By Susan Judd
He comes to me in my dreams.
He is as I remember him from years past, a lanky teen on the threshold of young manhood, with a mop of brown wavy hair and glasses.
“Help me,” he cries.
I can only see the top of his head. His mouth forms a perfect “O.” His head bobs above the water one more time. Then he is gone. I wake up, shaking.
More than 400 miles separated us but I would see him every summer when my family returned to what we fondly called our Pennsylvania home. My cousin Nick was nine years older than me, a stalwart protector when I was a toddler emerging from babyhood and a trusted friend when we grew older.
Nick and I were different, to be sure, but bound together through the strength and love of our large extended family. He drove a Harley. I drove a mini van. I admired his intelligence and his poise. Our fathers would die on the same day, 22 years apart. Nick stood before a church filled with friends and relatives and read flawlessly in Russian at his dad’s funeral, on what I’m sure was one of the saddest days of his life.
Nick was the first one to lend a hand if anyone needed help. At family gatherings, he always stayed behind to help clean up and do whatever was needed. He was like that.
When my son was diagnosed with autism, he never dwelled on the medical condition. He simply saw the little person when I passed around an avalanche of new photos.
“He looks like a pistol,” Nick said as he gazed as a picture of my son flying down a giant slide.
Like so many men of his era, Nick served in Vietnam. He never found his footing once he returned. To say that life in the U.S. was hard for these veterans is an understatement.
I was deeply saddened when I learned that Nick was missing. He was found in a lake, drowned. No one knows what happened.
Until we are reunited in heaven, I can only see him in my dreams.