The College Drop-off Drop
We just dropped our son off for his freshman year at college.
Nights before flying back east to plant him in a new state, we went to dinner as a family in the city.
We got all dressed up because we were celebrating. Here he was — off to exciting new things! A big fat start to something! That’s what we were toasting: beginnings.
But I couldn’t stop feeling an ending.
He was still right here, sitting directly across from me, in this space, talking and laughing, but it felt like he was already there. And I couldn’t stop thinking about what that space would be like when he wasn’t in it.
The negative space he’d leave behind.
“Ah — look at this — the whole family,” the waiter initiated his tip-generating banter, smiling as he filled our water glasses.
“Oh, almost…” I answered, rearranging the utensil scape in front of my youngest because he would not be needing a knife. “But not the whole family — we’re missing one. Our oldest is on the east coast.”
“Oh — okay,” he answered politely. He didn’t need or want this information. I knew that. But I couldn’t not correct him. I had to say it — a learned compulsion in our divided family life. I’d been submitting this fact to some imaginary stenographer since my youngest had been born, always needing to establish that he was here — he existed! — but he just wasn’t here.
Let the record show that this is a fraction of the family, not the whole.
The waiter headed off to get our rainbow of drinks — a margarita, a glass of wine, two fun! mocktails, and a glass of milk — and when he stepped away, we realized our view: a sweep of the Bay, the belly of the Bay Bridge.
An eye-full of California, the state where my son came to be and soon no longer the state of his primary residence, headed a country-length away to continue his becoming…
This was the way I couldn’t stop myself from thinking — sweeping, melancholic, dramatic. Taking any noun and turning it into a stick or a stone to hurt me. The Bay — the same waters my son had sailed on a 6th grade field trip. The Bay Bridge — the stretch we’d sat on in traffic uncountable times, on our way to the…