August 17th was the day my son packed up the last of his favorite mystery novels, hugged the cat and lugged his concert bass out to his friend’s Subaru so that we could move him to the University of Utah to pursue a degree in chemistry. Between him moving out and our nation under siege by hate and disunity, my emotions were raw beforehand for days, swinging from happiness at the adventures and opportunities that awaited my son to sorrow at walking past the room that would soon be empty, and worry about sending him off into a world fraught with uncertainty.
As I wrote this post on the day before the move, Tom Petty was blasting from the stereo as my son scurried around with piles of clothes and armloads of books, trying to keep the cat out of his boxes as he packed for the morning move. Sheba Bijou knew that something was up — my son has always been her favorite. He’s the one who always stops whatever he’s doing to pet her when she needs love and reassurance, and it’s never bothered him to have a bunch of old shoeboxes strewn around his room so that she can wedge her way inside.
Last week, my son finished a pencil drawing of one of his good friends at the art class he’s attended once a week since he was 6. His teacher couldn’t bear to say goodbye, and neither could her oldest student. So instead, they left things open so that he can still take a class from time to time. It’s a ritual that means a lot to them and to me, as the recipient of dozens of beautiful drawings and paintings.
For 13 years now, I’ve watched my boy walk up the steep stone stairs to the studio above his teacher’s garage, knock three times on the door, then turn around and wave at me before stepping inside. When he first started his lessons, he struggled with those stairs a bit and often had a tough time turning the door knob. Last week, as I watched him bound up the stairs, lanky and athletic, I burst into tears, knowing I’d likely witnessed that ritual for the last time.
Oh, how I will miss him — even at just a few miles away. But we share a love for literature, art and music, and he has agreed to occasionally be my symphony date.
As the cat weaved between his legs, my son boxed up the last of his CDs and sheet music, and we both sang along to Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” — an appropriate song for the times that we’ve adopted as our mantra:
Well, I won’t back down
No I won’t back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won’t back down
No I’ll stand my ground
Won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground
“Hey, baby — there ain’t no easy way out,” goes the second part of the song, and I know from my own clumsy launch into adulthood that it’s true. But I had high hopes and a full heart on my son’s last night in his childhood room. Even as the tears began to flow.