Upon arriving home last night Claudia and I were greeted by children who had missed us and were happy to welcome us back. It's always a nice feeling, albeit overwhelming, to return home tired and cranky after hours of travel to the choruses of voices excited by our return.
Within an hour of our return Mike was calling. Choosing not to answer (we're never sure whether he will be calling to be verbally abusive or to make a simple request), we heard his grunted response to our answering machine: "Mom. I'm coming home to get an outfit to wear."
He arrived a few minutes later, announcing as he walked through the door, "I'm here to get something to wear." Tromping to the closet near our bedroom where he has been keeping his clothes he went to work finding what he was looking for. I let him dig for a few minutes and then asked, "Are you taking your snowboarding stuff with you?" (In the past when he has left it with us he returns to blame us that someone has "messed" with it). "Yeah." "That's good," I said, explaining that he could probably keep it safer than we could (not sure of the veracity of statement, but at least it keeps us from being blamed if something should go wrong."
In the midst of his grabbing clothes Claudia asked him to take everything with him, because we do not want him returning to the home willy nilly and unexpectedly in the future. He complied with her request. And then he looked up from his task, furtively glancing in my direction to inquire: "So, do you guys want me to call you and stuff or just stay away?"
They were words uttered without animosity, a simple request from a ten-year-old kid in an eighteen-year-old body, wondering how to maintain a connection of sorts with a family who is unable to trust him enough to live in their home.
"Of course, Mike. We want to hear from you. We love you, you're our son. Please tell us how things are going for you."
"So, where are you going to stay?"
"Don't know. I have a place to keep my stuff but I'm not sure if I can stay there or not."
And that was about it. He packed up his clothes, grabbed his snowboard and boots and slipped into the darkness of the December evening. And that's why it's so hard.