By Tim Whyte
It was move-in day at Washington State University, and my daughter’s dorm room looked like a crime scene.
Blood, spattered on the wall. In the sink. On the boxes we had carted there to, hopefully, get Brooke’s freshman year as a Cougar off to an auspicious start.
The trash basket was filled with blood-soaked paper towels, evidence of the kind of hasty cleanup effort that’s prompted by sudden bloodshed.
It was my blood. And I’d done something really, really stupid.
Fortunately, it was early. Brooke’s roommate wasn’t there yet. So, like Tony Soprano, we had time to call in Paulie Walnuts to clean up the mess I’d created.
I’d damn near lopped off my thumb.
It was dumb. We had just finished hauling in all of Brooke’s boxes, clothes, tubs, suitcases, a mini refrigerator, a small microwave and, of course, her Keurig. If you know Brooke, you know she wasn’t about to move 1,100 miles away without a coffee maker.
But it was the fridge that did me in.
I was putting the thing together, and there was a zip tie that had been holding the power cord together while the fridge was in its box. I grabbed our awesome American flag pocket knife, and prepared to slice that zip tie to smithereens.
Except it popped loose faster than I expected and next thing I know, Tim’s thumb is part of the smithereens.
Blood squirted from my thumb. Launch velocity was pretty good. It hit the wall behind me. Ignoring all of my own preachings about knife safety, I had sliced the pad of my thumb to the point where it was hanging by a millimeter of skin, exposing the interior of my thumb in a way that I never want to see again.
And there I was, holding my thumb together, blood flowing, trying to stop it. It didn’t hurt, but I was worried about how much blood I was losing.
My wife and my daughter? They were worried about the mess I was making.
Looking back now, I see the humor in it. But at the time all I could think was, “I’ve ruined Brooke’s move-in day. Forever in this dorm, she will be known as the girl whose dopey dad sliced off his thumb on move-in day.”
That hurt much more than the knife. The last thing I’d ever want to do is ruin anything for my little girl.
We got it temporarily patched up with gauze and duct tape, which Brooke had insisted on bringing to college because, she said, you never know when you’ll need duct tape.
She was right. And I think I owe her a fresh roll of stars-and-stripes duct tape.
She’s so ready for this college thing.
Erin wanted to drive me to the ER, but I was feeling OK and there was much work remaining to do in the dorm so I drove myself and left the girls — I believe they went through a whole tub of Clorox wipes, cleaning up while I was gone. Paulie, eat your heart out.
Fortunately, the Pullman Hospital ER wasn’t busy, and they got me glued back together within an hour. (Thanks, Dr. Lightfoot!)
I got back to the university and parked a few blocks from the dorm, and made the climb up the hill. I know WSU’s mascot is the Cougar, but they should be the WSU Mountain Goats. The gag is, Pullman is the only place in that part of Washington too steep to grow wheat, so they put a university there.
At WSU, the “Freshman 15” means something completely different: It’s the 15 pounds you’ll LOSE from climbing all those hills.
But holy cow, it’s a beautiful campus, in the midst of a quintessentially American town where the university is everything. I knew Brooke had chosen a good place to be.
I got back to the girls, and we shared a few laughs over my exploits, now that the crisis was over. Erin and Brooke had done a terrific job cleaning up, and setting up her side of the room, and it felt like a good place to call home for the next couple of semesters.
And that’s when it started to hit me.
It hadn’t hit me on the drive up to Pullman, which felt like a family road trip except we were missing our son Luc, who was already back in Oklahoma getting ready for his senior year at OU. We veered off the I-5 just past Mt. Shasta and wound our way through the country roads and highways of Oregon and Washington — a truly scenic taste of America in which it seemed like, every hour or so, one of us would say, “What a cute little town…”
It was then, though, in the dorm, my thumb splinted and wrapped in bright blue medical tape, that it hit me: We were going back to Santa Clarita and Brooke was staying there, starting her college adventure while Erin and I headed back to an empty nest.
Like I said. She’s got this. Honor student. Good head on her shoulders. Quick wit. Huge heart. But damn. They grow up too fast.
We enjoyed a couple of meals in Pullman’s signature pubs and mom-and-pop restaurants, and Brooke stayed in the hotel with us on our last night before we left, sharing some laughs — at least one of which ended with a reference to my thumb and both girls, in unison, unrehearsed, lamenting, mockingly, “Oh, Timmy Tim Tim.”
Yeah. I deserved that.
The next morning was the hard part. Erin and I had to head home, and Brooke had dorm meetings and welcome week events to attend, and new friends to make.
We pulled up to the front of her dorm on Sunday morning to say so long, until we next visit her in Pullman.
Hugs. Tears. “I love you’s.”
And then, I couldn’t resist it. Choking up, I told her I was proud of her — and, teary-eyed, I gave her a big, blue, bandaged “thumbs up.”
And I wouldn’t trade that smile she gave me, for anything.
Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal. His column appears Sundays. On Twitter: @TimWhyte.