I am sitting on H.’s back porch in the waning days of summer, watching my oldest son swing a badminton racket.
He has been playing all morning against the younger kids, both mine and hers, in various combinations. It is humid out, and the kids are all sweating as they shriek and swing and dive. The oldest does not particularly like hot weather, but he is grinning. He comes in, declares it to be terribly hot, gets a drink of cold water, heads back out again. Plays against the sixteen-year-old boy, against a doubles team of his eleven-year-old sister and her friend, against the eight- and fifteen-year-olds.
Comes back in for iced coffee made by H.’s oldest. “How hot is it? At least eighty.”
H. opens a weather app: “Eighty-one. Feels like eighty-six.”
“More like, feels like ninety-six.” He goes out again.
+ + +
This is the last day we will spend over here before we take him off to college in a few days. He has spent two days a week with this family since he was born. H., who used to let him help her bake bread when he was a toddler and I was working on my dissertation, marveled to me, last Thursday, that it’s hard even for her to believe that she will see so little of him from here on out.
+ + +
And what about me? Is it hard?
Right now the dominant feeling is wishing I could rip the bandage off more quickly. Preparing the first young person for college (including lots of homeschool-specific tasks, like writing the transcript) has occupied a huge part of my attention for the past year, and I almost can’t bear to think about it for even two more days. I would like to go now and get it over with.
I am not, not at all, worried: he is a sensible young man, and I’ve internalized that he is his own responsibility now.
I am not sad: this has always been the plan, it has finished exactly how I hoped it might.
I am a little surprised at how quickly it went by, and also at this logical amusement: at the same time, it seems that it take a very, very long time for the youngest (not quite five) to get past the stage where he must be supervised at nearly every moment.
+ + +
Like all diarists and memoirists, I am an unreliable narrator. I have been telling my story for years; maybe he was six or so when I started? Kindergarten, or first grade? In any case, I still felt fresh out of school myself. (He was three and a half when I walked across the stage with his younger brother in a a baby wrap.)
But the thing is, wherever I have written about my son, that first oldest boy, I have not really been writing the story that belongs to me. My perspective is limited, by necessity and design,
If I myself had been a character written by a master, then the perceptive reader would have been able to see the true story between the lines, the story that managed to elude me even as I spooled it out in my own words. But I am not so well-crafted as that.
He has a story, and I am not the truthful narrator, and when I have tried to be one, I have fallen short. I cannot even see where to bring the seams together, let alone stitch it up neatly for show. And you cannot look through the seams.
+ + +
There is a lot to do, to keep busy, these last few days. Clothes and supplies to buy, paperwork to sign, accounts to open. I am staying out of his way and watching, watching the birdie fly across the lawn, back and forth.
“Score!” Arms raised in mock triumph.
+ + +
Let me go back to my own story:
The first day of the rest of my life went unrecorded, but it must have been quite soon after I moved in to my freshman year at college, maybe as soon as the first Saturday morning; in my memory the marching band was audible already (because what college story isn’t better with the marching band in the background); one of the guys from down the hall stuck his head in at the door and offered to us freshmen girls in the quad room, as I usually tell the story, tequila.
But now I doubt myself; from all that I know about the guy now (and that’s a lot), I suspect it was far more likely to have been bourbon. Did I insert the tequila myself because it connotes more mischief? Maybe it was tequila, and if so, maybe it was his roommate (the best man) who was there and who offered, actually. But he did stick his head in at the door, and I did say no, that time. I am sure of that.
This is what I think of about that first move. Whatever algorithm put me on that floor of that dorm in that year, and that culminated in (among other gifts) the gift of this tall young man wiping the sweat away and laughing and playing lawn games with his sister and brothers, whatever made it happen was completely out of my control. And for that I am thankful. How could I have planned this? I couldn’t. I couldn’t have come up with it in a million years.
And off he goes. I won’t say to write his own story. Discover it, maybe.