He was born anemic, got over that. He took a bottle to bed until he was five, got over that. He taught himself to read and write when he was three, and never got over that.
Sadly, the thing about Ian that was not true of any of his siblings… he was a loner. Small for his age, and stuck into first grade after a week in kindergarten (because he could read and write at a middle school level) he had few friends. Red haired, serious, wearing glasses, playing the violin, a bit nerdy and strange, he was routinely picked on and left out. It was painful to watch.
It wasn’t until we moved to London, where the English system put kids into classes strictly by age, that he formed a few friendships with kids his age, and achieved a kind of temporary comfort zone. But then, alas, we were back to Iowa, where it started all over again. No friends to speak of, everyone–even the girls–taller than he was, the isolation kicked in again.
When we moved to Virginia, a wise headmaster at Norfolk Academy convinced Ian he would be happier repeating ninth grade… since all the other tenth graders were shaving and driving… and Ian was still playing with hot wheels and talking in Morse Code to other ham radio nerds from Los Angeles to Long Island… Probaby people as lonely and at a loss as he was… a late seventies verson of the Internet.
But at Norfolk Academy, finally among his peers, everything changed. Ian exploded into a social creature, the life of the party, everybody’s best friend. He wrote original music for a Shakespeare production, he triumphed as Palindor in possibly the worst ever high school production of Camelot, he was the first ever Norfok Academian to take a (gasp) black girl to the senior prom, he was a class prankster, everybody’s favorite funny guy.
And he was accepted at UNC.
At North Carolina, he exploded (not all at once, but gradually) into fame and notoriety. He got into a venerable but very cool frat, he wrote a widely read and lauded column for the Daily Tarheel, he did a star turn as the title character (type casting will do wonders for any actor) in “You’re a Good Man, Charley Brown,” he lost his virginity (too much information… la la la la la LA LA LA), he made a lot of friends… But he had a lot of trouble with women. Someof that is best not contemplated here, but the most important thing was that he felt doomed. He felt he lacked the ability to really commit, to stay interested, or stay “in love” with anyone. He despaired of ever really finding that one person, that perfect match, that love-of-my-life we all dream of capturing, but seldom do.
So, two things I came to accept about my #3 son: 1) Ian was never going to get married. 2) Through all the sturm and drang of his early life, the tauntings, the isolation, the sadness… whenever Ian DID make a friend, they were his friend for life, at least as far as he was concerned. Over the years, especially but not exclusively those golden, clouded, intense years in North Carolina, he accumulated a long list of people to whom he was devoted. I came to realize that when Ian formed a bond–with men, women, children, ferrets–he was uttterly and unerringly their champion, protector, and willing confidante. Even for his mom. During one dark period, when I had to howl at the moon, Ian was the first to listen and the last to tire of my whining and abandon me to my misery. He helped get me past it and back into the sunlight. And he was just as generous with his friends. (Well, maybe “generous” is not the word that leaps to your lips when you are with Ian in the restaurant and the check comes… but I digress.) He is, actually, capable of great and lasting love and concern for his friends.
I’ve seen Ian drive or fly or walk miles out of his way to see someone he cares about, especially if they are sad or in trouble. And maybe all of this is the reason why we could all gather on the hill and in the barn and celebrate the fact that Ian found that soulmate after all.
And why we, and he, could look out over a sea of joyous faces and know that they had gathered there to celebrate him and his bride. In the midst of the celebrations, I found myself hoping that the skinny redhead kid with the zits and freckles and the violin case, and the Morse Code handbook, and the Charley Brown zig-zag good grief angst sweater, could look around that gathering and understand that he was fully, widely, joyously, finally loved.