I took several deep breaths and waited till he was supposed to be on the bus and called again. He sounded just as tightly wound. "Mom, stop asking when we'll get there! We just got on the bus. We missed the first one. Go to dinner. I have a key!"
"Are you okay?"
"I'll tell you when I get there."
Anyone who knows me knows my mind immediately raced to a million worst case scenarios, which of course meant I had to know what was wrong right then so I could start fixing it.
"Tell me what's wrong," I insisted. "You're on a bus, you're a captive audience, tell me now."
"Mom, stop. When I get there." Click.
I knew he wanted me to think the bus had entered some tunnel and we got cut off. But I also knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he had hung up on me. For the second time. I was furious. I tapped out an text message with all the speed my fury imparted.
"That is the second time you hung up on me. That is just rude. Don't you flipping hang up on me again."
A moment later, my phone dinged. His message: "Not in the mood. Need to stop pushing to find out wats wrg. Don't relli feel like coming home anymore."
I was crushed.
And I felt manipulated, angry, rejected. We often seem to rub each other wrong, my son and I. We are so temperamentally similar yet so far apart sometimes. He is impatient with me, and maybe he feels that I am ... too smothering? too anxious? too insistent? ... with him. In that painful moment, when all I knew was that my son no longer wanted to come home, I was keenly aware of how very patient with me my other child is, how kind she manages to be to her mother. And how difficult it must be.
Tears stinging my eyes, I tried to compose a text that would not escalate the situation.
"I'll stop pushing. I was mad and hurt. We're all looking forward to seeing you. Sorry that you seem to be upset about something. Your family is here for you even if you don't feel like talking. See you later. Love."
I made myself not fill the hours of silence that followed with another text (the bus ride from his college takes five hours). I showed our exchange of text messages to my husband when he got home and he just shook his head ruefully, veteran that he is of many past dust-ups between his wife and son.
My husband and I made ourselves pretty and went out to dinner as planned. We had a lovely time. We were on the rooftop of one of our friends' apartments, dining by candlelight, the towns of New Jersey sparkling across the Hudson River and a clear night sky overhead. One friend's college freshman son had come home for Rosh HaShanah the weekend before, and she expressed how wonderful it was to see him, how well he was doing, how reassured she was, and I was truly thrilled for her but also quietly sad about the less than auspicious beginning of our own first visit home from our college freshman son.
The chilly night eventually drove us indoors, and we soon took our leave. Walking to Broadway with my husband to catch a cab home, I heard my phone beep, indicating messages were waiting. In the taxi, I checked them and there was this from my son:
"About 2 hours away. Sry about earlier. Just a bad day and wanted to sleep. Looking forward to coming home."
And later, this: "In the city. Be home soon."
I started not to reply, but then texted, "Can't wait, son."
By the time he walked through the door, we had both forgiven each other. I knew because he greeted me first, enveloping me in a long-armed hug and holding on for long enough to communicate his apology. I held him back, communicating mine.
Then he greeted his dad, who clasped his head and shoulders in a loving man hug. After that he hugged and twirled his sister in the air and hugged his cousin, the recent college grad who's been living with us for a month now. Then he noticed the new couches. "I like 'em," he said, "but how do they sleep?" At which point he dived onto the loveseat and curled up in his usual position, head on the chair's rolled arm, knees sharply bent, and pronounced, "Really comfortable!"
He regaled us all with stories as we all gazed at him with our various expressions of adoration. My daughter sat cross-legged on the kitchen counter and just looked at him. My husband joked that he was happy to have a little company in the testosterone department, he'd been living in a "chicktopia." I reminded him how close that word was to "utopia" and we all laughed. I noted that my boy had, in six short weeks, turned into a man. A little thicker and more defined in the arms, broader in the shoulders, about an inch taller, almost level with his dad at six-foot-two. His jaw seemed more chiseled, the hair on his chin no longer just a scraggly shadow but a real clipped, neat little beard. And he seemed happy, confident and in charge of himself. A man.
As for the reason he'd been so cranky on the bus: He and his friends had missed their ride (he was racing to catch it when he hung up on me the first time) and had to walk to the bus terminal, and as a result missed the first bus and had to take the later one, then he'd been caged in behind a woman who insisted on reclining her seat practically into his lap, and she kept pushing it back, refusing to accept that his knees weren't going anywhere. He had been rushed and frustrated and fighting to keep his cool, and then I called and started pressing him. Nothing more than that. Certainly not the dire scenarios that had immediately leaped into my head, which I won't go into here, so ridiculous they were.
After we all visited for a while, some of us trooped across the courtyard to my mom's apartment building so my son could say goodnight to his grandma, who'd been waiting up for him. Then at midnight, he went out to meet up with two friends, and I went to sleep. I slept through the night, too. I didn't wake once to wonder if my boy was safe out there in the city, which stunned my husband. (I'm growing up.) And in the morning, I padded out to the kitchen to make my coffee, and there he was curled on the couch, a blanket over him, asleep in the spot he has been for so many nights over the past few years, in that very same pose.
I rubbed his head and kissed his forehead and felt so much love for him fill my chest. But I didn't wake him. I let him sleep, content just to know he was home.