LAST CHILD OFF
I pulled her to my bosom, held her tenderly and whispered, I love you,” into her ears. I could feel our heart beats pulsing through one another and in that moment my eyes liquefy. We disengaged and I walked away not looking back, but less than 100 yards away, a wail, so forlorn, escaped me, my breathe tighten that 50 yard further I had to sit down to catch my breath and tears flowed.
* * *
The last week had been frantic, deciding what to take, always too much, shipping boxes ahead, getting to the airport with her four suitcases, having to rearrange clothes to ensure it’s not over fifty pounds, leaving some things out despite her protest, “I need this, I really need that.” Paying for extra luggage, the five-hour flight to New York. Checking in to the Bread-and breakfast at 7 a.m. only to be told our early check in request could not be honored. We meet up with Shola, my oldest who stayed in New York after graduating and rest at her place for a few hours, hoping her bed-bug epidemic, that was sprayed the day before, has been eliminated. A few hours later, still exhausted, we take subway to Manhattan to pick up rent a car, wait for Shola to get off work at 2 p.m. and then drive to New Jersey to get essential things on Teju’s list: storage bins for under the bunk bed, new laptop, towels, sheets, blanket, personal items, supplies, finding the right colors, sisters negotiating styles and colors, working in harmony, what matches, endless discussion and comparison about “When I was going to college; Mommy and I….”
I and dangerously tired and fatigued, feel myself about to loose it so declare, “Okay I have had enough; all this isn’t going to fit in the car.” I put my foot down. It’s 11:30 p.m. but thank goodness it’s NY so we find a place to eat. Back at the Bread-and Breakfast, I shower, set clock to leave by 5:30 a.m., and fall into bed, more exhausted, emotionally and physically than I can remember for a long time.
We leave at 5:45, Teju in the back sleeping, suitcases stacked close to her, trunk jammed, Shola up front with me with map quest directions. Teju wants to arrive by 8 a.m. as soon check in begins to ensure everything gets done, and we can do more shopping to get those things that are not checked off her list. Traffic works in my favor, not bad leaving New York, and Shola comments how fast I am going and talks about all those days living in Oakland when were late getting out the house for school and how I drove like a mad woman to make sure they got to school on time. She said she and her brother were terrified, and always held on to their seatbelts and they always said to themselves, “I know school is important, but surely not worth dying for.” Well my driving hasn’t slowed as we arrive in Connecticut by 7 a.m., less than 10 miles from Wesleyan and stop at a diner for breakfast. Safely, I might add, reminding Shola that I taught both she and her brother to drive and they are good drivers.
Once on campus we are directed to Teju’s dorm, she gets her keys and we unload the car. How wonderful! There are student helpers to take suitcases and boxes inside, up the stairs to the second floor. I am filled with gratitude and am delighted I am freed to photograph the unfolding. Teju is calling out to her new college friends and they are calling out to her like long lost friends, and I ask her how come they all know each other and she says, “Facebook Mommy,” Like duh? Get with it? I introduce myself and make my way to her room, a double. Her roommate has not arrived so she gets first dibs. The three Adisa women immediately go about rearrange the room for maximum privacy and attractiveness, even a little Feng Shui. After switching desks and dressers and bookcases back and forth we are satisfied. We leave Shola to unpack while Teju and I go to the incoming process, seven different stations where she gets her ID, registration info, welcome packet, etc. We return to dorm to see what progress Shola has made unpacking, who She declares, “Darn Teju you must have brought everything. I can go shopping in your closet. You need to get more hangers.” Teju adds that to her list, and we get in the car, get directions to the store and head out again.
An hour and a half later, Shola has done a miraculous job, unpacking two suitcases, arranging clothes into drawers, setting up lamps, arranging books, photos, flowers. Etc. (Incidentally, we spent at least 30 minutes that morning in the store deciding whether or not Teju should get a bamboo or money plant. She finally chose a money plant.) We go for lunch, then return to more unpacking before Shola has to drive back to New York for rehearsal and work. Teju completes unpacking, puts up her posters, goes to the President’s welcome, then I leave her with new found friends and join another parent from the Bay Area for dinner.
* * *
The next day, Wednesday, I took Teju for dinner and gave her my “Mommy Talk” and precautions, etc. By the time we return to campus it was almost dusk, and other students were heading off to freshman orientation, as was Teju, my last child. As I sat there facing the green football field at Wesleyan, the Friday afternoon of her birth eighteen years ago, crowded my mind as if it were yesterday. I had gone into labor late Thursday night, but had not dilated sufficiently. Her dad, my ex-husband, began teaching that week, so left me in labor promising to return before noon. The doctor didn’t think, given my slow dilation progress, that I would deliver before then. After listening to her heart rate the doctor decided C-section was necessary and her Dad arrived to cut the umbilical cord. The doctor said it was a good thing she decided to go ahead with the C- section as my uterus had ruptured and I could have hemorrhaged. But all was well. She was beautiful and welcomed by her older sister, Shola, brother Jawara, maternal grandmother Catherine and paternal grandfather Vinnie, all there to help us through her first month. Now it was eighteen years later. Time was as long as it was short, trapped in incidents and selected memories. I looked back at the entrance of the building where she had filed through with other excited and anxious newbees, and told myself to go on, not retrack my steps to see where she was among the crowd. I wiped my eyes and picked myself up, surrounded by sadness, but also joyous relief. I was done. I had taken two other children to college before, and now after twenty-five years of active parenting, almost half of my life, I could reclaim my life and make plans that only involve me. Apart for the scramble to pay tuition, I am free.
But am I really? What does my new freedom mean? How will I use this time? How will I re-invent myself? Empty nest, yes, but also a time to grow wings. Teju is prepared emotionally and academically. I know she will soar, and in order to do that she needs to have the space and distance to test the strength of her own wings. I am proud of her and deeply satisfied that this is my very last back-to-school event.
Causes Opal Adisa Supports
California Poets in the Schools
Homeless Shelter for Pregnant Women