Not exactly the direct route… not my son’s, who traveled 16 hours to arrive home – which, under normal circumstances, should be four hours door to door.
Not exactly the direct route – my own – zooming past a highway exit I’ve taken at least a hundred times, bypassing the airport, circling back, hoping the Airport Loop would lead me to my destination despite new, inexplicably confusing signage as I eventually arrive curbside to pick up one Weary Son.
Next on the agenda: maternal mouth gaping.
No, not Offspring’s glazed expression, not his sickly pallor, no shaved head or purple hair. But the bright spot of red just above the eye consisting of one small, fresh gash.
There is a slightly blue-purple lid to match.
“Your eye,” I say, as we exchange hugs.
“Rogue plexiglass,” he replies. “Yesterday, maybe. Not sure. The days are running together. You know, day then night, then morning again and you’re right back into it like two days compacted into one. Lots of blood. Poured. Big mess. Want to see my shoes? Nice stain.”
This is my quiet kid.
I touch his face. Stubbly. He needs a shave.
“Are you okay?” I ask, gently.
“I’m fine,” he says, with the bravado one might expect of a 19-year old except, wait, now he is twenty.
“It’s a birthday scar,” he says, “a reminder of my birthday, a sign of my birthday, an indication, a promise that all things in the future will be bright, that I’ll never be injured or ill again, a good sign, a don’t worry about it Mom thing.”
He pauses just long enough for comedic effect and then: “But hey, wanna see my tattoo?”
I shoot him a glance.
“Kidding,” he says, and I sigh as he flops in the back seat. He chatters, and I wonder how long it’s been since he slept.
I don’t get lost on the way home. The sound of his voice is soothing. I’m grateful for friends who listen when I’m worried; it’s been a long night, and not just for him.
There’s a stop for shampoo and another after that because he really wants a particular take-out sandwich. Ten minutes later we’re in front of the house and he hesitates, tilting his head up.
“This is great,” he says, calmly. “I haven’t felt the sun on my face for a month. It’s been nothing but gray and cold.”
His bags are dropped by the front door and then his body is dropped onto his freshly made bed. He sets his food on the side table, begins to eat, opens his laptop to catch up with friends, and after that – he sleeps.
I take a deep breath. He’s here. He’s fine.
I choose not to stress despite the fact that on the drive home he informs me that his return flight – make that multiple flights – require being at the airport at 4 a.m. later this week. It will be another crazy, convoluted journey, all to save a few bucks.
I walk outside in search of anything to temper the inexplicable surge of anxiety – it’s relief and anxiety, which is an odd mix.
There’s so much I no longer know about his life. So little I can do to assist in any real way. There is only this: Make his bed before he arrives, fill the fridge, say yes to a sandwich.
Let him catch some serious zzzzs.
The sky is a piercing shade of blue. The air is considerably warmer than it has been. My neighbor’s magnolia has opened and I wonder how I didn’t see it before, with its magnificent cascade of pale pink blossoms.
I glance down and there are more signs of Spring – a tiny periwinkle bloom in a tangle of vine and needles and leaves, curled around the base of a tree.
I stop worrying about the Airport Loop to be confronted later in the week. I wonder if one of my son’s friends might take care of that drive. I focus on the small purple flower: this is a moment of pleasure, and my son, home, even briefly, is yet another.