Sophomore year. The plans had been set all summer–the plans for returning to college. Buy used furniture, Rent a U-haul, grab his friend in Jersey, drive to new apartment in South Carolina. I listened to the plans, but I wasn’t really involved.
But then the doctor called and changed all that.
My 19-year-old son, Calvin, had been waiting for a cadaver knee bone to fix his knee for close to three years. He’s had five surgeries in as many years. So when the hospital called him two weeks ago to tell him that a bone was available and he had to have surgery on August 12, even though he was slated to leave with his buddies for college on August 13th and even though he has to be on crutches for 6 weeks and avoid jumping on his leg for a full year–what choice did he have but to say yes?
So the plans were quickly changed. His buddies were out–and I was in. In for a 17 hour ride with Cal to the University of South Carolina and in for 24 hours of setting up his new apartment and in for a 2 hour flight home. He needed my help and I was more than happy to oblige.
“You won’t cry this time, ” he said to me in our kitchen, as we planned our road trip to return him to his new home, ” Not like last year. This year it will be like ‘whatever, who cares, he’s a sophomore now’.”
“Of course not,” I agreed. Sadness, tears; they were the last thing on my mind. I was thinking of all those I know who were sending their first child, and for some their only child, off to their freshmen year. That is the tough one–not the 2nd 3rd or 4th years.
So we loaded up the G-20 and zipped off–first to his one week follow-up at the doctor –and then out the Pike heading West and then South. It was a good trip. We took turns driving and sleeping, fighting a little over directions but mostly having a pleasant time. We compromised on music–listening to his Rap, House, Country, 70’s rock and then my Alternative rock, folk, singer songwriter, and sometimes finding a common ground.
“I brought you to help, but also to meet my friends because you’re the cool one,” he said as I was dancing in my seat to some electronic house music he had put on.
“I’ve been telling you that I’m cool since you were 5 but you didn’t believe me.” I said, still dancing, thinking I had finally convinced him.
“Ok, so please stop doing that.”
Once we arrived we got right to work. His new apartment that he will share with 3 other guys is up two flights and his room is up another. This made it difficult for him to help me and will remain difficult for the next 6 weeks. I’m not sure how he will do it. Over the next 6 hours we shopped and organized and shopped some more… at the same time I could see him getting re-acclimated to his friends, buddies he had met last year from Jersey and Philly and one from the South Shore. Nice kids all of them. They were all truly happy to see each other.
The next morning Cal was off to the DMV to claim his citizenship as a South Carolinian resident and I was left to finish organizing his room–the room that reminded me so painfully of the apartment I lived at in Hingham with my parents after High School–with its white walls, freshly hung mini-blinds, grey wall to wall carpeting, large walk in closet–very 80’s. And here I was hanging up his clothes, and delegating t-shirts and shorts to specific dresser drawers. It was in this muffled carpeted quiet that I realized that I hadn’t bought any of these clothes. Most of them I had never seen before. I had not picked out any of these striped button down shirts or silky golf shirts. I had not stood outside the dressing room door at Old Navy or Macy’s handing him items under the door like I did for so many years saying “try this shirt,” or “what about these pants.” And I would probably never do that again.
I was organizing a man’s closet; not my little boy’s. And that’s when the sharp pain hit. The one at the base of your throat. The one that makes it almost impossible to speak because you are trying so hard not to wail for fear of waking up the others in the house. The one that happens when you realize time has gotten away from you and there is absolutely no turning back. You know the one I mean.
I stepped back from the closet and looked around the room through glassy eyeballs at all the things he had acquired over the last year. A full year of independence under his belt. So many decisions he had made without me–from easy ones like buying clothes to harder decisions regarding drugs and alcohol. All made without my input. Right or wrong, they were his decisions and the consequences were his to navigate.
Later, as he drove me to the airport in a torrential downpour I was silently thanking the doctors for finding the bone for his knee and therefore allowing me this time to come and see Calvin off at school this year. Giving us these hours together so different from the sendoff last year where we were both nervous wrecks leaving him in an unknown place all alone. Last year I left my boy at school; this year I realized he is no longer a boy– He is a man — a good man. Soon to be a great man. I have done my part and now the rest is up to him and I get to just sit back and be proud.