Tonight we're packing Cooper for a two-night campout with his Webelo buddies.
Now, I feel Steve's absence all the time. There's really not a moment in the day when I'm not consciously aware that my one true love is gone. On top of that, there are moments when that feeling is magnified. Without fail, those moments include shopping for and packing for Cooper's camping trips. Because that's the sort of task that Steve loved. Because I'm not a camper. Because I have questions about how to fit a reel onto a rod. Because I think little boys should have their daddies with them on camping trips.
As Cooper and I triple-checked the suggested packing list with his bags, we realized we'd overlooked an item -- a pocketknife. Cooper doesn't yet own a pocketknife.
I consulted friend and Scout dad Layne, who recommended a knife from the Scout store. I can't make it there tomorrow, though, so Cooper and I were talking about other options in time for his 4 p.m. departure.
"Did Daddy have a pocketknife?"
"Great idea, Cooper!"
So from under Steve's bathroom sink I pulled out the divided leather tray that holds personal items exactly where Steve left them -- keys, wallet, money clip, watch and a pocketknife.
I picked up the little knife, showed it to Cooper and started to sob uncontrollably.
And then our sweet son, only 9 but almost as tall as me, patted me on the back and said, "Oh, Mommy, it's OK to cry. It's OK."
Then he hugged me. And I cried even more.
"Mommy, I don't have to take that knife. It's safer with you. I can borrow one this time."
As my crying slowed -- though not stopped yet -- I started to explain the knife. It's engraved with the word "Dixon" and a line drawing of a truck.
I told Cooper that Daddy had worked for Dixon Paper Company about 17 years ago.
"Was it a good job?"
Oh, no. It was an awful job. The people were great. The job not so much.
"Did it pay well?"
Oh, no. We were broke. I worked two jobs -- at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal at night and as a receptionist for a slightly shady financial company in the mornings. Steve had just started classes at Texas Tech, beginning work on the MBA he eventually earned.
But, man, were we happy. We were just married. When our schedules allowed, which wasn't often, we would play tennis at a nearby park, go to the movies, walk the dog, cook and bake, explore nearby towns (like Post and Levelland and Quitaque).
As I held that little knife, a gift when Steve left Dixon for a health care administration job in Lubbock, I thought of our life 17 years ago. All of our plans for babies and travel and careers and a long life together.
"Stupid tumor," I said aloud. (I say it in my head often.)
"I know!" Cooper said. Then he started some sort of unskilled martial arts moves that made me laugh. "I just wish we could have kicked it!"
Then I put the pocketknife away.