During her farewell lunch we indulge our first-born by pretending we’re an intact family. The father joins his three children and their mother- me. I’m closest to the register and decide I can buy a sandwich for the guy who made this incredible creature with me. He’s surprised when the lady thumbs toward me saying, ‘Don’t worry she covered it”.
I choke down my food thinking how like childbirth this afternoon is. Wisely, I’m mostly silent, making a positive last impression by keeping it minimal. When I labored with each child the pain was cruel, but taking the dear little beast home to raise after such trauma was always the real work.
Now I labor with untested muscles of my soul and I’ll leave this trial with empty arms. How unfair now that I truly like her as much as I love her. Lunch ends. Her siblings tear up, despite their teasing good-byes, and promise to come for family weekend. Then we’re off.
Little-girl-of-the-too-big-spirit is finally grown. Her possessions fill our two SUVs. I follow the father driving her in the lead vehicle. I listen to “Diamonds and Rust” by Baez recalling how I’d thought of naming her Baez, or Joan at least, before settling on Katherine, which means pure. The tune is a farewell song to Baez’s husband who she’s never been able to hate.
As I follow them in isolation, I privately say things to her father, things he doesn’t have to hear. When we stop for dinner I’m talked out. We order, eat and then he smiles saying, “I’ve got this” when the check comes. So we dance through the weekend expending generosities of spirit. I’m still in labor, but now there’s Demerol.
Our final days trickle away, the schedule indicates it’s “parent departure” time. She walks us to my car. A light rain is falling ending Roanoke’s drought. Fitting. Water falls from the sky and wells up in our eyes. She turns to us, this scamp, who never looked back once when she forsook us at pre-school doors, middle school doors, any door that opened, and softly demands to know why we’re leaving her here (at the university she chose- 700 miles from home).
“Because you’re ready and you can do this”.
She hugs us whole-heartedly. Our bittersweet heartbreaks mingle. I’m grateful we’re only relinquishing her to her future. We’ll still have visitation rights.
When we’re alone I ask what only he can verify. “Was she really hard to raise?”
“Yes,” he says with a gentle emphasis indicating it’s an understatement.
We caravan the hundreds of miles home, sharing a few meals along the way, and a deepened regard for the gift we gave each other.