Saturday, August 20, 2011

Taking Him to College

Yesterday we moved our older son, JD, to San Antonio to start college. And you, gentle reader, might ask, “What? The progeny of two staunch Agro-Americans is not attending A&M?” Hey, we did what we could, naming him after A&M’s only Heisman winner and ensconcing him in maroon since birth. But he knows what he wants to study: film and A&M ain’t the place, apparently. There’s also the fact that he’s lived in College Station for the past five plus years and part of the specialness of going away to college is going away to college.

For Margaret and me, the move to college seems very final. In both of our cases, once we went to college we effectively established an alternate “home” several hours away. We were back for holidays and some of the summers, but there was always a lunar pull back to campus. As soon as we graduated from college we were across the country and across the world. So we know it's more than just, "He's only three and a half hours away and he'll be back at Thanksgiving." On the one hand, we know JD is a superb young man. He’s demonstrated good judgment in choosing his friends and in his extra-curricular activities. He’s careful. Even as a pre-schooler he would watch a group of kids playing for a while before deciding whether or not to join in. But we also know that for anyone going to college, a moment of inattentiveness driving on I-35, a bad decision in the classroom or at a party can forever alter one’s future. So we commend him to God and UTSA and do our best not to worry.

In preparation for his move Margaret made a lamp out of the parts of his old Jr. High band clarinet and refurbished a bookcase and attended to a couple thousand other details. She also packed up approximately - I’m not joking- eighty rolls of toilet paper, which we used as padding to wedge between the other stuff loaded in the bed of his truck. So he’ll have the option of having the cleanest behind at UTSA or he can roll every house in Alamo Heights. I’m just glad there was no threat of rain on the drive over there. A good downpour on all that toilet paper would have had us looking like a giant bale of cotton on wheels.

Looking in my rear-view mirror seeing him driving my - sorry- his truck over to San Antonio brought to mind an episode from one of many moves we made as a family. When he was barely two we moved from Quantico, VA to Jacksonville, NC. Margaret was driving her car ahead of us and JD and I were in my single cab Ford Ranger. JD was strapped into his little car seat facing backwards and we spent a lot of time just looking at each other. I remember being able to make him break out in peals of laughter just by making the frog’s “ribbit ribbit” sound over and over (he no longer responds in the same way). It doesn’t seem like that long ago, really. But the cornsilk hair of that two-year-old is now a serious brown buzz cut. He is tall and lean and athletic and he’s a good looking guy in spite of the new braces that he hates and he facebooks his friends about obscure alternative rock albums and camera angles and symbolism.

And on this day after dropping him off at an apartment complex and driving away, thinking about that painful, awkward goodbye, I am also remembering an epiphany I had one morning in 2009. Before daylight, a few days before he and I went to run the Chicago marathon, I went out for an easy jog before I had to get ready to go to campus. Nothing too taxing; it was just a few days before the race. All the hard training was done. About a mile into my run I passed under a streetlamp and as I did, a guy passed me on the same sidewalk going the other way. I just looked up and there he was, running towards me out of the inky predawn and into a little circle of lamplit pavement. As we were just about to pass each other my still-sleepy brain thought, “Hey, that guy runs like me and he kind of looks like me, too. And it was my son. And we shouted Hey in mutual surprise and twisted to look over our shoulders at each other while we kept running in opposite directions. It was surreal enough to make me wonder if it was a vision; that moment of seeing a thirty-year-younger version of myself passing me in an instant like a specter out of the darkness. I am your son, the specter said. I carry your name and your DNA and your eyes and your love and your story. Your God is my God and your blood surges through me. I will outlive any other work you achieve in this life. I am right by your side.

And then I am gone.