“You boys are gonna have a blast in Florida, you know this?”
From the back seat of a worn out Toyota pickup barreling down a pre-dawn city street , they murmur in assent, having been up since 3:30am in anticipation of today’s journey. Their mother, my ex, is riding shotgun, and it’s the first time the four of us have been in the same vehicle since the divorce. It’s an odd feeling, but it’s the new reality. I’ve gladly offered to take them to the airport, this, my boys’ first trip out of town without me. I keep trying to keep the spirits up, mindless banter about sharks and planes filling the voids between the streetlights. On the one hand, I’m excited for the break from the day to day lunch making, endless loops in the carline and relentless pleas to please, for once, just pick up your laundry. On the other hand I realize the momentous occasion this is shaping up to be; my little fellas are gonna flap their wings for a bit, albeit with their mother, and give the wanderlust itch a little scratch. It’s in our blood.
We wander, my family. For some of us, it was a trans-atlantic voyage to America for the first time, for others it’s a circuitous route to Missouri with a stopover in Alaska for a few years. Others have never left town except for a few years in college. But deep down, I’m a wandering soul, sometimes opening the door to new adventures, sometimes opening the door to disaster.
But this is different. These are my babies. These boys are my link to relative sanity, to stability in a chaotic world, and now they were about to embark on their first flight that they’ll remember, and I won’t be there to marvel at the miracle of flight, the organized cacophony of the airport in Chicago, to bury our toes together in the sands of Florida. And that is how it should be, this is how divorce works. We don’t do stuff together anymore, and the price of that is that my lads will experience many, many new aspects of life without me.
My eldest is 9 and wants to hit the road as fast as possible. I smile at this, I remember well leaving my mom to go to the West Indies for a summer between 7th and 8th grade, alone, to work at an all-inclusive resort. I could hardly contain myself. A whole new world was laid out in front of me. My youngest is 7 and while he’s excited to go on a trip, he worries about his old man, worries I’ll be all alone. I won’t. I’ll be fine. I have work, I have friends and those close to me to help make the days fly until they return home to me. But a part of me feels the bonds growing tighter with the tears he’s shedding.
Then we’re pulling up to the loading zone, where I have to stay, lest the one employee on duty at this hour mistake my grey pickup as an instrument of unholy terror. A courteous goodbye to the ex, she’s a good woman, and I’m glad if my boys are not with me then they’re with her. She’ll show them so much, and their bonds will deepen, too. The older boy gives me an excited squeeze and is practically running to the ticket gate…“Love you, Dad, call you tonight!” My youngest then hugs me, tells me he loves me so much and heads out.
Then something happens. Almost like he’s in a movie, he gets halfway to the door, stops, turns around and runs back to me, throws his arms around my neck, squeezing with all of his 7 year old heart. And, of course, as his huge blue eyes look up into mine, they begin leaking with reckless abandon. We hug it out in silence for half a moment. Then, in a roar of emotion, the words come spilling out…
“I don’t want to leave you, Dad!”
-“It’s okay, son, you’re gonna have so much fun! I love you, you’ll do great!”*
*I love you, but you’re breaking my heart, son
“Daddy, I’m gonna miss you, so much”
-“I’ll miss you, too, buddy, but I can’t wait to hear all about it!!”*
*Don’t go son. I’m not ready. I’m crying on the inside, and you’re about to unleash a waterworks display if we keep it up
“I miss you now, I just want you to come with me”
-“Who’s gonna watch the dog? Who’s gonna drive the fire truck?”*
*Son, I want more than anything to be by your side. I miss you already, don’t turn around, don’t walk away just yet.
“Please don’t stay here Daddy.”
“You gotta go, my man, your mother is now gesturing angrily from the door to the gates. I love you. More than anything in this world. Always.”*
*I gotta let you fly son. It’s time. I’ll be right here. I’ll never stop loving you. You boys are the one thing I’ve done right in this world. I love you. Always
The oldest saves the day, comes and retrieves his younger brother while giving me a condolence hug. In the distance, I’m pretty sure the ex is rolling her eyes at our Latin soap opera-level of drama at the Springfield “International” Airport (sidebar: apparently anything outside of Missouri is considered “International travel”.)
My boy trudges towards the door, sobbing. He doesn’t turn back around, and nor should he. He should face a new adventure head-on, ready for a taste of life outside these Ozarks. In a few moments his mother texts me to let me know he’s fine now, exploring the wonder that is the airport massage chair. She doesn’t, can’t, know that I’m pulled over just down the street, letting it all out as the sun rises, crying and not knowing why or how to stop it, and this text is my release. He’s okay, of course he’s okay. I don’t know if I can say the same for myself. But I’ll be all right, too, and anxious for their return soon enough. He should come home with tales of white sands, potential shark attacks and a fishing trip or two. And he should know that no matter where this life takes him, no matter the miles, his old man will always be here for him to come home to, grinning like an idiot, tears of joy on my face and appreciating the beautiful tragedy of watching my children grow into men, all of it, playing out right before us.
Come home soon, son, and tell me a story. I’m all ears.