He finished up his exams, turned in all his assignments — or enough of them, anyway — took in his awards and accolades, got the yearbook, went to the prom. Over the course of a week he turned 18 and graduated high school. He’s laid his plans for the summer — some study, some work, some travel, some romance, hundreds of hours of video-game time (obvs) — and paved his way into a slot at Appalachian State University in the fall, which means that in a couple of months we’ll be bringing the graduate up the mountain and he won’t be coming back down with us.

It shocks us in the same way all firstborn children shock their parents when they venture into new territory. But I find this one particularly jarring.

I don’t remember my first day of school or my first crap on the toilet. But I sure as hell remember the summer after I graduated high school, so close I can still touch it: my friends, my job, that feeling of being on the cusp… running out the clock on my childhood so I could start my adult life. My real life.

I had no real plans other than to move 1,300 miles south in pursuit of a degree in… something — I’d figure that out later — and the sorts of experiences I had been waiting my whole life to have visited upon me.

I remember having an unwavering faith in my abilities, though in hindsight I know that I didn’t really have any, and my intellect, which from this distance looks similarly anemic. The things I’ve learned since then have filled hundreds of columns over the years.

Those knocks to the psyche are the reasons I don’t envy my son, who is both more together and less experienced than I was in the waning days of youth. I still remember what the hard way feels like. He has no clue.

But he’s ready — he knows it even if his mother and I don’t. And when we bring him up to Boone at the end of the summer, we’re the ones who have to come back down. He’ll be on the mountaintop learning, finally, to fly.

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