Anger issues had rendered me unapproachable. Unresponsive insurance adjusters and insensitive people further inflamed my already sour disposition, and it showed. People distanced themselves like rats jumping off a sinking ship. Meanwhile, my youngest son was packing his suitcase.
Jason had been talking to his mother for some time about moving out of the house and living on his own. Understandably, he wanted and needed his independence. At the age of twenty-four, he was certainly old enough; and he had already been on his own, living in a rented house on the other side of town with friends while he commuted to college. He had only come back home to live because his friends had moved on and there was nobody left to share the rent and utilities on the house they all lived in together.
What didn’t make any sense to me was that he was talking about heading for Arizona to live with a friend who had camped out in an aunt’s spare bedroom, played the guitar, and was unemployed. Jason had no job prospects and no money to speak of. He was old enough to do as he pleased, but he certainly wasn’t heading for anything that represented stability. Visions of hippies living on the streets in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco during the sixties came to mind. I was apprehensive about the direction he was leaning in and not at all impressed by the people who were influencing his decisions.
Although Jason had been making the payments on his pickup, the vehicle was titled in my name and my signature was on his car loan. To keep his insurance rates affordable, we had him listed on our auto insurance policy. I told him that if he intended to take that vehicle across state lines, he would first need to have it refinanced and retitled in his name. I also told him he needed to get his own car insurance coverage while he was at it.
I wanted my son to show some initiative, but I was more concerned about protecting our interests. As the cosigner of his car loan I would be responsible for picking up the tab if he missed a car payment. Because my name was on the vehicle’s title, everything I owned could be attached to a lawsuit if he was involved in a fender-bender. And if his driving record was less than stellar, my insurance rates would rise. I explained those things to Jason, and he was clearly not happy. He protested, but I stuck to my guns. Financially, we were in no position to help him. Moreover, he needed to learn how to be on his own. At one point I nearly backed down from my demands, but something kept telling me to stay out of his way.
A few days passed, and he started complaining that he needed a cosigner before any bank would talk to him about borrowing money. I wasn’t surprised. I figured that sooner or later he would come looking for a reprieve.
“Welcome to the real world,” I said. “You want to be grown up and independent, this is the way you do it. Find someone willing to cosign a loan for a vehicle that’s going to be driven to the other side of the United States by a guy who has no source of income. The rest should be a breeze.”
Even though he knew I was right, his antipathy toward me ratcheted to a new level. It was amazing how callous I had become. Among the possessions he had planned to take to Arizona was his drum kit. When he started making comments that sounded like he was going to pack his drums into my road cases for the trip,
“How do you plan to get those cases back to me after you get to Phoenix?” I asked. “The shipping is going to cost you almost as much as a new set of road cases!”
“Fine,” he said with disgust. “I’ll leave the cases here. It’s not like you’re using them, but whatever!”
“Whether I’m using them or not, Jay, those cases are expensive and they’re mine. If you want a set of cases to haul your drums around, maybe it’s time you went shopping for your own.”
I handled my son the way I had been handled by my elders when I was growing up in spite of the fact that I hated the way they had dealt with me. Anger was oozing from every pore. I was uncooperative and unkind, and I sounded very spiteful, and I knew it. I had convinced myself that forcing him to take responsibility was the best thing for him.
Secretly, the last thing I wanted was for my son to go to Arizona, so I sure wasn’t going to make it any easier for him to split. The whole time he was packing, I prayed that he would reconsider his move and stick with me through his mother’s rehabilitation. Both he and his fiancée, Rhonda, had good jobs. It seemed to me that instead of leaving home because he needed to find a job, he was leaving his paying job to get away from home. More to the point, it felt as though he were desperately trying to get as far away from me as possible.
Finally, the day came.
On Saturday, September 1, 2007, about a month after our terrible disagreement over his seeming lack of interest in helping with his mother’s care, Jason hugged his mother good-bye as she lay in her bed at Mission Point and then left his job at the Lighthouse.
At eleven-thirty that same night, I sat in my wheelchair at the edge of the parking pad in front of our garage and watched his taillights disappear over the hill as he drove out of my life…