How We Met - Part 2, Travel and Loss

So the big “time to go to college” day arrived.  I could describe all of the feelings I was having about leaving home and going to a place where I would know nobody, but I’ll let my Dad do it.  This is an excerpt of a “Pilgrimage” issue that Dad put out just after he took me to school:

The Final Fledgling

The Final Fledgling

Sister, Me, Brother, Dad

Clay and I had been counting the days till January 12, the morning of which his college would open its dorms for the spring semester.  His decision to study architecture had resulted in a postponing study for a semester til they had studio room for him.  But that was good, it meant we had another four months together.

Now I’m no stranger to significant family moments.  I see them coming, nervously but honorably (I trust) confront them, attempt to “memorialize” them with a family discussion and prayer, and store them on a wall of honor in my gallery of memories.  Graduations and departures rank right at the top.  So I knew our early morning two-car exodus would be an emotionally arresting one.  But I’ve always been the one to call the children’s attention to those items.

Not this one.  After we had packed the cars, but before I “declared the moment,” Clay said, “Just a minute.  I want to take one last look.”  Now this is not the house where Clay grew up.  It is not the “homestead” of his childhood memories.  It is a still-new apartment.  But that didn’t seem to matter.  Clay knew that he was not just temporarily leaving home.  He was aware that he was leaving a temporary home.  And there’s a permanence about that.  It showed.  Mostly in his eyes that were now welling up with tears and reflecting the early winter day as he slowly closed the front door.  It also showed in his voice.  “I’m ready,” he said.  Not all of the recent joking, planning, celebrating, and day-counting pleasures could have prevented that moment.  He saw it coming, confronted it honorably, and was now ready to store it.

During the four-and-one-half hour caravan drive to college I recognized that the unfolding drama was not just “Flight of the Fledgling – Part III.”  That, I had seen coming and had been ready for.  But this was something much larger.  If you’d asked me that day before if I was ready for this.  I would have given you a confident “maybe” even a smug “yes.”  The hurt I was feeling was not the kind that could have been prevented.  Parenting is not measurable on any scale.  No amount of preparation can be enough.  My mind had failed to warn me what my heart was programmed to do.  What I was feeling was a textbook application of the single-parent version of the empty nest syndrome.

We were to report to one of the all-male, all-budget dorms on the north side of the campus.  I regretted that his mid-year entry may make him feel “different” somehow.  I wanted everything to be super special for him.  I wanted him to be a cool dude.  I know I looked and sounded like the dippy parent I had usually succeeded in avoiding before now.  About the same time the elevator reached Clay’s floor I was promising myself that I would stop being so silly about this.

Two more trips to the cars to unload boxes and bags into his room, an investigative tour of the dorm’s cafeteria, postal, recreational, and laundry areas, and an off-campus meal later, I began to feel like unneeded baggage that should be put in the trunk and driven home.  Every parent knows what I mean.  At some point in a child’s life, the parent makes a mysterious transition from proud companion to embarrassing acquaintance.  As normal as that is, it’s always a difficult and delicate challenge to know when to leave and when to stick around.  My instincts told me that parents and dorms wear thin in a hurry.

When I threw out a couple of “out” suggestions, Clay didn’t seem to respond to them.  Finally, I said “I guess it’s time for me to go, huh?”  For a second time that day he surprised me.

“Don’t go, Dad.”

And, in one of those rare occasions in life when silence is not awkward even as two pairs of eyes meet, I waited for what we both knew was going to be another utterance from Clay.  He struggled a bit, then swallowed.

“You’re all I have left of home.”

I had spent all day recovering.  Now all I could do is look at the floor.  I had no comforting words for him.  So I settled with silence.  And a hug.  “I’ll miss you,” I said.  He nodded his head in agreement.

I didn’t leave Lawrence till the next morning.  I count that twenty-four hours as one last superdaddy day.

The Kansas state highway signs are numbers displayed against a large yellow sunburst, representative of a sunflower, the state flower.  I knew which way to turn driving away from campus.  The highway sign would confirm that I was on my way.  But by the time I came to it, it was just a large yellow blur.  It looked like one of those helium-filled balloons.  With a smiley face on it.

Dad went back home to pack up the apartment, move all of our stuff into storage and start his biking/writing journey.  I turned, with reluctance and excitement, toward a new future.  And it was in this tempest of emotion that I started the spring semester of that year.

My classes started the next week and I prepared in the usual way.  I got to my first class, Drawing I, just as the instructor began to tell us what equipment and supplies we needed.  Five minutes later, a beautiful girl walked in and changed my life.

[to be continued]

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42 comments to How We Met – Part 2: Travel and Loss

  • Tiffany

    Wait…are you done typing? That’s it for now? I have to wait? *sigh* Ok, I’ll wait, but not for long. Thanks for the story.

  • Dee from L.A.

    Tissues were clearly not enough… had to use my arm, my t-shirt, then to tissues. It was a lovely Part 2..

  • Erin from Iowa

    Well. You know right where to put that cliff hanger don’t cha?

  • great story- you made me all weepy, too. with 2 ready to go off to college next month i can relate to how your dad felt. and glad to finally get to the april of clay and april! don’t make us wait too long until the next installment!

  • Whew! What a way to start a day, crying. I know how his dad felt. Brought back so many memories of when my daughter left for college. My husband and I had to stop 3 times on the way home because we couldn’t stop crying. Stupid thing was, she came home every weekend.
    Love this story Clay.

  • Stephanie

    Clay–I see where you get your talent from…your dad is a great writer…I am enjoying your story very much…eagerly awaiting the next installment…

  • So touching…can’t wait for part 3 and more…April you could have stressed a little harder on the ” tissue ” part…hello…sitting in my ofice at work mascara all over….geez…

  • Theresa in Alberta


  • Oh my! Tissues, anyone? One of the greatest days of my life was the day we took our oldest daughter to college. We “got” to take a child to college…not everyone gets to. It was also one of the worst days of my life–we missed her so much.

    What gifted writers you all are…thanks for sharing.

  • No mater how prepared we think we are its never seems to be enough…the first 2 held on when we left happy & scared, the third wanted things unloaded at the curb so we could leave with out being seen! (gotta love it) 4th stayed home to a local collage…They all come home, guess that is what matters!

  • Okay, you owe me a new keyboard. Mine is all wet from tears!
    Your father is so eloquent and probably very unusual for a man during those days. How amazing to share such a wonderful relationship with him. You, Clay, are one lucky duck.

  • I was warned. I shoulda listened. Jo leaves for K-State next month. I’ve been having fun helping her get ready. We’ll miss her, but she won’t be far, and I’m excited for her. This won’t be the same as saying goodbye to Caleb at the recruiting station. At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself. Maybe I’m wrong. I guess we’ll see.

    How neat that you have something your dad wrote to remember the occasion from his perspective!

  • Jennifer

    Unlike a lot of students who can’t wait to get out of the house, I had a lot of trouble leaving home. Going away for college one of the best things I ever did, but it was extremely difficult for me at the start. Great post–brought back memories and emotions.

  • Cathie

    I am really enjoying the male input of this journal. Cannot wait for the next

  • Clay, you are suppose to be good for a laugh not tears! Looking forward to more…laughs not tears!

  • If the beautiful girl is not April, I will stop reading. You just can’t play with my heart like this. Also, your Dad? I love him.

  • I can’t believe you left off THERE!


  • susan

    O..M..G! Can’t believe you are leaving us in such limbo and torture.

  • Sue

    I love your dad, Clay…

  • Grace

    “Five minutes later, a beautiful girl walked in and changed my life.” My husband tells the story of his first glimpse of me in a very similar way. How very sweet!

  • Lauri Bernet

    Wow-I read this because I was sure I could resist the urge to get choked up….thanks a lot-for the runny mascara-what a great story from your dad.

  • bridget

    Don’t have to answers this if you don’t want to. But I have a big, fat nose instead of a brain, so that is my excuse for being nosy. But what happened to your mom? Love, love the storytelling, it is so entertaining- thank you for sharing and the

  • Helen

    Eating pizza and reading this, crying and trying not to choke……..not good.

    Clay, I hope and pray you realize the gem your Dad is. He definitely can write. And it appears you have that writing bug hidden in yourself. So happy that you are letting it out now!

    You are blessed, dear Clay. And so is April. Keep it up. I will return for more installments!

  • sweet.. thanks for sharing! can’t wait for the next installment.

  • Awww…I can’t wait to read the rest!

  • JenniferB

    Wow — that was very moving. And scary — I have an 8th grader and I don’t really like to think about the fact that the years are moving too quickly, but well done. I’m looking forward to reading the next chapter.

  • Elizabeth

    I am getting ready to take my oldest son to college in a few weeks. You made me cry…

  • marewood

    Wha? Don’t stop now!?

  • I’m enjoying the story. Even though I’m 13 years away from taking my daughter to college, I think about it a lot. I’m interested in reading how others cope with this transition.

  • Teresa

    How very sweet.

  • Oh my Lord, why did you stop!!! Get busy and tell us more!

  • Yaya2three

    Much more romantic “first sight” than my husband’s of me. I had recently moved to this smallish town, didn’t know much of anyone. Went into the packed gym during a playoff game with downstate rival. Everyone was watching the ball back and forth and then a jump ball in the center of the gym. The ball got tapped up, up, up–everyone still mesmerized. Then down, down, down! Right on top of the head of the geeky new girl with the thick white glasses! Couldn’t get out of there fast enough–I was mortified!!!! We’ve been married for 41 years now but NOT because of that wonderful vision!

  • I can barely see through my tears after reading this…and so I start clicking around the blog blindly, lose where I was at, click on Clay’s Life to find my way back and am confronted with that picture of you on the Clay’s Life front page!! Oh my gosh…so now I’m crying and laughing hysterically at the same time! I swear…you and your wife are SO FUNNY. I really enjoy both blogs…and all of the stories…but especially your humor and silliness. Can’t wait for the next installment… ps..your dad is a good writer, too…it must run in the family!

  • Jenny

    So now I can’t sleep because I’ve got to think of a way to tie them down so they can’t grow up….
    I asked my parents not to leave yet, too. They stayed in the Super8 : )

  • Jennie

    Gol-lee! First, is there anything more heartwarming and tear-jerking than a Dad loving his kids?? and second, I’m bawling my eyes out b/c I’m not ready to send my firstborn to Kindergarten – what will I do when it is time for college??? What a beautiful story. You are lucky to have a dad so eloquent – what a treasure.

  • What a cool dad! Yes, you must continue…and quick. This is a gal who’ll stay up until 3 in the morning to finish reading a book!

  • Gina

    Gosh, I wish I could write my feelings down like that. Was nice reading it from your Dad’s perspective. I felt like that when my daughter graduated High School, but was so excited for her when we took her up to KU for college. Great times for her and us.
    Can’t wait to

  • Deanna

    You made me cry!

  • Lori Anne

    Your Dad is awesome.

  • Rachael

    Is every one of these going to make me cry? I am not sure I can keep reading. What a beautiful story so far!

  • I remember those Kansas highway signs. I grew up in Manhattan. It tore my heart out the first time I realized that my new destination, Oklahoma and Oral Roberts Univeristy, did not have those bright yellow sunflower signs along their highways. I cried for an entire semester, I think.

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