Months after tragic death of their 22-year-old son, parents find a tucked-away poem that reveals a more personal, observant, thoughtful side
By Billy Liggett
It had been months since Terri and Michael Dussault lost their 22-year-old son, Adam, to a tragic dirt bike accident when Terri finally found the strength to sort through some of his belongings, which included stacks of recent essays and assignments from his time at Sandhills Community College. Among the papers were old English tests — a few C’s and D’s, as English wasn’t Adam’s strongest subject — and as the rummaging went on, Terri was close to shoving it all away and calling it a day.
The last paper she grabbed, however, caught her attention. It was structured differently. It included positive words written in green ink by his instructor like, “beautiful,” “nice!” and “wonderful details.”
Titled “I am from NC,” the paper Terri Dussault held in her hand was a poem written by her son as an assignment a few years earlier. Personal to its core, the poem revealed a side of Adam that Terri and Michael didn’t know was there.
“I was grieving. I was struggling. But in that moment — a moment where I just felt so hopeless — I find this gift from my son,” Terri recalls. “It was just this massive reassurance as a mom. You know, we think we know our kids and that nothing like this can surprise us, but it was just such a wonderful surprise. I didn’t know this side of him. In his 22 short years, he had so much to offer this world, and reading this brought such comfort. It gave me a lot of hope.”
The Dussaults lost their son in July to injuries he suffered during an after-work ride on his beloved dirt bike. Uniquely gifted and innovative in all things “mechanical,” Adam was well on his way to a career in the field, having just finished his associate’s degree in automotive systems technology from Sandhills Community College and working at the time for Honda Suzuki of Sanford. Their photos show a young man who loved getting his hands dirty, who loved being outdoors and who loved, more than all of it, riding that bike.
All of this is shared in the poem. None of this was new to Terri. But it’s the poem itself that is the enigma. A pleasant enigma that adds new depth to an already meaningful life.
Cookout burgers, Cheerwine, metal shavings and oil stains in a garage aren’t often the stuff of poetry. Dogwoods, morning glories and the dew at sunrise are. “I am from NC” is a love letter to all of it. There’s beauty in the “dust and dirt roads.”
“There was so much in this piece that made me realize there was something much deeper about him than showed others,” she says. “I’m so thankful that he had teachers and instructors who brought this out of him. English was never his strongest subject, but he was such an incredibly observational young man. And now we’ve learned that he was pretty good at expressing some of that.”
Those first three lines alone would have been enough to warm a mother’s heart. The next three provided insight the Dussaults will cherish forever — that he loved his family, was proud to be a part of it and appreciated the places that were important to them like the backyard fire pit and the cabin in New Hampshire (the state is Adam’s only use of capitalization in the poem).
“It made me go, ‘Wow. He really got it,” Terri says. “He really knew how important family was. And look, you’re a 22-year-old young man and you’re doing this push to start your own life and be on your own, and that push isn’t always pretty. It’s not always comfortable. But it has to happen eventually, and so there are you times where you wonder, ‘Do they really appreciate their family? Are they proud of where they came from?’ Well, guess what. Yes, Adam was.”
Since finding the poem, the Dussaults have created framed versions of it, printed over a photo of Adam in a dirt bike race, and sent it out to family members and friends as gifts over Christmas. Aside from the gifts, they were hesitant to share the poem online or share their story for publications like this.
But grieving is a process, and for Terri, the decision to reach out to a local writer to talk about her son was a part of that process. They’re not the only family that has dealt with unspeakable grief. Her story shows that hope can be realized in even the darkest times. Finding the poem, she says, was an “unbelievable gift” from God.
“And it was a gift from Adam, because it was definitely exactly what I needed at the moment,” she says. “Now, I want to share that feeling I got when I first read those words with everybody. It just gives you hope. Knowing this young man was even much more than his own mom knew. I just think that’s a cool thing.”
I AM FROM NC | BY ADAM DUSSAULT
I am from the dust and dirt roads, from cookout five-dollar burger tray with bacon and cheerwine cherry soda.
I am from the old garage with oil stains and metal shavings, that tell the stories of past projects that have come and gone.
I am from the dogwoods that grow among the creek, the morning glories that glisten with the morning dew as the sun rises.
I am from dussault and rushatz, from michael and terri and the fire where we gather to enjoy each other’s company.
From the saying, “early bird gets the worm” and “early to rise, early to shine,” pancakes and bacon with real maple syrup.
I’m from the cool breeze around the poconos cabin nestled in the hillside, from the frozen lakes of New Hampshire perfect for ice fishing, the snow covered mountains with slopes of every difficulty waiting to be tamed.
The summit where you can see in every direction white mountains sprouting from the ground miles below, and the green forest trails where an occasional dirt bike may be heard.
I am from north carolina, where the sun shines bright through the dogwoods.