Roger Marolt: Tears of joy from the pain that hurts the best
I knew this day would come. I hoped it for you. I helped guide you toward it. We planned. We prayed. But, I never wished it would come sooner than it did. Now we are here. It’s a different kind of fall. My baby is off to college.
They’re tears of joy. I’m not just saying that. My voice is stuck in my throat. Look through my glassy eyes. It’s all pride and joy. I swear.
All summer, I confidently told myself I could do it, hold things together at this moment. My resolve fell apart on the drive, somewhere between Green River and Victorville, when Memory Lane merged with the Interstate we were driving. When the time came to say goodbye, emotions came like a wave.
It’s my third time doing this, so you might think I would be used to it. I’m grateful that I’m not. It has everything to do with memories wrapping me up like one of your hugs. You’re young, you don’t have enough of them yet. When you get to be my age, you’ll understand.
After a while your mind accumulates so many memories that it sort of has to flatten and compress them in order to keep them. It’s either that or lose them, so sucking the life out of them and packing them away flat is the better option.
Most days the brain shuffles through them as it looks for those necessary for day-to-day living; you know, like where the car keys are, how much work I have left to do on the Johnson file, whether or not I was supposed to pick up milk at the store or mom after her meeting.
Listen to me, I’m talking to you like it’s your first day of kindergarten. Sorry. Part of me will always see you that way.
Anyway, those old memories get shuffled out of the way, but there are times that upset the regular flow. They are like brine shrimp eggs under the desert sand that sit dormant for years. Then the rain comes and pools in the rocks. Just like that, the eggs hatch and shrimp come to life.
The same kind of thing happens with memories. Love is the mist that makes them live. It’s one of the most beautiful things. Suddenly the tears are flowing and they’re back, like they never went away, starting in the corners of your mind and working themselves right toward the center of your heart.
You recognize the details as they swell. As more come to life again, they fill you until you feel like you are going to burst. They squeeze even more tears from your eyes and keep the cycle going.
They grow and grow until they actually hurt, not like hitting your thumb with a hammer, but real pain, nonetheless; one that you sometimes wish to go away, and you push them back until it stops hurting and then you’re sorry and try and try to bring them back. If you can’t do it, then you feel the other, awful kind of pain. It all gets mixed up and complicated and I’m sorry I can’t explain it better.
It scares me that I know you will feel it a few times in your life, too maybe even after we leave you at school now. This makes me nervous for you because, when it happens to me, at first I am not sure I will be able to stand it. But, you will survive it, and this weird pain makes a great day like that memorable; so memorable, in fact, that it will grow into a sort of super moment that you will hold and cherish, and pray that it never fades away. Of course it will, but you will be able to bring it back and, with it, all the wonderful kind of hurt that comes with it.
So when I was crying saying goodbye, it’s no wonder that I couldn’t speak. It was all the times I sang you to sleep with Eagles songs, when you were sick and I held you close, all the bumps and bruises I healed with kisses, making your teddy bear talk, the silly jokes to cheer you up, the times we went for ice cream because you thought I was hungry, hugging you through heartaches; I wanted to tell you so much how much I loved you that it made a lump in my throat. I know you remember these generally as your young life, but I remember every detail. It all has to come out. That’s why I can’t speak. That’s why I cry.
Like I said, those were tears of joy. And, don’t worry. It’ll take me a little time to believe that, too.
Roger Marolt is not a pro at saying goodbye to his children. Thankfully, they keep coming back for more practice. Email at email@example.com.
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