We knew they were coming. Jordan’s college dean had given us almost to the hour the time when FedEx would deliver the boxes that held all of Jordan’s belongings. His dean has told us that at some point between 10am and 12pm the boxes would arrive. The clothing, books, school supplies, all the things a 19-year-old needs to live away from home, were winding their way back to us separate from him. To ease the arrival of the boxes, the dean had told us how the Amherst staff that packed the boxes had labeled them. We had already made special arrangements to donate certain items. His refrigerator, rug, lamp, etc. would go to the A Better Chance (ABC) program. Jordan volunteered there his freshman year, mentoring and tutoring high school boys and had planned to do the same his sophomore year. We knew Jordan would want ABC to have things that would benefit the boys in that program.
Out of denial, bravado or plain shock, Mark and I decided we needed to be alone when the boxes came. We had gone back and forth as to whether we should have someone with us when the boxes were delivered. We knew it was going to rip our hearts out to stand and watch as the possessions of our 19-year-old son came home without him. Mark insisted that placing these boxes in our basement was something he needed to do. He cleared a space in the basement to make room for the boxes and then we waited. We had helped Jordan buy, pack and unpack all of his college things for the last two years. In our grieving parental logic it made sense to us that we should bear the responsibility and the honor of putting them away.
Mark had taken Jordan back to school for his sophomore year. It had been just the two of them. The first time they had extended time together in such a long while without Jordan having the distractions of competing for his father’s attention from siblings or another parent. Once they got to Amherst, Mark took Jordan to Target to buy toiletries, school supplies, snacks for his refrigerator and anything else they could think of, or whatever I called to remind them to get.
The two of them also had time to just be together, hanging out as father and son. Mark let Jordan choose where they ate every night and came home gulping down Tums after all the junk food he forced down. They went to the movies together and as Mark said, “Talked for the first time man to man about anything and everything without reservation or embarrassment.” Mark glimpsed the adult friendship he would have with his son.
Mark was there with Jordan as he got to his new single room and unpacked the boxes that had been in storage. Jordan unpacked, Mark forever the photographer catalogued every moment, much to Jordan’s annoyance. When most of the boxes were unpacked they took a break and had lunch together before Mark made his way to the airport and back home. They hugged goodbye knowing Jordan would be home for Thanksgiving. We would all see him then.
At the beginning of October as Jordan’s sisters missed their brother more and more, I suggested they write him letters to help tide them over until they saw him in November. One sister wrote about how she couldn’t wait until Thanksgiving because she missed him so much and added a drawing of our family, complete with sunshine, flowers and a rainbow. Jordan’s other sister wrote him a song entitled, “Miss You”, called him and sang it to him before we mailed the letters. We all eagerly awaited Thanksgiving when our whole family would be together again. Thanksgiving held out a promise that would not be fulfilled. October 12th, 2008 forever changed our trust in events happening as we assume they will. Jordan wouldn’t be coming home for Thanksgiving. We wouldn’t sit at a table as family of 6 again.
Even though Mark and I decided that only the two of us would be home when the boxes came, I decided I couldn’t watch them being unloaded and stored. I didn’t want to see them. They represented remnants of a life, my child’s life that shouldn’t be packed away but should still be flourishing. I told Mark, I wasn’t ready to see the boxes and would busy myself in another part of the house until they were stacked in the basement. Fate had other plans. The doorbell rang with that double/triple ring of deliverymen as I was downstairs and Mark was finishing a call. I was willing to wait for Mark to open the door until I heard the thud of the first box on the front porch. I had to tell the FedEx deliveryman that we needed the boxes unloaded around back at our basement entrance not on our front porch. He looked at me with annoyance and I had to let him know this wasn’t an ordinary delivery and we needed gentleness. I explained, “Our son was killed in a car accident while he was away at school. These are all of his possessions. I know it’s extra work for you to take them around back, but if you wouldn’t mind we’d appreciate it. My husband is waiting for you back there.” Tears caught in my throat and compassion covered his face. He apologized, told me he was sorry for my loss and quickly started taking the boxes to the basement entrance. I looked out the kitchen window to make sure Mark was back there and I saw one of the boxes. There it was, labeled, “Jordan Moore-Fields ’11” on the first line and “Shoes” on the second line. Class of 2011 was how he was still known at Amherst, even though that dream was gone. The box marked shoes contained the shoes Jordan and I had bought at the beginning of the summer before he set off for DC for his internship. Once again glimpses of the man he would be as he chose styles appropriate for the workplace and extended his fashion beyond sneakers. That memory flooded back by reading the word shoes on a box. I never made it upstairs. I sat at our kitchen table and wept as I heard box after box being loaded into the basement. Finally tears turned to screams as I called out Jordan’s name and just kept saying, “No!” Soon Mark was beside me and we wept together for all we had lost and the irony that these boxes labeled with Jordan’s name could never contain all that he had or was. The deliveryman finally called out to us and told us everything was unloaded. He left a note on the receipt again expressing his condolences.
My younger son came home the day the boxes arrived asking if he could go through them. I kept saying, “No your dad and I aren’t ready to go through them yet. Give us a little time.” He would let a day or so pass and then ask again. It took me days before I could look in the direction of the basement where the boxes were stored. I finally asked my son, “Is there something specific that you’re looking for?” All he said was, “I want his clothes. I want to wear them.” I realized that we were all grieving Jordan’s loss differently. What I wasn’t ready to face, my son need to have close to him as a symbol of comfort from his brother. The next day I went downstairs and opened one of the boxes marked clothes knowing that giving Merrick a few items until we went through all of the boxes was necessary. I found what I was looking for and took them up to his room and placed them on his bed. When he came home from school I told him as he ambled up the stairs, “I put a couple of Jordan’s shirts on your bed.” He looked at me and asked, “Is it the Malcolm X t-shirt?” I said, “Yes, and the Run DMC.” He gave me a grateful, relieved look and said, “Thanks mom.”
The weekend after I gave my son the t-shirts, Mark decided he would unpack some of the boxes. He wanted to make sure Jordan’s laptop, mpc and other electronic equipment were in working order. These items held the links to Jordan’s thoughts and creativity. Mark unpacked these things and then decided to keep going and open the box marked desk items. He was stopped short as he opened the desk items box and there on top laid the letters from Jordan’s sisters. The letters that talked about seeing him for Thanksgiving had been sitting on Jordan’s desk. Mark came upstairs weeping, needing to be held as we both sat, grateful that we’d raised a son who was not ashamed to display the letters of his younger sisters for all his friends to see. Jordan loved his family, it is a truth that will always bring us comfort.
Weeks passed and one day I decided it was time to demystify the box corner and go through my son’s things. I went through box after box. Making piles of things I knew Merrick would want, books that we would keep because we knew they were special to Jordan, and a box of toiletries and cleaning supplies that brought me to tears. That box beyond all others showed just how little time Jordan got to be a sophomore in college. Most of the items were still unopened. An entire box filled with unopened bottles of lotion, deodorant, laundry detergent, tissues, soap, etc. We didn’t want him to run out of anything. He never got to use them.
Then I came to the box that made me laugh and talk out loud to my son. I opened a box labeled clothes that contained his dirty laundry. That box brought back the running discussion Jordan and I had on a weekly basis, and all the wonderful talks we had. Jordan would typically call me during the day a few times a week as he walked back to his room after class. He would call me with his trademark deep-voiced, “what’s up”, telling me about his classes, his assignments and how nasty the lunch selections were in the cafeteria. I would listen and laugh then ask my trademark question of when he last did laundry. He always evaded the question or spoke of the amazing powers of Febreze. Now, here I sat in our basement with a box of his dirty laundry. I said out loud, “Boy I told you to do this before you went away for the weekend. I knew you weren’t going to finish it even when you said you would.”
I dragged the box into our laundry room, and started sorting it so I could wash his clothes. Mark called while I was starting this task to check in and see how I was doing. I told him I was going through Jordan’s boxes and was washing his clothes. He immediately became alarmed begging me to wait until he got home. I told him I was okay and I needed to go through the boxes, for me it was time. He still worried about me doing the laundry wanting to spare me any undue pain. He suggested that we get someone to do the laundry because it seemed like it would be too much for me. I took a breath and told Mark, “I have to do this. Don’t you realize this is the last time I’ll ever be able to do his laundry, to do something maternal like this for him? I can’t cook for him, or send him care packages or shop for him anymore. Doing these loads of laundry is the last thing I can do for Jordan.” I knew I would probably cry as I folded every piece, but I couldn’t imagine anyone else doing this job. It was my last maternal act of caring for my son.