Included in the process of saying goodbye to our high school senior cum college freshman is the biding of farewells to his friends and teachers. Sounds dramatic, I know, but there’s a certain comforting energy that is created by these people that will be sorely missed by Eddie and me next year.
For the past twelve years, Max has studied drums with a wonderful teacher at the Conservatory of Music of our local university. I used to drive him to his lessons, of course, and watch him from my car as he made his way through the big front doors of the building, his canvas bag with drumsticks, sheet music, earplugs and assignment notebook in tow. Later, he drove himself there, same bag thrown over his shoulder. In the early days, the college musicians who would walk by with their huge cello cases or who would run through the doors after snuffing out a cigarette or kissing a girlfriend or boyfriend goodbye, looked so old and so big and so worldly. Now, of course, Max blends right in.
Max rarely missed a lesson. He enjoyed John’s company and John’s musical expertise. For all these years, John has served as our son’s mentor, teacher, technical advisor, big brother, therapist and friend. I know for sure there were times when the drumsticks were never taken out of that canvas bag on Tuesday afternoon. These two have always been able to talk, and when the going got tough, especially during Max’s adolescent years, John was always there to listen and to gently give advice.
Back when I was fifteen and sixteen, my parents made arrangements for me to make weekly visits with an English professor at the university. I was rebellious, hanging out with questionable characters, alone in my room a lot with the door closed and the stereo headphones glued to my head. I wrote a lot of poetry. Bad poetry.
Once a week, I would schlep my notebook full of poems to her office. These puppies were riddled with teen-age angst, typical existential questioning and a clear distaste of the establishment. I listened eagerly to her comments. For the life of me, I cannot recall her name. She had long, thin hair, which she didn’t wash very often. She chain smoked Salem cigarettes. I had never seen anyone smoke quite the way she did. She would inhale slowly, her lips pursed tightly around the filter, then she’d close her mouth and let the smoke snake up out of her nose as she exhaled with thoughtful consideration, looking over my work with a slightly furrowed brow. When the school year ended, we moved our writing lessons to the campus apartment she shared with her young professor husband. Whenever I arrived, it seemed I had gotten them both out of bed, as his hair was always tousled, his clothes wrinkled and she seemed slightly annoyed that I had actually remembered our appointment.
As much as I longed to please the English professor and have her anoint me Kentucky’s greatest young poet and unusually deep thinker, I think I mostly looked forward to each meeting as a kind of therapy session. I have a feeling that’s what my parents figured, too, now that I look back on it.
So, anyway, back to John. He and his wife are coming to dinner tonight. What a hero he is. How lucky we’ve been to have him in our son’s life. I know Max will be very sad to tell him goodbye.
So will we.