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FROM A MOTHER TO A SON WHO LEFT FOR COLLEGE

I will not send you this letter. To be in tune with your mood and “the American way,” I should find something positive to say about your leaving for college; look at the bright side; rejoice in what a fine young man you grew up to be; what a great future you have ahead of you; how proud I am of you, better yet, `how proud your dad and I are of you, son,' and how lucky I was to have had you at home until now. All of that happens to be very true in your case, however, “the American way” gets repeated whether it’s true or not, because of the terror about life's separations, and the inevitability of life's passing. The Hispanic way is to “mull and adjust." “The American way” is "smile, keep busy, DO something." If I were honest, what would I say?
Though every hour of the day I figure what time is it in Illinois, and what you must now be doing, since you left, Friday, you have been here every second, as always. When I take a break for a cup of tea and the paper, astonished at the world's political changes, I'm readying to discuss some with you, and tell you some of the ironies I have lived to witness, and listen to your particularly rational analysis. I expect noises in your room; water going trough the pipes, your steps up the stairs; you filling the kitchen, probably ready to go somewhere, maybe saying you had a weird dream, or talking about one of your projects, or commenting on something that somebody did or said. But there's nothing but a still silence downstairs, a still silence up the stairs, a still silence in the kitchen. Hour after hour, your room has no computer buzz, no music, no phone conversation, no laughter with friends; only a soundless image in my mind of you somewhere in the mid-west, with people I don't know, with mysterious new directions in your life.

When the doorbell rings I don't hear you welcoming some friend; when a car starts it's not you going somewhere; a clicking noise downstairs is not your key opening the door; a creaking in the corridor is not from your feet. No booming voice comes from your room saying, "Mom, it's for you,", or "Mom, come look at this." At night, noises are not you coming back from an outing with Michelle or Joe or some other friend. When I prepare dinner, I don't put huge portions of fish, I don't try to sneak in watercress in the salad. Nothing I prepare will be shared with you. When I make the shopping list I don't think of something nutritious that you might be willing to eat, I don't mark “deli, goodies, big carton of orange juice.”

Telling myself that I'll see you in seven weeks, that you'll be visiting in twelve weeks, that you'll be here in three and a half months for a long vacation, that you'll be coming back until you form a family of you own, and then I'll see you often, as I do your brother and sister, doesn’t help that this enormous silence is the true break of the umbilical cord that divides my life in two. On this side, now closed, are our two lives; all of yours, and mine since you were born, (it seems strange that there was a time when you didn't exist), 17 years, 9 months and 14 days, roughly one fourth a Western human being's life expectancy. Since Friday, the details of a million scenes from those years have flooded my mind and crushed my heart. They happened so fast, and will never happen again. They are gone forever, most of it lost in the crevices of hidden memories. On the other side of this break is your bright new life, and my new life with you not being the most important part of it.

Evidently I hadn’t grasped the finality of this imminent division. When you came back from trips this summer, it didn't augur that you'd soon depart irrevocably. When we talked about the campus, about the dorm, about your roommate, about the trip, about what to take; when I kept asking if you needed help in packing or anything else; even at the last minute, when I packed some food for your trip, I was doing it from an outer level, as if you would be leaving for a week-end of camping. Then I stood in the driveway seeing the blue Toyota turn the corner at the end of the street and disappear. And that’s when the reality of your departure to the other side of the divide hit me like a tornado. From that moment, day or night, a noxious stillness creeps out from the house and from the street, filling my life. This silence carries a torrent of meaning running so strongly and so deep that only a mother who has experienced it could understand it.

No doubt in time, (a week? a month? a year? ten years?) I won't be crushed by this new real and metaphorical silence. I'll keep repeating over and over, how lucky I am that you are well and healthy and happy in your wonderful new adventure, and that I will see you again, maybe often.
Mamá
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