Black Widow

My husband was bewildered when I told him we would be driving our middle son, Robby, to college. He figured Robby would get there on his own, just like he and all his five siblings had. No matter that this was his freshman year.

Obviously, this man is no marshmallow. He has no problem laying down the law with his boys and could care less if they like him or not. He takes his role as a father very seriously, and believes it is his job to parent, not necessarily to befriend.

But he obediently helped Robby load the pick-up truck and we all set out early Friday morning for the 5 ½ hour drive to Oxford, Mississippi.

I was stoic the whole way, motivated by my son’s belief that I was on the verge of a complete breakdown over his departure. He feared I would collapse and cling to his ankles and wail and insist he stay in my house and be home schooled for his college years. In fact, when we came close to running out of gas on the longest stretch of freeway in the country devoid of gas stations, he thought it was part of my master plan. I guess he thought I would be content to finish out my days stranded on the side of the back road we were on in search of gas, as long as he was by my side.

Once we found an obscure gas pump in a town not on our map, then drove the nine miles back to the interstate, we discussed buying textbooks. Robby was confused about where to go and how to get the correct books for his classes. I immediately chimed in with, “Don’t worry! I’ll come help you!” and Robby looked relieved. My husband immediately said “Absolutely Not! Rob can figure this out and this is part of going to college.”

I kept my mouth shut, quietly sulking, foreseeing Robby failing out the first semester due to total lack of textbooks.

When we said our good-byes, I simply hugged him and told him I would see him soon. I did NOT think of the way my husband grinned exuberantly through tears when I told him I was pregnant with Robby. I did NOT think of Rob on his fifth birthday, dressed up like a tiny cowboy and racing through the house with a new holster and toy pistols. And I did NOT think of him in those blue footie pajamas, curled up by the fire drinking a bottle.

I began cleaning out drawers the instant I got home and staying very busy. And I was fine.

Exactly one week later we got a call from Robby’s cell phone at 7:30 am. I knew before I answered it would not be good.

Robby’s voice was strained and hoarse and he struggled to tell me he’d been bitten by a black widow and was in the hospital. I could tell by his voice that his pain was severe and he was frightened and I was trying to talk calmly and reassure him. I told him to be sure and notify the nurse immediately if he had any trouble breathing and he said, “Mom, I am having trouble breathing” and all my pseudo-calmness vanished as I shouted, “PUT THE DOCTOR ON THE PHONE!”

I talked to the doctor and was assured that his vital signs were all fine but that they were going to admit him to the hospital.

White-faced and frantic, my husband began to rush around throwing things in an overnight bag. He pulled out of the driveway while I was still trying to figure out how to juggle my younger son and his schedule so that I could go to Oxford.

Five-and-a-half hours later, my husband called from Robby’s hospital room to report that the patient was doing fine. The relief in his voice was audible.

 Between morphine and valium, I don’t know if Robby will remember his father sitting patiently by his bed, worry etched on his face. But I know my husband will always remember Robby waking up every few hours, and smiling a big, goofy smile at him before nodding back off.

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