Thursday, May 29, 2008

Dreams of My Children, Part 12

It seemed like such a long summer, just before their older child went off to college. The telephone started ringing right after high school graduation and didn't stop until that night late in August when they packed the car with all his stuff. The phone calls had exasperated the man and his wife. "No, he's not here. Yes, Shawn/ John/Dom/Don/Dawn, I'll tell him that you called."
"Who was that on the phone?" the woman would ask.
"I'm not sure. Their names all sound alike to me."
But that August night was unusually quiet; the incessantly ringing telephone suddenly fell silent. Most of the boy's friends had already left for college.

The man lingered in the driveway and considered the contents of the trunk. There was his son's new stuff: clean, stiff sheets and towels, pencils and pens and blank notebooks; never-worn socks and shirts. And the old stuff: a skateboard; his cherished wall posters; an old stuffed toy dog that had been around since the boy had first gone to kindergarten.
"I remember that day," the man said to himself, peering into the darkness toward the road where a dozen years earlier his child had climbed aboard the school bus, walked to the back and took a seat, never looking back.

Next day, they crossed an ocean of Ohio cornfields to reach an island of academia, a place humming with the activity of 400 nervous freshmen, moms and dads in tow. They helped haul the boy's stuff into the dormitory. Walking down the hall with cardboard boxes under each arm, the man glanced into the rooms as he passed, and later said to his wife in a harsh whisper: "Boys and girls together, on the same floor! This smells like trouble."

Through the heat of that humid day, they attended to their son's needs. They put the sheets on his bed, helped him hang his posters, went with him to buy a bicycle permit and open a bank account. When it was time to go, Nature gave the signal. The wind picked up and dark clouds rolled in from the west.

The three of them walked quickly to the car as big drops began to splash around them. They sprinted the last 50 yards to the parking lot and then stood huddled together beneath an umbrella by the open car door.
"Keep the umbrella, you'll need it," the boy's mother told him.
They left him that way, standing in the pouring rain, looking a little lost. That's the picture that stuck in the woman's mind as they headed east toward a much quieter home.

"He'll be home for a weekend before long, I'm sure," the man said, squinting at the road ahead of him. The rain came hard and fast and made a racket on the roof. He turned toward his wife and watched the tears roll down her cheeks.

The couple arrived home as darkness fell. Their younger child had already eaten supper and was on the phone, so they fixed themselves something to eat and sat alone at the kitchen table.
The phone rang all evening, all the calls for their younger child. Her father's brow furrowed and he began to mutter to himself.
"Take it easy," the woman said. It's only for another four years, and then she'll be off to college, too."
He groaned and rolled his eyes. And then they laughed. And the worst of it was over.
- September 1992

No comments: