As the long daydream of Summer wraps up, Ron Mattocks says goodbye to his sons.
Summer’s over. Yes, the temperature outside is 100+ degrees; the kids are not yet back in school; and the leaves, unless they’re wilted, are nowhere near to changing color. The end of summer is a matter of perspective. For me, the conclusion comes as I watch my sons drive away with their mother, the first leg in their 1,300-mile trip north to a home so foreign to me, it’s almost mythical. There’s a preciseness in this moment similar to the instant when the earth’s axis tilts marking the change from Summer Solstice to Fall Equinox. Just as the earth is now off kilter, so too is my world.
I walk into the backyard and cry for 20 solid minutes beneath the tent I built for them a few weeks back. I am not a crier. I am a man. I restrain my tears in order to reassure others, to hide my fears, to protect my venerability. Except for now. The salty, wetness seeps through the cracks between my fingers and fall onto the mat of crinkled dead oak leaves below. Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap. They are rapid at first, the overflow that comes from the rush of memories that flood my mind—games of laser tag, a Star Wars museum exhibit, the shared thrill from Captain America.
Eventually, though, the flow tapers off. Tap. Tap. Tap. And then it is contained, telling me it’s safe to wipe away the streams of anguish from my face. I try not to think about when will be the next time I see my sons again. Thanksgiving? It’s barely a long weekend. Christmas? No, It’s their mother’s turn this year. Spring Break then? That’s six months away and too far to know for sure. My eyes water up, but I close them, damming any further spilling of emotion.
I step into the house. It is silent–so much so, that the cold whispering of air being exhaled by the A/C vents sounds strange to me. There is no one here. My wife instinctively knows I need to be alone, isolated like the astronauts after their return from the moon. Because of this, she takes her girls shopping.
The thought of my stepdaughters induces, as it always does immediately after the boys leave, a short-term bitterness over the injustice of my wife getting to be with her children while I remain separated from mine. It’s bullshit—absolute bullshit that things have to be this way!
I start to rehash all the avenues that would allow me to move closer to my boys, all the plans that fell apart in the past, all the previous dead ends. How else can I make this happen? Resolve fills my veins, but, pulling a beer from the refrigerator, my focus is distracted at the realization we need groceries. I jerk the cap from the bottle and fling it across the kitchen, unconcerned with wear it lands.
I am disgusted with myself over the slew of failures and poor decisions I’ve left in my wake. In the time it takes me to swallow a mouthful of bitter tasting liquid from the bottle in my hand, I go from determined to defeated, passing through desperation somewhere in between. Why does have to be like this? The longer this goes on, the more my boys need me. Don’t you see this God? I mean, what the hell! It’s never going to happen, is it? …We’ll always be apart, won’t we?
I drop helpless onto the couch. Summer’s over. Tomorrow I’ll get groceries. Monday I’ll start on a project with a new client. A few days later, I’ll discover that the minivan’s AC will die. There will be bills. Soon school will start, and not only will I just be packing the girls’ lunches, this year I’ll now be coordinate dropping them off and picking them up each day since the district canceled their bus route. There will be more bills, more trips to the grocery store, more circumstances beyond my control. Fall has come.