We have been in anxiety-about-college mode for nearly a year. The first choice of Bard College is made back in November but financial aid is a huge issue. Applications. Twenty page financial aid forms. Schools demand copies of bank statements and my business tax returns. Spuds endures being wait-listed and flat out rejected. Bard, due to some internal issues, mails aid letters later than all of the other schools. We do have a nice safe harbor of two other great schools offering generous aid but Spuds sees himself at Bard. Instead of “How was your day?” it's “Did the letter come?” for days. Spuds grants me permission to open it if he isn't home when it arrives. Yesterday a thick letter from Bards is in the box. I hold it close for a while drinking in the gravitas. I putter around and unload the dishwasher before I have the courage to rip it open. The offer is better than I'd hoped for and Spuds adds to his Facebook profile to “Bard College, Class of 2017.”
Spuds is not exaggerating each year when he says that all of his friends are going to Coachella. He has never been but it is agreed back in February that I will purchase tickets for him and be reimbursed from his tutoring wages. The moment the tickets go on sale I attempt to log onto the site via every computer in the office. The first weekend sells out but I am able to purchase passes for the second weekend. When the lineup is announced I am nonplussed but figure the tickets will be easy to sell if he decides not to go. With admitted freshman programs at various colleges Spuds remains uncertain about Coachella until he announces that he doesn't want to go to the second weekend because all of his friends are going the first. I figure the 2nd weekend ticket will be an easy sale but apparently I'm not the only one who is less than ecstatic about the lineup. There is a glut of tickets on E-bay and Craigslist selling for less than face value. I list the tickets on Ebay and they do not sell. I list daily on Craigslist, reducing the price a few bucks each time. Spuds decides he really wants to go the first weekend with all of his friends and I tell him if I can sell weekend two I'll try to pick up a ticket for him.
As a regular watcher of both Judge Judy and People's Court, I am terrified of Craigslist. I get a couple inquiries but no one follows through. Finally there is a text and the sender agrees to purchase. I tell him he can pick them up before I leave the office. I find a ticket for the first weekend in the neighborhood at well below the original price and negotiate to pick it up for Spuds at a nearby Starbucks right after I sell the others. I race to Staples, heart pumping, to pick up one of those pens that detects counterfeit bills. The buyer says he's sending a friend. A half an hour later the friend texts me and says he's having his car washed. I remind him that I need to leave. There are several texts back and forth and I get a sinking feeling that they're going to flake out. Finally, the buyer's rep calls, lost. I direct him to my office. He arrives in an obviously altered state of consciousness with a fist full of crumpled 20s. He wobbles as I check them with the counterfeit pen. Having a generous birthday gift card, I never pass a Starbucks without caffinating, but I am so wired that when I arrive to pick up Spuds' ticket that I just get a limeade. The seller shows and I check her id against the ticket receipt before I fork over the dough. Even though I'm dealing with legitimate tickets it feels sleazy, like I robbed a bank or something. I have to close my eyes and take deep breaths before I feel ready to drive home.
Spuds thanks me but at age seventeen I don't think how fully he grasps how nervous making two consecutive Craigslist transactions are for his AARP eligible (for a number of years) mom. I can remember a number of examples of my mother's mean spiritedness but as I race around trying to get Spuds his ticket, I remember too that my mother took pleasure in bending over backwards for the sake of my pleasure. So many examples of her pettiness are technicolor vivid but I'm unable to remember a specific instance that I can parallel with my Coachella negotiations. I know that she did things like this and I can almost channel the satisfaction that it gave her.
Now that Spuds is actually going to be attending college on the East Coast and spending a weekend in Coachella, I recall not only my mother's love but also her terror about me navigating out in the world. I always bristled at this and was petulant, thinking that she was accusing me of incompetence. How amazing to think about Spuds tooling around the gorgeous Hudson Valley campus and attending tiny classes with illustrious professors. But, New York is unimaginably far away. I love the picture of the boy grooving to the music all weekend with friends he's had since nursery school. But I obsess about transportation and accommodation issues. And sunburn. Pickpockets. Dead phones. Dehydration. I drive him to catch a ride to Coachella. I tell him that after months of college stress it will be nice to just unwind and listen to music with his friends. I give him a little practical advice and insist he checks in regularly. My own poor mother had to rely on letters and collect calls when I left the nest. I didn't know about the gruesome scenarios that must have plagued her imagination until I had my own kids and these same horrors began to invade my own.
I left home at seventeen and there is a long list of things I did I pray that my own children are smart enough not too. I didn't live at home again but the memory of the house on Fulton Avenue is one of my most resonate. Things changed very little from my earliest memories to when, nearly fifty years later, I stripped it bare and sold it. The house was done up by a decorator in the early 60s, a couple years before my parents divorced. But for a bit of paint and re-upholstery it remained comfortingly unchanged. The contents were sold, trashed or given to charity but I pulled out some choice objects for myself. I integrate what I can into my house and store a few larger items that I can't bring myself to get rid of at the office.
After twenty years and a major roof leak that resulted in a peeling ceiling, we decide to have our bedroom painted and spruced up. The closet doors are broken and the shower doesn't work. The ceiling fan makes an unbearable groaning noise. It takes about a month living with beer swilling painters and our clothes scattered in boxes all through the house until the bedroom is completed. There is a pole lamp at the office that stood next to the fireplace on Fulton Avenue. Himself has cited the lamp, as well as a couple of other items from Fulton Avenue, as being particularly ugly. As with other décor related issues, he is ignored. I think it will be great in the bedroom. Himself is working the day the painters finish. I manage to put everything back into place before he returns home. The pole lamp from Fulton Avenue is installed. The room is just the way I wanted it. The lamp casts rich light on salmon colored walls. Himself gasps at the reveal and says that it is beautiful.
With Spuds at Coachella we face a childless weekend. The first of many. I have a good book and a lovely room, illuminated by the same lamp I read by as a child. Unlike my divorced mother, I have Himself who tolerates kitschy 60s furniture and will prevent the nest from ever being completely empty. Faced now with the prospect of my own kids spending less and less time with me I finally get how much my mother loved me. I regret that I was unable to partake of it when it was proffered. Yet I know for my own children it is best that they feel my love, but at their age, be spared the complications of it. Maybe decades from now some object they pilfer from Casamurphy will help them get a sense of what it's like facilitating departures that cause your heart to break.