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    Marilyn and Greg’s Love Story

       August 19th. Marilyn stared at the date on her calendar and wiped a tear off her cheek. Most years, she spent today making her daughter’s birthday special—dinner as a family, Baskin Robbins ice cream cake, gift opening with lots of back-to-school clothing.

       But today, she wouldn’t do any of it. Instead, she’d drop Amanda off at Loras College and say good-bye. Not exactly the kind of celebration she’d envisioned for her daughter’s eighteenth birthday.

       Greg opened the office door, dressed in jeans and a White Sox t-shirt. Stepping into the room, his clear blue eyes narrowed in concern. “Are you ready to pack the car?”

       Marilyn shook her head. “I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready.”

       “It’s going to be okay.”

       His footsteps stopped behind her and she turned around, wrapping her arms around his waist. “Amanda’s spending her birthday with strangers, away from home, without us.”

       Greg kissed her forehead. “This is an exciting day for her. She’ll meet her volleyball coach and all the other players on the team.”

       “We should have kept her home a year, instead of sending her to kindergarten.”

       “Honey, she’ll be fine.”

       Marilyn expelled a breath, wishing she could feel as certain. Would anyone wish Amanda a happy birthday? Would the coach like her? Would she make friends? If Amanda’s high school years were any indication, the coach would love her and she’d make plenty of friends, but what if college turned out different?

       The thump of a duffle bag being lugged down the stairs echoed through the hallway.

       Stepping away, Marilyn glanced out the open door. “I don’t want Amanda to see me crying, not now, and definitely not when we leave.”

       Greg ran a hand over his baldhead. “How about this? Let’s make up a secret phrase. When it’s time to leave, one of us will say it’s hurry time and we’ll make a quick exit.”

       “Good idea.” She wiped away the last of her tears. At least she could count on Greg to remain reasonable. No matter how emotional she became, he always minimized the situation. No mountains, just molehills. No doubt he’d keep her sane over the next few weeks.


       Marilyn bent down in front of the dorm room vanity, organizing all of Amanda’s bathroom supplies. She placed a green toothbrush holder on the worn sink and set a new toothbrush inside it. Opening the mirror above the vanity, she arranged face wash, floss, toothpaste, and deodorant. If she kept busy, she wouldn’t focus on the real purpose for being in Beckman Hall Dormitory.

       Finished with the vanity, she unsealed another cardboard box. She pulled out an orange bath towel and held it for her daughter to see. “Where do you want this to go?”

       Amanda glanced up from a box full of printed pictures, her long blonde strands draped across her slender shoulders. She taped a picture to the white brick wall, then pointed to the door. “I think there are hooks on the back.”

       “Ladies, I have a problem.” Greg stepped away from the pile of wooden boards lying on the green tiled floor. “The bolts don’t fit right.”

       Marilyn expelled a frustrated breath. “How is that possible? That loft was expensive. It should fit together perfectly.”

       Greg put his hands on his hips, staring at the half-finished bed. “I need to go back to Menards.”

       “Are you sure the bolts don’t fit?”

       “Yes, I’m positive.”

        Her heart sunk. Going to Menards meant more precious time away from Amanda. She didn’t want to go, and yet, Amanda needed a stable bed so she wouldn’t fall off the top bunk.

       An hour later, Marilyn followed Greg down the crowded dorm hallway at a snail’s pace. If only she could squeeze between the frenzied freshman and their families to get back to Amanda’s dorm room. But a tall husky man took up the entire width of the hallway as he carried a futon with a boy that looked like a linebacker.

       At this pace, she and Greg would never spend any quality time with Amanda. Why didn’t the college have a better move-in process? Didn’t they understand how nerve-racking today would be for everyone?

       Down the hallway, Amanda peeked out of her room, a relieved smile spreading across her face. No doubt today was hard for her, too. She’d only been away from home for summer sports camps, but two weeks was much shorter than an entire school year.

       The father and son duo maneuvered the futon into a room, leaving more space in the hallway. Marilyn made a beeline toward Amanda with Greg following behind.

       Amanda stepped back into the room, giving them space to step inside. “My roommate is here.”

       Marilyn swallowed hard. No time alone with Amanda. Blinking back tears, she entered the small cramped space. She plastered a smile on her face, making small talk with Kristen, her boyfriend, and her parents.

       As they talked, the walls closed in, making it difficult to breathe. In just a few short hours, she would say good-bye to her only daughter. Their lives would never be the same. She wouldn’t see Amanda get ready for school every morning. With Doug still in high school, she wouldn’t have time to witness all of Amanda’s volleyball games. Or meet her new friends. Amanda would create new memories without her family and new memories would be made at home without her.

       It didn’t feel right, like Marilyn was losing an appendage that was supposed to be connected to her.

       Trying to calm her emotions, she glanced at Greg, sitting cross-legged on the floor as he put the loft together. Despite the hours of work he’d put into building the loft, he looked more like a child playing with Legos. If only she could be as level-headed as him.

       A lull fell in the conversation and Kristin sent her mom a knowing look. “We have a lot of stuff to put away, let’s keep working.”

       Relieved, Marilyn turned to Amanda. “What else do you want us to do?”

       “The loft is the only thing left.” Amanda tied her curly hair into a ponytail. “What do you guys think of the room?”

       Clothes filled Amanda’s side of the closet and along the far wall all her pictures were taped up. But boxes still lay scattered across the tiled floor and without a bed, it looked more like a storage space.

       Greg surveyed the room and nodded his head in approval. “It looks great, honey.”

       Marilyn forced her lips into a smile. “It’s really coming together.” It was important to make Amanda feel comfortable here, it was her new home. But it would never replace her real home.


       Marilyn stood in the doorway with one foot inside Amanda’s room and one foot in the hallway. “Are you sure you have everything you need? We can go to the store and buy you more groceries.”

       “Thanks, Mom, but I can buy whatever I don’t have in the mess hall.”

       “What about plug-ins? Maybe I should check to see if you have enough outlets.”

        Amanda gave her a knowing look. “I have everything I need, thanks to all our shopping excursions to Bed, Bath, and Beyond.”

       “What about …” She let the sentence trail off, wishing she could think of something, anything to keep her here a little while longer.

       Greg leaned over and pulled Amanda into a hug. “We love you. Give us a call tomorrow, okay?”

       As he pulled back, he glanced at Marilyn. “It’s hurry up time.”

       She nodded, barely able to breath. She wasn’t ready to leave but tears threatened to overflow. Blinking away the moisture, she wrapped Amanda in a hug, her heart swelling with pride. Her daughter had accomplished so much—great high school G.P.A, all conference volleyball and softball, and first flute and section leader in band.

       And yet, the worries she’d buried all day now emerged to the surface of her mind.

       Was Amanda ready for college? Would she be scared to stay in her dorm room? Who would remind her to lock the room at night?

       She tried to push them away again, but one final question remained. Would Amanda need her? Like when she was a little girl and needed help walking down the stairs or needed comfort after scraping her knee, or wanted a hug when she thought the boogie man was under the bed.

       Marilyn’s chest constricted. Amanda wasn’t that little girl anymore. She was an independent woman, ready to experience college.

       Stepping out of their embrace, Amanda squeezed her arms. “You’ll be at my first volleyball game, right?” 

       “Of course.” Marilyn’s voice trembled. “We wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

       Greg smiled at Amanda. “We’ll see you soon.” Turning around, he reached for Marilyn’s hand, gently tugging her away from their daughter.

       Swallowing hard, she followed Greg’s lead. He let go of her hand and set his arm around her shoulders as they walked down the hallway. She leaned into him, her legs unsteady. “I miss her already.”

       “So do I.” Reaching the end of the hallway, he opened the main entrance door. “But she’s going to be fine. We did a good job of raising our daughter.”

       Warm August sunlight bathed Marilyn’s face as she glanced at Greg and let out a shaky laugh. “You’re right. She’s one amazing kid.”

    Where are they now?