By Peyton Price
He’ll be leaving for college soon and I don’t want to face that dark empty doorway at the end of each night and the beginning of each morning.
We’re moving my 17-year-old son downstairs. He wants to stay online after midnight when I zombie-walk past his door, calling “Off. Offff.” My downstairs office is chilly all year and he likes to sleep cold, so it makes sense to trade rooms. But truly, he’ll be leaving for college soon and I don’t want to face that dark empty doorway at the end of each night and the beginning of each morning.
I decide he should settle in downstairs this summer so he feels at home on school breaks. When I left for college, my parents sold our house and moved my siblings to new construction outside of town. My unfamiliar bed was in a loft open to the two stories below. My things were packed in the basement. After that first summer, I never came back.
I walk past his bedroom and poke my head in, sighing at the job ahead. “You’ll have to get rid of some of this stuff, you know. You have too much junk in here.” He protests, “It’s not junk!” I reach out and grab the first thing I see for dramatic effect. “Really? You need a plastic baggie full of rocks? This is a treasure?” “Mom! Please! Why do you care?” I say something about how much work it is to move, and how many moves he’ll be making in the coming years but honestly, I’m not sure why I care whether he keeps his bag of rocks.
His childhood room is white, with a blue ceiling and a comic book wallpaper border. “Pick whatever color you want for your new room.” He picks white with blue trim. We paint my office together. He paints the ceiling without a ladder. I get streaks of white in my hair.
For a year or two, we had a groundhog living under the deck. After that, foxes occupied the empty hole. In the hawk’s abandoned nest, there are owls this year. Neighborhood people leave. New people come in and make a home. Still, when we walk past an overgrown garden or see a light on late at night, we think of who used to live there. When we give directions, we say, “Remember where the Kendricks used to live?” I wonder whether sitting at my desk in his old room will be worse than facing the empty door.
I’m picking paint colors for my soon-to-be office. We’ll have to prime the blue ceiling. My husband reminds me that under the comic book border, there’s another one with police cars and fire engines. This will make things harder.
I bring home big plastic totes from the hardware store. “Line these totes up on your bed. Mark them: Need Now, Need For College, Keepsakes, Trash. Start sorting. Do a little each day so you don’t get overwhelmed.” He is underwhelmed. The totes sit there for weeks. I peek in and say things like, “Why don’t you start with the desk? …the shelf under the bed? …your nightstand?” He says things like, “Trust me! I’m going to do it all!” My husband says nothing but uses two of the totes for some other chore. When I’m packing up my desk, I find a rock shaped like a bird.
In the limbo between final exams and graduation, he decides to make his move. He fills three big blue plastic totes to tuck away into the space under the stairs. He marks them “school stuff,” “sports stuff,” and “kid stuff.” He fills three big black plastic trash bags, too heavy for me to lift. For a second or two I imagine what might be in them, but I decide it’s best not to dwell on it. Instead, I focus on the mysterious tokens he offers with a quick “You want this?” There are only two: His first bank (Noah’s ark, in shiny pastel ceramic) and a preschool art project (an oatmeal canister, I think, with a beat up construction paper teddy bear face and torn tissue fur). I want them. I don’t even want them and I want them.
Everything else gets set up in his new room, much as it was in the old room. A few trophies, a few model cars, a few vacation keepsakes, a few rocks. We tell him to close and lock his window every single night, that the AC pump makes noises, and that we want him to say goodnight to us in person, not by text. He hustles us out. We go upstairs without him and my husband asks, “What is happening?” Our son just moved a little farther away. Neither of us likes it much.
The first time fox kits were born under our deck, they were grown and gone by June. Still, I kept watch for weeks, then months. Nothing. Grandpop, who knows such things, assured me I’d see them again. “Keep an eye out in bad weather. They always come back.” Later that year, a tree-whipping storm blew in and one did come back—not a fuzzy little kit, but a young red fox. He darted back and forth a few times before finding a new way into the space he had grown out of.
Every night I text him to come up for a goodnight kiss and he does.
Peyton Price is the author of Suburban Haiku: Poetic Dispatches From Behind The Picket Fence. You can find her take on the good life around the web and at suburbanhaiku.com.