Michael Gallagher

Michael Gallagher

Walking away I knew what I felt was silly — this was literally the moment we’d been working toward since a minute or two after Aidan was born.

But still, as we left the Willamette campus in Salem, Oregon last week after delivering Aidan to his dorm, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit like Voldemort after he split off a piece of his soul and stashed it behind.

Even though I said to myself, “Would you be happier if he just stayed in his room after high school graduation becoming the world’s foremost expert on YouTube videos?” it was hard walking back to the car in the missing-man formation.

It is only that my life has revolved around Aidan since a few seconds after 10 p.m. on Nov. 10, 2001.

When I called one of my sisters that night to tell her the news, she asked me how the baby was doing.

I told, “It seems to me his development might be about 10 minutes ahead of all the other newborns.”

When Finn was born he just created two planets for me to orbit.

I admit to being an over-the-top parent, but after nearly 18 years of witnessing it, I would argue I am the norm and not the exception in Kittitas County. I often enough encounter a parent whose obsessiveness puts me to shame, which helps keep me in check. I found my people when I moved here.

Aidan was a classic over-booked kid, not a day or even few moments went by without him needing to be somewhere for a school function, practice, game, concert or event. The movement became part of my norm — the repeated routine of walking through the kitchen and picking the car keys off the counter on my way out of the door.

In just this past week, I’ve repeatedly stopped as if stepping into void — this weird spot where there was nothing Aidan-related for me to do. I stood there, staring into the mid-distance, wondering which direction to move.

Does it matter that he seems to be having the time of his life at Willamette? A few days after we left him he told me over the phone about having fun hanging out with friends.

“What friends?” I said.

Oh, just people he’d met in the dorm and classes, he said. It was a tad disconcerting he had friends I’d never met given that I’d had years to properly vet his Ellensburg friends.

Of course his joy matters, but I never doubted his side of the experience. When people asked me about Aidan heading off the college, I always said, “He’s going to love college. It’s his natural habitat.”

I haven’t collapsed since his departure but I studiously avoid looking to the places where he no longer occurs. Oddly enough, I feared I’d find myself haunting the vacant spaces Aidan left behind, whether just sitting in his room or staring at his empty chair while eating at the dinner table.

But now I just see him in my mind on his grand adventure, knowing that if I were there it would not be the same kind of grand. There are going to be so many things he experiences I will know nothing about unless he decides to share. I remember when I first experienced that power and how wonderful it felt.

I am strengthened by the memories of the grace my mother showed in letting me walk away. If she cried, she did so after turning away.

That’s the last gift a parent gives I think, and perhaps that one that matters the most.

Contact managing editor Michael Gallagher at mgallagher@kvnews.com.


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