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Words on the blackboard in Eric's room during his last year:
We are all in the same boat, in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.-- G. K. Chesterton
Good friends have said, "But how did it begin? You must have seen it coming."
No one could have seen it coming. This had been a summer like many others. We live in a small Connecticut town in a house just a block from the beach, so our vacations are usually spent at home, swimming, picnicking, patching up small boats. And the front hall that September was, as usual, full of sand, mysterious towels that didn't belong to us, and an assortment of swimming fins, soccer balls, and basketballs. Like many mothers, I was half longing for school to start, half dreading it. Our twenty-year-old daughter, Meredith, had been married for two years and lived a thousand miles away. Now Eric, seventeen, was packed and ready to go off for his freshman year at the University of Connecticut. We would still have fourteen-year-old Mark and ten-year-old Lisa at home. With Eric gone, there would be fewer kicked-off shoes in the living room, fewer crumbs and Coke bottles scattered around. Yet now and then, a glimpse of him running past our bedroom door would start me feeling wistful.
One late afternoon as I went through the house watering the plants, I found Eric stretched out on the living room couch. I knew he'd been running earlier up at the high school track, yet there was something now in his languid sprawl that made me pause. It was rare to see Eric lying down."Mom," he said, "I don't feel right. I haven't got it when I run.And my head hurts a little."
Scarcely more than a week ago he'd had the complete physical for entering freshmen--blood tests, X-rays, the works--and he'd passed it all without a single hitch.
"Does your throat hurt? Or your stomach?"
"No. I've just got a headache."
Tension, I thought. Going to college is the big jump. Only two days away. He'd been a star in a small arena. Class officer, member of the special Key Club, the Drama Club, but more than all this a soccer hero. The game hadn't come easily for him, though. In our town, Greek and Hungarian boys dribble soccer balls as soon as they climb out of their cribs.
"That Phil Kydes," I remember Eric saying mournfully. "He's got about a twelve-year start on me. I could practice twenty-four hours a day and never catch up. What a player! When I'm on a field with Kydes and Sahnas and Marmanides, it feels so great. I have such respect for guys like that."
But Eric had studied the game and driven himself to the point where he, too, was respected at last. They called him "the blond Greek," and this made him proud. They were a good team. Three times they took the county title in a playoff against their traditional rivals in neighboring Westport. Usually they made it to the state finals, and once they won the championship for the whole state of Connecticut. The mayor of our town and the governor had attended the banquet that celebrated this event.
Now, as a college freshman, he'd be starting all over at the bottom. There would be more Greeks, more Hungarians, more talent from all over the state coming to the big university. There would certainly be a struggle for places on the team.
And there was something else. While soccer filled Eric's world at the moment, and he enjoyed dressing and acting the part of the casual jock, he knew there was more to come. College asks the big questions, or at least makes you ask them of yourself. His father had been a brilliant student, graduating from college with many honors. He was also a powerful six-foot-four-inch champion athlete. Eric had always been a thin little fellow until he started to train for sports. Although he'd shot up in the past two years, he surely wouldn't be taller than six-foot-one or -two. In many ways, Sidney was a hard man for Eric to follow.
I was thinking of these things as I poured the last drops of water on the jade plant. What I said was, "I think maybe you've been pushing yourself too hard, Eric. It's awfully hot and muggy anyway. Why don't you ease up? I'm sure you're going to make it at school."
He gave me the look that sons have given mothers for a thousand years. To avoid more conversation, he went out on the porch and lay down again to wait for supper.
The following afternoon Eric and I both wanted the car at the same moment. He wasn't languid now. He was dressed for action: soccer shorts, Adidas running shoes. "I've got to run at the track, Mom. I've only got two more days and I'm not in shape."
I was holding a sheaf of corrected type proofs Sidney had left for me to take to the printer. He was on a business trip. A few months before, he had been "reorganized" out of his job after seventeen years with the same firm in New York. Now I was trying to help him; we were both free-lancing--writing, drawing, doing everything we could to keep the boat afloat. Clearly work outranks sports, but Eric had his need.
"Look, you drive us to the field," I said. "Then I'll take the car and go to the printer's. I'll do a few other errands and pick you up later."
"Okay." He scowled to show me it was a compromise, got in, and started the...