The Travel Bug, Part Deux

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe.

Image via Wikipedia, Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe

Up to now, the road trip had been uneventful. I later learned it was my daughter who had driven the six hours to New Orleans. I can barely drive an hour on the freeway without getting sleepy. I wondered at her resilience to perform such a feat. Of course, I’d conveniently forgotten that at her age, I would drive seven hours straight on the spur of the moment. Funny how insidiously your telescope closes in on itself as you grow older.

She assured me they’d had a “dry” good time in New Orleans, all being under legal drinking age. I accepted that for what it was worth. In Austin, they hung out for a few days and got to see the famous bats at the downtown bridge. In Denver, they planned to spend more time. They were staying with friends of friends and she sent me pictures of them hiking in the mountains. I felt relaxed, at ease. Things were going well, loose ends had been resolved.

And then one day, I got the call. Her speech sounded slurred; it was hard to understand her words. It was even more difficult to comprehend what she was saying. She’d been at the hospital she said. They’d given her pain medication and sedatives. It was hard to hear her with my heart pounding in my ears.

“Why?” was all I could manage to say.

“My jaw dislocated.” I imagined someone had hit her. Why would anyone hit her. Her of all people?


“I was throwing up,” she mumbled.

Throwing up? That could only point to one thing; she’d been drinking and made herself sick. I felt a rush of anger, something foreign when it came to her. Then my maternal instincts kicked in; she was so far away and I wasn’t there to take care of her.

“When did this happen?” I asked.

“Last night,” she said. It was morning; she’d been in the emergency room and none of the other three kids she was traveling with thought to call me. My anger returned; I was livid. On them, I could vent my anger unperturbed. I couldn’t believe they could be so irresponsible with something so serious. I felt the need to call their parents and tell them off, call the kids and tell them off. I had all their contact numbers. The kids had taken the initiative to document and print out this information for all of us, the parents.

“Why didn’t Kim call me?” I said, my voice rising. “Why didn’t the others call me? What is wrong with them?”

“I told them not to,” she whispered.

And then I knew. I knew why she hadn’t let them call me. It would have been more of a shock to me to hear it from them. She wanted to tell me herself, to let me know she was all right. But, part of me still felt that she wanted to hide it from me, hide the cause; she’d been drinking to excess.

I knew she drank; many college kids do. At her brother’s wedding, she’d asked permission to have a beer and I allowed it. It didn’t bother me as long as it was social drinking.  But, when you drink enough to end up in the hospital that is a different story. If she was vomiting violently enough to dislocate her jaw, how much had she drunk?

Her father came to the same conclusion; she’d gotten smashed. He called her up.

“You know, it’s nice for you to do all this traveling and all, but when it starts costing us money that becomes a different story.”

He listened for a while to what she had to say.

“Well, no more drinking. Do you understand?”

The trip continued. In Lake Tahoe they had a bear scare. A bear was running around stealing from the campers. Of course, she and Daniel nonchalantly went out for a nice walk in the woods, though they didn’t get to see any bears.

After seeing San Francisco, it took second place on her list of cities to live in, after NYC. Their time in Los Angeles was split between the music festival and spending time with her relatives, some of whom she’d never met. Her grandfather threw a big party for her and her friends. She left L.A. with sensory overload.

Kim had a friend in Arizona whom she wanted to stay overnight with. I said no, no way. Arizona was up in arms with their immigration conflagration; I did not want her in that state, much less stopping for any reason. I made it clear from the outset; they either drive straight through or I would fly her home.

This ongoing immigration debate may be theoretical for most, but when you live with a Hispanic name, it becomes personal. This attitude of acting first and asking questions later causes fear deep in my heart for my children. Being of American birth seems to matter not to some.

My daughter is too young to fully comprehend the scope of this debate. She groused about not being able to visit Phoenix. But by then, she was more or less dependent on my credit cards so I had the upper hand. It made no never mind to me whether I spent my money on meals and hotels or a plane ticket.

They drove on through and once they got past that nasty I-10 section on the Texas-Mexico border, I breathed a little easier. They made it home by July 4th and since she doesn’t like being broke, she immediately went to work at a sales job for the rest of the summer.

I was happy to have her return to college, return to normality as it were. I put most of my worries aside; she was back in her familiar cocoon. I learned she had an hour’s commute in the dead of winter to her newspaper internship job and I didn’t give it much thought. It was par for the course for what she had become, a big northeastern city girl.

But, I didn’t know she had something else up her sleeve to hit me with later on. Something that went beyond dodging traffic and snow drifts in the city. Before that would come to be, however, her father and I learned a lesson.


The Travel Bug

The Cave Rock tunnel along U.S. Route 50 in Ne...

Image via Wikipedia

When my daughter, Emma, told me she was going to study abroad during her college years, I took it with a grain of salt. She’d spent two and a half weeks in Europe after high school graduation and I figured she’d been bitten by the travel bug. I surmised, wrongly, that she would soon be over that particular affliction.

She enrolled in Spanish classes that first term; she’d set her mind on Spain. The program required five semesters of Spanish as she is not bilingual. I begged her to study Spanish in high school since I could help her, though I am far from what I would call fluent. She insisted in studying German.

She’s had no occasion to use that language, other than a couple of days spent in Germany. Five semesters of Spanish would put her in her junior year. A lot could happen during that time. I didn’t worry. I had more pressing things to worry about, namely persistent immobilizing pain due to Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Those first two college years she faithfully studied her Spanish, sending me occasional emails asking me to check her work. I learned a lot by helping her; it broadened my vocabulary. And now that she was away at school, I had the time and the energy to focus on myself. I began to improve; my physical pain lessened and my mobility increased. I began to think about what she’d said. She was going away to another country.

The spring of her sophomore year, 2010, she began to make mention of a summer cross-country trip with three of her friends. I barely gave it a thought. That was ridiculous. How could four twenty-year-olds travel the country by car for seven weeks and who was going to fund that? Not me! And whose car were they going to use? Not mine!

She talked and I barely listened. It wasn’t going to happen. I merely advised her that she’d better return from college in time for her brother’s May wedding and she did. A few days later, she was gone.

They’d planned and saved for an entire year. The itinerary was scheduled down to the minute, as they were following music festivals along the way. The cost, split four ways, was calculated down to the penny. She asked me for no money and the car they were using was a 2010 model that belonged to one of the boys, Julian. It seemed all systems were go.

But they quickly learned life is not so neatly packaged. Julian was dating Kim, the other girl joining them on the trip. They had a falling out and Julian pulled out of the trip the night before they were to leave. We all went into a tailspin. Now they were short not only the vehicle and a driver, but also money.

The other boy, Daniel, was being picked up at his school in northern Florida. That meant two girls driving alone, for starters, in no car. I was torn. I didn’t want her to be disappointed after all the planning. I didn’t want her to set forth with just her girlfriend, two little girls the wind could blow away. And I didn’t want to help her because I didn’t want her to go!

The girls decided they would take Kim’s ten year old SUV. My heart did a flip-flop. I conferred with Kim’s father. A mechanic, he assured me the vehicle was sound and would make it all the way and back. He was adamant that Julian not cause his daughter to give up her plans. Her mother came to the phone. “I trust Kim,” she said. I trusted Emma. It was the car and the rest of the world, I didn’t trust.

And there was another fly in the ointment. Daniel was flying back from Los Angeles. That meant the two girls would drive back from California to Florida alone. Kim’s father suggested he might fly his seventeen-year-old daughter out to drive back with them. Wonderful, another young girl to worry about.

The evening passed in a flurry of restructuring plans. In a way, I was glad Julian was out of the picture. He had proven himself undependable and childish. And I was worried the continued argument might invite danger out on the road. The girls deserved a stress free trip. Or as stress free as possible.

The next morning, I was impressed with their forethought and skill in packing. All was neatly stored in the back of the SUV, along with the tent they would use while camping out in Lake Tahoe. Emma wanted my inflatable bed and I relented knowing I’d probably never see it again.

I pushed some money into my daughter’s hand and made sure she had her credit cards and her U.S. passport with her. No telling when that would be necessary, although they were not leaving the country. Things were happening out there and I was afraid for her safety. I counted the hours till I heard they were at Daniel’s apartment.

The next morning they set out again, heading to New Orleans. They made it on to Texas and then headed northwest toward Colorado. While they were in Denver, Julian had a change of heart and flew out to join them. It surprised me, but at least that solved the problem of who would drive back with them from L.A. I hoped he’d gotten over his moment of pique.

By this time, I felt better about the trip. They’d made it more than halfway across the country without mishap. Daniel and Kim had demonstrated their maturity and responsible behavior.  My daughter, who’s always been focused and self-directed, was maintaining close contact with me, keeping me apprised. Or so I thought.


You will never know what I see when I look at you
The exquisite miracle I behold
The miracle I let be

You will never know the pride that suffuses me
deep pride mixed with dread
For you reach far, too far for me to follow
I am left to follow only in my dreams

You will never know the love that engulfs me
The love that drowns and overwhelms me
that makes my eyes overflow

And yet, somehow I sense
you feel our connection
Immeasurable, fathomless, boundless
Reaching out into the vastness

Today, as you sail away from me
carrying gifts for those you meet
I will see you sailing toward me
taking the long way around

While you traverse this world
learning and gleaning
sopping up knowledge
as has always been your way

“Thank you,” you said to me,
hugging me goodbye
“Thank you.”

I thank you, my child
for being
and for being