It was late east coast time as we slid into the booth at the hotel diner. The cold A.C. tossed Jack’s brown waves. Just yesterday those waves were baby curls I could pull and they would spring back in a coil. Jack pointed out goose bumps in the tattoos on his forearm. They didn’t get sunburned at the beach, he said. I used that tattoo sunblock”.
My son loves his new tattoos. I’ve caught him admiring them in the mirror as he brushes his teeth – the “ﬂap jacks” and the “Jack hammer” that he drew himself, plus the one he had to get when he lost a bet playing pool in Prague…“Bailey Orth” his friend’s name is stamped in cursive under his ankle bone forever, and Bailey Orth has “Jack Crane” on his foot too. We saw the photo.
Tomorrow Jack’s moving into the dorm and I have so many ‘last’ things I want to say to him. I don’t care if he makes a mess of his laundry and it all turns pink, or if he doesn’t ﬂoss, or wear shower shoes. I want him to embrace college life-show up for class, look up from his phone, join a club – any club, use a condom every single time. At least I won’t have to give my alcohol speech. In his Gap year, Jack got over the drink till you vomit stage, stumbling through Dubrovnik, Barcelona, Mykenos, with his posse of blonde Brits and Aussies.
Jack chose a Gap year long before Malia Obama made it trendy. In his last year of high school, we freaked out when he stomped out of the college counseling office and off the conventional path to college, shaving his head the same day. I researched Gap year programs, while envisioning Jack in his underwear playing x-box for 6 months on my couch.
Last fall, we got Jack a job as a deck hand on a Mississippi river barge through my old high school ﬂame who runs a shipping company. Swabbing icey decks at 3 am, loading cargo, and doing the captain’s laundry, sure opened his blue eyes to a blue-collar grit beyond the shiny rim of his private school bubble. With his ‘barge money’ Jack paid for his spring trip to Europe, his tattoos, and kept himself in Chipotle burritos, with cash to spare.
Across the table from me, Jack inhales his burger. Ketchup drips on to his “Garﬁeld” T shirt. He mumbles that he’s “meh” about college and may want to transfer to a school in Europe. What? He hasn’t even tried THIS college, the one that lets in regular “B” students, gave him a scholarship and mailed him a real tree from their forest. With a sip of wine, I launch into my ‘embrace this opportunity’ sermon. “Um, can we go up to the room, he interrupts, I’m beat”. “Sure” I say and pay the bill. He puts his fake Beats over his ears and walks two paces ahead of me, up to the room to watch a movie on his “last night of summer”. I’d lost him.
In the lobby the next morning, I joined groggy Jack in the coffee line-another chance to pack 19 years of Mom wisdom into a moment, like the duffel bags packed into our tiny rental car, with no room to breathe. I couldn’t breathe. Nausea gnaws at my lower half, and I start to sweat, not the slow hot ﬂash kind of sweat, but panicky pills of sweat across my brow. “Jack, I say, I just want to tell you…I mean this is a huge transition, and….”
A cheery mom wearing Tevas and outdoorsy pants gets in line with us, dragging a huge duffel, “Hi, I bet it’s move in day for you, too” she beams at Jack. Her perky theater son trails behind her with more bags, wearing the college T-shirt, pink shorts, and colorful vans. He shakes Jack’s hand and says how ‘psyched’ he is about college. I don’t see any tattoos on his pasty limbs. Jack, in his ketchup stained Garfield t-shirt from yesterday, black jeans and beat up oxfords, rubs the tattoos on his arm, like he’s making sure they’re still there. The mom smiles at me, “Can you believe this day is here?”
10 minutes later, lacrosse players on the welcome committee unload our Chevy Sonic, hauling Jake’s stuff up to the sweaty cubicle of a dorm, with twin beds so close, like two baked potatoes side by side in the oven. His roommate’s gear is piled high on one side, but no roommate is in sight. Jack hangs his orange Beastie Boys poster on the cinder block wall. I place the framed family picture and the one of the dog on his desk. He jokes that he’s gonna ‘deep six’ the family photo, the minute I leave.
Unfolding the grey comforter in the grey room, I think of the colorful quilt I had planned to have made out of special t shirts from Jack’s school plays, teams, and camps – a cozy memento to brighten up his college bed…But a t-shirt quilt feels too quaint for this 19-year-old. Instead, he has a black fuzzy blanket on his bed that cost $19, from Bed, Bath and Beyond and is shedding all over my white jeans.
With the room set up, and no roommate yet, I start, “So Jack, with the girls, you know..’no means no’ and if you ever need a”…With a quick knock, Janice, the R.A., pops her curly head in, “It’s time for family Goodbyes. The all dorm meeting starts in 5 minutes” she says. 5 minutes! It’s all happening so fast. I give Jack a tight hug and he gives me a ﬂat, “Bye Mom”. “Oh Jack”, I utter. That was all that came out, no last bits of wisdom just “Oh Jack”…I wanted to cry like the other mothers trickling out of the dorm, but the tears in the pockets of my dark eye bags, are blocked by the lexipro and Tylenol PM I took last night.
Back in the hotel room, I collapse on the bed with my twist top bottle of wine and free cookies from the lobby. In the rumpled covers of the empty other bed, I see one purple sock with ﬂying saucers on it. Jack wore this sock on the plane. He wears miss-matched socks, and brought his whole collection to college. I snuggle the stinky ﬂying saucer sock against my chest, curl into a ball and sob. My phone pings with a text from Jack. It’s a ‘thumbs up’ emoji. I wipe my tears with the purple sock. We did it.