Two years ago, my first born son left home to go to college. As I drove away from LSU on my way back to Memphis, I realized how hard this was for me. I am familiar with feelings of abandonment. Separation anxiety resonates with me. The best way I found to deal with it was to write about it. Below is an excerpt from the nonfiction piece I wrote to commemorate and mourn the event. The piece in its entirety was published in Winter 2018 edition of Midnight and Indigo.
I ask about the movie we just saw: “Infinity Wars.”
“It was cool.” This is the one, the one who is leaving. He kept reminding me that the movie can’t end with everyone just gone. “So, they were gone. They evaporated. But they are not gone forever. Something has to remain for the sequel.” He says this in a way that is almost condescending, almost wise, almost Dalai Lama-ish.
He is two-thirds full of himself and doesn’t think it cool to engage in the questions his father asks on rides home from cool places. He is a senior in high school and is going off to college where he won’t have to endure these family conversations. But I look in the makeup mirror, which I pull down just to see his chiseled, walnut-colored face and the organized chaos of tight coils growing from his high-top fade which stands up in springy rebellion. His thumb hovers over the screen of his iPhone until he becomes disinterested with the images beneath, and after a few beats, his thumb, barely touching the screen, scrolls further and hovers again. Even in his preoccupation, he is hanging on our every word. He sits erect with legs so long that when he bends his knees they seem to touch the roof of the minivan.
He is my firstborn son. The first child to sit in the passenger seat of the first car I bought with my own credit. He will be leaving for college soon. Going to Baton Rouge. I talk to him about things that have happened in Baton Rouge with black men and white cops. I feed him the diversity demographic of LSU, because I went to Southern University there, many decades before, when black boys who went to LSU came to Southern University to breathe. I don’t want him holding his breath, looking for air in all the wrong places. My pacing is steady; my tone is informative, professorial, but my heart is quickened by the possibility of things to come. Things about which I don’t want to talk, but I must, because he is my son, and he is Black.
People ask me silly things about him. The situation of college. About my feelings. I feel the questions are intrusive, but I am embarrassed that I’ve asked these questions of other mothers of young black men who are going off to college. Will I miss him? Am I ready to let him go? Will I cry? Do I think he’s ready? I never answer these questions truthfully, not fully. I smile and lower my head dramatically. I evaluate the person who has asked such intimate questions, questions that have not weighed the importance of timeliness and reflection in answering. Questions that people don’t really wait on the answers to, because they have gone on to their next train of thought. Ones that are private and difficult. Ones I’ve asked myself. Questions like these, the conjurers of tears, are always hard to answer, but I evaluate the inquirer and govern my answers accordingly, because frankly, I have no idea what I will do.
I ask him all the time if he feels like I’ve told him everything he needs to know before he goes. He says yes, tells me not to worry. He makes a joke we started a while back about mothers and sons holding hands. I told him, it gets weird if you lace fingers with your mom, and he tries to lace fingers as I turn down the quiet street that leads to our home in the cove. I stretch my long fingers all the way out. Stiff. Taut. Unrelenting. We laugh as I hold my determination not to let them fold, not to allow the tips of my fingers to graze his knuckles. I glance at him, sitting in the front seat, shake my head, and release the giggle that plays at the front of my mouth. He laughs loud like his dad. His teeth are white and straight, save for one of the front two, the left one which juts out a little bit in front of the right. Other than that, perfection.