Departures

"Don't forget your goddamn degree."
“Don’t forget your goddamn degree.”

I mistakenly assumed that on my last day at home, my parents would act accordingly (like parents) and see me off to the airport. It was practically a given – my father has always volunteered to drive me regardless of which airport (“LAX? No problem!”) and it was just Long Beach Airport, a stone’s throw away from my grandfather’s house. When I booked the ticket I imagined the three of us would dine with my grandfather, and then my parents would take me to the airport where we’d exchange tearful goodbyes. I regarded these goodbyes with a mix of dread and relief. Dread because I hate goodbyes. Relief because I was finally, finally, after what seemed like an interminable summer (or year, actually) of unemployment and general purposelessness, heading off to school. But I did not think to question my parents’ availability. In the history of my twenty-seven globe-trotting years, one of them has always been able to give me a ride.

Well. Things change. You grow up. They get older and more accustomed to your comings and goings, the goings of which, if you think about it, are often longer than an academic semester. So when I informed my parents of my Sunday night departure date, my mother donned a slightly (and only slightly) regretful look and said, “Oh, dear, we have dinner plans that night.”

I turned to my father who has always, in the past, regardless of dinner plans, made time to take me to the airport.

“What time’s your flight?” he asked, and I could tell he was already doing a mental calculation of logistics: getting ready, transport, the stopover at my grandfather’s place.

“Nine PM,” I said, “I just need to be at the airport by seven.”

“Hm,” my father said.

This was not the answer I was expecting. They were dining with my godparents, and I had no intention of having my father miss the dinner, but it seemed as though he had already passed the crossroads of decision and chosen dinner over daughter. Perhaps he struggled internally. I could tell the offer was on the tip of his tongue, such is his nature – but my goodness, it wasn’t worth it to upend their lives. They’d gotten quite accustomed to being empty nesters, with my brother in Shanghai and me all over the place. I decided to be an adult. An adult with friends.

“That’s fine,” I said quickly, “I’ll find a ride.”

On Sunday, I padded out of my room at 1:30PM, having gotten my fill of much needed sleep from being part of a wedding over the weekend.

“Did you guys eat already?” I asked my father, who was sitting at his round table reading something on his computer (probably a forwarded email).

“We just ate whatever,” he said, “We’re having a big dinner tonight.”

“Oh that’s right,” I said.

I reached into the fridge to retrieve a half-eaten burrito from the night before, and just as the microwave beeped my mother came to the kitchen.

“My dear Betty,” she said, arms outstretched, “I feel terrible about not being able to send my daughter off to New York!”

I shrugged, no big deal, “It’s okay Mom, really. I can find my own way to the airport.”

“Well, it just doesn’t feel right. And we didn’t even have a meal together on your last day!”

I looked down at the burrito, and shrugged again.

“I’m going to miss my daughter,” my mother said.

I hugged her and started to tear up, then realized it was only 2PM. Their dinner wasn’t in another three and a half hours.

“I’m leaving now, though,” my mother explained, as though reading my mind, “to play badminton.” She sniffled just the tiniest bit, “Take care of yourself.”

It was a nice wake-up call. My parents have better things to do than sit around and wait to take me to the airport.

Three hours later it was my father’s turn to leave the house. Our exchange was equally without sentiment.

“I’ll miss you dad,” I said. He was putting his socks on in the living room.

“No you won’t,” he said, “You haven’t talked about school once since you came back from moving in. All I hear is ‘I’m going to do this with so and so!’ ‘I’m going to go here to visit so and so!’ All I saw you pack were crazy clothes and high heels!”

I laughed, “I’ll still miss you.”

“Listen,” my father tugged on his last sock and stood up, “I want you to have a good time in New York. Go out, make friends, take some trips around the east coast.”

“Thanks, I will.”

I gave him a hug, grateful he understood that graduate school was about so much more than school. I had a good feeling about going to New York this time. I had a studio I loved, close friends living close by, and…

“That’s great, that’s great,” my father said, patting me on the back. He looked at his watch, “I’ve got to go. But just remember -.”

I nodded, waiting for the sentiment. The comforting words only a father could provide before his daughter left for the big (semi) unknown.

“Don’t forget to get your goddamn degree.”

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