Friday, 25 September 2015
We say good-bye and drive away.
"Thank you for my childhood," he says. Then we say good-bye and drive away. Last Sunday. I look out of the car window. Each mile forward, a further mile away. So much to leave behind. However much I don't want it to be, this is a line drawn in the sand, the end of something as well as the beginning of something. It's the beginning of his independent life, his proper first steps out into the world. It's the end of family life as we knew it. Things will never be the same again. He's right: his childhood is over. In truth it was over some time ago but I had my eyes covered and my fingers in my ears and was la-la-la-ing loudly, so I couldn't see or hear that it was gone.
I can't ignore it now. His room at home is 'ransacked' - to use a word he once employed when he was about six years old and outraged that I'd tidied it up - most of his belongings gone. Things have changed. We will be four and not five. There will be food left in the fridge and fewer pairs of shoes in the hall. He's grown. Evolved. Moved on. Aged. As we all have. As I have. And that's another thing your child leaving home makes you do, it makes you see forward into your own future, to places you don't want to look...
We say good-bye and drive away, incredible though it may seem. And now there's silence in the car and I'm trying to keep it together. "Put your audio book on," Husband says, when we're only minutes away, "that Ali Smith thing."
I need to read it for book group and I've run out of time. Husband bought it for the long car journey home. It seemed like a good idea.
Ali Smith! What do I care for Ali Smith now? But I scroll down my iPhone and find it. It hasn't downloaded, it's on the iCloud. "It hasn't downloaded," I say.
What is downloading is my son's life in my head, unbidden. Not just the teen in the car park but the new-born baby looking through me in those first few moments at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital as dawn broke outside; the toddler sitting proudly in a puddle in a farm yard, his nappy ballooning with filthy water; the little boy laughing on the beach under the sun umbrella, ice-cream clutched to his face; the child running out of the foaming sea, arms outstretched toward the camera, toward me.
All of it running faster and faster away as the car speeds forward. Each lamp post and lay-by passed, another moment gone forever: a hug, a bedtime story, a game we played, fun in the park, a streak of tears, a flutter of kisses, finger paintings, dress-up time, Play-Doh, Sellotape, Pritt Stick, sticks and stones, programmes he loved, songs we sang, sicknesses he had, schools he went to, plays he was in, assemblies, guitars, skateboards, jokes he told, music he loved, friends who called round, shouts up the stairs, laughter, rows, fights with his brother, clumsiness, infuriation, infatuation, all of it left behind in a university car park, September 2015.
I would not cry, not then. I said, "I love you. Have a great time. I am happy to be leaving you in such a lovely place." And then we said good-bye and drove away. But my heart is still there.
"Oh for God's sake!" says Husband, "are you sure the book isn't there? That cost 12 quid!"
Love E x
P.S. I know he'll be home in the holidays.
So that's a bit of bathos for you there at the end.