I was dithering over various things—bungled book orders, expiring groceries, inexplicable email messages—when a text message announced itself. From my son. The one I sometimes lie awake worrying I will never see again.
“Meet at one?” he’d sent. “Starbucks?”
I literally dropped whatever I was holding, breathed for a moment and coolly texted back: “Yes.”
I steeled myself, dressing carefully and grabbing an umbrella because a sudden, wicked storm—rain, hail and wind—had swept in from the west. He might not show up, I told myself over and over. Once at the shop I bought my coffee and sat near the door, trying not to look anxious or posed.
At 1:02, he walked in the door, my massive, muscled son, sporting a blue silk bandana and a soul singer’s goatee, with a lovely, tiny girl on his arm. We sat. I tried to buy them coffee but he stood, turned to the girl, took out his wallet and said, “I’m buying. What do you want?”
While he was at the counter (the line was six people long), I told the girl stories about when he was a baby. I don’t recall how I started, but once I did, I was off. The way he peered sly-eyed around doorways and how he collapsed to the floor like some operatic soprano whenever he didn’t get his way.
When he returned with their coffee my son told me he’s living out in the suburbs now, with a new roommate. “He’s a little bit autistic,” my son told me. “That must feel familiar,” I said. And even the girl smiled. “Yeah, I really like him,” my son replied.
His eyes were clear. And you must know, it’s the first time I’ve seen them this way in a year. We talked for a while, mostly about the girl and her family. Then I asked my son if there was any particular reason he’d gotten in touch.
“I’m thinking…” he said, then stopped. “I’d like to go back to college in the fall.”
I quelled every impulse inside me. These included rising and screaming and throwing my arms around him. Also writing out a check for $30,000 made out to UNIVERSITY OF YOUR CHOICE. Instead, I nodded. Calmly. “That sounds like a good plan,” I said. “Any idea where?”
Two classes. That was his proposal. A community college to start, time to make up the coursework he lost to the drug-hazed miasma that was his freshman year.
“So what do you need to get started?” the girl piped in. “Transcripts? An application? I’ll be like your secretary. I can help.”
Somehow I held myself back from grabbing her and kissing her, right there in the Starbucks. Instead, I started my silent mantra: Don’t get your hopes up. He’s always been good at talking. He’s relying too much on the girl. You know he may very well break your heart.
But then I looked at him and he looked back at me and behind the weather burn and facial scruff was his round three-year-old face.
He leaned down and hugged me before leaving. I suspect that to the people sitting around us, it looked like I momentarily disappeared. “Call me when you’ve got the application together,” I said. “Maybe you can come over for dinner, both of you?”
“Sure,” he said as casually as if we’d been doing this every Sunday. “That sounds alright.”
I stayed for a few moments after they were gone, drinking a slow glass of water and checking my email. There was a flurry of last-minute messages about a reading that I answered. Then I got up and left.
My son is hardly a safe bet. His record over the past few years is rife with backtracks, disappearances and the occasional night in jail. But I’m his mother and I believe in him, not only because it’s my job but because deep in the primal part of my gut I know he’s going to come out of all this a great and interesting man.
So while it probably isn’t the end of his difficult odyssey, it felt a little bit like the start of something else. Yesterday was, as I said, a very big day.
Oh, also, my book came out…