and there it was.
in yesterday’s pile of mail. just lying there, that short string of words, taunting me, teasing me, jolting me into the countdown of truth.
class of 2011. g-g-graduation party?
oh my God, i gasped.
now, i’d done that math. long long ago. maybe when still in the womb, in line with all my other fascinations with numbers (i tend to be moored by arithmetic, by adding, subtracting, defining my life in crisp-lined equations), i likely leapt forward in time, determined the points in my unborn’s unfurling story, first uttered the short string of digits, the 2 and the 0 and the pert pair of 1s. barely made sense, that sum of indivisible, indiscernible, parts.
for a good long while, through preschool and early-on years, through multiplication tables and kickball and the odd social fumblings of middle school, it’s just a blurry far-off posting there on the distant horizon, an odd combination you are called to conjure once in a while.
ah, but once your firstborn’s in high school, of course, they fling that digital string at you page after page, form after form, invoice after invoice. why it becomes a part of your child’s identity. he is 2011xxxx in their books.
and i suppose, vaguely, subliminally, ever-rising in consciousness, i’ve started to realize the punch in those numbers.
they are not merely computer-generated ink spurts. they whisper, ever louder, the undeniable truth: kid’s leaving, and here’s the date of departure.
oh, i’ve started to feel the rumblings. all this talk about college. all this mail that comes day after day. nice mail, fine mail, mail from places that want to harbor my boy.
but graduation party?
someone grab me a stool.
are we r-r-ready for that?
so there i stood in that way that we sometimes do, trying to get my eyeballs to clear out the fuzz, make sure i was seeing this right, not being fooled by some optical wizardry. downright insisted the brain part of the reading department kick into gear, try wrapping its neurons around the letters before me, make some sense of the fast-forward illusion.
hmm, seems to be not a ruse but the real, actual fact. complete with a date, and a comma besides.
coulda logged it onto the calendar. if i had one. for 2011, for cryin’ out loud. geez, i’m just breakin’ in this one, the one with the 0 at the end, instead of two 0s, a fine pair of eyeballs, peering out from the spot in the middle.
while i was busy, um, swallowing all this numerical befuddlement, the little one ran to my side. read round my elbow.
piped up, matter-of-factly, “this is how it will be, dad at work. just you and me.”
so it might be.
(lord knows, it’s not that i have even a wisp of a twinge at the notion of going along, just me and the little one, it’s just the hollowness of a four-bedroom house in which some of the beds never are mussed. and the towels in the bathroom….oh, never mind…)
so, yes, we will spend the next 15 months seeing that date–june 5, 2011–begin to flash along the roadside like some neon number that refuses to run out of wattage, blinking brighter and louder till it takes over the screen.
and so it goes as we pass through this life, aiming toward targets once miles and eons away, then inching closer, somehow getting so close we can make out the zigs and the crags of the outline. count the hairs on its head.
more often than not, we are propped up along the way, made to adjust to that thing on the far-off horizon.
so i’ve been told, when it comes to this college thing: “oh you’ll be ready, all right. your kid will make you so crazy you’ll cannonball him right out the door. toss the trunks onto the sidewalk, plunking behind him.”
hmm. not yet.
to this day, at nearly the midpoint of second semester junior year, that college-bound kid remains, solidly, squarely, among the most delightful lights in my day, he charms me. entertains me. teaches me, too. he makes me laugh so hard i swear i’ll embarrass myself one of these outbursts. says things that keep me awake thinking at night, not because they’re disturbing, but because they hold so much truth, so much wisdom, and like marrow of bone, i need to suck on it all a good long while to extract every speck of its essence.
so, no, not yet. i am not remotely ready.
and thus, the words on the slip of paper wholly stunned me, stopped me.
i felt the lightning bolt of truth shake through my body, down my arms, into my wrists, onto the tips of my fingers.
and there was the little one, right by my side. taking it all matter-of-factly.
life has a knack for sneaking up on you. and here, at this point on the map, i am noticing all around me, seeing the landscape blur out the window.
we seem to have picked up speed somewhere along here. not long ago, we struggled to learn to pedal a bike, swing a bat, spend the whole night in a tent despite the raccoon that scratched at the flap.
and, kaboom, here we are, getting a notice, high school graduation party. june 5, 2011. mark it, please, on the calendar.
that was fast.
what sorts of chapters have crept up on you lately? how did it feel once you arrived? what pangs do you still harbor? or, are you, like me, still peering at that post down the way, teetering bravely, hoping not to topple?