The day of my son's birth, I held in my hands an angel with boundless possibilities. I felt the promise of a profound calling without a hint of dread. We had eighteen years to perform spells on each other.  In two days I will deliver the same boy, my only child, to his freshman year in college. During the summer-long empty nest countdown, I'd kept an even bearing. Now packing his things, I felt peevish.  My wife, Susan, and son, Griffith, laid out things in the house while I jammed the bulk of his material world into our SUV. Starting with the roof carrier, I put in bundles of soft items.  A month earlier an inexpressible sadness had infiltrated my psyche. Alone in the driveway, it consumed me. A terminus was at hand and I was buckling. This was the official commencement of my son's independence and adulthood—something you surely see coming but are still unprepared for, defenseless.  After filling the roof carrier, I moved to the trunk. First in, a mini-fridge—standard fare, I'm told, but in my opinion, unnecessary.  Next was Griff's most prized possession: his desktop computer. He'd custom built it from scratch according to his specs, no one else's. The project took him weeks and the result was big pride for us all. I placed soft material around the PC to protect it against jostling.  In the early years, after putting Griff to bed, I often asked myself, "Did this dear boy have a wondrous day? Did he take in all he could? Was I present?" I don't think I ever answered no and watching him grow, I'm pretty sure he agreed. With his teen years my long run of satisfaction clotted as many bedtime reflections were not sweet. He'd had a bruising day or I'd shone a tin ear or lost my temper. What came back to me was chilly resentment.  I finished the first layer of stuff in the trunk with boxes of books. Essential was Griff's collection of Dungeons and Dragons handbooks. He added some science fiction, young adult satire, and reference books for math and science. Also in the stack was the "library starter kit" I'd given him which included a dictionary, a book of poetry, and novels that shook my early college life to the core.  From our repository of sporting goods, Griff wanted two things: a frisbee and a fox-tail throwing toy. The frisbee had been with me for almost 30 years. The fox-tail was a birthday gift we gave him long ago.  Is there an indulgence more joyous and deserving than your child's birthday? We heralded each of Griff's with themed parties and gifts that thrilled because our choices were spot on. For his sixth, we gave him the only pet he'd ever ask for—a tarantula. We were shocked to learn later that the spider was female and might live twenty years. We joked that he'd be taking her to college though we couldn't imagine Griff or the tarantula that far on. Jadis is now twelve and she'll stay behind.  I remembered how, the day after his birthdays, an inner voice would pipe up, "He's five. I have thirteen years left." When Griff turned nine, it got more serious. "I'm halfway there. Thank goodness there's still another half to go." Now that he's eighteen, so ends the most crucial part of my one shot at parenting.  With every relationship I've known, reciprocity at some point played a part. Being father to this boy, reciprocity never crossed my mind. His happiness, his self awareness and confidence, his friendships, and finding his best fit in any environment—to me these goals were self-evident and supreme.  Griff's departure makes a vestige of these devotional tools. The lickety-split feedback loop we'd honed would sputter from disuse. What of the things I'd tried to represent? Giving, listening, empathy, fidelity, rational thinking, righting mistakes. He was the only one who paid scrupulous attention. I would lose his judgment and its remedial clout. I would be less motivated to take on the steady stream of quotidian concerns. He compelled me to care and stiffened my backbone against anything or anyone that pinched his freedom or well being.  It is possible that for the past three years Griff had tried to ease the transition for me. In some manner his blooming adolescent appetites had schooled me in the pulling away. He'd already decoupled. But on the eve of our separation, I felt the pain of a sudden excision.  The SUV still had room for more compact and flexible things. I put in PC peripherals, perishables, bike gear, shoes, and clothing including Griff's first tailored suit. By 6:00 p.m. we were 95% packed. We unwound with a home cooked meal and watched an hour or so of video that Griff shot on his summer trip to Spain. Then, as per routine, we went to bed. I stayed up a little later to sit on the porch, assess the day's labor, and have a short cry.  I woke at 7:00 a.m. Our target departure was in an hour and a half and the only things left to throw in were three overnight bags and a bicycle on the hitch.  Griff was up and moving before I was. "Dad, I'm nearly done with my backpack. Tell me what's next."  A call from his room without me having to wake him? Volunteering to help? I needed a minute to muffle the urge to cry and went to the kitchen for a glass of orange juice. Our home was oddly still.  My eyes filled to bursting. Our sunny trio (his label for our family) would no longer be conjoined under one roof. Facing us on the passage to whatever is next was not a bridge but an iceberg. I found Susan in the living room with her back to me. Without a word I turned her around, pulled her to a tight hug, and wept into her shoulder.  She reacted as if I'd broken something. "What's the matter? Are you okay?" she asked.  "It's over," I said, twice.  Instantly she understood my upset but wanted no part of it. There were the practicalities of making a dorm room habitable.  "He'll only be five hours away," she said. "We'll still see him every few weeks. He may not even like this college and we'll have to do something else..." I stopped listening and collected myself once more. This time it held.  By 8:45 a.m. everything was stowed. Like puzzle pieces we dropped into our car's seats. The assembly gave me a provisional composure despite not having a clue what was ahead. This would be our first journey in which only two returned. We drove away, as if it were the start of another family vacation.
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