August 22nd 2009
Driving home from the store this afternoon, I passed a crew working on some part of a closed lane of the road that had been recently repaved. Hard at work, bent over as only a small child can bend, fat diaper butt in the air, was a little boy digging at the asphalt, his watchful dad nearby.
I flashed back to my daughter when she was just a baby–I used to bundle her up, strap her in the car seat and go to work at the ice company in the middle of winter for one or two deliveries each week. We were a small outlet–this was 1989 or 90. I was the only employee/manager through the winter and I delivered dry ice several times a week and wet ice even less. I remember setting her in her seat near the rear of my pickup, wedged under coats and propped up carefully, to watch as I hoisted the 50lb blocks of dry ice from their bins, cut them into strips on a band saw, and loaded them for delivery. I talked to her and tried to make her laugh so she wouldn’t cry from being cooped up–she hated car seats. Sometimes, after the delivery, we just sat together in the truck and I watched her sleep or played with her to hear her laugh.
I didn’t do that with my son–the ice company was much bigger by then and I took him to work sometimes so he could walk in the huge freezer, but I worried more because I had employees then and more machinery. It just wasn’t safe.
But now they are both grown, or nearly so and all those times are in the distant past, it seems. I turned to my son the other day and realized with a shock that he was almost as tall as me. He will be 17 in December. I can’t fathom that.
And soon, tonight, I will have to pick him up from his friend’s house. The friend is a girl, but he’s not calling her a girlfriend. They text each other 40 billion times a day and were in constant contact while she was in South Dakota over the summer, but they are not labeling the relationship as of yet.
I’m afraid for him, the same way I was (still am?) afraid for my daughter and stepdaughters–love is an awful and transcendental feeling. And hurt is inevitable. The first love so often does not last. It belongs to the realm of human rites of passage which must be endured, which must, in fact, consume us wholly and thrash us and lift us up and thrash us again.
I too am going through a rite of passage. I can’t save my son; I couldn’t save my daughters. It is my lot to sit helplessly by while they tread this path, to take them in my arms when they sob the tears of inconsolable loss, to try to make them laugh and live so they will love again, and maybe even lose again. And that little boy, working so hard beside his dad will grow up and never remember any of this day except, perhaps, the residue, the aura of a real love that will never let him go.