We moved from an apartment in West L.A. to a house with a big back yard in Mission Viejo the spring of 1998. I’m absolutely convinced the yard I look into while washing dishes everyday is a direct answer to prayers from a little three-year old boy. He faithfully prayed every night for over a year for three things: a big back yard, a swing set, and a red convertible (we don’t have the convertible, yet! ).
The boy was four when we moved. He sat tall in his booster as he took in the view of the world from the middle seat of the minivan. Clicking himself in and out of the seatbelt all on his own brought new freedom his barely walking younger brother could not enjoy. He looked forward to turning five in the fall. And sometime during the summer while we were on a summer mission trip in Kyoto, Japan, he taught himself to read. Naturally once the reading switch was flipped on he developed a love for books and learning.
We returned to Mission Viejo to discover the public library had recently undergone an impressive renovation. We spent hours in the children’s section picking out books. I pushed his younger brother in the stroller as we wove in and out of the stacks. His book bag would be crammed full of treasure causing him to tilt to the side as he walked to the check out line. It was a day of celebration when signed his name in big print on the back of his very own library card.
Jonathan insisted he return the library books all by himself. He stood on tiptoe as he opened the mysterious metal door off to the side of the main entrance to the library. He would reach into his book bag, remove a few books and slowly close the door. When he opened the door again the chute would be empty, ready for more books. Over and over he stood peering into the chute and looking on the sides trying to unlock the mystery of the contraption that magically ate up library books. I watched from the driver seat of the minivan. Sometimes in awe at how quickly he was growing. Sometimes with impatience when he took a long time trying to figure out the door.
And then I blinked.
On his last day here in Mission Viejo before he left the next day for college, he had books to return at the library. We were running a million errands. He could have driven himself, but I happened to be in the driver’s seat as I watched him standing at the book drop. Tears formed behind my sunglasses as I flashed back to him on tiptoes. A young man twice the height of the little boy now stood in the same spot stooping down when his hands touched the handle to return the books.
Our trip out to the east coast to drop Jonathan off the next day was from beginning to end a comedy of errors. We woke to a power outage and had to finish packing and showering by candlelight. When we arrived in Chicago we learned the flight into Syracuse was cancelled. After standing in line three hours and then an additional hour with an agent, we were rerouted to Rochester. Then three gate changes in three different terminals, no seat for Julia, more delays. We arrived into Ithaca at 1:30am. Our luggage sat in the Syracuse airport but no one was available to answer the phone to help us the entire next day. Finally I drove the 3 hours round trip to pick up the luggage. We scrambled to get Jonathan settled and had to leave earlier than expected the next day for the airport. Julia was not showing up on the flight from Chicago back to L.A. The trip was exhausting. So many things I wanted to do and see with Jonathan, but our time went to more urgent matters. Sometimes in life things don’t turn out how you imagine.
Jonathan had a reception to attend, so we drove into campus to drop him off at the Engineering quad. The clock tower bells played overhead as we jumped out of the car across the street in the parking lot under some shade. Julia hugged Jonathan a long, long time. We took a quick photo.
I noticed when I went to hug Jonathan goodbye, it was I who was on tiptoes reaching my arms up to hug his neck on his six-foot frame.
A quick goodbye and he was gone.
The goodbye has been both gradual and shockingly quick. It began the day he learned to crawl and take his first steps away from me, to his first attempts at tying his shoes. I watched him walk through the doors of Kindergarten, then on to the school bus for the weeklong Science Field trip in sixth grade. I looked out my bedroom window as he drove away on the day he passed his driver’s test. Each time a little longer time, a little farther distance.
He was ready for this new adventure. We did what we could with what we had for this trip. And for his life up to this point. I was so excited for him, proud of him, happy for him.
But for the first ten miles driving away from the campus toward the airport toward home, Julia and I sat in silence in the car except for our crying.