I left town after the divorce, intending to make it back one day, but the boy stayed deployed most of the year, every year, and the girl married her college boyfriend right after graduation. He is a successful college basketball coach and they moved every few years as he kept winning and better job offers came in. So the 442 and I got to see most of the country together and alone.
It wasn’t my first choice for this part of my life, but it sure as hell hasn’t been a bad second choice. Use your imagination.
I’m meeting the boy in Atlanta, at the airport. He’s done contracting, done operating. We’re going to spend the night then road trip up to Boston where my daughter and son-in-law just brought my third grandson into the world. My ex moved there so I might run into her. Haven’t seen her since the last birth. She started gaining weight and I think drinking a lot after the divorce and probably hasn’t stopped. It’s impossible not to care at all, but I don’t care much. Besides, I’ve got a year left, maybe two. The kids don’t know but I will tell them this week. I’ve been putting it off since the first tests came back positive four months ago. I’ve been waiting for the right time but there isn’t one. When we were teenagers everything was about pushing through today to get to what’s next. There was always something else down the road and getting there took forever. Now there’s just Forever. Capital F.
People are pouring off that steep escalator between the two baggage claims but I see him immediately. He walks with purpose and no presumption and the crowd just parts for him. The truth is that I’m just glad he’s alive because he and his sister are my favorite people.
We hug and walk to the parking deck. I pull the key fob and hit the unlock button, and the car beeps. My son smiles, pulls that old suicide knob out of his pocket and holds it up.
“This thing has seen four continents,” he says.
I laugh. “Can’t believe you didn’t lose it in the sandbox.”
He hands it to me.
“No,” I say. “It’s yours. Do what you want with it.”
He says, “Are you sure?” I say I definitely am and he closes it in his fist, shoves it in his pocket. He’s looking around for the 442.
“Here,” I say as I point my key gadget at a shiny black Yukon and take his bag as the locks pop.
“What the fuck?” he asks. “Where’s the Olds?”
“In your pocket,” I tell him and toss his bag in. “Sold the rest last year. A doctor who had one when he was sixteen.”
“Well…shit,” he says.
Two days later we stop off in the District of Columbia for a couple days to take a driving break and to see some of his operator buddies. On our last night there we go for dinner at a crab house on the water in Maryland. We wait for our table out on the old deck, standing at the railing and looking out over the water and watching the sun set.
The boy pulls the suicide knob from his pocket.
“You sure you don’t want this back?” he asks.
“Nah. It’s yours.”
Without saying a word he cocks his arm back and throws it far and high over the water. I watch the long arc it makes. I remember how heavy it was and how I raised a blood blister with the pliers when I first clamped it on the wheel of the Olds. I remember the half-grin, half grimace and how she thought it was cool and used to call it The Terminator. I remember how it fascinated him every time he got in the car. I remember how I taught him to drive. I remember and so does he.