Author Note at the bottom.
Packing for Goodbye
I packed my son’s things up tonight.
All his favourite clothes into a sports bag he’d never even used – still with its’ tags on.
No point keeping the clothes crispy starch in a hard body suitcase now.
The canvas bag would do.
I wondered- if he’d been here to do it would he have done things differently with the Xbox 360 games- I’ve lost track of being ‘in’ or ‘out’? I packed the console and controllers into an old Sainsbury’s carrier bag. I sorted the games into three piles- newer ones, the ones no longer played and suitable for his little cousins, and the really old games not fit for charity shops. I’m not an old dad – we played together often enough- particularly the football games… although if I were honest with myself not so much in recent months. I just put random newer games in a bag and packed it with the other stuff- some of the books he’d liked and some he’d never read and now never would; Christmas presents still in their cellophane wrappers.
If he was here he could probably have advised me better.
I thought of the last time I’d seen him, heading out to town with his friends.
So young, and confident a week after his 18th birthday party.
Five want-to-be men and two girl-women. All of them physically adult enough to have fun and get into trouble. They’d left our house for a fun night out, fueled by alcohol they’d drank in our house, where we’d thought we could at least monitor a reasonable start to the evening, but remembering our own teenage years enough to know a hopeless cause when we saw one.
I went up to his room, which had once been a Star ship decorated with control panels and a viewing bridge looking out onto an alien environment. Two years ago we had redecorated to reflect his growing maturity: a double bed, a doubled hinged wardrobe to house the designer clothes (and stashed in the back the Halloween Batman/ Breaking Bad/ Evil Clown costumes, retained ‘just in case’). The room then, as now had been minimally painted, and three prints on the wall – one an artistic/ comedic Nietzsche quote (you’ve probably seen the one: “God is dead – Nietzsche, 1883 Nietzsche is dead – God 1900) , one classy print detailing the rules of Fight Club and the third a reprint of the original American Psycho book cover.
My wife came in as I was looking over the debris of his room.
I felt her hovering in the doorway, wondered whether she was going to say something, heard her sigh, and walk away.
I just carried on gathering up the pieces lying everywhere. I gathered up the hair sprays, gels and waxes. It seemed only moments ago we’d been unable to get him to go anywhere near a haircut. In the last months it had been impossible to get into the bathroom for his perfecting the quiff.
I threw them, with an increasing anger bubbling up inside of me, into another bin bag, along with the deodorants, the balms and the aftershaves. I tried to remember the point where his aftershaves had got more expensive than mine; as grandparents who wanted to buy him something rather than just give money struggled to know what a fifteen, sixteen, seventeen year old might be interested in as Christmas or Birthday present.
There were the things I threw into the bags, and the things I tidied, squared off and left.
It looked like a shrine.
My wife watched me arranging things from the doorway. “You shouldn’t do this.”
I shrugged, “It needs to be done. If I don’t do it, who will?”
She sighed heavily, “I know…but it doesn’t feel right.”
I turned to her, from my kneeling position, “I know. I shouldn’t be doing this. But…”
The phone rang.
I smiled at my wife, squeezing her hand, as I walked past her. “Saved by the bell?”
She didn’t smile back.
There was a pause, and then a slightly tremulous female voice, “Hi, it’s me.”
My son’s mother.
The conversation I really didn’t want to have right now.
“You okay to talk?” she asked.
I shrugged, (pointlessly; given it was a phone call, but feeling slightly better for it), “I’m busy packing all his stuff together…”
I heard a muffled cry on the other end.
“There’s no need for that.” I said, just to break the silence.
“Will…will…you come here to the house tomorrow before hand, or…”
“No,” I interrupted, “I’ll go straight there. Meet you there.”
A snuffle. “OK.”, then a pause, “How’s Louise taking it?”
I looked up, at Louise standing in the doorway, arms crossed, frowning.
“She’s not happy.”
Understatement of the year.
I sighed, “Four o’clock in the morning they piled back in here. Then proceeded to play Rock band at full level, guitars, drums and microphone, oh, and one of them nicked her hairdryer from upstairs as a second microphone. Not good when she was getting dressed two hours later and couldn’t find it anywhere. Not the sort of thing you need before you’re presenting in front of the board.
Louise shook her head, mouthed something that looked like little tucker and walked out of the room.
“How’s little Lord Fuckwitt feeling now?” I asked
“Still asleep in his room. Still vomiting into a bucket every half an hour from what I can hear downstairs.”
“Good.” I said, with slight satisfaction.
“He threw up twice in Henry’s car on the way back here…I don’t know why you let them…”
I cut her off before she got any further, “Don’t even start to blame this on me. They decided their farewell bash would be over here. They got the trains over. They raided my drinks cabinet. And considering they were probably doing shot races, I am fairly pissed off they used my best whisky to do it…”
“I know…but you’re not the one who’s got to drive him up tomorrow…”
“No, I’ve just had to spend all day packing his shit together to load up and bring. I tell you- we didn’t have Xboxes, TVs, iPods when we went to college. A ghetto blaster and a few tapes…I’ve tried to put some books in there, but he’ll not even look at them. Oh, and a bunch of Christmas presents I found – still unopened.”
She ignored the ranting, “Yeah, I remember your tapes…they were pretty awful.”
I smiled, looking at the amount of shit lying around me, wondering how I was going to fit it into the car tomorrow morning.
“Is he feeling really bad?” I asked, and if there was a touch of malevolence in it, so be it.
“He’s managed to keep a bit of soup down. I think he’ll be vaguely human by tomorrow morning.”
“Well, that’s something. I’ll see you up there tomorrow. It should be about four and a half hours. Tell him I’ll buy him a pint when we get there.”
“You’re so funny.” She said, in a manner that reminded me why we’d divorced, “We need to pick his Student Union card, pass key and sign the forms before he can get into his room, so we’ll be looking to get there for 2 o’clock latest.”
“Well”, I said, “hopefully this binge will have knocked some sense into him and he’ll take his university life seriously and not just get pissed every night…”
I think we were probably both remembering our own college days a lifetime ago, laughing at the ridiculousness of the thought as we put the phone down.
Well, this one was written a few years back: pretty much three years ago. It may have the tiniest element of real life experience simmering somewhere in there…
It was written in a flurry and I’ve given it only the faintest of touch-ups this morning before posting it, but I remembered writing it as I dropped my son of for his final year at Uni this week: all mature and studiously conscientious now compared to those many years ago…ahem.
I don’t know if the piece works – if the implication up to the twist is too subtle/ too cliched/ or simply not clear. Whether the implied tragedy is sufficiently tempered with what I hope is a humorous turn. Looking at it I certainly don’t know where it would fit in a genre style – it strikes me it has more of a hint of a Women’s Own type of story…if they included stories with themes around apparent death/ drunken teens and terms like Fuckwitt…anyway, it amused me writing it and I think it might raise an eyebrow of recognition for one or two parents like myself of a certain age…