I sit in the passenger seat of my son Alec's Jeep two years ago, enjoying the open road leading from our home in Plainview to the University of Buffalo for his sophomore year. We sing Stevie Wonder songs and eat potato chips, a family road trip. I watch him drive. I watch his hands as he confidently drums the steering wheel.
He feels me studying him.
"I just like to look at you."
We smile different smiles. His is a light and secure acknowledgment of the future. Mine is a heavier bow to the past, the universal smile of mothers who wonder how this college-bound person can be her baby boy.
"Where's Dad?" he asks, looking toward his side mirror.
I look out the back. I see the white and orange U-Haul truck in the distance. I wave my arm out the window. The truck beeps.
My husband, Bruce Beckerman, sputters behind us. He is carting an 7 1/2-foot-tall suit of armor along with some furniture and odds and ends. I bet he's been talking to himself for the last 200 miles about the extravagance of the plan I sprung on him just the week before.
Shaking his head, he said he would not drive a metal "knight" 405 miles.
"In a U-Haul?" he said. "What? No. Why?"
"Because I promised," I said.
He rolled his eyes. "He was 7."
I recall 7-year-old Alec, clad in his orange and black soccer uniform the day he came barreling into my office in Hicksville and spotted the armor for the first time.
"Whoa," he skidded to a halt like a cartoon character. "What is that?" His voice was breathy.
He stepped to look at the giant medieval armor tucked into the corner of my office. It was delivered by a florist friend who had supplied 24 suits of armor for a Renaissance-themed event.
Alec thought it was the coolest thing he'd ever seen, claiming it instantly as his own.
"He won't fit in my room?" he asked.
It was more of a challenge than a question. Alec had the biggest heart and the smallest room in the house.
"No," I said.
I joined him in front of the armor. We raised our heads in unison. The "knight" loomed down upon us.
"He won't fit," I said.
"I'll keep him here 'til you go to college," I offered, thinking of a day so far off you can't envision it. It was a seemingly permanent stall.
He liked the idea. "But how will we get him there?"
"When the time comes, we'll get him there," I said.
The armor remained in my office for 11 years, a stoic witness to Alec's youth.
Alec greeted the "knight" like an old friend. He balanced trophies on its sword, hung caps off its face. He brought friends by. "I'm showing Josh my knight," he'd explain.
"I'm taking him with me when I leave," Alec would remind me.
When we reach the dilapidated off-campus house in downtown Buffalo in under eight hours, Bruce carries the armor into the living room, eyes me crookedly and plops it down. Alec moves the suit triumphantly into a corner near the pool table.
"It fits," Alec says with a sigh. "Finally." There had been no room for a suit of armor in his cramped freshman dorm room..
I place my arm around his back. The "knight" will guard him.
I think about the empty corner in my office. I'll miss the game I played with my son now that my promise has been kept. I'm reminded it is the journey most remembered. I pray I've been a good travel partner for my son.
Bruce sits on the couch, his shoulders slumped. He purses his lips, but I know he's not really mad. There may be no such thing as a knight in shining armor, but this I know for sure: A man who lugs a suit of armor in a U-Haul truck for 405 miles to keep a promise between a 7-year-old boy and his queen is indeed a prince.
Reader Debra Cohen Beckerman lives in Plainview.