After Sean and Jessica's wedding they moved back into the second story apartment that they had been living in before getting married. Also that same weekend I moved into the house in Tullahoma that I had just purchased. It was a busy and exciting time for both mother and son. Chris flew back to New Jersey and prepared for his first tour of Iraq, and I was preoccupied with vast changes that both my sons and I were experiencing in our lives.
Sean and Jess had just gotten married and were happily beginning their new lives together as truly grown up married people. I was getting to know a man who I was beginning to believe that I may grow to love. I was healthy, my job was quietly and consistently trucking along well, I had moved myself and my pup into a new home. Life was full of calm and peace and hope.
As Jessica began to accept temporary teaching jobs in the hopes of soon finding a permanent teaching position, Sean began school again. He had (after all of these years) finally quit his job at Burger King. The school payed him a small amount of money while he was working on his graduate degree, and even though he was no longer working in fast food he was actively and busily working as a trainer with all of the major sports teams at MTSU, with one season running without pause into the next.
I had hoped (and expressed that hope to him) that Sean would stay in school long enough to get his masters. It would only help him once he was out in the real world and working full-time, and it was easier to get it done and out of the way before mortgages and children and making a living became life priorities. I was not certain that he would be able to find the will to stay on though, in truth. Sean had been in school since he was 3 1/2 years old, and I knew that he was understandably tired of school and was ready to move on with the next phase of his life. But he did decide to go back, and I was glad that he did.
Sean loved athletic training. He loved working with athletes, loved working outside, loved being an integral part of each team, loved having the opportunity to work with injuries, loved the educational opportunities. Loved it all. It showed in his face every single time he talked about what he did. Both I and members of the new family he had married into good naturedly and lovingly made fun of him. They told Sean how lucky he would be to go to sports events for free and all he had to do in return was tape an ankle once in a while. I told him that even Forrest Gump had graduated from college in 5 years, so get on with it already. He indulgently smiled his easy smile, laughed his easy laugh, and threw smart-ass comments out to anyone and everyone. He could take it and he could dish it out.
My oldest boy finally graduated about a year and half later and by that time had already been offered a job at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. Jessica, after a series of short term teaching gigs had secured a full-time and permanent teaching position in Nashville. Not too long after Sean graduated, he and his new wife moved into a condo complex just outside the city. They were still renting at that point, both newly working, and both spending their weekends at auctions as they happily worked to build a home for themselves. Things were working out according to plan for them, and I watched this young couple with love and pride. They seemed happy together, they had worked hard for years in school and now they were working hard in the "real world". As a couple they spent more time at Jessica's parents home than they did mine, saw them more often than they did me, and in truth my feelings were hurt about that. I don't know if that sounds childish or petty but I hope not, and LC reminded me of some poem about daughters being daughters for life, and sons are sons until they take a wife. Or some such thing. Regardless, I saw them only occasionally and my feelings were hurt. I should have said something to my son but I did not, embarrassed at my seeming pettiness.
Only a few months after accepting a position at Vanderbilt my son called me to tell me that he had resigned from his position and had accepted a trainer position with a hospital south of Nashville. It payed better than Vanderbilt, had better benefits, was closer to home, had better hours. I thought it was a mistake at the time, feeling strongly that having the word "Vanderbilt" on his resume for at least a couple of years would do nothing but help him professionally in the future. None-the-less it was a done deal, and Sean had accepted a position with a decent facility, and over the next few years he appeared to be happy with his choice..
Not long after Sean and Jess moved into the condo I accepted a position with the city in Juneau Alaska. It was a professional move up. It was the adventure of a lifetime. It paid well and would allow me to save money and put more into my retirement fund. It took me away from front line work and moved me directly into straight management. LC and I could explore Alaska for a few years before moving back down to the Lower 48. At least that was the plan.
I had two goodbye dinners with Sean and Jessica before leaving and both occasions were painful and awkward and difficult. I second guessed myself so many times as I prepared to fly to Alaska, while leaving LC and Sean behind, but by that time I had resigned from the position I had held in Tullahoma for 7 1/2 years, had committed to Juneau, and the snowball just kept growing in size and speed as it continued to roll downhill.
Within a month into my new position I knew that the job that I had accepted would be challenging. Within a few months the conditions I was working under were completely different from what had been described to me during my extensive interview and recruiting process and I knew that I did not like my new job. Within six months I loved living in Alaska, hated my job greatly, woke up every morning not wanting to go to work, and deeply regretted having left Tennessee.
With my boss and her boss (who are both also now gone from Juneau) continually pleading with me to not leave and to "hang in there" I tried to hang in there. The writing was already on the wall - I already knew the end of the story - but after having given up so much to move to Alaska I felt as though I had to give it everything I had. I had to play the story out.
By Thanksgiving 2010 LC had left Alaska and was down in Alabama and I was not certain exactly where we stood. By Thanksgiving my youngest son Chris had come and gone - visiting us in Juneau and by this time preparing to get out of the Air Force. His time in Juneau with me just served as a reminder of how much I missed my sons. By Thanksgiving my oldest son Sean was leaving me voice mail messages that said things like "OK mom - this is the third message I've left you. This is getting ridiculous. Call me."
I hiked with Jamie a lot during that time, feeling lost and alone in a small and isolated Alaskan town. Professionally I felt overwhelmed, vilified, and even as I knew that there were many who were either a) actively throwing me under the bus or b) conspiring to throw me under the bus, I wondered just what the hell I was doing there. I was despised by many for simply doing my job. I remember shaking my head in wonder when I saw someone turn down an aisle in the grocery store just so that they would not have to walk down the same aisle that I was walking. Just so she would not have to cross my path and acknowledge me. I had been well liked and respected in Tennessee, but that was not the case in Juneau. What the hell was I doing there? What the hell was the point?
My oldest boy Sean (thinking that I would be spending Christmas alone and not realizing that LC had made it back to Juneau in time for the upcoming holiday), frantically overnighted Christmas presents to me that year. I opened them up on Christmas morning and the first thing I found was a pair of sock monkey slippers. I smiled and then I laughed. And then I was touched. He remembered.
A couple of years before, Sean, Jessica and I had exchanged Christmas presents. I had given these two young people a couple of things that seemed to mean a lot to Sean. The first was a karate plaque. When he opened up the package Sean looked at it and then looked up at me with a face that told me that he did not understand. I told him a story about when he was a little boy.
When his father and I first separated there was a period of time when I was very transient, including times when I slept on people's couches. It took a while for me to get settled again after a period of time that was intensely painful and extremely difficult. During that time I often had to move belongings from one person's basement to another and I saw the boys irregularly.
Included in those belongings were boxes of trophies. I had been winning karate and judo trophies ever since I was about 13 years old and I had more than I could possibly count. I had won many when I was a kid in Australia, had won many more when we immigrated to Canada. My parents moved often, meaning that their seven children moved often, and that my trophies had to get packed often. And then I married a military man and we also moved often. And then I left that military man and again moved often. I was sick of it. Sick and tired of moving. Sick and tired of being sick and tired. One day without giving it a whole lot of thought I took every single box of trophies that I had and threw them all into the dumpster behind a Chinese food restaurant.
A few weeks later I was walking to the park with my little boys and Sean asked me about my trophies. I told him that I had gotten tired of always packing them and moving them and storing them and that I had finally thrown them all away. My beautiful young son turned his disappointed face to me and said "You should have kept one. I would have taken care of it for you".
How can the disappointed sweet face of a beautiful little boy completely break the heart of a grown woman? By looking at me the way he did and by saying exactly what he said to me in exactly the way he said it.
Many years later I stood beside Sean and Jessica and related this story to them. The karate plaque was the only thing that I had saved all of those years. Athlete of the year. State champion. Ranked fourth in the country. My name and the date and it all seemed like so very long ago. I had been young and strong and at that time almost unbeatable. It was the only "trophy" I had left and I wanted Sean to have it.
I was not certain that he would really understand how important it was that I was giving it to him. That it was all I had left from a time when I was a highly accomplished athlete. That I remembered Sean's words when he was a little boy. That I wanted him to have the plaque and that I knew that he would "take care of it for me". He wordlessly looked at me after I relayed the story and I knew that he understood.
The other gift was a pair of sock monkeys. I had bought them separately at two different yard sales and had had them for years. When I looked at them I now only saw the cute, hopeful, sweet faces of Sean and Jessica as a couple. They loved them and whether they were living in their small apartment or their bigger condo or eventually their very huge house, I always saw the sock monkeys on display on a shelf. When I saw the sock monkey slippers I knew that they were Sean's nod to my gift to him............
Eventually LC and I thankfully left the Alaskan town that had been so toxic and so incredibly unwelcoming of us. We pulled two loaded down trucks off the ferry in Bellingham Washington having absolutely no idea where we were headed or what we were going to do. Somebody was living in our house in Tennessee. They had signed a lease. And up to that point they were paying their rent on time. After wandering through parts of Montana in a confused daze we unexpectedly found ourselves in Cody Wyoming and five months later (when our renters stopped paying) we were headed home for Tennessee.
A few days after we arrived back in Tennessee LC and I drove to Sean's new home south of Nashville for the first time. I had not seen my oldest child in over a year and a half. In the time I had been away from him my son had bought new vehicles and bought a new home. When Sean told me on the phone about his new house and his new vehicles I worried again. We were talking big money all the way around and I worried that my son was getting in over his head. Neither he nor Jessica had been working for long in their respective jobs. There were nice and much cheaper options for both vehicles and homes that they could have bought. The economy was already in the tank. I did not voice my concerns to them though, as Sean talked to me on the phone about what they were buying. They were adults, intelligent people, and they had worked hard to get this far and it was not my place to tell them I thought it was all too much. The home and the truck and the SUV had already been purchased by the time LC and I arrived back in Tennessee. As long as they did not separate - as long as they both held on to their jobs - as long as everything kept moving along according to plan they would be OK. But I worried anyway, never quite figuring out exactly how to walk the fine line between being the mother of a child and being the mother of a grown child. .
LC pulled up to Sean's house that first time, I excitedly walked up to their front door and pressed the doorbell, my son came to the door and smiled at me when he saw me. We wordlessly hugged each other for a moment, pulled away from each other, smiled at each other again and said hi. We were happy to see each other. And Sean and I and LC and Jess, all spent the remainder of the day catching up with each others lives.
The house was huge and my oldest boy showed me around his new home with obvious and justified pride. Sean and Jess had spent the last few years living in run down apartments and run down condos. They had every right to be proud of where they were in life.
I looked around Sean's huge home and smiled when I saw the sock puppets sitting on top of the high cupboards in the kitchen. Smiled when I saw the maple pedestal table and china cabinet in the dining room. I had bought both of those the year before Sean was born and had given them to Sean and Jess as a gift when they got married. I smiled when I saw the nice furniture throughout the house that they were starting to collect during weekly jaunts to auctions. Smiled when I saw the wood trim that Sean had put up throughout the dining room by himself. YOU did that?? Where did you learn to do THAT? I asked my child in amazement.
Over the next few months, as LC and Jamie and I got settled back into our house in Tullahoma Sean and I talked on the phone often. Neither one of us had ever been big phone-talkers and predictably most of our conversations were short and to the point (What are you doing this weekend? Do you want to meet for lunch? OK - let's talk later in the week and figure out a time and place). Every once in a while my son would surprise me though, and just want to chat - about nothing in particular but nothing in particular meant the world to me. I loved his voice. I loved the pictures of him that I carried in my mind's eye as he happily babbled on about nothing in particular. Even after 28 years I was still continually falling in love with him.
LC and I spent Thanksgiving last year at Jessica's parents home. Their home was always organized chaos - perpetual motion and perpetual noise, and with a house always filled with family and friends and sports events on different TV's, people constantly walking in and out of the kitchen with drinks and food. It was a little overwhelming in truth but even though we did not know these people well they were always gracious, and polite and welcoming of us. They loved Sean and we loved Sean and that was the bond that tied all of us together.
Sean and Jessica hosted a Christmas ornament exchange party at their house a few weeks before Christmas last year for both Jessica's family and me and LC. These two young people had obviously spent a lot of time decorating their home for the holidays and I smiled in appreciation as I walked from room to room. I recognized some of the decorations because we had given them to Sean and Jess before leaving for Alaska, and I was very happy that they liked them and displayed them. I smiled when I saw the nesting dolls I had bought for them while in Sitka Alaska the previous Thanksgiving.
LC and I had a very very wonderful time, surrounded by decorations and food and organized chaos, but one thing stood out for me more than anything else on that special evening. Everyone had wrapped their ornament and left them on a table in the living room. Everyone drew numbers, and then one by one picked an ornament. You could either pick an ornament from the table or take one that somebody else had already chosen (and that person would have to pick another off the table).
Some family members were sitting on the two couches in the living room and everyone else was standing around the room watching the entire affair. Sean was standing beside me. After a few ornaments had already been picked off the table somebody reached for one LC and I had brought with us. Under his breath and very quietly Sean said "Yeah - moms".
Nobody else heard him. I turned very briefly to look up at my son's face but he was concentrating on the action in front of him, and I realized that what he had said was involuntary. I don't think he even realized that he said it. But he did. And that one unexpected moment (a moment that was so quiet and that happened so fast you could miss it if you weren't paying attention) meant more to me that I could ever describe.
As Christmas last year approached Sean and Jess decided that they would stay at our house on Christmas Eve and then head to Jessica's parents home on Christmas Day. Christmas has always been my favorite time of year and I spent the few weeks leading up to that holiday decorating the house. I have (even after buying and selling and buying and selling during moves) a LOT of Christmas decorations. I knew that Sean liked Christmas as much as I did, and I happily and excitedly decorated two six foot trees and multiple smaller trees, and then stored everyday items away so that I could put Christmas decorations out in every room in the house.
There was one Christmas while Sean was in college when he had very little money to buy Christmas presents. I had not told him (or anyone else - I just assumed that I would pick them up after the holidays) that there were two CD's that I really wanted, both from contemporary artists. On that Christmas morning I opened a small package from Sean. He had (illegally) downloaded two CD's for me and they were the two CD's that I wanted. He knew me and knew what I like. And he wanted to please me. And I was pleased.
This past year I put out Sean's Christmas stocking. It was the same stocking that Sean had had ever since he was four year old when I bought identical stockings for both he and his brother while living in Toronto. LC and I bought Sean many tools this past Christmas, so that my son could continue to work to transform the giant behemoth of a house he and Jessica had bought into a home. Sean had always loved the Alaska pictures I had taken while in Juneau, and I enlarged and framed one of my favorites for them, and then made a 2012 calendar out of other Alaskan pictures. We all exchanged gifts and then I kissed Sean, hugged Jess, and they were gone. I watched them happily drive out of the driveway, very much wishing that they were spending the day with us. But they were happy, and that was all that mattered.
Sean and I continued to talk often on the phone over the next couple of months, but between Sean and Jessica's work schedules, LC and I did not see them very often. We saw them early in April for a quick lunch in Murfreesboro, and then saw them again two weeks later for a longer lunch and then target shooting at the gun range in Manchester.
On Tuesday April 24 at 5pm I called Sean to talk about Wyoming. His stomach had been bothering him for a while and after I hung up the phone I realized that I had forgotten to ask him if he had made an appointment yet to see the doctor. When I talked to him he had been working a baseball game so we did not talk long, and I thought "He sounded fine. I'll just ask him next time I talk to him".
On Thursday April 26 LC and I drove to Manchester late in the afternoon to pick up LC's truck from the shop.