(Henry and his ever present orange socks traveling to Las Vegas)
“We’re late! It’s 9:17AM!” Henry yelled in a panic. For a moment I couldn’t remember where we were or what we were late for. Then as the startling sun shoved sleep away and my mind cleared I remembered we were in Las Vegas and my eyes flooded with tears. Again.
I haven’t stopped crying in since January 8th, because on January 8th, which is coincidently Tom’s birthday, we decided as a family that Henry would go live with Tom in Ventura. The list of reasons why this is a fabulous idea is practically endless. Henry will get to live with Tom. Henry can take the bus to school. I will save money on gas. I won’t have to drive 4 hours a day or wait 3 hours a day at gymnastics. This means I can get a lot of work done on the business, which is really starting to take-off; Tom will get some much-needed time with Henry. Henry will get to see his old friends blah, blah blah. The list of reasons why this is a completely horrible and rotten idea is: my broken heart.
I assure Henry I set the alarm and it is not 9:17 M but 7:17AM and it’s just that it is light in Las Vegas before 7:30 he begins to calm down.
“Oh my gosh, I saw the sun and it was so bright I thought it had to be at least 9:00 and then the clock on the table said 9:17AM. I thought I was going to miss the competition.”
“No we’re fine I set my iphone.” Reflexively I remind him, “take your meds, get in the shower and don’t forget to scrub your face,” but even as the words are tumbling out I know Tom will not be reminding him. Dads do things differently. He’s going to be in “Man School”, and I know this is good. I snuggle up to Tom in the crisp white sheets as he smiles at my tears and pulls me close.
“Ohh, this is going to be a long day,” he says. I know it is. I keep seeing a full montage of Henry’s life flashing before my eyes. It starts with Henry as a baby coming home from the hospital then my mom holding him, Henry standing up in his crib at 6 months, Henry having surgery at 8 months, Henry eating toxic Oleander leaves and having to be rushed to the ER and put on a heart monitor, Henry dressed as Abraham Lincoln for his first Halloween, Henry climbing the refrigerator, Henry turning his first cartwheel at two. Of course, I weep at the thought of all these little moments and then I think of all the things we didn’t do and my heart hurts and I sob even harder. Tom just holds me. After 20 years he has long since learned not to try and fix it or make it better.
(Me and my boy)
Swollen and puffy I apply my make-up as a matter of pride. It’s obvious today is a waterproof mascara day. I look in the mirror looking at a woman who is sending her child away. I feel like a Bette Davis movie, all tragic and alone like I just stepped out of "Now Voyager".
Ready up for the gymnastics meet we head out to Wal-Mart, because in the midst of packing up Henry’s life, I forgot to pack white socks and sweat bands for the competition. If and when Henry comes home, I’m sure he’ll have to pack all his own things. Dads do things differently. This is Henry’s first meet this season because he has been plagued with injury. In fact, he hasn’t been at the gym since before Thanksgiving. He hurt himself trying to do an Iron Cross on the rings straining his back and putting him in physical therapy twice a week for months. Now his knees are aching and we are worried about him making it through the whole meet.
Deciding not to deny myself anything today I have the audacity and good sense to order myself two pancakes for breakfast at Denny’s while Tom and I set to filling out the New Student Registration Packet for Buena High School in Ventura.
Staring at the boxes “Lives with Both Parents. Lives with Father. Lives with Mother. Lives with Guardian. I think of the past few weeks. They’ve been filled with details preparing for this moment. I’ve been on the phone with the counselor from Buena and the counselor from Sehome confirming all sorts of transfer matters. I’ve taken Henry to the doctor twice. Once for a concussion he got during Yoga playing some game and having an unfortunate collision with his right temple and the knee of a very big senior and the other for getting the TDAP shot so he could enter school. Of course, we had to go to the orthodontist to have his braces tightened and figure out how who we were going to get to take over his care in Ventura. There was the matter of gyms and the coordination of a ride. I spent endless amounts of time studying Ventura’s mass transit system and its various routes and pick-up times to see if Henry could get from school to Victory Gymnastics Academy in Newbury Park. All the while,Henry is happily chatting away with Tom about some hockey game their going to go to at The Honda Center in March. He is over the moon excited to be with his father every day. "Mom," he said to me, "I've been with you 14 years now I to have see what it's like with Dad." He and Tom laugh at each other's jokes while I fill out the Emergency Preparedness Card, The Parent Connection Form, and Technology Permission Form handing them one by one to Tom to sign, as he will now be the custodial parent. I could hear my mother’s voice in my head.
“Denise! A boy needs his father. After all, Henry isn’t supposed to grow up and be like you. He wants to be a man. He needs Tom to learn how to be like him.” I know she's right. Dear Lord, she’s been gone for 14 years and she’s still teaching me things. How does she do that? I keep focused on filling out the forms as Tom discusses hockey teams with Henry. A worker bee at heart, it isn’t until the last emergency contact’s phone number has been filled in and I finish my final cup of coffee that my tears start to leak out. Again.
“Oh Mama, you’re crying.” Henry said gently reaching across the table. I turn away, not wanting to impose my pain on his excitement.
“No, my eyes are just watering. The sun is so bright.” I lie as imagine my tears making little streams through my carefully applied foundation. Thankfully, I have the presence of mind not to wipe but blot my eyes trying to minimize the cosmetic damage.
“Um –Mama, unless you’re eyes are sweating, you’re crying.”
“Her lip is poking out. She’s crying.”
“How does her lip do that?” Henry asks as I blot.
On the way to the meet Tom told Henry he couldn’t play with his computer because it was our last few minutes as a family. Henry gave the complete teenage eye-roll and attitude. It was in this tiny moment I thought to myself I just might not miss him quite as much as I’d thought. In fact, perhaps visiting might be ok.
“Pea, don’t forget to have him scrub his face before he goes to bed. It’ll keep him from breaking out.”
“When he starts breaking out, he’ll remember.”
Dads do things differently, which is why in the last month I’ve had Henry’s hair cut, eyebrows waxed and we even went to get a pedicure together. I cried so hard when I had a boy, thinking I would never have a pedicure with my child, thinking I would never be as close to a son as I would a daughter but never say never. There we were. After all, I rationalized he gets ingrown toenails and he is barefoot all the time at the gym, I had to. I absolutely had to. It was for him - and I loved it. We sat there in the salon our feet soaking, covered in hot towels. I think Henry was a bit embarrassed at first, but he certainly didn’t mind the cute girl massaging his feet.
At the Las Vegas Sports Center, I sat in the top row alone. Tom ran back to the car for something and Henry had to go warm-up. I felt alone. Really alone. Sad alone. The music was blaring Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” and I wondered if my mother had somehow arranged that. She’s clever for a dead woman. When Tom got back I could see a look cross his face meaning he could see my despair. He said nothing because men don’t. He just held my hand. I thought of that big house in the middle of nowhere I was going back to.
“You know, it was never my dream to live on the farm alone.”
“I know but you’re not alone, alone. Alexis is there and Mike is moving back in. You know, it was never my dream to be stuck in Ventura.”
“I know.” I went online and booked my first visit in March.
I felt a bit brighter by the time my friend, Susan, showed up. “How are you doing?” She asked.
“She’ll cry if you say the word “cheese”. She’s leaking all over the place.” Susan and Tom both laughed.
“Not cutting her any slack I see.” Susan said as I smiled wanly blotting my eyes and reapplying my the new Dolce Vita lip-gloss my friend June gave me last week.
(Leaving the meet with Henry - wearing my winter coat despite the blazing sun of Las Vegas)
Henry did a lot better than we expected for being out of the gym as long as he had but certainly not well enough to win any awards, so we left early for McCarran airport. On the way over, we discussed the meet and Henry laughed at his pommel score. “Well you can only go up from here. Your father took video so we can see how you’re doing in comparison in about 6 months.”
“I’m not unhappy with how I did. The meet was a good but what was with ‘The Man in the Mirror’? Did you notice it played like 22 times?”
“Yeah, I did notice actually.”
Completely cried out, I picked up my bags when we pulled up to the airport and matter-of-factly got out of the Ridgeline. Henry grabbed my hand with his big paw and gave it a firm businesslike shake. “Well Mom, it’s been a great 14 years. I want to thank you for everything. I've learned a lot.” He said mockingly. But then he wrapped me in his arms and hugged me. A long bear-kind of hug. And then he softly kissed the palm of my hand and put it to my cheek. “I love you Mama” It was just like what the mama raccoon in the book “The Kissing Hand” would do. I used to read that book to him over and over when he was little. And I would kiss his hand like mama raccoon when he’d go off to pre-school so he’d know I was with him always. And now he was kissing mine. My heart warmed and I felt better.
Henry and Tom piled into the truck and before they could drive away, Henry had that damn computer on his lap. Out of sight out of mind I supposed.
Turning away from the truck I went in the airport alone tears streaming down my face again. Somberly, I checked in and went through security. For years, Henry and I walked through this airport on the way to our gate after saying good-bye to Tom as he drove away – alone. Once again, my mother’s voice popped into my head, “Denise pick yourself up and dust yourself off. This is a new start for you. Your diet begins tomorrow, get yourself a little treat and you’ll feel better.”
I marched myself into Hudson News, picked up a new cute pair of over-priced reading glasses with a pink printed case, selected a paperback, “Night Road” it’s about some woman who’s life falls apart, and loses everything including her children. It tells the “exquisite pain of loss and the stunning power of hope.” I figured it was a good pick because, “All My Children” has been canceled and I no longer have Tad Martin to turn to in my hour of need.
Deciding to be really decadent I browse the magazines and choose “People”. After all I won't be reading it at the orthodontist’s office anymore and it seems Demi Moore is doing worse than I am. Misery loves company. I rounded out my spending spree with “Entrepreneur” magazine and a pack of peppermint gum.
“How are you today?” Asked the smiling man behind the counter. He was so short he looked me straight in the eyes. He had big brown eyes that gleamed and he was looking at me, really waiting for an answer.
“I’ve been better,” I admitted almost breaking into tears again. “My son, just went to live with his father and I’m on my way home - alone. So I’m buying myself some treats.”
“That’s good. That’s good. You should,” he said “but you forget something.” I look at him quizzically. “Chocolate!” He grinned. “To feel better you need little chocolate.” And with that I picked up a pack of plain M&Ms and slapped my debit card down on the counter with out regret.
Feeling a world better, I saw my reflection in a store window as I sauntered toward my gate. If I did say so myself my new TJMaxx winter coat was really fabulous. Suddenly visions of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “That Girl” started running through my head.
I wanted to throw my hat in the air or something. There are so many things I want to do. I haven’t been this free since I couldn’t remember when. Ok so I have get a business off the ground I have a house and overdue property taxes and 47 animals to take care of and I know I’ll miss Henry, but this is a new beginning for me. First, thing tomorrow, I’m going to give the house a thorough cleaning. I’ll start my “Fat Flush” diet, and then finish the filing in the office, I’ll sleep until the sun comes up, and maybe I’ll commit to using some of the time I used to drive Henry to school to go on the treadmill. But let's not get carried away right now with restrictions - broad strokes, broad strokes. Alexis said he’d help me drywall the mudroom. I’ve always wanted to make that into an art studio. I've always wanted to throw pots. I could get a potters wheel on craigslist. And I began wondering when they were offeri welding classes at the technical college. I’ve always wanted to learn how to weld. Maybe just maybe I can weld a life-size moose out of scrap metal for Tom’s belated birthday present.