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The Next Chapter

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I said: You are moving, you know. You have to realize that you will be living some place else, and that’s how you pack—like you are moving. He said: Oh.

Yesterday we shipped four boxes to Atlanta, and tomorrow we will send two more. Sounds like a lot, I know, but remember I bought all those linens—comforter, down pillows, monogrammed towels—nice stuff, but bulky to mail. Alex worked on the last boxes today. Kyle, the yellow cat who loves him, spread flat out on his bed like smeared peanut butter, swished his tail and pretended to nap as Alex sorted and stacked. I sat in his glider and wrote lists. It is the same glider where, umpteen years ago, I rocked him and his sister—both clinging to me, each other, their ba-bas and blankies—while I read Dr. Seuss out loud until we all fell asleep. (In my family rocking babies is as fundamental as feeding them.)

As Alex packed, I studied his room—a storyboard of his childhood—guitars, legos, his Eagle Scout certificates, framed merit badges, Beatles posters, Jimi Hendrix, two sets of Harry Potter books—American and British, and the silly trophies from soccer, basketball, and baseball (Team Player! The Tornadoes, 1996). I wondered if he would pack anything sentimental, like his dog-eared, shredded blanket or maybe a bionical or maybe a picture of us or of the cat. He gathered up some books—I didn’t see which ones.

He seemed to have it all under control in his serious, slow, methodical way, but I handed him my list and then went shopping … again. There are things that my son has never bought, things that are just always here at home, provided providentially. Like Kleenex and fingernail clippers and sugar cubes and Band-Aids and safety pins and Motrin. Things that come from who-knows-where. 

So I went to Walgreen’s. It is an amazing place, a fairy tale place, chock full of stuff Alex might need. I bought already-threaded-needles in a variety of colors. I bought three kinds of chewing gum, two kinds of hand sanitizer, anti-bacterial soap, alcohol wipes, Tide stain zapper, Crest Whitestrips, chapstick, duct tape, Velcro, and super glue (three tubes). He would be prepared for anything, even a nuclear event where he had to hunker down for a month or two. Next storage. At The Container Store I grabbed plastic boxes in different sizes and obsessed over what should go in each one and how they would look and how accessible they would be, and where would he put them. They were stackable, surely there will be a place to stack things in his dorm room. I found myself hoping his roommate is a small, malleable person with few material possessions, and no hobbies except listening to guitar music and other people reading aloud.

Suddenly I thought about food. Alex eats cereal—Frosted Mini-Wheats—in the middle of the night almost every night. And what would he do without Tabasco or peanut butter or honey or his tea? He could go to bed hungry like some street urchin. He could starve. And, Lord knows, he is so incoherent in the morning that he won’t find the cafeteria until it’s almost lunchtime.

When the children were little, I promised them that when they became teenagers, I would hire an ex-police officer to follow them, spy on them just in case they needed help. I haven’t managed to do that so far, (I spied on them personally—or stalked as they say—a couple of times.) but maybe now is the time. But not a police officer, a butler is what Alex really needs. Someone capable and handy; someone who can anticipate his every need or desire; someone to fold his clothes and make his bed; someone to remind him to get enough sleep, and eat a little protein; someone to say your brain works better when your hands are busy—play your guitar, shoot some baskets; someone to tell him jokes; someone like me … but I have worked hard to replace myself …


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