“Are you sure you’re gonna be alright?”
“Yeeess, Mom. How many times do I have to tell you, I’ll be fine,” my teenage son replied while impatiently leading me out the front door of our house.
“OK, OK, but don’t forget to feed Dinghy . . .” I said, stepping over the threshold.
“Yes, I got it. Morning and night.”
“ . . . and walk him . . .”
“Yeah, yeah, I know, four times a day,” he interrupted.
“Two . . .”
“Two short and two long. I got it!” He snapped and nudged me onto the porch.
“Please eat some fruit with breakfast tomorrow, and don’t sleep in too late.”
“Mom — Dad and the girls are waiting for you in the car.”
“And when you shower, don’t forget to use a little extra soap on your . . .”
“MOM! GO!” my son barked, giving me one last shove off. I managed a hasty smooch, then headed for the car with my overnight bag.
As my husband pulled away, I honked the horn, waved wildly out the window, and yelled, “We’ll call you!” My son’s bulky figure diminished in the distance, and I sat back and closed my eyes.
My mind raced. We’d never left him overnight before, and even though he’s seventeen, I just couldn’t stop thinking of what might go wrong.
“He always leaves things on the stairs — what if he trips and falls? Or, what if he tries to cook a pizza and sets the house on fire? What if he stays up all night playing video games, then he’ll be too tired tomorrow to get his homework done? Worse yet, what if he figures out how to order porn on TV? Oh Lord . . . we need to turn around and go back,” I thought.
The landscape out my window was turning from swampy coastal scruff, to woodsy wetlands. I stared into the tangled vegetation rushing by, took a deep breath, and tried to calm my nerves. I made a mental note to call home every couple hours, and, somewhere along the way to Tallahassee, I dozed off.
“You have arrived at your destination,” our GPS announced with her assigned British accent, and I rubbed the sleep from my eyes.
Ever since I met her at a swim team meeting in 9th grade, Patti and I had been best friends. Throughout high school, we were inseparable, and stayed in touch after graduation, even when my Navy life took us far away. Patti, her husband, and their two kids had just moved from Pittsburgh to Tallahassee, and we were excited to catch up after so many years of living far apart.
When you know people for that long, inhibitions tend to melt away. By eight-o-clock, we were acting like total idiots. Our kids looked on somewhat frightened, as we cranked 80s tunes and relived our youth. My husband channeled Modern English on a play drum set, and my best friend’s husband did a mean Roger Rabbit. The kids beat us in a merciless round of Right-Left-Center, and Patti and I cracked up over old photographs from high school. After midnight, we were racing across the pool in what we dubbed “The Noodle Olympics.”
Needless to say, we had a blast.
The next morning, we lazily sipped coffee and giggled about the events of the previous night. After lunch, we hugged, said our good-byes and piled back in the car.
About a mile out of Tallahassee, my cell phone rang, and I searched the bottom of my purse where it was buried.
“Mamma, where are you guys?” my son asked with urgency.
“Well, we’re just heading out of Tallahassee – why, what happened?”
“You said you were going to call, but you never did. How long is it going to take you to get here? Can’t you hurry up?”
In that moment, I felt a burning sensation in my heart. I wasn’t sure if I was experiencing the twinge of separation from my almost-grown son, the guilt of having briefly forgotten he existed, or acid indigestion from the French Cruller I’d dunked in my morning coffee.
“Don’t worry, Honey, we’ll be there soon enough . . . And besides,” I said with a painful swallow, “You’ll be just fine without me.”