Honestly, I was happy to see him go. He had been living at home for two years while attending community college, and he was driving us all nuts. He was self-centered and inconsiderate, making us wait in the car before the trip, which we had been planning for days, while he got ready. Could he help it if he had just woken up and had to pee? Most nights he stayed up ’till dawn, doing God knows what while the rest of us slept.
We could always tell what Ethan had eaten the night before because of the mess we’d find in the morning – cheese wrappers, uncovered butter, open bag of bread, a dirty pan on the stove? Grilled cheese. Often his friend or girlfriend actually made the food. Ethan is not interested in meal preparation.
One time he and his friend Peter decided to make a midnight cake. Peter had become a vegetarian in high school, and he’d learned how to cook. I’m sure Ethan would starve, we’d find his bones in a pile facing the TV, if he didn’t have people preparing his meals. After Peter found that Ethan was absolutely no help in his own kitchen – didn’t know where the flour was, or the mixing bowls – Peter, a modern hippie, declared that Ethan was “pure.” He hadn’t been adulterated by the basic knowledge of survival.
Oh, I knew that I would get weepy when we left him at the dorm, alone. His roommate was clearly not going to be a friend. In contrast to Ethan’s determined minimalism (“Why would I need a caddy to carry a bottle of 5-in-1 shampoo?”), Robert brought in box after bin after crate. He was prepared. Doomsdayer prepared. Cases of supplies, 24-units each: moisturizing lotion, conditioning rinse, bars of Zest soap. He carried in an ironing board, a vacuum, a collapsible air dryer for clothes, a bottle of bleach, for Pete’s sake. I hoped for an odd-couple kind of relationship, yin and yang, but my first instinct was correct. They were too different.
Ethan is careless; Robert is persnickety. Ethan has a sharp, creative sense of humor; Robert, I’m sure, doesn’t. While we were arranging Ethan’s half of the cinder-block room, I said something very funny (an example would be great here, but I don’t remember the joke, so just trust me, OK? It was funny.) Ethan and my husband laughed, Robert didn’t even smile.
So, yes, I had tears when I hugged him goodbye. Ethan is the best hugger in my family. He doesn’t dodge the affection. He envelops me in strong arms and rests his head on my shoulder for a good long while. It feels like he’s protecting me while I’m protecting him. Of course I cried a bit, but underneath the temporary sadness I was okay, happy to have him out of the house.
What I didn’t realize was from that day on I’d always be saying goodbye to him. After junior year, he moved from the dorm right into the frat house for the summer, is staying there for the new semester, and now all we ever have are quick visits — a walk around campus and a meal, maybe a brief shopping trip for bagels and peanut butter. And then goodbye.
He rarely comes home, doesn’t mess up the kitchen. We don’t argue. Life is much more peaceful here without him.
But, dang. I really miss my son.