Here's part two of the story I never wanted to tell. The story of a life cut short is always a sad one; it's no fun writing about a dead teenager.
But his story is one that deserves to be told.
The year: 1999. Me: out of high school and without a plan. Not quite an adult yet.
My aunt Jen is my mom's sister, eight years younger. At the time, Jen was 38 and a single mother to a nine year old son and a teenage daughter. My cousin Megan is a high functioning person with a disability. My Mom, my Nanny, my sister and I were...apprehensive when she told us she was having a baby with a man we didn't know that well.
As you may have guessed, any reservations we had about the impending birth were long forgotten when Jesse John Philbin came into our lives. My mom is one of six children born to my Nanny and Grandpa (who died in 1994.) Throughout childhood, I was the oldest of a handful of cousins whom I saw regularly when we swam in my Grandpa's pool during the summers or partied during the holidays at his nearby home. (He and Nanny divorced before I was born, but still very much family to each other.) Only James, who is now a college student, and Jesse came along in the late 90s in the era after my Grandpa had gone.
When James, the son of my uncle Timmy, (yes, we call a grown man that) was a baby his parents worked odd hours leaving their son with my more than willing Mom and Dad. We had him around for only a year or two before they moved out of state, taking our precious baby with them. Not sure if all that family background information was necessary. Anyway, while James was like a brother to me, Jesse was more like a nephew or maybe occasionally I felt like he could've been my own little boy.
|Myself as a young goth girl holding an angel.|
Watching him grow was a fascinating and happy experience. It's true when they say it's not necessarily the big events that you remember. As I reflect on my memories, it's like a video montage of small, meaningful moments. I remember picking up three-year-old Jesse from day care and meeting my aunt Jen at my parents' house (where I lived.) As children are likely to do, he got himself dirty while playing outdoors. Sand and sweat clung to his sandaled feet. I remember Jen scooping him up to sit on the kitchen counter, teasing him about how she couldn't take him to the store like that. With a wet paper towel she cleaned him off, tickling his toes and making him giggle. I just remember how happy she looked. I thought to myself, "aww, she loves him so much."
When Jesse was four, I was asked to pick him up from preschool on Wednesday nights so Jen could take a night class. I would leave work and rush to see him and ask him what he wanted for dinner. Usually, we would end up at my home at some point so I could share the fun of spending time with him with my sister and the rest of my family. I was in a relationship with John and he too liked to stop by, as Jesse was always so happy to see him. My sister remarked on how much I seemed to enjoy taking care of him, suggesting I do some sort of work with kids. At the time, I was working retail at T.J.Maxx and in need of a way to move up in the world. My mom also noticed that I seemed to respond well to babysitting. She wanted me to be a teacher.
|Me as Moody Starr, early '00s.|
Mom was very integral in getting me started and she even had a friend who taught kindergarten whose class I use for my observation hours. Mom contacted the woman over the summer and I made plans to visit her classroom when school started in the fall.
Sometimes everything just goes right. You look down at the hand you were dealt and see a bunch of aces. Guess which little boy moved into a new neighborhood in the summer before starting kindergarten.
|A picture of a school picture from my scrapbook, 2004|
One time, my uncle Timmy and cousin James were visiting from wherever they lived at the time and various family members where hanging out at Jen and Jeff's place on a weeknight as Timmy and James were leaving the next day. Jesse was about 7, and as the night started getting late, Jesse's words took a slightly fresh tone.
By now, I think Jeff and Jen were married. So, the now stepfather gave Jesse a warning. "We're letting you stay up because your cousins are here, but if you're going to be rude you can go to bed."
"Fine," Jesse flounced up the stairs in an age appropriate mood. About 15 minutes went by before Jesse came back downstairs in pajamas and announced, "Sorry I was being rude. I came to say goodnight." Then he gave us all a hug.
Record skip noise.
He changed his tone already? With a sincere apology? He decided to make the responsible choice and go to bed?! Who is this child?
By the way, school worked. It took 6 years, but I eventually got my degree in elementary education. It took a little time for Jesse as well. Having spent time with him in is classes, I knew he wasn't always a model student.
When Jesse was in 5th grade his father died. During that same school year, he won his school's spelling bee.
He was a damn ray of light, I tell you.
To be continued