Aftershave. It filled my bedroom with earthy, spicy notes. The aroma was so familiar, so comforting. I knew it. But where was it coming from? Slowly, I became aware that I was in my bed, lying in darkness. The room was still. Abnormally so. Then I sensed movement. Someone was watching me.
A figure came into view. A man, tall and broad-shouldered with hair cropped close. His entire being shone. He was dressed in fatigues and lace-up boots, his hazelnut eyes alight. Eyes I would recognize anywhere. My son Patrick’s. He stared at me, then uttered one word.
I found my voice. “Patrick? Sweetheart, is that you?”
“Mom,” he said. “My son.”
Was he there to warn me about something? That was so like him, always looking out for others. I wanted him to explain. But he just stood there, calm and serious.
“Mom, my son…”
I woke up with a start, heart pounding. The scent of aftershave lingered in the air. Patrick’s favorite. Palms sweating, I fumbled for my phone. It read 3:30 a.m. I glanced around my room. No one was there. It must’ve been a dream.
This time of year was always exhausting, physically and emotionally. It was two weeks before the sixth anniversary of Patrick’s death serving in Iraq. For days, I’d been looking through mementos and photographs, preparing for his annual memorial service, thinking about all the things I wished I could tell him. That I was doing okay. That his wife, Silvia, and his kids, Janessa and Junior, were thriving. It made sense I would dream of Patrick so close to his memorial. And yet… it had felt so incredibly real. What if something was wrong with Patrick’s son, 15-year-old Junior.
I waited until seven o’clock, then called Junior’s cell phone.
“Are you okay?” I asked, not bothering to say hello.
“Yes, Grandma,” Junior said. “I’m fine. Why?”
I told him about the dream. How his dad had been trying to warn me somehow.
“Grandma, everything’s okay on my end,” Junior said. “I promise.”
I tried to put the dream behind me. But a week later, it happened again. This time, Patrick and I were standing face-to-face. He looked directly into my eyes, his own eyes imploring. Full of love but commanding.
“Mom,” Patrick said. “My son.”
He said those words over and over. With more urgency than before.
I awoke to the morning sun seeping through the blinds. I picked up the phone and called Junior. He was fine. For good measure, I asked about Janessa. She was okay too. So what did these dreams mean? Was I going crazy?
Over the next week, I threw myself into busywork. I met friends, ran errands and straightened the house. I was desperate to distract myself, and for the most part, it worked.
But the night before the anniversary of Patrick’s death, he came to me a third time. His brow knit with worry. His eyes fierce with determination. His presence gripped my soul.
“Mom, my son!” he said.
“Patrick,” I said, frustrated this time. “I don’t know how to help you!”
“Mom!” he pleaded. “My son!”
“Sweetheart,” I said. “Junior is fine! I’ve checked on everyone. Just tell me, what do you want me to do?”
“Mom!” he said. “My son! My son!”
I awoke with tears in my eyes. What was I missing? There must be something important! But I had no idea. I was so shaken, I could barely get out of bed that morning. I called Junior. All was well. Maybe revisiting all those memories of Patrick had taken too much out of me. Maybe I just needed a break.
Around lunchtime, the phone rang. I picked up, only to hear crying on the other end. It sounded like a teenage boy.
“Hello?” I said. “Who is this?”
The boy on the other end just continued to sob.
“Hello?” I said again.
Finally, the boy was able to hold back his tears long enough to speak. “Grandma, maybe you don’t want to meet me,” he said, “but I just needed to talk to you….”
“Junior?” I said. “Is that you?”
“No, no, I’m Florentino,” the young man said. “You’re my grandmother. Your son, Patrick, was my father….”
I listened in stunned silence as Florentino explained how he’d gotten my number. He told me he was from a town in California not too far away. He’d been raised by his mother. He never knew his father. A few months earlier, when he’d turned 18, he finally learned his father’s name. Florentino searched for Patrick online, only to discover it was too late.
I clutched the phone, trying to make sense of it all. The story added up. I remembered Florentino’s mother, Patrick’s high school girlfriend. I’d always liked her. One day, Patrick stopped bringing her around for dinner. He said she’d broken things off and moved away without telling him how to reach her.
“I understand if it’s too hard to see me,” Florentino said. “But I’d love to meet you.”
I didn’t hesitate. “I’d love to meet you too,” I said. “Patrick loved being a father. He would’ve been so proud to know he had another son.”
Although, maybe he had known. When Florentino—or Tino—and I met, I discovered he was just like his dad in so many ways. He had Patrick’s smile and golden-hazel eyes. But he was skinny. Too skinny. I learned Tino suffered from a chronic ulcer condition, one he hadn’t been able to treat properly. Over the summer, Tino came to stay with me. He met his half-siblings. I set up Tino with Patrick’s military benefits so he could get the medical care he needed. His health improved by leaps and bounds.
Nine years later, we’re still as close as can be. Not a week goes by that we don’t catch up on the phone. I tell Tino that we were brought together. That I’ll never stop looking out for him.
Just as my son, Patrick, would have wanted.
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