And so, it’s time to pull away from the curb. Again. You and I drove all these hours back to campus, and then I tried to fill an hour by asking if there was anything else you needed, or if I could get you some extra snacks from the store down the way, or if you’d like to get a cup of coffee before I go.
But the other students returning from mid-year break are streaming back into the dorm, and your roommate, who has turned out to be one of your very best friends, will be here soon, too. Evening is coming on, and dusk is settling over the campus buildings just up the hill. I’ve delayed as long as I can.
A kiss, a hug – and here, you almost forgot your coat – and all that’s left now is to follow the signs back out to the highway. At last I’m on my way.
And so are you.
It didn’t seem real when we dropped you off last summer. Maybe because the idea of sending you off to college was still new and unfamiliar. A carnival vibe filled the air then. We made friends with other parents and traded tips on the best places to park the cars packed with dorm-room necessities. We busied ourselves with last-minute trips to Target and filled our time with orientation events during that handful of days we camped out at the Holiday Inn on the outskirts of town. It felt as if we were only sending you away to summer camp for a few short weeks.
But then the weeks turned into months, and your bedroom at home, once alive with Spotify tunes and twinkling lights hung from the walls and the sound of your friends chatting away through your laptop and phone, has now become an undisturbed shrine of sorts, a place where only the dog might choose to stretch out on the bed on those rare occasions when I forget to close the door.
It’s all as it should be, of course. College seemed to arrive so suddenly and without warning. But you were ready. I knew you couldn’t imagine spending even one more day in high school.
And now here you are, happy to make your own way. You don’t need our help figuring out the housing lottery to secure the campus apartment you and your friends plan to live in next year. You are thinking about a semester-long program out west that might lead to a job once you graduate. You have decided to pledge a sorority. You embrace a strong, immutable feminism. You inform me that you have issues with white male patriarchy (even if that patriarchy just fixed your broken floor fan). And there is a boyfriend now, a kind and generous kid who does his best to understand all that makes you tick. For Christmas, he sent you flowers and a tree ornament and a coffee mug emblazoned with pictures of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I laughed when I saw the words etched inside: “You Are Supreme.”
But it was good to have you home over the break. I just shook my head as you fell back into your same old patterns of sleeping until lunch, complaining about the food in the fridge, and fighting with your mother about the proper place of church in our lives. And I confess that all felt right in the world when I spied you through your half-opened door, propped up on your bed pillows making plans for a weekend evening, and when I greeted each of your old friends at the door as they assembled once more in the den to watch The Bachelor on a Monday night.
But if those times now fade away, it turns out you are not really gone, just making your presence known in different ways across the many miles. My phone might ring one afternoon, and there you are, calling to chat as you cross the campus on your way to class, the cold northern wind whipping the phone as you walk.
You tell me about the Starbucks location that accepts food swipes from your meal-plan card; the status of ongoing campus protests that you fully support; how your Italian oral exam might not go well because all those years of high school Latin do no good when it comes to holding up your end of a conversation.
For my part, I have sent you typed letters, filled with rambling narratives and advice about life, hoping they will keep me in your thoughts. I also regularly text you photos of the dog. On one occasion, I sent you eight boxes of your favorite popcorn, the kind you can only get from our local grocery store. Weeks later, when you said you had no money for the laundry machine, I sent you an enormous bag of quarters. Of course I didn’t tell you that the postage cost more than the value of the coins.
Because that’s what a dad does. Though it is only for me to know that sometimes I crack the door to your room at home and gaze upon the sentimental trinkets I have given you, the books on your shelves, the photos on your walls, the five bottles of beginner perfume you would make me sniff oh-so-dramatically each night as we chose, together, just the right scent for the next day when you were in middle school. And in that silent doorway I do pray, in my heart of hearts, that we did everything we should, and all that we could, to make as many memories as your blessed, crystalline childhood could hold.
No, last summer it wasn’t real. But tonight I see you moving on, and making shiny, new memories of your own, and hailing classmates you didn’t even know existed this time last year but who are now your friends for life. So let me leave the past alone. And as I point the car south and pick up speed and leave the school behind, I cannot help but think:
The boyfriend knows, and got it right. You are supreme. And from out here, on the long, dark highway headed home, I salute you.