By the time the Tuesday after Memorial Day arrived (May 28th), my next group of drivers was ready to take their road tests. Ricky was the first of that bunch to drive the course, followed by Cole, Jay and then Pat. Each young driver did fairly well and passed the test on one try, although Jay came closest to not getting his license. He had a minor problem parking and took one corner a little tight, but it wasn’t enough to keep him from passing his test. Afterward the trooper, who had tested all of them, came over to speak to me.
“Are these all your sons?” he asked, looking quite confused.
“Well, all except for the red-head,” I answered honestly, but with a touch of levity in my tone, seeing Jay had had the most trouble during his exam. “He’s just a very close friend of the family.”
“So three of them are your sons?” he attempted to clarify. “And haven’t I tested some other Curries in the past as well?”
“It could be,” I agreed. “I do have five others who have their driver’s licenses.”
“Five others!” he exclaimed, with a horrified look on his face. “Damn, how many kids do you have?” Although he looked shocked by my response, he also seemed to be curiously fascinated.
“Well, I have fourteen sons at home, as well as two others who live with me and Jay, the redhead, who is a very good friend and constant guest in our home.”
“Are they all really yours?” He didn’t ask this is a mean or derogatory manner, but sincerely interested if they were my offspring.
“They’re adopted,” I explained. “They aren’t my biological children, but I love them just the same.”
“Wow, and I thought I had my hands full with just three sons,” he quipped, while bursting out in laughter. “Well, you’ve done a good job teaching them manners and how to drive. I found each of them to be very respectful young men and pretty good drivers too. A couple of them have had some minor problems, but overall they do very well and know the rules of the road.”
I thanked him for his kind words of praise concerning the boys and then we chatted a bit longer about parenting skills, as he must have thought I had some secret inside information about how to work with kids. Once I explained to him my basic approach, he thanked me and said he’d try a couple of the things I mentioned. I told him they weren’t magic or a secret code passed down through the ages, but they might work for him, and then again maybe not. It would depend a lot on his sons’ disposition and the chemistry between himself and them. He merely chuckled again and then thanked me anyway, saying he was always open to suggestions.
At that point, I rounded up the four boys and took them out to celebrate their success. As they gobbled down their reward, I listened to them tell about their experiences and heard tales about the jitters each had suffered through. In their own inimitable way, they also told me about the aspects of the test they thought they did well on, before critiquing their overall effort behind the wheel.
After they finished, they began to comment on each other’s efforts, while joking about mistakes the others had made during our lessons or about specific skills they knew a particular driver always seemed to have problems with. It was very comical watching and listening to the various boys telling these wild stories, so we all managed to have a good laugh while we ate. After paying the bill, I dropped Jay off at his place and then took the rest of them home, as they were eager to tell their brothers about their success and take their place as the newly empowered drivers.
It was also approaching the time for Ricky to leave for Australia, which would happen on Thursday. On Wednesday, I could tell he was excited about going, yet he was sad to be leaving us. This was actually the first time he would be apart from me for any extended length of time, or away from his brothers, since he came to live here – and that was nearly five years ago. I knew he was starting to feel some separation anxiety, even though he would probably be the last to admit it. I hoped he’d be able to cope with what he was going through and not let it get to him, because I didn’t want to think this might ruin the experience for him.
I did try to spend extra time with Ricky that afternoon and took him out to lunch, so we could talk alone. He wasn’t saying much, so I finally decided to bring the issue to him. “Are you getting a little nervous about leaving?” I asked him. He looked up and gave me a weak grin.
“Well, maybe,” he admitted. “I’m not sure what I’m feeling. It’s just different.”
“Are you sure you want to do this?” I asked. I wanted to make certain he hadn’t changed his mind.
“Oh, yes, I do,” he responded, with more enthusiasm than I expected. “It’s a great chance and one I might never get again.”
“So you do want to go?” I reiterated.
“Yes! It sounds like a neat place,” he confirmed, “and I’ll probably get to do some cool things there.”
“I think you’re right about that,” I agreed, “but you still seem a bit nervous, maybe even a little hesitant, about going.”
“Not really about going,” he replied, “it’s… well, it’s just… you aren’t going to have another heart attack or anything like that while I’m gone, are you?” he blurted out. When I looked at him now, his facial expression seemed to be a cross between anxiety and sadness.
“Well, I’ll try not to,” I quipped, while adding a little chuckle to relieve some of the tension, but it didn’t seem to work. For that reason, I took a different approach. “Look, Ricky, I can’t promise anything like that, but the doctor has given me a clean bill of health and we don’t foresee any problems. Even though I can’t guarantee I’ll be fine, I don’t want the possibility of something happening to stop you from going and enjoying yourself.”
“But I don’t want to go if you won’t be here when I get back,” he whined.
“Well, let’s not think about that,” I offered, “because it probably won’t happen anyway.”
“I hope not,” he concurred, while giving me a weak grin, “and I’ll try not to worry, if you’re sure.”
“I’m fairly sure,” I replied, since it was the most positive answer I felt comfortable giving.
“And you won’t forget about me either, will you?” he asked, looking slightly worried. This question nearly brought me to tears.
“Forget about YOU? How could I?” I asked, rhetorically. “You were my first son in the new family, and you are more special to me than you could ever know. I couldn’t forget about you any more than I could forget my own name. I love you, Ricky. I always have and I always will.” By this time we both had tears streaming down our cheeks, and I was glad we had selected an isolated corner to sit in.
“Thanks, Dad. I love you too,” he admitted, “and I know I’m going to miss you a lot, even if I do have a good time while I’m there. To tell you the truth, that’s the thing I’ll be saddest about – that you and my brothers won’t be there to share everything with me.”
“I understand, and I’m going to miss you too,” assured him. “In fact, I’m positive we’re ALL going to miss you.”
“Thanks again, Dad. That does make me feel a little better about this,” he confirmed, “but do everything you have to, so I’ll be able to see you again when I get back.”
“And I want to see you too, and chances are, that’s exactly what will happen,” I told him, trying to remain as positive sounding as I could. Once I told him that, we ended our conversation and left for home.
When we got back, I helped him pack the last of his things, so he and I could spend even more time together. Just before we were done, he did ask me to run to the store for him and pick up a few last minute items. He said he wanted to keep packing, so I got in the car and went alone to get the items he requested. When I got back to the house, I took the things up to his room, watched him pack them away and then helped him carry his luggage downstairs. We set it off to one side of the foyer and left it there, so it wouldn’t take long to load it up when we were ready to leave.
Ricky spent the rest of the evening saying good-bye to his brothers and enjoying some final quality time with them, so I left them alone and Jake and I headed to bed. We were back together in my bedroom again, seeing the other problems were now behind us and we weren’t so worried about the allegations made about us. We pulled back the covers, sat on our own sides of the bed, swung our feet up and under the sheet, but our legs didn’t seem to go anywhere. We both looked at each other, and then pushed with our legs some more, but still nothing gave. This caused us to looked at each other again and we spoke almost in unison. “Ricky!”
I hadn’t had my bed short-sheeted like this since high school, so I threw my legs back off the bed, slipped my feet into my slippers, and…damn, he must have put shaving cream in my slippers too. What the hell, my feet were already covered, so I just pushed them the rest of the way in, having shaving cream forced back out the opening, and then I went to the door to go look for Ricky. As I reached for the door, my hand slipped off of the doorknob as I tried to get out, so I gripped it again, but it slipped off once more. It suddenly registered that he put Vaseline on that too, to make it more difficult for me to get out of the room. By now I could hear chuckling on the other side of the door, so I grabbed a dirty article of clothing off the floor and used it to wipe the greasy substance off the doorknob, and then hastily exited my room. There was Ricky and a few of the other boys standing there, with big grins covering their faces.
“Having problems, Dad?” Ricky asked me, once I opened the door.
“And I suppose you were the one who set this up?” I asked, although I wasn’t sure if he would respond honestly.
“Who, me?” he asked, with that mock innocent expression plastered across his face. I didn’t answer, but merely glared in his direction. “Well, I wanted to make sure you’d remember me while I was gone.”
“Oh, you don’t have to worry about that,” I told him, a bit sarcastically. “In fact, I have the ‘room for rent’ sign all ready to put out.” Startled by my comment, he shot me his patented ‘feigned hurt’ look.
“You really think you can replace me?” he teased.
“Not replace, but maybe improve upon,” I told him, trying to sound and act serious. At this point neither one of us could keep a straight face any longer, so we both started laughing, and then I grabbed him and gave him the biggest, hardest bear hug I could. “Ricky, there is absolutely no way I could ever replace or improve upon you. Damn, I’m going to miss you. Just give your host parents a break while you’re there and remember it’s their house and they can throw you out.”
“Oh, Dad. What do you think I am?” he pleaded. “A total idiot?”
“Well, maybe not total,” I answered, quickly, and then he punched me in the arm.
“And all this time I thought you loved me,” he mocked, again flashing that famous Ricky ‘I’ve been deeply hurt’ expression.
“I do, so count your lucky stars, or the response would have had more of a punch to it,” I taunted.
“Dad, you’re awful,” he told me, as he leaned his head against my arm. “I hope my host dad isn’t so mean.” This time I could see him sneak a look at my face, to see if he’d gotten even with me by making that comment.
“If you’re lucky,” I said, simply, and then I wrapped my arms around him and hugged him again. As I did this, something else came to mind. “Did you really need those things you sent me to get from the store, or was that just an excuse to get rid of me, so you could pull your prank?”
“No, I really needed that stuff,” he said innocently, “it’s just that I waited until then to ask you to get it, so I’d have time to pull my last gag before I left. I had the other boys distract Uncle Jake for me too, so he wouldn’t catch on either.” After making that admission, he flashed me another infamous Ricky grin, which let me know it was all done out of love, so how could I be upset with him? After that, we all went to our rooms to get some sleep, but not until after Jake and I had fixed the sheets on our bed.
That night did not pass by very quickly for me. All I could do is think about Ricky and his going on this trip. I was worried about how he’d do on the long flight he had ahead of him, and then what I’d do if something happened to him during the eight months he was gone – while he was thousands of miles away.
It’s not easy for parents to let their children grow up and flex their independence, and this was one of those times. My instincts told me to keep him home as long as I could, but my heart told me I had to let him grow up and become his own man. What I told him earlier wasn’t a lie. He is very special to me. All my boys are special to me, each in his own way, but Ricky was my first foster-son and the start of my new family. Because of that, he would always hold a special place in my heart. I think I’m going to find this harder to cope with than I first believed.
The next morning, after we showered, ate and loaded the car, I had Ricky say his final good-byes to his brothers before we left. Earlier, we had agreed that just Jake and I would take him to the airport. Since Jake offered to do the driving, I thought this would give Ricky and me some final time alone, without the hassle of worrying about the others. Although it was a long ride to Pittsburgh, we managed to talk the whole way, with me giving him words of warning and Ricky telling me he knew all of that already. Once I stopped my ‘worried mother routine,’ Ricky told me what he hoped to see and do while he was there.
Upon arriving at the terminal, Jake and I walked him to the counter and helped check him in, along with tagging his luggage, and then we escorted him to the departure checkpoint, where we had to part. Ricky hugged Jake first, telling him to help take care of everyone while he was gone, and then he hugged me. I kissed him on the forehead, before I let him go, and then he turned and walked down the final corridor and out of sight. The last thing I heard him say as he walked away was, “Don’t worry, Dad, I’ll write and stay in touch.”
After we watched his jet take off, I let Jake drive us back home too, since my eyes were a little cloudy from all the moisture that had collected in them. I felt bad about having to put all of this on Jake again, but I was so consumed with thoughts about other things that I knew I wouldn’t be able to focus upon my driving. I just wasn’t sure I could do both successfully at the same time, so I thought it prudent to impose on my lover one more time.
These thoughts were primarily about Ricky and his trip, and my mind was frantically racing over scenarios of hijackings, plane crashes and other such catastrophes. Although none of these were likely to happen, I just couldn’t help myself for dwelling on such morbid thoughts. I just didn’t know how I’d handle it if something like that DID happen to him.
Even if nothing like that occurred, I knew I was still going to be hurting from missing him so much. Damn, why does loving someone have to hurt so badly?
Oh, I know, it’s not as if I was suffering from severe or totally unbearable physical pain, but knowing we were going to be separated by so many miles and for that many months, it just left an emptiness in my soul and an ache in my heart that would remain until he returned.
This wasn’t going to be the first time I’d ever experienced anything like this, nor would it likely be the last, but that didn’t mean it was going to be any easier to get through. I guess that loving someone so deeply just brings certain responsibilities with it, which offsets all of the pleasure you get from the love you both give and receive.
Over the years, I’ve become convinced that the most important of those responsibilities is to make sure your love isn’t a stifling variety – one that smothers the other person completely and prevents them from really being able to fully live and enjoy life. You have to make sure your love is sincere and complete – one that will allow the other person the opportunity to grow and flourish as an individual along the way. That’s the type of love I hoped I had provided Ricky and my other boys with, and thinking about that now offered me a modicum of comfort, which eased the sense of loss that had been building, up until that moment.