And so, a week later, I try not to go to the back of the house. If I can avoid it. It's not because I'm afraid of what I might find, but what I won't. My son isn't back there anymore. Oh sure, I could poke around in what is still nominally his room and find remnants of the life he led back there. Still some clothes in the dresser. Still some computer parts scattered about the floor. There is even an old pair of Converse high tops stuck behind the door. I told him to move them several times, but they always seemed to find their way back there, wedged just so the door would not open fully.
I am eating chocolate to compensate. It is not bringing anyone back to that room anytime soon, but it is helping fill some magnetic void that will almost certainly have a name in some self-help book or other.
My wife keeps sending me links to articles she has read about how to deal with the departure of one's progeny to the land of ivory towers. I know there isn't really any hope of making the pain go away. I have seen the look on my own mother's face, many years after the time I left for college. Every time I leave her house to go back to mine, across the Continental Divide, her heart breaks a little. I get that. I get that a whole lot better now than I did even back in July. Back in July when I was visiting with my son who had yet to go and leave my house.
Our house. The only house he's ever known.
And still I know precisely why this feeling gnaws at me: It is the precise moment in my own life that marked my greatest fear. I have been waiting for eighteen years to see if my son could do this any better than his old man. How could he not? I collapsed in a frantic heap after one night in the dorm. My younger brother, god bless him, stayed up all night with me trying to fathom what must have been going on in my head. There was no way to describe it other than the terror I felt to my very core. I have never before or since felt so completely unable to imagine anything but complete failure. I washed out. I never even unpacked the boxes. I do wonder now, decades later, what the guy who would have been my roommate told people. We had lunch together the afternoon before that awful night. He met my parents. He told me he would be bringing his stuff the following day.
I never saw him again. The next morning, I packed up my parents' station wagon with all those boxes of odds and ends and dragged them with my tortured psyche up the highway to crawl back into the hole where I stayed for a year, waiting for another chance.
My second attempt at freshman year went much better, though I didn't spend but one weekend on campus. I drove home on Friday night and drove back Sunday night. The friends I made on the north wing of Slocum Hall couldn't quite reconcile this attachment I had with my home. When I thought about how my son might fare, after many rocky nights as a kid doing sleepovers that never quite materialized, I remembered my own gravitational attraction to my home planet. I never really managed escape velocity myself.
My son knew that. Even though I took care over the past year or so to steer clear of that chapter, we all knew the story. And now I cannot describe the pride and joy I feel. But I still stay away from that end of the house. I'm so happy for my son, but I'm still missing the way things used to be. And looking forward to what comes next.