There's a handful of days in my life that I'll always remember the date of. July 4, 1993 was one of them.
An old friend and college roommate, Garrett, was visiting for the weekend. I'd been having a crazy year-- working two full time jobs, and carrying on a couple of relationships. I was looking forward to the summer-- that would mean a break from one of the jobs-- the teaching job-- and a break from both of the relationships I'd been carrying on. My life had become impossibly complicated because of it all, and I needed to back up and figure it all out. A weekend with an old friend was just what the doctor ordered.
My friend and I had been out hitting our favorite watering holes-- he'd roomed with me for a couple of months when he'd gotten out of the military a couple of years before, and wanted to go to the places we'd hung out in back then.
I got a call the morning of July 4th-- I was hung over, had my friend and a couple of other people sleeping at my apartment. It was one of the women I'd been seeing. She was, she told me pregnant.
I felt like a building was collapsing around me.
Over the next nine months, I struggled to keep it together. I felt completely unprepared to be a parent. I kept thinking of an old Firefall song, "Cinderella."
Cinderella by Firefall
"Last December I met a girl
She took a likin' to me
Said she loved me
But she didn't know the meanin' of the word
She imagined love to be grand
Me holdin' her hand and
Whisperin' sweet things and
Cooin' softly like a song bird
Then one mornin' she came to me
With a tear in her eye
And a sigh on her breath
And Lord, she said,
"Hon, I'm heavy with child"
And I said, "God damn girl, can't you see
That I'm breakin' my back
Just tryin' to keep my head above water
And it's turnin' me wild"
Cinderella can't you see
Don't want your company
You better leave this mornin', leave today
Take your love and your child away
Rockin' chair on the front porch
Well, I'm thinkin' about all the things that I did
As a young man
Now that I'm old
And I remember her and the boy
Did he have all the toys and the joys
That a young man should have
Before he gets too old
Cinderella couldn't you see
I didn't want your company
You shoulda left that mornin' left that day
Took your love and your child away"
One night, I was drinking with a couple of friends and discovered they had a copy of the album this song was on. I played it several times, drunk, letting the song sink in. I puzzled over the meaning of the song. Did he stay, giving up his youth to make sure his son had all the "toys and the joys that a young man should have before he gets old?" Or was he sitting on the porch in a rocking chair, full of regret, wondering what happened to the woman and the boy?
In the end, I stuck around. She and I made a go at it, but eventually ended. But the boy stayed. I took an ass-whipping dealing with his mother but I have no regrets. I don't have to wonder. He had baseball and Yu-Gi-Oh and Spongebob Squarepants and Star Wars and music and nights out for Chinese food and friends and the things a young boy should have. He's had laughter and love around him-- at least in my home.
He turned 18 earlier this month. He got into the college he wanted to go to. He got a scholarship and some loans and my plan, to get a nursing degree and a nursing job, worked; thanks to that, I'll be able to come up most of the rest.
His imminent departure brings out conflicted feelings. I did my job. I did my part in raising a smart, happy, confident adult. But my heart is breaking knowing I'll only see him a few times a year.
I keep coming back to a moment right after he was born when my father, who was full of regrets about his own children, told me: right now you're looking at the next 18 years as a long, long time. But you'll discover someday that it will turn out to be a short, short time. You get them such a short time in their lives and then they're gone. They come and visit, and you have a relationship with them and talk to them on the phone, but this time, this next 18 years, enjoy it. Remember that money comes and goes, but you can never get back time missed with them.
I'm sure glad I listened to my father.