Your gaze is pinned on the horizon:
a mind that is firmly fastened on the future,
while I look back, I ponder,
and take the landscape in before
I lift my heels and
leave you here on this vast plain of the unknown.
~ Inez Hollander, “Loss”
When William was born more than 18 years ago, I remember holding him in my arms and being fascinated by this little perfect creature who, in some magical way, seemed to have come out of nowhere.
I also knew that welcoming him into this world meant having to let go of him, and while the first morning of preschool was the first dramatic goodbye (little boy clawing the chain link fence, bawling), the big goodbye for every parent in this country is dropping your child off at college, and if it’s far from home, like on another coast, it seems all the harder. But it’s the natural cycle of life: boy grows up and leaves home. The 18 years that he was home with us now seem more like 18 days (but they were true days of joy).
But William was ready. More than ready.
While he may have been apprehensive at first, when he did orientation earlier this year, Northeastern seemed to take on a new reality in his mind, with new friends, new classes, new books, new experiences and no doubt, new heartaches.
Summer seemed to go almost too slowly for him, as if time stood still, this last summer at home. He spent it teaching kids to row, but also by marking time, looking up all friends, old and new, that had meant something to him in the last 18 years.
It also meant saying goodbye to his girlfriend, Jessie, who was heading for NYU. They mutually agreed to break up, expecting that even those strings with the past needed to be severed for them to become full and free adults. This was preceded by an afternoon of skydiving. The morning of, Will, who is afraid of heights, was hoping Jessie would cancel because she did not have any wheels to get there, but when she phoned to tell him they were on, Will was a little disappointed but otherwise was his usual stoic self. Apparently, he had kissed the ground after landing and after we asked how it was he said: “Great, but never again.”
Jon and Will traveled ahead to Boston and Caroline and I followed a day later. When we saw his small dark dorm room in Kennedy Hall with the bunk bed with desk underneath that barely fit his tall frame, Jon and I momentarily cringed– we’re obviously too old for dorm living… although Will seemed to have to adapt too– staying up too late, not sleeping well without a/c and just too excited overall (“I’ll feel better when classes start”), he seemed a little bothered by the humidity and complained about his stomach being upset.
The first day we had a very civilized lunch at the MFA (love the Sargents there and that tiny little painting of Rembrandt standing in front of an enormous canvas, a metaphor for the intimidation of getting started on something new, very apropos for William and me).
That night we met a friend Will had met at orientation with her mother; we begged off after dinner, but heard the next day that Will and his new friend had stayed out till 3:30 AM, so he arrived at our hotel with bloodshot eyes. The first thing he did was crawl into our bed and sleep for a few hours, while Jon and I went back to the MFA and the Isabella Gardner Museum, an Italianate villa in the midst of Boston, stuffed with art work, and like William Randolph Hearst’s pleasure dome San Simeon, a symbol of an age when wealthy Americans wandered about Europe buying ceilings, doors, and other architectural knickknacks torn off of old buildings and placed them, in postmodernist fashion, in their own little American palaces. In 1990, a Vermeer and a Rembrandt were stolen from the Gardner Museum and never found, and to underline that point, there are two empty, gilded frames. Jon asked the guard whether “this was the room where the Vermeer was stolen,” and the guard was not happy with that question, as if it had only happened yesterday and he was partly to blame.
William had his own agenda that afternoon so we met for the proverbial Last Supper that night at an Indian place (whether it was the food or the impending goodbye, all our stomachs started churning afterwards which triggered a word association game: Bombay Belly, Kashmir Kaka, Dehli Belly, Rangoon Runs… you get the pic).
On the way back, it started pouring and Will came up to the room with us and promptly fell asleep again on the couch while Caroline organized a trip down Memory Lane, conjuring up a this-was-your-life-with-us photo stream and pulling out her prosthetic doll arm (torn off a doll, but put inside her sleeve, giving off the gothic effect of her arm having shrunk. She tapped Will on the head and freaked out Jon, by tapping him on the leg).
The rain became heavier and we ordered an Uber for Will and then came the dreaded farewell, Jon hugging him in the room and I, downstairs, while the Uber was waiting. Tears came in synch with the pouring rain as Caroline held onto big bro.
In a semi-blind haze of tears and rain we stumbled towards the nearest Cold Stone since Caroline wanted ice cream. A woman in an evening dress yelled “asshole”, and as I stared at her, too preoccupied with my own grief to bother about her rage, she pointed at the back of her husband who was walking a few steps ahead of her and said “Yes, that’s the asshole.” Wow.
We know we will see Will again, but everyone knows also that once your kid moves out for college they never quite come back home the way they used to, and this goodbye seals off childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. As parents it’s hard to let go, for we see a man and hear a booming low voice, but we also know that there are parts of that little boy inside that big body of his, and he still may have a good deal of growing up to do without us nearby to catch his fall when he errs. But that too is life, and will bring new experiences and new triumphs.
A new page, a new man, and what has passed is past
But as his mother, I will always regret the time that went too fast…