.

It was after midnight and in a matter of seconds, Wendy had gone from minimum to full dilation. "Breathe, don't push!"

I ran for the doctor.

Aaron James Morris came into this world in a rush and never slowed down. He was one of those kids filled with questions but never satisfied with the answers. Starved for adventure. A lovable kid but hard to like. Off-the-scale smart. He plotted and calculated and wore all of us out. Eventually his adventures became destructive and dangerous, and shortly after his 17th birthday I had to tell him to leave our home.

One Friday evening came a message we dreaded, yet expected: Aaron had been shot. I found him in the ER, smiling his gap-toothed smile. "Dad, this could've happened in Alaska with Grandpa." He was rationalizing this could have been a hunting accident, not a bullet through the back by a buddy in the backseat. Exasperated, the doctor told me, "Your son should be dead or paralyzed and he doesn't even know it." He was 18.

For the next nine years, my stomach turned whenever the phone rang late at night. And ring it did.

Eventually Aaron married and had two sons. For work, he chose high-rise window washing and tall-tree climbing. Aaron was attempting a normal life, but with one foot planted in adventureland, it was a struggle. His bosses admired his hard work, skills and brains, but each time they'd have to let him go over selfish, for-the-moment decisions.

In 2011, more boneheaded decisions by Aaron drove our family, even his younger brother, to break off contact. Soon after, Aaron's wife took their boys and moved in with her mother.

//

The double-arched vine stood smack dab in the middle of where our new pool was going. It was a queen's wreath, and beautiful purple flowers had finally appeared. It was 10 feet tall and 12 feet from side to side. Reluctantly we decided to yank it out and plant another one later.

Aaron protested the vine's death sentence. He was certain he could save it. I didn't doubt his intention, but this vine was way too large. Its roots were entrenched and deep. I tabled the project and hoped he'd forget his offer.

A few weeks later we came home to find the vine and arches propped next to our back fence. The vine was replanted in mounds and supported by an ingenious system of ropes and 2 by 4s. Aaron had figured out how to save the plant and talked two pool workmen into helping him move it.

We had given up on the plant, but Aaron never did. Over the next few months Aaron tended the vine while he spent time with his boys at our house. On Sunday mornings Aaron would get up early to drive from Calvary House, a discipleship residence at our church, to his mother-in-law's to help get the boys ready for church and spend the day with his family. He began helping coach his 4-year-old son in T-ball on Saturday mornings. In the first week of November, Aaron's younger brother brought his family to help celebrate their cousins' birthdays at Boyd Hill Nature Park. The brothers hadn't spoken for more than a year, but they did on that day. Healing had started.

One Thursday evening in December, we stood in the church lobby making plans for T-ball. Aaron, now 32, flashed his gap-toothed smile and told me, "Dad, God is so good."

On Saturday morning, I knocked at his door, but he didn't answer. I messaged him and called him: no reply. A roommate appeared. No one had seen Aaron. I went to his bedroom. The next thing I knew, I was pulling him out of his bed.

"Breathe! Breathe! Breathe!" I shouted, frantically pushing on his chest. Breathe, push, breathe, push.

But Aaron was gone.

//

On a Saturday in March, Aaron's younger brother Cameron came over. The pool had been finished in January, but the arch and the vine were still where Aaron had moved them. The vine was in full bloom, with its cascade of purple blossoms. Together, we had to dismantle Aaron's amazing support system and wrestle what we figured was a 300-pound bush 25 feet to its new spot. We sweated and I cried as the arch went perfectly into place.

//

It's Mother's Day and I'm sitting on the deck sipping ice water and thinking about the card I gave Wendy. I listed our children and, without thinking, left Aaron's name off. I feel terrible, short of breath. How could I have done that? I look up and there's the arch he rescued, more bushy and purple than ever. Through it I see his sons playing. And there he is. I remember. Breathe, don't push. Just breathe.

Don Morris is the Times' assistant newsart director and a senior artist. Reach him at dmorris@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8888.

Son's gift gives family's memories strong roots 05/30/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 29, 2013 7:09pm]

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