Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Our Saga Continues

Move in day was set for August 17th. The week leading up to that day was kind of surreal. It was like we were cutting our own tails off a little bit at the time, all the while hoping that the final snip-snip would hurry up and the ordeal would be over. Excited dread, I guess you could call it. I was happy for Daughter Dear, excited with her about this giant step she was taking. But I knew it was going to be very hard to let go, to drive away and leave her there.

The whole family had come together the Sunday before for the going away party. What a bittersweet time that was - lots of laughter and tears. Aunt K read aloud a story Anna had written about a disastrous girls weekend trip that we had taken. The trip where 3 grown women had managed to get in a huge argument over what to call the various versions of fried eggs. (That trip is still referred to as “The Egg Trip” and makes us all howl with laughter- now. Wasn‘t so funny then.) Everyone brought little tokens to put in her conscience bag, a Crown Royal bag in which, as a child, she had placed all of her secret little treasures and carried it with her everywhere. She said she had named it that just because she liked the way the word sounded. The new treasures were to remind her of us when she was at school and feeling homesick. She could pull out one of the offerings (which included a plastic fried egg) and have a memory of a family who loved her very much. It was my job to present each one and explain it’s significance. I could barely speak through my tears as I explained the meaning off each little gift. After that, being the good Southern family that we are, we ate. And took lots of pictures. Ate some more. And laughed and cried a lot.

The next few days were spent getting everything together. We bought things we had miraculously forgotten to get - things that, until this point in her life she had never had a use for, were all of a sudden something that she couldn’t live without. If the kitchen table had had eyes, they would have bulged from the strain of everything we piled on it. We visited people who wanted to see her before she left; those who, like me, felt as if she were going to college in Siberia. We washed and folded clothes and packed them in clothes baskets and suitcases and boxes. We stayed busy and we talked. A lot. But we tip-toed around the proverbial elephant in the room. Not once did we mention the reason for all of this activity.

On August 16th, we finished with all of the preparations and loaded the cars. They were packed as full as they could be without stuff squishing out of the windows. Then we ate supper at home, watched a little TV together and went to bed very early. So we could get up very early. Insanely early. At the same time insomniacs who haven’t been to bed yet are awake. In other words, early!

The big day dawned. Well not really; dawn was still a long way off. But the date arrived. As is usual in our house, I was the first one up. I showered, made the coffee and, for a few minutes, I just enjoyed that peace that only comes before day breaks. The language of my house, those little noises that are unique to every home, comforted me; the refrigerator hummed, the ceiling fan clicked, the coffee pot sputtered. The lights were low. Everyone, including the dog, was asleep in their own little spot. The man of my heart and the dog were having their usual snoring contest. The cats had just started to play their in-and-out game. Everything was as it always was and it felt right. It occurred to me that this was the last time it was going to feel right for a good little while.

I got her up to and sent her off to the shower and, while my dear darlin’ husband slept a wee bit longer, I sat down at the computer and poured my heart out again to my board buddies - wonderful women who are as real-life to me as any friend I have in, well, real life. They had been so supportive and caring through the choosing of the college, the high school graduation and through all the preparations for the move. I was glad they were there that morning! Talking to them kept me from going nuts while I waited on everybody to get ready to go.

And finally, we were ready to go. We each went to our assigned travel positions and hit the road to College Town, USA; Man O’Mine driving my car, Daughter driving hers with me in the shot-gun seat. We started out under dark skies and arrived at the college in bright sunshine. And lots of heat. And lots of people. Lots of busy people. Everybody looked like they were late for something. Hurry here and hurry there. Like ants on an ant hill that had been run over by a lawnmower.

The roommate was already there and had the bed put together, so it was easy to make it habitable. The girls and the moms unpacked schtuff and put it away while the manly daddies ran cables and hooked schtuff up. I, of course, felt like a failure as mother because Roomie had a rug to put in front of her desk and my sweet baby didn’t. How could I have not gotten my wonderful, beautiful child a rug?! “Well,” I thought. “I’ll just remedy that situation the first weekend she comes home!”

Soon, the room was done and it was off to the scheduled activities. That whole “Parents Depart” thing was getting closer and closer. Daddy and Daughter went to the bookstore to get a couple of things that we were unable to buy earlier and I went to the auditorium to wait for them and the Welcome Celebration to begin. The first thing that caught my eye when I walked in was a huge banner strung across the lobby screaming “Welcome home to LRC.” They wanted all of their students to feel like this was home?! I was so afraid that she might do just that, that I started crying. Then 2 of the biggest football players I had ever seen (Ok, in retrospect, they weren’t really that big) sauntered in acting all cool and looking dangerous and I thought, “How can I leave her here where people like that are free to just be anywhere? Whose going to protect her?!” And I cried even harder.

I saw them come up the hill and tried to wipe my eyes, but they knew that, once again, I had been blubbering. They wanted to know what had prompted this round of tears and when I explained it to them through fresh sniffles, they gave each other that look. The look that’s like a secret handshake between them. One that I could be jealous of, but that I think is so special I can’t find it in myself to be anything but awed touched by it. We went into the auditorium and found seats and the Celebration began. The campus pastor prayed a beautiful prayer and several people had nice things to say, and all of a sudden it was time to go. I felt like I couldn’t breathe! “ How can I say ‘goodbye’ in just a few minutes? Especially with my chest hurting soooo bad? How can I stop hanging on to her so tightly? Why won’t my arms move from around her?”

But my arms betrayed me and let go, and she turned and walked away. I will never forget that sight as long as I live. My child’s back as she walked away from me. Towards a new life, sure. But away from me. I turned and walked as fast as I could to the car, surprised at the families laughing and waving goodbye and acting like this was just another day, Another sleep-over at a friend’s house.

The newly created empty-nesters got in the car and headed out. We stopped for lunch, where I cried and cried and the waiter kept giving Hubby Dear dirty looks as if he might be responsible for my tears. I stopped crying after we had been on the road for a bit and felt much better when I realized that I could text her right now if I wanted to. So I did and asked her if she was ok. She texted right back and said she was fine and asked if I was ok. “No,” I told her. “But I will be.”

That’s when I decided to kill my husband. “Y’all know you aren’t going to be able to do that all the time, don’t you. It’s too expensive. You’re going to need to find another way to communicate.” I saw lights flash before my eyes. White hot anger surged through my blood stream. My first instinct was to reach over and put my hand into his chest and rip his heart out. Only two things kept me from following through: 1. The seat belt had done that hateful lockey thing where you can’t move forward even a centimeter, much less reach across the entire front seat to commit murder. And, 2. The knowledge, floating somewhere out there on the periphery of my anger, that tomorrow I would probably love him again and still want to spend the rest of my life with him. Plus, he most likely would have lost control of the car and I might have been hurt. It was a long, roaringly quiet ride home.

The first weekend there, she was homesick, she said, but felt like it would get better when classes started. She didn’t like all of those “forced socialization activities” as she called them. When I asked her if there were any sororities that she was interested in, she informed me that most of those girls had seemed like the ones she made fun of in high school. She had made a couple of friends and they were hanging out together at the activities. One of which was a pool party, the kind of thing my non-nature loving, sun-a-phobic daughter hated.

Monday she had some free time and decided to ride around and look at the country side. It could have been a lovely, relaxing way to spend the afternoon. Only she rode by a “patch of kudzu that looked just like the turnoff to Boykin," home to one of our favorite places to get a burger. So, instead of lovely and relaxing, it made her more homesick.

Tuesday, she resorted to the wildly expensive text message for communication. I was puttering around the kitchen trying to feel normal again when I heard my phone beep. I picked it up, pressed the SHOW MESSAGE button and read, “These grits suck!” So much for feeling normal! I wanted to fix a pot of grits and drive them up there to her. And deliver the recipe to the cafeteria.

And so the week went. We used every form of electronic communication known to us. We text messaged, talked on cell phones and land lines. We emailed and IM’d.
She even set up a little chat room where the 3 of us could talk together. I emailed the campus pastor and asked him to please pray for her, because she was so homesick. Every night I went to bed worried, hoping that in the morning I would hear from her and she would have turned that elusive corner and found contentment. Every morning, I woke up and talked to her and was assured that today might be the day. Every afternoon, I talked to her again, and knew that, in fact, it hadn’t been. I told her on Tuesday night that I would come and pack her up and move her back on Wednesday if she really wanted me to and was sure she wouldn’t ever be happy there. “No, no!” she assured me. She thought she should just tough it out for the first semester and see what happened then. I agreed with the plan, but was still uneasy.

Then, on Thursday night, we had the conversation that I had been hoping to have. The one where she was like her old self. She seemed lighter, happier. She joked with her daddy and I felt like, at last, we could all move on. I went to be and slept peacefully for the first time in a week, happy knowing that my baby was ok now.

As I said earlier, I usually get up very early, before sunrise on most days. I did the same things as I had done on the Friday one week earlier. I made the coffee, I packed Hubby Dear’s lunch . I let the dog out and the cats in. And out. And in again. I sat down at the computer and checked my email.

And there was the letter from my daughter, explaining very eloquently why she wanted to come home. Now. The letter she had been writing as she talked to us the night before! She had been praying all week and really seeking God’s guidance in a way that she hadn’t done in a long time, she said. And she felt like she wanted to leave there and come home and go to college here in town. She had thought it through and knew she still had time to withdraw without penalty and what she could do between leaving LRC and starting FMU. She wanted to do it now, but said she would stay the semester if we thought she should. But after one semester, she wanted to come home.

“Oh, shit!” I said out loud as Mr. I-don’t-talk-much-ever-but-even-less-in-the-mornings went to pour his second cup of coffee. “What?” he wanted to know. I asked him to come look at the long email and see what his daughter had to say. He said, “Paraphrase it.” So I told him that she wanted to come home and that I had a gut feeling it was the right thing to do and that I was going to get her today.
“Ok. Be careful.” And he kissed me goodbye and went to work.

So that’s how I spent my Friday. I went to College Town, USA one last time and picked up my daughter, who was waiting outside the dorm like a little girl whose mother was late picking her up from the first day of school. She was pale, and shaky and afraid that we were going to be disappointed in her. “Never in a million years,” I assured her. We loaded the same 2 cars up that we had loaded before and headed home, which is always a good way to go. But first we stopped and I fed the child who had been so homesick that she had barely eaten all week. It was there that I asked her, "What would you have done if I had told you you had to stay the semester?" "I knew you wouldn't tell me that," she answered.

She had expected some good-natured ribbing from all of the family members, young and old alike. None came. We are family of fairly bright people who have all made some wild decisions over the years. Including many having to do with college educations. We all felt like she was just carrying on family traditions. And everybody was gracious and welcoming and glad to have her home. We even had a girls’-day-out luncheon to welcome her back. (Nobody ordered eggs!)
Her adventure was short. Not more than a single stitch in the tapestry of her life. But, like those single stitches add to the color and texture of a tapestry, Her time away will add dimension to the woman she will be. And although she was only gone a week, she changed. She came back with not only a clear plan for her future, but with what seems to be an almost reverent appreciation for home and family. We know that she will leave again one day. But none of us are in any hurry for that to happen. As long as it’s healthy for all of us, she knows she has a place here.

“The more things change, the more they stay they same.” I don’t know who said that, but I know it’s true. At least in my case. I wake up every morning before the sun comes up. I listen to my house as I make the coffee and the lunch. I feed and threaten bodily harm to the always in-and-out cats that I love. My husband and daughter and little dog are asleep in their beds. I sit down at the computer and read email and check in on the board where I say good morning to all of my friends. Once again, all is right with my world.


tiedye said...

This is a gorgeous short story, my loverly. I had to come back and read it again. And even though it's in your blog it's one journal entry that SHOULD be hand written somewhere too. . . with little hearts to dot an i or two, even if you don't write that way.

Please get yourself a brand new journal, one of the thin ones with just enough pages for this story, and write it out and doodle in the margins and do whatever you do when you write. Just like you said. So it'll give Annabanana's family 'further insight' years and years from now.

This is a beautifully written story Bee. I surely felt captivated.

HTE Chefs said...

I have read this blog three times and I am there sitting in the back seat with y'all on the way up AND on the way back from College Town USA and yep I have tears in my itty bitty eyes.

Oh I agree with Tie please hand write this for that sweet child to have someday.

Beezer you are a treasure and I'm hugging you. Dooddles

HTE Chefs said...

Oh and one more thing....I love the photo you have on your blog page it's reminds me of you without knowing you but knowing you AND your choice of music is MY choice of music loverly.


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