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.