I mean, you’re not that far from us. You’re in Oregon. Our states touch. We’re one plane ride away.
(If we fly direct to Portland then drive to Eugene. Otherwise it’s two plane rides with a connection in San Francisco. Sometimes one of the planes has a propeller.)
So what I’m saying is, you’re not gone-gone. But compared to the here-here you used to be…
Our house is different.
We’re watching Modern Family and the episode ends. Dad’s seen it. I’ve seen it. Karly has seen it. I open my mouth to say, “Don’t delete this. Save it for—” Then I remember. We can’t save all the shows. Not forever. And anyway, you’ve mostly stopped watching TV with us already. Still. A lump in my throat. I shut my mouth.
Before heading upstairs to bed, Dad realizes he doesn’t need to leave the garage door unlocked and the kitchen light on. For a year you’ve been coming home after we are asleep. From work. From being with friends. Your girlfriend. We’d stopped waiting up, but habits are sticky.
I want to leave the light on, the door unlocked. My gut tells me to. But you won’t be home. Not tonight. Not this month or the next.
A week after flying home without you, I get in the car for the first time to go grocery shopping. As it turns out, we don’t need groceries as often since you’ve been gone. On the passenger seat sits your work shirt and hat from Ameci’s Pizza. I almost cry in the Vons parking lot. But I don’t. When I get home, I almost put the hat and shirt in the hamper. Then I remember you’d just washed them for that last work shift. Worn once, the shirt still smells fresh. It smells like you. I hang it in the closet.
We FaceTime and I marvel at how good you look. How much the same. How different. I marvel that my parents (that everyone’s parents) used to let their kids go to college before texting.
They must have missed us, right?
I mean, I miss you.
Which is not to say I sit around weeping. Much.
I cried when we first left you at your dorm, but you know that. You saw my swollen eyes the next morning. I didn’t realize we’d be eating breakfast together or that my face would be a train wreck.
I cried when I saw these posts your sister shared on Snapchat and Instagram while we were in Oregon with you, without her.
(Did she have to use the word childhood?)
I cried when I got on the propeller plane from Portland to San Francisco. A little girl sat beside me. It was her first solo flight to visit her father. She had an iPad and she looked very small. On any other day I would’ve chatted, but I just smiled, then turned toward the window.
I cried when we came home from the airport and I went straight to your bedroom. Why did I do that? Your toiletries still in the bathroom. Your pillows and comforter. There. We couldn’t take these things on the plane and your dorm bed is a different size, anyway.
Now I’m glad. I like that we had to buy new things in Eugene. Despite the cost, it means we get to keep your old things here. While you’re gone.
This might be the last post I write about what it’s been like. It might not. I’d planned to write other posts since you’ve been gone. One on social media. One with writing tips. Instead, I finally completed that manuscript revision I’ve been working on and I sent it to my publishers. As it turns out, editing 12 hours a day distracts me from missing you. A little. Not all the way. But better than nothing.
In the moments when I’m not distracted, like right now, I need you to know that as here-here as you used to be, you will be there-there in no time. You’ll find your people. Friends who value you. Who recognize how special it is to have someone whose whole heart is on his sleeve; who’s always up for “you wanna hang out?” Who never gives up. Who bounces back. Who keeps trying.
That’s the boy I miss.
But I’m so proud of the man you are now.
See you soon, baby.
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