Ethan Goes to College

By Faith Ellestad

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I had been crying for weeks. How could this have happened? Our beautiful, earnest, sweet natured little boy, our youngest child, was leaving home. He had reluctantly agreed to live at home his first year of college, but he was a sophomore now, more than ready to stretch his wings and move to the dorm.

Truth be told, that year at home had not been particularly smooth.  Ethan hadn’t wanted to go to UW, he wanted to go to Stevens Point where most of his friends had gone.  He was not impressed by our arguments that that living at home would save a lot of money, (something he had not done), and if you graduated from a renowned university, it would pay off in the future. The future seemed a long way away to Ethan, so whenever he was home, he pretty much sat around staring at us resentfully from the depths of the big blue club chair, and we began to question the wisdom of our decision as we stared stonily back from the couch across the room.

Nevertheless, I couldn’t deal with the idea of him moving away, and tears welled up every time I thought about it. His dad was more sanguine.” He’ll only be 3 miles away” he would reassure me, but there was an undertone of exasperation that was not entirely disguised. “Yeah, Mom, he hates when you do that,” his brother had commented, unhelpfully, on more than one occasion, indicating my ever-present damp tissue.  He had been sharing space with his brother, and was probably eager to have the upstairs all to himself.

None of this had any comforting effect on me as Dorm Move-In Day arrived.  Ethan, a gifted procrastinator, had deferred preparations and was just starting to sort through his possessions. 

“Do you have any sheets?” I asked? “No”.  “Blankets? Towels?”  “Uh, No”.

“Are your clothes packed?”  “Oh, yeah, I guess I better do some laundry”.  That meant another couple of hours I wouldn’t have to say goodbye.  I offered to run a load through and my offer was accepted, although if there was gratitude in his answer, I missed it.  Even so, in the privacy of the laundry room, I started to cry again.

Upstairs, a few books had made it into a box along with a vast collection of CDs. “Dad, can you help me carry my TV down?” The TV was gently placed in the back seat of our car. His brother carried down the DVD player, and I brought down a speaker.  And another speaker.  Laundry, most of it clean, was tossed into a basket and taken to the car.  He was almost ready to go.  He bent down to say goodbye to our old dog, which was so sweet, I choked up again.  He waved goodbye to his brother and turned to me.

“Mom,” he said sternly, “if you don’t stop crying, you can’t come!”

That dried up the tears instantly.  I wasn’t going to miss the move-in experience. I squeezed into the back seat, in a tiny sliver of space not taken up by Ethan’s many earthly goods, most of them electronic.

Arriving at Witte Hall, we found a drop-off space, snared a large wheeled bin and joined the parade of students and parents trying to maneuver the wheelbarrow –like conveyances into the elevators.  Once in the dorm room, we met Ethan’s roommate, located his side of the room and began to unload. We were directed to put the TV, VCR, disc player and speakers on the desk, CDs in the bookcase above, and everything else on the floor of the tiny closet.  Our work there was done.  One last look around and it struck me.  The desk was completely covered with entertainment supplies. I saw that his dad had noticed this as well. Not wanting to appear judgmental, I tried to stop the question burning my lips, but couldn’t.  “Ethan,” I asked, gesturing toward the desk, “where are you going to study?”  It was clear he had not given this part of dorm life even a passing thought. He pondered for a moment and then said, quite pleased with himself, “Well, there IS a lounge”.  OK. Allrighty then.  Time to go. 

I struggled hard and managed to give him a dry-eyed hug, then twirled around and fled to the hall while his dad said goodbye. We walked briskly to the elevators and I noticed I was not the only mother in a state of red-nosed, streaming-eyed distress.   Most of the dads just looked solemn.  A few were even smiling.

I dreaded going home to the reality of a house devoid of his presence. I didn’t know how I would react.  We stepped inside, the dog thumped her elderly tail in greeting, there were dishes in the sink, and a coke can on the coffee table.  Ethan had gone to the dorm, but his essence lingered here at home. 

© 2022 Faith Ellestad

Faith has been writing to amuse her family since she was old enough to print letters to her grandparents. Now retired, she has the opportunity (and with Covid restrictions, the time) to share some personal stories, and in the process, discover more about herself. Faith and her husband live with an elderly cat in Madison, Wisconsin. They are the parents of two great sons and a loving daughter-in-law.


About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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