He saunters up to me in the kitchen and grabs a pile of junk mail. He leafs through the papers glancing sideways at me, looking for an entry.
“What’s up?” I feign casual interest, my mom barometer is registering a pressure system.
“I’ve decided I’m not going back to school, my grades are crap again anyway.” he says thumbing a flyer for a discount oil change. My chest freezes, my ribs halt mid inhale. He has been home for three weeks hoarding this burden, his familiar friend, academic failure. “I’m more than my grades say I am.” He punctuates the statement with a tense fist gripping the stack of bright papers.
“Of course you are!” I jump in enthusiastically, Dad and I have told you over and over again that college isn’t for everyone. Claim your life! Follow your dreams! Now is the time to take risks and make your way! Writing? You’re so creative and funny. Small business? Your choice!
“I want to enlist in the Army.” he says, still engrossed in the papers in his hand.
“How about something with travel? Airlines? Jesuit Volunteer Corp?” I tap dance wildly, arms waving to divert the train.
“I know what I want. I want to serve my country in the Army.” His voice is steady and resolute. Sheer terror, mine.
This was not my dream for my strawberry blonde, blue-eyed baby boy who was named for his two grandfathers. The boy who comically had hiccups every night when I was trying to go to sleep and he was big in my belly.
He is handsome and clear eyed at Basic Training graduation. Strong shoulders fill his spotless uniform. Pride and purpose sharpen the edges of his bearing.
I’m selfish. I’m scared.I have something that belongs to him inside of me. I squeeze it tight trying to suffocate it. I strain to keep it from the open,locked away from the light of day. It’s my prisoner but It is stronger than I am. I am exhausted from guarding it. I surrender, and it suddenly rushes up through me like a bird escaping a net.
“I’m proud of you.” I say, hands reaching up to grasp his shoulders. There, the words are out, made real in the bright sunshine with the tunes of the Army marching band bouncing them higher and higher like a stray balloon.
He beams. There is light through his skin like the glow through a lampshade. He bends to hug me. The timbre of his words vibrates through his chest to my ear as he tells me “I’m proud of myself too Mom.”