I hustle out of the Capitol, resisting the inevitable feeling of leaving work undone. The work is always undone, I tell myself. Although my boy could easily drive himself to the airport, I offered to be his ride partly out of a sense of responsibility and partly out of a deep yearning for these days to slow.
“Extra game socks?”
“No. I’ll be right back,” he says before opening the car door and using his long legs to cover the length of the garage in just a few strides.
“Okay. Extra game socks. Yes.”
“Yes. The crappy pair from the tour bus we rode last summer.”
“You know you can ask for a new set, right?”
The soft blonde hair covering the contours of what I call his man-legs grows thicker with each passing year; out of the corner of my eye I notice a spotlight of sunshine highlighting his muscles as we drive.
“Are you excited?”
“So will you do me a ridiculous mom favor?”
“Will you please text me after each game to let me know the score and that you are okay?”
Accompanied by a nearly imperceptible eye-roll, “yeah.”
“You have your headband, right?”
“Yeah. Of course.”
I signal and move into the lane under the Departures sign. I slow the car to a crawl as I watch for the airline name; my heartbeat speeds simultaneously. The SUV ahead slides out of the perfect spot, directly in front of the door he needs, and I steer our car into position, parallel to the curb. I shift into park and pull up on the parking break. He gathers his backpack and bag and methodically reaches to open his door. My door swings out fast as I jump out and jog around the back to meet him as he stands and closes his door.
“I love you, kiddo.” My words muffle in his shoulder as I bury my face into him. I squeeze him, luxuriating in the opportunity to give him a real hug. I smell his cologne, a gift from his dad, but what I really smell is him. “Be safe, okay?” I hold on a little longer, feeling justified in lingering.
He throws “love you mama” over his shoulder and walks into the airport.
He knows how to travel. He’ll be home in three days. My breath catches as the thought of hugging him before all of the lasts that are coming.
I’m planning supports for myself, and have been for months: my friends are on notice to watch for the bat signal after senior night for fall soccer, after the homecoming dance, after all of the college applications are submitted, after all of the responses are received, after prom, after graduation. I’ll get him out the door and then surround myself with members of our village; his aunties and uncles by blood and by choice will join me in rejoicing. We didn’t know what we were doing in the beginning, but we’re going to make it.
My image of his senior year, though, is changing.
If I’m honest, I felt his shift about soccer begin nearly a year ago. I captured the turning point, unaware then of the significance. http://mamalode.com/story/detail/love-him-anyway
Rereading my words now is like seeing into a crystal ball from the future end of a story. After his doctor checked him over, he spent several days recovering. We talked about school and soccer; he took time off from both. Eventually, though, he felt better. He started running, slowly, constantly on guard for pain or confusion. He completed overdue homework and rehabilitated.
Eventually, he decided to return to soccer. He stated at the time another concussion would be the end of the sport for him. His teammates and coaches had his back. They knew he would no longer stop the long balls with his head while he played defense, typically a necessity for the last player back, and they all adapted. He played, hard as always, and completed the season. He chose to continue to play both high school and club.
I watched him play because I love to watch him play. I also recoiled any time an airborne ball entered his orbit. The couple of scares during the season left me with a nearly constant low-grade stomachache. I cried on senior night at his high school, proclaiming I didn’t know why since my boy was only a junior. I remembered the days of watching him play on a miniature field and I watched for the same burn I used to see in his eyes.
He offhandedly commented, after a cold winter club game a couple of months later, this might be his final club season. Practical to the core, he explained if he didn’t want to play in college, there wasn’t a reason to play next year. I kept my face neutral, or so I tried, since not playing in college was news to me.
It finally dawns on me, just a few weeks ago, his heart is no longer in the game. He hasn’t said as much and I don’t ask but I wonder if part of the reason he hangs on is me. I tell him if he’s worried about his safety, he can quit. Now. Tomorrow. Next week. My rule about finishing a season once you start is not applicable. He says this trip to Las Vegas will be his swan song, his final soccer adventure.
He disappears into the airport and I drive away.
Friday, from Steven:
We lost our first game 2-0. I’m fine.
Saturday, from the team manager:
Steven had a ball hit him in the back of the head during warm up. He’s got a headache and isn’t feeling great. He’s on the bench and we’ll keep watching him.
The message sort of sinks in, sort of doesn’t. I should’ve asked him to stay home. I wonder how he’s doing. I worry. He's far away. It almost doesn't feel real.
Sunday, from Steven:
Just got down, are you here yet?
I circle and watch for him.
He looks impatient.
“How was the flight?”
“To be honest, the ascent was not fun. My head hurts.”
“Did you talk to coach about your decision to quit?”
“No. I didn’t have a chance.”
“Is quitting still your plan?”
And with that syllable, it is over. A movie of his senior year, as I planned it, runs through my mind. It’s Sunday night, he’s a junior, and I didn’t know to light the bat signal. There is no party, no village, no rejoicing waiting at home. He won’t have a senior night. I won’t get to walk onto the field and meet him. I’m not ready for it to be over. Disappointment, selfishness, the source of the tears in my eyes feels like both.
Usually I'm excited for him. I dream about the adventures he will have and the places he will go. He inches ever closer to the edge of the nest.
For today, though, I'm not ready for it to be over.