Read an Excerpt
aka Eighteen Years Later
Troy, Carl and I stand outside of a red-roofed brick dormitory backed by rugged mountains.
"It won't be the same at home without you." I squeeze Troy tighter, my tears dampening the sleeve of his White Stripes T-shirt. He squeezes me back, but doesn't say anything.
Carl clears his throat, and I blink across at him. He stands behind Troy, smiling, but his eyes are misty as he slides on his sunglasses. "We need to get the car back to the rental place if we're going to make our flight."
Troy and I step apart. The cord is cut, but we're still connected. "I love you." I take his hands in mine.
"I love you, too, Mom." Pink splotches bloom on his cheeks. His tender, anxious expression tells me that, despite his excitement, he's feeling some of what I feel: pride and love, but sadness, uncertainty and a little fear, too. The moment is bittersweet. This is what the past eighteen years have all been about. Raising him to be independent, brave and capable. But the thought of not seeing him every day, not hearing his voice...
Two snickering young men approach, headed for the dorm's white-columned entrance. Their glances cut our direction, and Troy's blush deepens. Dipping his chin, he releases my hands.
I wait until the boys pass by, then, with a final quick hug, I back away. "We're proud of you, sweetie."
Carl embraces Troy for only a second, then gently punches his shoulder. "We'll call you when we're home."
Troy nods, his gaze shifting to the dorm, down to his feet, then back to us. He pops his knuckles. All signs that he's nervous, excited and antsy. How many times have I watched him act the same on the sidelines of a basketball court before the coach sent him into the game?
"Remember why you're here," Carl adds, attempting sternness but sounding sentimental, instead. "Your studies come first. Even before basketball. Keep your priorities straight."
"I will." Troy's Adam's apple shifts.
"You have big shoes to fill some day at Logan Advertising." Carl glances down at his size elevens, then winks.
"I'm counting on you to send me off to retirement in about ten years."
Clearing his throat, Troy blinks down at his size tens. "If you need anything — " my voice falters " — we're only a phone call away."
Carl checks his watch, then takes my hand. "Bye, son."
Panic seizes me. There's so much more to say, but not enough time. One weekend here wasn't long enough. Eighteen years wasn't long enough. I look at Carl and silently plead one more minute. As if I can cram into sixty seconds everything I forgot to teach our son, to explain and impress upon him during his lifetime.
"You should have plenty of money in your account," I tell Troy. "And I put extra on your student card." The words rush out of me. "You understand how to use the card in the laundry machines, don't you? And how to do the laundry?"
"Yes, Mom. You went over it a million times." Embarrassment and exasperation strain his quick laugh.
"Ask your resident adviser if you have any questions. He's there to help. And get involved in dorm activities. It's a good way to meet people and make friends."
Troy sends his father a desperate look. "Dana, come on." Carl tugs my arm. "We'll be late." Ignoring him, I say, "Remember what we talked about. You'll meet all kinds of people here, Troy. Good ones, but kids you'll want to avoid, too. Be careful."
"Jeez, Mom." He cringes slightly and eyes a group of girls who walk by carrying boxes.
"Goodbye, sweetie." I have to squeeze the words from my throat.
Turning, I follow Carl down the sidewalk. One step. Two. Three. Four. Deep breaths. In...out...in...out. Bringing Troy into the world was less painful than sending him off on his own to explore it. The cord may be cut, but we're still connected. At least I am; when I look over my shoulder, Troy isn't watching us leave, as I'd expected. His head is turned toward the dorm.
I flash back to the painting on the wall of the hospital labor room eighteen years ago. The mother clinging to her child, the boy detached, looking off into the distance.
"Don't forget to call AAA if you have any car trouble," I yell. "They'll even change a flat tire or come out if you lock your keys inside."
Troy turns squinting eyes on me, his shoulders slumped, his arms at his sides.
"He can change his own damn tire," Carl mutters and tugs me again.
"Your allergy medicine's in the first-aid kit I packed for you," I add as Troy starts for the dorm.
"Dana." Carl walks faster.
A sob builds in my chest as I watch the back of my baby's shiny dark head, his tall, lanky frame, merge into a throng of University of Colorado freshmen hauling boxes and trunks, beanbag chairs, mini-refrigerators and stereo equipment. In my mind, he's three years old again, lost in a crowd, and I can't get to him. It's almost more than I can do to look away. "I can't stand to leave him."
Carl digs keys from his pocket and gives me a sympathetic smile. "We've known for almost a year he'd be going to school here."
I swipe at my eyes with a shaky hand.
We walk the rest of the way in silence. When we finally reach the car, Carl heads for the driver's side door, and I head for mine.
I sink into my seat. "I feel like we're abandoning him in a strange place with a bunch of strangers."
"He's not a little boy anymore — he grew up. It happens to everybody if they're lucky."
"He may look grown, but he's still a kid." We buckle up.
"He doesn't know how to take care of himself. He isn't ready." My nose starts running as we pull out. "He's only done two loads of laundry in his entire life, and both of those were last week. The second time, I still had to give him directions. What if he doesn't remember?"
"He'll figure it out." Carl turns onto the road. We merge into traffic.
"What if he doesn't?"
"Then he'll wear dirty clothes. Nobody ever died from wearing the same underwear two days in a row. He's a big boy, Dana. It's time he started doing things for himself. You spoiled him." Wincing, he glances at me and quickly adds,
"We spoiled him. Taylor, too."
"Why'd he have to get that stupid basketball scholarship?" My lip quivers as I stare out at the brilliant blue cloud-scattered sky. "We should've insisted he go to a Texas school. You make enough money. We didn't need the tuition cut."
"Honey, don't. He's closer to home than he would be if he'd gone to the University of Texas."
"But he knows people in Austin. We know people. What if he hates it here? What if he's lonely?"
"Troy's never had any trouble making friends, you know that."
"What if he gets into trouble? There's no one to call who could reach him quickly. He could get sick." A tear rolls down my cheek and drips off the tip of my chin.
Carl reaches for my hand. "It's hard for me to let go, too. Give it some time. We'll adjust."
"It happened so fast...." Leaning my head back against the seat, I close my eyes and hear a voice from the past.... Enjoy every second.... Tomorrow you'll wake up, your daughter will be getting married, and this one will be off to college.
Damn that nurse for being right.
All the way to the Avis car rental agency, I weep softly. On the shuttle bus from there to the air terminal, Carl holds me while I press my face against his shoulder and weep some more. When the plane lifts off, I touch the window, look out at Troy's new home. And weep. By the time the city disappears, I'm numb, wrung out, my tear supply drained dry.
Already hard at work on a presentation for a prospective client of his ad agency, Carl glances up from his laptop. He doesn't appear to be the least bit emotional. He had his brief teary moment and got over it. Easy for him to say we'll adjust. Our kids growing up and leaving doesn't change his life as drastically as mine. He isn't losing his job of the past twenty-two years. Taylor and Troy have been my entire world. What am I supposed to do now?
"Taylor Jane's picking us up, right?" Carl asks.
"She said she would. I gave her our itinerary."
"We should've called her before we took off. I wouldn't put it past her to forget. She's probably preoccupied with her big plans to marry Moo-ney." His head bobs left to right and his lip curls when he speaks each syllable of our future sonin-law's name. "What kind of name is that, anyway? His parents must be a couple of kooks."
The wedding. I sit straighter. Sniff. Pull a tissue from my purse and dab my eyes.
"We have a few things to discuss with our daughter when we get home," Carl says grudgingly. "Such as how those two think they're going to support themselves. I don't get it. The kid's nothing like any of Taylor's prior boyfriends. What kind of life does she think she's going to have with someone like him?"
I sigh. "She isn't thinking. She hardly knows the guy." They met over the summer when Taylor moved home after graduating from Southern Methodist University.
"If she'd wait, she'd probably find someone at grad school." Because of Taylor's average grades, Carl had to pull a few strings to get her accepted to a master's program at Texas Tech.
"Some kid with a smart head on his shoulders," he adds. And without a ponytail brushing them, I think.
"Someone with reasonable ambitions," he continues. Rather than pie-in-the-sky dreams of becoming his generation's Jimi Hendrix.
Meaning, no multiple earrings or five-inch-long goatee.
"She probably won't even go to grad school now." Carl presses a hand to his stomach and winces. "Damn engage-ment's giving me an ulcer. I wonder what she has in mind for the wedding?"
The wedding. I push negative thoughts of Mooney aside and smile. Taylor announced her engagement two days before we left in Troy's Jeep to drive him to college, so there wasn't much time to talk details. But I do recall mention of a January ceremony.
Dabbing my eyes again, I dig in my purse for a pad and a pen. If she's determined to marry Mooney, maybe I could convince her to do it in December instead of later. We would have to get busy, but a Christmas wedding will be beautiful.
"What are you smiling about?" Carl's expression shifts to one of amusement. He studies me over the tops of his reading glasses.