Write every day, says my newly emerging star writer cousin. Write every day, says the wavering whispery voice that serves as my Jiminy Cricket at work, preferably about archaeology. Heh. Write every day, says my fantasy self in between doing sets of crazy weights and fending off Rachel Maddow's advances and pursuing a career that benefits humanity.
Fuck it, my kid's leaving, says dumpy tubby slacker me, and she sits staring blankly at the laptop, feeling vaguely guilty about not being more productive today and not spending more time reading to him when he was little and not playing Monopoly more often, contemplating checking the SunTran schedule to see when the next bus that might squash her head will be tooling by. Unless they're still on strike, that is; God, it's hard to keep track of these things sometimes.
I wonder if my mom felt this way as I was gearing up to go off to school. Unfortunately, at the same time she was also gearing up to pick up and move 900 miles away from South Bend to Dallas, so she may have been a bit distracted. She and my stepfather hit the road a week after graduation, my beagle sticking his head out of the back window of the old blue Pontiac as Mom waved frantically and disappeared up the hill and I stood in the driveway watching until they were gone and tried to absorb the fact that I was alone and home wasn't home any more. I looked through the windows at the empty rooms, half-heartedly rattled the locked garage door, and finally got on my bike and pedaled over to my German teacher's house to bunk for a while. A couple of weeks later I would shift back to the old neighborhood, this time to my English teacher's house down the block, where I lay on an improvised pile of cushions and blankets in the upstairs spare room and stared at the ceiling. I was two months shy of 18.
Eventually, the day after my birthday, I made my way to my dad's house in southern Illinois, riding the same bus south to Indianapolis I'd ridden a million times before, killing time during the two-hour layover, and finally taking an ancient I-V Coach on the last leg to Vincennes. Dad was there as usual to drive me across the river into Illinois, and after a week or maybe two he drove me farther west across another river to St. Louis, and I got on a plane and got off in a foreign country called Texas and maybe a couple weeks after that Mom flew me back up to Illinois, to Chicago, and after a few days she said I've got to let you go now and hugged me goodbye in the parking lot behind the dorm across the street and that was that.
I took the train home to South Bend several times, but it wasn't home any more without my mom and my house and dogs and bedroom, staying with different friends, occasionally running into acquaintances from high school with them and having to consciously remind myself that these were my former classmates too. It was far too easy to fall back into the third wheel mode I was used to from spending summers at my dad's, in the small town I'd lived in until I was nine, hanging out with old elementary school friends and trying to fit in with their high school friends but never quite having the right common frames of reference.
That was 25 years ago. I will be telling my son goodbye almost 25 years to the day after my mom told me goodbye. No matter how different the situation, the sense of unreality is the same. Home without him will not feel so much like home any more, and I will not feel so much like me.