He’s really gone. The thought rattles around in my mind, tumbles into meaninglessness. When he comes home for the holidays this Christmas, it will not be him. It will be a man, with experiences, a life I don’t know about, dressed in his skin. Looking almost the same, but so very different. What do I think of this unknown man? Resentment, for stealing my child from me. Fear, at the inevitable changes. But most of all, pride, at who he is becoming.
In the room, we optimistically call the “laundry room,” is a jumble of items in several cardboard boxes, labeled “trash” in his untidy handwriting. Being more frugal, I think most of it can be donated. I don’t admit to myself that a memento might get tucked away.
Starting with the box of clothes, it’s instantly obvious that they all need to be laundered before anyone else might consider wearing them. Opening the washing machine, I quickly check each item of clothing before putting it in the machine. Coins, crayons, a plastic dinosaur that makes me smile briefly — all these treasures were left carelessly tucked into pockets, usually in his blue jeans.
A folded-up dollar bill, now into clothes from his early teen years. A cigarette lighter — what! — another story I’ll never know. A tangled lump of t-shirts, outgrown rock bands, fill a good part of the box. Untangled, they tell a story of a boy’s love of music evolving as he grows. Those would make an amazing quilt. The smaller ones are boy-bands, the medium-sized pop rock. Once medium becomes large, the bands are far less innocent, the music much harder, the lyrics darker. I put the shirts in the washer, knowing the quilt will never be made, but charmed by the idea of it, more for myself than for him.
The socks and underwear are rags, no one would want them, not even Goodwill. In a moment of good intentions, the grungy things are tossed into the trash. Clothing box done, it’s time to move on to a box of miscellany.
Science fiction paperbacks, those can go. Plastic models of cartoon characters, likewise. Everything, back in the box! That one I move past the washer, near the door, convenient to carry out when finished.
Returning, there is only one more box. More books, paperbacks, but then… I pull out a finely bound leather volume, and of course recognize it at once. It’s a Christmas gift, from back when he was 12 or 13, just a stocking stuffer really. A diary. Well-used from the thumbed-through look of the pages, this is obviously not something just forgotten and thrown away.
I hold the book in my hand, torn. Of course I want to read it, but I never will. I respect my son’s privacy, as he’s always respected mine. I can’t violate it to satisfy my curiosity. Still, I puzzle what to do with it. No way would I put it in with Goodwill things. Likewise, I would not throw it in the trash. Not until he said he didn’t want it. Put it up for him, wrap it up as a stocking stuffer again? That might be fun.
The rest of the box is full of music CDs, which I leave untouched in the box. That one also goes in the Goodwill pile. I start the washing machine, smile at the idea of the rock and roll quilt. Maybe I really will make it. Only not for myself. No, it will be for him. That, and the journal, will be his Christmas gifts, I decide on the spot. It’s going to mean a lot of time spent cutting and sewing in the coming weeks, but he’s so worth it.
I’m right, damn it. My fingers are so sore, and they keep wanting to cramp up on me. I haven’t sewn a quilt in forever. I could have used a machine, but it wasn’t right. This is personal, and I want to make it with my own hands. I made it, and in time for Christmas.
Wrapping it is fun, I use an X-Box container to hide it in, then tape it down thoroughly. He is known to prank me with a gift occasionally, and this one means so much, I want him to work for it. The journal I merely wrap in shiny blue paper with silvery trees marching across it.
It is The Day, Christmas Day, and I alternate between watching out the front window and checking the time on my cell phone. Of course he wouldn’t have me meet his plane, he’d catch an Uber or something. I need to calm down. I do one of the breathing exercises I learned in yoga, and it works well.
Finally, a strange car pulls in my driveway. I watch my tall son unfold himself from a roller-skate of a car, pull his backpack from the back seat, and exit, laughing and chatting with the driver. He looks around the property as he walks up to the front door, re-examining the background of his childhood. I am at the door, waiting, willing myself not to cry. I succeed until he hugs me. Then, a few tears leak out, I just can’t control them.
“Hey, mom, it’s great to see you! I’ve missed you, especially your cooking. I think I’ve lost ten pounds.” He wanders through the dining room, shedding his backpack on the table as he walks by. “Nice tree.” He stops and tucks a wrapped box under it, then continues on his mission: the kitchen.
Mouth full of cookies, he turns to me, mumbles something I pretend not to understand. He finishes the mouthful, swallows, then repeats himself. “Can we open presents now? I can’t stay long, I’ve got something else important I need to do today.”
I feel like the one with a mouthful of dry cookie. Finally, I can nod. “Sure.” We return to the tree, with its old-fashioned decorations, the things from our past I just can’t let go of. It’s strung with lots of silvery tinsel, lit with tiny fairy lights in a riot of colors.
“Here, mom, you first.” He shoves his package at me. I open it, to find something that looks like a rectangular egg with rounded edges. He explains it’s a set of Bluetooth wireless headphones I’m going to love. I laugh at his enthusiasm. We both know where he gets his love of music.
I urge him to open the quilt first. He laughs at the X-Box, opens it, pulls out the quilt, and he’s speechless. His mouth gapes open, and he just keeps turning it, looking at one band, then another. “How… Where did you… This is amazing, mom! It’s like seeing myself grow in music. I love it!” He jumps up and squeezes the stuffing out of me. I’m delighted, it’s worth every sore finger.
“Don’t forget your stocking stuffer.” I gesture toward our old stockings, still hung up on the wall behind the tree. His is bulging with a rectangular package. Mine has a few candy canes in it, for looks.
He takes out the package, turns it over, unwraps it. All the color leaves his face until he’s so chalky white I’m afraid he’s going to pass out on me. “Did you read this? Please tell me, did you?”
I shake my head; he is reminded I will never violate his privacy. He closes his eyes for a long moment. Then he opens them, smiles at me, and hands me the diary. “Here, read it. I want you to. It will help you understand. That important thing I need to do? I need to meet up with someone. Their name is Andre, and I really want you to meet them. Can I bring them with me to Christmas dinner?”
Christmas meal can safely feed a regiment, so one more will not trouble me. He can tell from my voice that I understand. As he hugs me tightly, I rejoice in my son’s growth to manhood, seeing in a glance infant, toddler, child, boy, teen, and now… man.