Today is the first full day of school for my kids. My daughters are excited middle-schoolers, and my son Merrick is a senior in high school. As is our tradition Mark videotaped each of our children individually, asking them what they expected this school year to bring. He then took pictures of them as they headed out the door.
The typical back to school shopping has also of course occurred. We have notebooks in every color, new backpacks and new shoes. Mark took the girls to buy their school supplies guided by the long list provided by the school. Merrick and I went yesterday to get the things he needed. He resisted getting things for school earlier and now we were doing last-minute shopping. Merrick has not exhibited the excitement I hoped being a senior would bring for him. His level of enthusiasm is tamped down by his longing for his brother to share the “senior moments.”
As we drove to the office supply store Merrick spoke often of Jordan. He remembered stories I had forgotten about their exploits from the days that they walked to school together as elementary school children. Merrick then voiced the anxiety that has weighed on his mind since his first day of Kindergarten. In elementary school the question was, “Will my teachers be nice.” Now as he sat beside me in the car he said, “I just don’t want any bad teachers.” Before I could respond he asked me, “Did Jordan have any bad teachers in high school?” I told him there were teachers that weren’t the best fit for Jordan. Jordan could be less than respectful of condescending teachers who didn’t challenge him. He would question why they had to do certain assignments. I relayed to Merrick that there were a couple of times that I met with Jordan’s teachers to insure that their was an optimal learning environment. I also told Jordan that questioning authority was fine, but we expected him to be respectful of his teachers.
Merrick continued to pepper me with questions about Jordan’s experiences his senior year. I answered them as best I could. As we drove, the space between us held the longing and the need to have Jordan sitting with us. Merrick needs his brother so much right now. They were supposed to be seniors together, one in high school and one in college. They used to talk about this day teasing each other about whose school started first (“sucker!”) but then the comeback was always, “Yeah, but I’ll be home sleeping while you’re still in school.”
Every question Merrick asked me, I knew he wanted to ask his brother. The excitement and enthusiasm which we all expected senior year to hold for Merrick has been changed to a time of reflection and solitude. As we were about to get out of the car, I looked at Merrick and told him, “You have worried and wondered about your teachers since you started school. You’ve learned how to deal with all kind of teachers. Think back on all you’ve dealt with and adjusted to. You are amazing. Your dad and I are here for you.” Merrick in his typical style looked at me and quietly said, “Thanks Mom.”
We made our way through the store, splitting up at points as Merrick gathered school supplies he needed and I retrieved extra items for his sisters. I tried so hard not to cry. I have always been sentimental and this occasion was no less so. Every aisle was a reminder of how much I had looked forward to this pivotal year. My daughters entering middle school and my boys being seniors. I chastised myself as I walked through the aisles. “Stop being so emotional. You’re in Office Max, get a grip!” I tried not to think too much about what this year was supposed to bring. Every aisle I walked down put me closer not further away from my heartache and what I want. I want Jordan to be a senior in college. Most of his friends are already off to school. They are excited and stunned that they’re in their senior year of college. “Where did the time go?”
I composed myself, willing back any tears that threatened to fall when I rounded a corner and saw Merrick coming towards me. We finished our shopping and then were off to buy sneakers. Several times on our way to the car, I almost said to Merrick, “Can buying shoes wait?” I was so tired and so emotional. I finally decided to keep going. I didn’t know if breaking the errands up into smaller parts would make it easier. We’d put off this shopping trip long enough. Merrick needed shoes more than he needed school supplies so I found a reserve of strength and we went to Foot Locker.
Merrick has never been an enthusiastic shopper. I typically buy his “uniform” of jeans, t-shirts and hoodies with no complaint from him. Shoes are the only things he has to be present for me to buy. As we entered the shoe store I did my best not to look too long at the polo shirts that hung on racks in the middle of the store. Polo shirts and jeans were Jordan’s uniform; so much so that his friend Billy asked me if it was okay to wear a polo shirt to Jordan’s memorial service because that’s how he wanted to honor him.
As I stood trying to stay focused on Merrick’s shoes, telling him to select a couple of pairs to try on, he reached for the ones he said he wanted. He picked up black “Air Force One’s.” I nodded my head, knowing who he was thinking about and said, “Whatever you want to try is fine.” The salesman returned with the box and Merrick tried on the shoes. Merrick stood up and said, “I see why Jordan liked these. They are really comfortable.” Merrick continued talking about memories of his brother but I had to stop listening even though I continued to nod my head and say, “uh huh.” My thoughts rebounded to the place they go when my heart grows too heavy,
“How can Jordan be gone when we need him so much?”
“ I want him to be a phone call away.”
“ I want him advising his brother about applying to colleges and getting the most out of his last year of high school. “ I want, I want, I want.
I paid for Merrick’s shoes and we made our way to the car. I sat, put my seatbelt and sunglasses on and started to put the key in the ignition. Then I stopped and said to Merrick in a trembling voice, “seeing all those polo shirts made me sad. I miss Jordan.” Merrick quietly responded, “I know, me too.” I couldn’t hold my sorrow in any longer. I sat, sighed a few times and then quietly wept as Merrick sat beside me staring out the window. I wept for all we’ve lost and for all we’re trying so hard to do. After a few moments, I took a breath, wiped my eyes underneath my sunglasses and started the car. I told Merrick we had one more stop, to get a few groceries and then we’d go home. We rode silently. When we pulled into the parking lot I touched his arm and said, “You okay?”
“Yeah, I’m okay.”
We got out of the car and made our way inside, looking to all the world like a mother and son having a typical day.