"I say we kill Julie."
I snap my cell phone shut and turn to my 13-year-old, who's busy nudging the radio dial around with his nose. We're sitting in the car, waiting for his train to New Jersey that's almost three hours late, and "Julie," Amtrak's automated customer service "person," has just tacked on another fifteen minutes to the delay. At this point, my son's more than a little antsy and frankly, I am, too. About him making the trip alone, about his arriving in Newark around midnight alone, and, in all honesty? About my having to spend the next seven days alone.
Ok, that's not completely true. I won't be all alone. My older son and our two perpetually filthy farm dogs, (whom I'd happily put on a train to anywhere) will be there. But still, I'll be down a kid, and since my husband's death I have a thing about keeping my sons close.
"Ugh, Usher," I reply as he successfully nudges his way from KIIS FM to Hits 1. "Not listening to Mr. Sex Songs, dude."
I figure he'll switch stations, but no. Instead he pops the radio off with the tip of his sweet, freckled ski jump of a nose and flops back in the passenger seat.
"What do you think Usher's mother thinks of his stuff?" he asks.
I love how my boy's brain works. I'd never in a million years think to ask that question or any of the others he barrages me with on a daily basis. Things like, If the Catholics control Heaven, do they let the Jews in? What kind of sports do you think guys who become Navy Seals played when they were kids? And my least favorite, What happens to me and Casey if you get cancer?
"Seriously," he prods, "what do you think Usher's mother thinks?"
"I think she thinks 'Thanks for the penthouse, honey, but don't let your grandmother catch you singing that crap.'" He laughs and then it hits me. My son is on his way to see his grandmother, a.k.a. my mother, and if she catches him listening to Usher or any of his ilk, she'll kill me.
"C.B.," I start, but he knows where I'm headed and stops me.
"I know, I know. No Usher at Grandma's. No Family Guy, either, right?"
"Good God, no. We'll both be out of the will."
At that we both crack up and then, despite the fact that it's about one hundred degrees outside, he hops out of the car. His camouflage backpack, filled with clothes he'll try to avoid wearing and a toothbrush he'll try to avoid using right up until the moment my mom questions his lack of laundry and abundant bad breath, bounces as he strides purposefully across the parking lot, into the train station and out onto the tracks.
"Dude, what are you doing?"
"Mom, please," he responds, grinning with mock impatience and stretching his arms wide to steady himself as he treats one of the rails like a balance beam. "Can't you see I'm going for the gold?"
"And can't you see I'm going to tear up this ticket if you don't get on this platform now?"
He ignores me and I stand there, sweating and pretending to be annoyed. I know in my heart he's not going to get hurt. For starters, no matter what "Julie" claims, there is no train, and there probably won't be one for another hour. But more importantly, for the past few months I've been filled with the feeling that, at least for the time being, my sons have a pass, a sort of God-given "Get Out of Jail, Free" card. Of course they certainly shouldn't tempt fate by playing on train tracks, but for now, while they continue to recover and heal and learn to navigate their new normal, I really believe they're getting a little extra protection from above.
Maybe I'm deluding myself. Maybe I just can't stand the thought of losing someone else that I love. Or maybe, just maybe, my faith is on the money.
"We should call 'Julie' again."
I didn't even see him approach but suddenly, there he is. Safe and sound and smiling on the platform beside me. There's still no sign of a train, but "Julie" insists we'll see one in less than twenty minutes.
Perfect, I think. Just enough time to review the rules. No talking to strangers. Be aware of your environment. And for Pete's sake, no Usher, Pitbull, South Park, Tosh.O, or Family Guy at Grandma's.
Yes, I believe with my whole heart that God's keeping a close eye on my kids. But trust me when I tell you that if my mom discovers him watching or listening to any of that stuff, not even a force field of divine proportions will be able to save him.