Courtney left back at the end of May to spend the summer with her biological mother in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to get reacquainted with her. She told me she’d be back in August after her birthday to return to school at WCC in the fall. I was nervous about her spending three months away from home, but I thought it would be a good thing for her relationship with her mom. Then in June she called and told me that she was taking a job on Mackinaw Island for the rest of the summer and that it would mean she’d miss the first semester of school. I wasn’t thrilled with this idea to say the least and I told her that, as she was 18 years of age, it was her decision but I thought it was a very bad idea to miss school. It doesn’t help that Mackinaw is four hours away if she got into trouble and needed my help. She decided to go anyway and was upset with me that I didn’t support that decision. Today, well yesterday afternoon now, I got an email from her in which she explained that she would be sticking with the job through to its end in October (she had an option to leave in August, but she’d miss out on a bonus) and that she wouldn’t be attending the fall semester at WCC. That, in fact, she would be moving back in with her mom for a few months until she could get a job, buy a car, and find some roommates to move in with. She said she would be signing up to attend the community college in Grand Rapids and eventually to the local university.
Needless to say I was both surprised and hurt by this announcement. Surprised because I had honestly thought she’d be coming back home sooner or later and hurt because she opted to send it as an email rather than call me directly. I’ve been trying to reach her for the past several days because there was some paperwork she needed to fill out to complete financial aid and I was getting worried that something had happened as she hadn’t called me back. It was then I realize she had been ignoring my calls as she tried to figure out how to tell me she was leaving home. She didn’t really offer an explanation as to why she had made this decision, just that she had made it and that I shouldn’t try to talk her out of it. She assured me it wasn’t that she suddenly hated me, just that she needed to figure out what she wants and what is best for her. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I sent back a reply saying that I respected her decision, but that I was hurt by the means in which it was communicated. That I loved her very much, missed her, and that I hoped I’d hear from her from time to time. That she would always have a place here if she needed it and that I was only a phone call away.
Courtney will turn 19 years old in another 10 days. She came to live with me almost exactly 10 years ago just before she turned 9 when her mother got into legal trouble. She’s been a daily part of my life for a decade and she’s helped make me into a much better man than I might have been otherwise. I always figured she’d be moving out at some point in the next few years, but I always thought I’d have more forewarning and that she’d be closer to home. Without an explanation I can only assume that she was unhappy here and never told me. It is true that she and I and Anne have butted heads over college and such, but I thought we had a better relationship than we apparently did. At least good enough that news like the above would have warranted a phone call.
Thinking back over the past several months there were a few clues that I should have picked up on. At one point in the lead up to her leaving for her mom’s she asked me if life would be better if she wasn’t around. I told her of course not and asked her if she planned on moving in with her mother permanently or something. She told me no at the time. There was also a phone conversation a couple of weekends ago where I asked her if she had decided whether she was going to leave Mackinaw in August or stay until October. She hadn’t decided yet. So I asked her to let me know where I would need to go to pick her up and bring her home. She told me her mom would bring her home and I didn’t need to worry about it. I thought it odd that she’d drive all the way to Mackinaw and then all the way down to Ann Arbor, but Courtney assured me it wasn’t a problem when I asked. I should have probably realized then that something was up.
I am, naturally, blaming myself for this. Both my wife and my mother have tried to make me feel better and told me not to beat myself up over this, but it’s hard not to. I’ve not heard much from her since she left back in May, a few phone calls is all, and without an explanation as to why I am left to speculate on what I did, or didn’t do, that made her decide it was time to leave. It doesn’t help at all that she indicated that once she was back at her mom’s in October she’d set about collecting her belongings from us which suggests, to me at least, not only a permanence but a desire to cut all ties with us. It’s like the last 10 years never happened. Perhaps it’s nothing I did or didn’t do. Perhaps it’s not an indication of my failure as a father. Perhaps it’s all something she’s just decided she had to do. And perhaps it’s all of those things. I don’t know.
I just know this isn’t how I had envisioned this event taking place. I know that I’ve missed having her a daily part of my life for the past couple months. I know that I feel like the rug has been pulled out from under me. And I know that it’s now 2:40AM and I’m really going to regret allowing my anxiety and insecurity keep me awake when I need to be up for work at 6AM. So I’m headed back to bed to see if I can’t manage at least a couple of hours.