i should have known, long ago, that i was marrying into a new religion. first clue came with the chair: the man i married was pining for a squat black chair, all arms and spindles, broad seat, gold medallion.
the gold medallion was everything: the crest of his college.
now up until that moment, i’d always thought my mate to be fairly sublime when it came to taste, certainly of aesthetic high-ground.
well, except for that spat in the sheets department, back on the day we were so-called registering, bride and groom let loose in downtown dry-goods store with clipboard and pen, feeding all domestic whims, checking off thises and thats.
till i got to the sheets, that is. the sheets with the rambling blue roses, and he ranted that he could never sleep in those, what with all the thorns.
instead, he held up a pack of blue-on-white pencil-lined percale. nothin’ jazzy there, so straight-forward i started to yawn. which apparently proved his point: one should sleep on spare canvas.
yeesh. you’d have thought he was going to bleed to death dozing, what with his vehement protest to my bed of roses.
anyway, as i was saying before tangling in that thorny tale, up till the chair plopped onto the tableau that tussle round the rosy sheets had been, far as i recall, our sole scuffle over domestic appointments.
he wasn’t serious, i thought half out loud, the day he held up the order form for the gold-medallion chair. he couldn’t be intent–could he?–on pulling up to porridge in a chair that shouted out his college DNA. okay, so maybe it whispered. mumbled words in latin. still…
to my mind at the time, he might as well have shown up for a wedding wearing a big ten sweatshirt. and so what if it wasn’t big ten, his fine old college. back then, before i understood the ins and outs, the intricacies of his brand of religion, i’d crossed off all college gear as the stuff of cheerleader wanna-bes.
in time, though, it began to sink in.
over the years, i’ve gotten good long looks at a beautifully educated mind. i’ve felt my jaw drop, and my heart go ker-plunk, as he pulled from the shelf some masterwork, and, before he even turned to the ink-scribbled page, he’d recite a line of utter poetry. even when the subject was, well, architecture, specifically the divine illumination of light pouring through a window.
back when our firstborn was four, we stopped for a road-trip repast in the yale cafeteria. we all laughed that the college tour had officially commenced.
our little one’s grandpa, who sat across the oak-slab table, scooping soft-serve vanilla ice cream from a bent metal cafeteria spoon, he simply beamed.
never too soon, he purred.
in the house where my boys are growing up, they’ve always known they were college bound, and not just any college, please. quite unlike the house where i grew up, where college came in just two flavors–in-state, or catholic and close enough to drive–this has all been quite an education. for me, mostly.
for years now, we’ve been swirling ever closer to today. we’ve caught a campus here and there, driving one way or another, never in too much of a hurry to stop and walk through gothic gates, genuflect at library circulation desks, imagine what it would be to pull up to some ivy-covered dorm and leave our boy to learn.
our firstborn has always been a thinker. and that’s not the bump-free way to be a kid.
years ago, late at night in the kitchen, as tears spilled down his cheeks and mine, i remember holding him, whispering, “sweetheart, it might be hard to be you as a kid, but it is going to be glorious to be you as a grownup.”
our firstborn, it’s long been said, was born to be in college. he knows no excitement like the thrill of a deeply-carved thought. has long checked out library books that few would dare to tackle, let alone consider summer reading.
he’s spent whole nights, dusk till dawn, with his desk light burning, unwilling to settle for less than his utter best, despite my pleas that he is perfect as is, and besides, he needs his sleep.
as he rounds the bend to end of junior year, he’s earned the grades to be able to consider the sorts of schools that i had never dreamed of.
and so, this morning at the crack of dawn, his bags were packed. his papa’s too.
their itinerary is a rich one; he is drawn, of course, to where the thinkers are.
my job here is to wait each night to hear whatever bubbles up for the boy i love, now walking the greenswards of his dreams. as, with each stop, the blurry outlines take on real-life edge, as he sees where shadow lifts and falls amid once gauzy colors.
last night i found myself in a vaulted-ceiling room, walls and beams carved from mahogany, the floors of slate and marble. standing there, amid a crowd, i faded out of conversation, began to think instead how this could be the world of which my firstborn someday might be wholly fluent.
i thought how, all these years, he has lived in a cocoon of our making. his every move i once knew. now, less so. but still i know the dips and bends in all the roads he travels. i’ve heard the voices of his teachers. i have come to love his friends like extra sons. know which one sips kambucha, which one favors sushi.
but now, as he drives from baltimore to philly, stops again in new york city, drives north to connecticut, then west to the berkshires, i understand his reach is stretching, and the lines on his map grow fainter to me.
he will soon know a world that i will grasp in tapped-out lines, and stories quickly told over the phone. but the phone will click when that call ends. and he will go on living, and i will too.
his world, i sense, i hope, i pray, will be far beyond mine.
i pray that he is never bound by the fears that have held me back, by all the second-guessing.
he is brushing up against the world of which he’s always dreamed. and i am home with his little brother, his little brother who cried hushed tears as the trunk was popped, suitcases hauled to the airport curb. we are practicing long distance, he and i.
life is shifting here. the life we dreamed is coming into focus.
i pray for him to fall deeply into the religion of his father, and his father’s father. he has what it takes to be a priest in that most scholarly calling.
i hear the whispers all around.
and should his wildest dream come true, i might even spring for the gosh-darn chair.
in my own way, i’ve gotten the religion.
this one’s mostly for his grandma, she who reads each word with such full heart. this one’s for all the ones who’ve gotten him to where he is, and where he’ll go beyond. this one too is for his papa. it’s not been without bumps, this college road. but i think we’ve hit the high road. be safe, be well, on your college-bound tour.