I knew him when he was a kitty-cat.
I taught J.R., his brother. Wendy would bring Ramon in when we had meetings. He was just a toddler then, a cute, messy-brown haired boy who meowed and purred. Irresistibly cute.
I’d seen Wendy and J.R. in the years since I left the Sultan School District, but not Ramon. I looked at Ramon’s Facebook page after the Skykomish River took him. Still irresistibly cute, seemingly teeming with friends, an adorable girlfriend. And so many of the photos were near the water. He must have loved it. Growing up in the Valley, as Ramon did, it’s hard not to love the water, to be drawn to it.
The water took him. It’s taken others. And, for those of us who have lived in the Skykomish Valley for any number of years, he is not the first we’ve known.
We hear the sirens, watch the path of an approaching helicopter, then we check the news. And our hearts are already sinking because, so often, we hear the news that one of us is taken.
I didn’t know Anthony “Chicago” Cunningham when he was taken, not by the Skykomish, but by a local lake. My boy went to school with him at the time, so a connection was made.
It was not until nearly a decade later that the connection became much closer.
I met and got to know Tony’s dad, Paul. He’s the drummer in the band for which I sing. What a guy; he’s talented, he’s got a great sense of humor and he can imitate the Rainman to a tee.
He doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve, but one can’t spend too much time with Paul without knowing that there is a giant hole ripped into it. He misses his boy. He misses him every day. And, when June comes and the anniversary of the tragedy of the loss of his son nears, his pain becomes palpable, so much so that he reminds his friends that the date draws near so we understand why the jokes aren’t cracking and the beats maybe aren’t delivered with the usual snap.
Burying a child is a parent’s worst nightmare and the pain does not go away. Ever. A parent doesn’t have to have lost a child to understand that.
A couple of years ago, my daughter told me a story of an impromptu rafting trip with friends; how she got caught in a snag, how she almost went under, the fear she had that she would be taken. She learned a lesson that day, but only because the Skykomish let her go and she was allowed to live.
Had she not, I would be like Paul, like Wendy, living on with that rotten, festering hole in the heart that will never scab over.
The rivers are cold and deceptive and unforgiving. The lakes are calm, hiding the dangers. It happens every year. To one of ours, or someone else’s beloved child.
It’s hard to do when you’re young and cool, but it MUST be okay to say, “This is stupid and dangerous. I’m not doing it.” Maybe your statement will make it easier for another kid to say the same thing. And maybe a young person’s life will be saved. And a parent won’t need to grieve for the rest of his or her life.
And an irresistibly cute former kitty-cat will grow to be a fine man.
Kathie Savelesky is the office manager at the Monroe Monitor and Valley News.