Hey there buddy.

I’m sitting here with some semi-disco music playing, the sun shining outside and Cia snoring at my feet. And, as real as all of those things are to me, you are too. In my heart, you made it. You are here safe. You are where I am.

You are running the halls of my little house with your brother. Y’all are screaming and chasing each other and every time you take that tight corner by my glass stoves I hold my breath hoping there isn’t a crash to follow. When one of you bumps the other, I am a referee to decide who needs a hug and who needs a gentle reminder to be careful. There are two solid little bodies to lift up to ring the bells and to count how many there are. Later, when I look out the window Pa-paw is bookended in the backyard–both of you looking up at him to see what he’s going to do next.

From the moment my phone dinged and I got the picture from your mom with E wearing a big brother shirt you were real to us. We traveled the road. We loved you.

There were Christmases, and birthday parties and two high school graduations. We made that Disney trip and bought two sets of mouse ears. There were bunk beds in my spare room. Your life happened. We saw it stretched out in front of us in an endless ribbon of jokes, and sunny mornings and family.

But there is another thing that is real too. Another thing I know. I know I answered my phone and your daddy was on the other end with his heart shattered. I know your Sassy bought the first plane ticket available and that your mommy cried enough tears to fill an ocean. I know that you and Miss will always share a birthday nobody expected. There are crumpled tissues, broken hearts and a nurse named Sunshine that bear witness to what happened. It’s a sadness deeper than we want to go.

But, the thing brave enough to pick up a chair and fight that sadness is those minutes. Those minutes we lived with you in our hearts. Every minute we thought we were promised. Every minute we counted on. The big ones I mentioned and a million small ones that meant just as much. The first time I kept you without your brother and realized I needed to know what your favorite snacks were. The time we were the first ones up on a Saturday and you helped me make coffee. The text messages you sent as I got older to remind me to take my vitamins. The catch I felt in my chest when you called to say you were going overseas for the first time.

It’s all real.

It’s as real as any memory I’ve ever had. The very minute we knew you were coming you were already here. We scooted over. We made room. We pulled another chair up to the table. We folded you into the mix that is us and nothing is ever going to change that. Nothing. You belong to us. You are a part of who we are. All of us. The grandparents, your big brother, the friend you would have found over animal crackers the first day of kindergarten. Your mommy and daddy. We have all loved you. Will always love you.

Just like there will always be a shadow sadness while we are packing suitcases and making doctor appointments and accepting birthday invitations there will also be a shadow happiness. An understanding that life with you is real. It’s real because we love you so much we made it real. Given the chance you would have been the second most loved little boy in the whole wide world. There would have been so many toys, and fishing trips and millions of happy squeals while your daddy let you walk on the ceiling. There would have been Harry Potter books with your mommy and digging in the mud with your brother. Tummy giggles and new cars.

This horrible thing that happened can’t stop any of it. It never could. It was a done deal from day one.

We are yours and you are ours.

Always.