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I talked to him. Thanks to Analise. She called and said, “Call your mother or she’s gonna cry.” I was sitting right there by her, my ear smudged against her phone and heard Alex laugh, “I know. I will.” (Mothers of sons, all I can say is if you don’t have a little girl to do your dirty work you might want to get yourself one—rent, adopt, or borrow—because, in this house at least, they are the ultimate tool, no job too big or too small; a veritable Swiss army knife ready to cut to the chase; a consummate hard-nosed diplomat with no fear; someone who can be mocked, chased, tackled, put in a strangle hold, even tickled, and still giggle, then ask for a piggyback ride. Think of the possibilities if we had a few more sisters in this world.)

Anyway, from what I could decipher from the rhythm of his breathing and length of his pauses, Alex is doing fine, but I could be wrong. I could have misinterpreted a dot or dash or two. Who knows. He could have really been saying his dorm room has fleas, he can’t find the cafeteria, and he is riding his bike to Houston with dirty laundry on his back…

Alex Goes to College

The Long Awaited Third and Final Part

Coca Cola Toasts and Goodbyes

As soon as my husband pulled up to the hotel, we whisked him off to one of our new favorite restaurants—Analise and I are very decisive about some things. She and I chatted while my husband read emails on his Blackberry. It is amazing how you can talk about people right in front of them and they never know it if they have a Blackberry in their hands.

After lunch, we drove over to Emory. (Houston, cover your ears—Atlanta is very beautiful, especially around Emory, much better looking than Houston.) While on campus, I tried to figure out the dorm move-in scenario. It could be a problem since Alex was on the retreat and would miss his assigned move-in time. I didn’t know what that would mean, but I had been worrying about it for two days in between shopping and eating.

When we got back to the hotel, I pulled out the move-in schedule and information, and called a team meeting. I wanted to go over everyone’s jobs, the timing, and potential disasters. (What if his boxes haven’t arrived? What if we can’t fit them in the car? What if he has too many guitars? What if we can’t find him? He doesn’t have cell phone service. He could be anywhere.) Unfortunately, my former comrade-in-retail had turned on me and now lay on the bed beside her daddy. They had formed some unholy alliance behind my back and were mutinous. Smart remarks were flying back and forth about the goal of our mission—to make my little prince as comfortable as humanly possible and anticipate his every need, no matter how many store clerks and family members had to be killed in the process. The two slackasses seemed to take particular joy in ridiculing my leadership. Screw them. I said I would just haul six boxes, four guitars, and sixteen Target bags on my back just to spite you two. If I have to beg, borrow, steal, or do murder, I will find a parking space and move him in with my bare hands. My voice quivered with emotion. And with that I grabbed my book and locked myself in the bathroom.

After twenty or so minutes, Analise knocked on the door to apologize. Turns out she just needed to go to the bathroom, so I said fine I am going downstairs to drown my sorrows and pick up a couple new team members.

That night I tossed, turned, and had dreams of looking for bed linens in the mist, and Dalmatian puppies jumping off bridges, and polka dot rattle snakes with unfortunate attitudes. But thank goodness for answered prayers and little miracles. On our way to Emory the next morning, Alex called. He was in front of his dorm, all his boxes were already there, and we could move him in as soon as we drove up. These Emory folks thought of everything even coordinating tshirts. In an hour we were in, his bed was made, and I was making a shopping list. There was even a nook—a large nook—for his guitars.

Late that afternoon, all two thousand of us parents plus the freshman celebrated an Emory tradition going back to 1982 when they did away with Wonderful Wednesday and “celebrated” with a toast—a Coca Cola toast naturally, since that is all you can get on campus. (But that’s ok. In the seventies we learned that even Tab tastes great if you add a little Jack Daniels to it.) The huge toast was a terrific end to the day, except our day wouldn’t end. We had another reception to go, plus Alex had two more meetings and a party. They were trying to kill us with fun and information.

On Sunday, we tied up loose ends. It was time and Alex seemed ready for us to go. I understood. I would be the same way—limit the distraction, focus on the job at hand, absorb new information, get your little ducks in a row, gather your chickens, or something like that—all hard to do with people hovering. You need to think.

During my twenties—a time when I was struggling with the consequences of my own mistakes—whenever I came home my daddy would take me aside and press a hundred dollar bill in my hand—mad money, just in case, just in case you need help, just in case you are stranded, just in case you come up short sometime. Since then I have always kept a hundred dollar bill hidden away in my wallet. Silly, I know, but it is my little piece of security, a reminder of his love.

In the Emory bookstore, while paying for yet another something or other for his dorm room, the hundred dollar bill slipped out, and I remembered. So I pressed the folded, sharply creased bill into Alex’s hand and said: Mad money, just in case, just in case you need help, just in case you are stranded, just in case you come up short sometime. Tuck it away in your wallet…a little bit of security, a reminder of my love.