I’m Gonna Need the Pepto.

Cooper Thornton
7 min readAug 15, 2023
Photo owned by author

I just drove to get my son and his girlfriend bagels for breakfast. His, a cinnamon sugar with bacon and egg, and hers, the same with just bacon. I did this to allay my sadness over his leaving for college. I’ve gotten them bagels before, but I did it this morning because he’s leaving. I’ve been doing that a lot. Extra little things for him.

I went to the pharmacy last night at my Harris Teeter to get one of my meds for depression, aripiprazole. Especially now, I want to make sure I stay on my meds, this chapter will be enough of a challenge without adding to it. As I waited, I cruised the OTC medicine aisle to see if there was anything else he might need for college. I got him more Benadryl for allergies and cream for itches and Pepto Bysmol for stomach ache, the name brand, not the knock off store brand, because I want him to know that I care. Even though I know it won’t even register with him.

But as I stood there trying to decide between the 4 ounce personal and the 16 ounce party size of the popular pink Pepto, I remembered what it was like the first time I had serious stomach pains away from home. I’d never felt so alone in my life lying on my apartment floor curled up in a ball, on the nasty twenty year old college rental-unit carpet, feeling like all my internal organs wanted to come out my ass. Knowing that somehow I had to make it to the school’s medical care center, or the “Quack Shack” as we called it. Fuck it, I thought. He deserves the 16s. I got him two, the second one half off. I both love him and appreciate a deal.

My dear son unwrapped his bagel and with a smile and intentional cruelty declared, “This time tomorrow, I’ll be moved in.” He meant it to generate a response. He wanted tears to laugh at. He tried the exact same thing yesterday, but I pointed out he was wrong, that it was still two days away. So there. He finds my approaching and ever increasing sadness and anxiety most amusing. Lovable ass.

He also needs some help to process his own feelings, and joking with me about it is one way for him to get the subject out in the open. To let me know that he’s also working through it. Maybe that he’s as worried and excited about what’s next as the rest of us, and finding some humor in it is how he knows to deal with the discomfort of all of our emotions. And maybe he’s trying to help me put on a brave face. Or maybe he needs me to put on a brave face so that he knows he’s going to be okay. He keeps finding reasons to come be by me today and show me or ask me things. I’m not going to point it out to him, but it’s not his usual M.O. and it’s very sweet.

While I was at Bruegger’s for the chewy yeasty pastries, I stopped in Trader Joe’s to pick up coffee pods. We had orange chicken last night, a very popular staple in our house, so I cruised over to the frozen aisle to replenish our stock. I always buy two. But he’s leaving, so I only grabbed one. Actually, I didn’t grab any because they were out so I got the Kung Pao chicken. I still teared up. My sons and I always eat two bags of orange chicken. Now, it will just be me and my younger son one-bagging it. Yes, I honestly welled up. Fuck.

Every meal the last few weeks has been what he wanted. Brenz pizza, home grilled burgers, salmon, the Loop restaurant, last night’s orange chicken. His leaving has been this summer’s theme. And he’s played me like a cheap violin. Did he need some cash for a “date” with his girlfriend going to Walmart? Sure, you bet. I gave him the money. I’ve been the worst kind of pushover. But thankfully, it hasn’t been all take on his part.

We played an impromptu game of pool last night with some new short 3 foot cues I acquired because there are times when my standard length sticks will hit the walls in my smaller than ideal pool room. He asked me if I’d like to play. Normally, I’m the one to ask for a game of pool, but this time it was his idea. His way of offering me some quality time before he deserts the family for his own selfish pursuits at college. Of course, I don’t mean that. Sort of not. I mean the first part of his sensitivity, but not the second selfish part. Sorta.

I’m going to miss him. I’m going to miss his friends coming over and their no-longer-boys-but-not-yet-men energy and aroma. Thinking they can grow beards, which are the nastiest scraggliest looking mangy-ass dog beards you ever saw. In truth, my son’s beard is the best of the bunch, but that’s not saying a whole lot. My son’s body is hairy. In their bathroom, there’s hair on the counter, in the sink, in the tub, and piles on the floor. He doesn’t just shave, he manscapes. The one place there is not hair, where it is glaringly absent, is gathered up and in the toilet or in the trash. I won’t miss all the hair.

I’ll miss hearing him laughing and playing games online with friends. I won’t miss that it’s usually late at night and I have to tell him for the third time to please keep it down.

I’ll miss how he always thanks me for making dinner, even though it’s often only something frozen, heated up with rice and maybe a fruit salad. His younger brother has started picking up on thanking me. I hope that continues. It touches me. I won’t miss that son number one leaves his napkin on the floor and the dishes never make it to the dishwasher.

I’m really going to miss seeing my sons together. Witnessing the real friendship that has developed between them since the divorce and moving to NC. Even more since they began to go to the gym together to work out. I’ll miss them coming in after an hour of upper body and watching them preen in front of the mirrored wall in my kitchen, comparing bis and tris, and talking trash to each other at the same time as building each other up. God, I’m going to miss that.

Oh the joy. Author’s photo.

But… but, but, but, but…

BUT I’m going to love hearing about his adventures at college. Seeing him mature and become even more of his own person, which he already very much is. Seeing how he navigates having a girlfriend at home while he makes friends and plugs into a new town 180 miles away. I’m going to love the weekends that he comes home and those when his brother and I go to visit him. I’ve encouraged him to come home very little at least for the first semester. I may end up regretting that. I think it’s best for both of us though. All of us.

His younger brother has started having friends over most weekends and sometimes during the week this summer. They play D&D. For 2 or 3 hours, they’re nowhere near their phones, and are creating worlds of their own. And cussing. They cuss a lot. I let them. Mostly f-bombs. And always with laughter.

Their mom now lives 90 minutes out of town, so if they want to see friends, they can have them here. I want to be that parent with that house. I got a dart board and a pool table for that purpose. We have maybe two dozen board games. I’ll buy pizza for everyone. And as I do this, I know that when my second son leaves for college the silence is going to be deafening. They’ll both be gone and for the first time in 35 years I will be alone.

I know that the sadness I feel now with Jet leaving for college will likely be just as severe if not more so when Milo follows suit. It’s as life should be.

Jet just came out of his room to give Abby, our dog, some goodbye hugs. I’m having to board her for when we take him to school tomorrow. Jet is telling her that he loves her and will miss her, which puts a solid knot in my throat. A knot that’s come and gone over the last few weeks and will likely be with me all day tomorrow. Tomorrow. Shit.

Because as Jet reminded me, this time tomorrow, he’ll be moved in.

Good luck, son.

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Cooper Thornton

Parent, Actor, People Lover, Observer, Writer and Most Often Happy Depressive in NC by way of LA by way of UK by way of BC by way of TN, where it all started.