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.