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Travel Notes and, Well, A Little More


A family rite of passage that I never went through.  A college tour, an opportunity to see the place before you decide to accept or reject their acceptance of you.  My oldest, he of the frustrating teenage behavior, and I spent two days this week in Long Beach, California.  Unlike his father, who lived a life built around fear and stayed home for college as a result – I mean, come on, take on the responsibility of clothing and feeding myself, as well as figuring out how to pay for the thing, in a place far away from home’s comforts, or have it all taken care of for me – my oldest has always wanted to go away for college.  Whereas, I applied for one college he applied for six, scattered the length and breadth of California.

Long Beach State was one.  Among the things we learned:  Almost 60,000 students applied to Long Beach State.  The university accepts approximately 17,000, of which approximately 4,000-5,000 students actually enroll.  The school is considered one of the top colleges in the CSU system and their engineering department is also top notch.

When it comes to “financial aid,” it’s not how much you think you need.  It’s how much the school tells you you need, based on their formula, which is built around their assumptions of what the family and student can contribute to the costs.  Financial aid isn’t just grants and scholarships, it’s also the government-sponsored student loans.  Long Beach State will cost almost $23,000 a year.  We’ve only saved enough to cover one year.  He’ll be working when he gets there to help cover costs, and we will be able to continue to contribute some amount for the full four or five years, but the idea that what we (or he) borrows to cover those costs is determined by some bureaucratic formula really pisses me off.  I understand, to some extent, the logic – you don’t want people to take advantage of the low rate subsidized lending options to incur more debt than is reasonable, or to push out students who may need it more (to the extent there’s a limit in lending capacity).  But, how do they know what our financial situation is?  How do they know what other financial obligations we have that are non-discretionary?  Ergh.  How can they possibly determine that our contribution will be one third of my take home pay when we have a family of four?

There were a number of things I hoped to accomplish on this trip.  The all important bonding that we needed.  Mission accomplished to the extent that’s possible with a teenager.  No real parental moments on my part.  No real attitude from him.  We played a few games of cribbage and he’s now into it, wanting to beat me.  I tried to keep my lectures to a minimum, although it was hard to do with respect to the life choice he faces.

I want him to skip having a car when he goes away to college.  Most campuses are communities of their own and usually the surrounding area provides more creature comforts for college students.  For a couple of years, it wouldn’t hurt him to learn there’s a big world out there that you can access even without a car.  There is so much mass transit in Southern California – a bus system that will take him anywhere he wants to go in Long Beach for free, for instance – he doesn’t have to have a car.  Plus, having a car would make it too easy for him to escape.  There’s something to be said for limiting himself to what college life has to offer for a year or two.

So, we flew to Long Beach and then spent the next two days without a car.  A very small test for sure, but … well, I know I want my car back.  I’m pretty sure he wasn’t impressed either, but I think he saw it wouldn’t be horrible to be without a car.  Everything he needs is right there, or within a mile.  Everything he wants is pretty much there as well.  Learn how to walk, ride, and bus to get from A to B.

The last objective was for him to see something that compelled him forward, closer to his decision.  There are lots of reasons I want him to go away to college.  The simplest is that it will give him the best opportunity he has to figure out who he is and what he wants to be.  If he was the type of kid who might be afraid of leaving, I might want something else for him.  He’s not that kid.  He never has been.  Always eager for sleepovers at other kid’s houses at an early age.  Looking forward to camp and his trip to Israel.  Without hesitation or insecurity.

There are things that may hold him back.  Well, actually, it’s one thing.  The girlfriend.  I’ll leave it at that.  I so hope he doesn’t let her, or their relationship, hold him back from this incredible opportunity he has.  One that I didn’t even consider when I was his age.  The one “decision” I made that I want to go back to more than anything else.

As for that final objective … I saw him text his girlfriend that the visit made him want to go to Long Beach State “a little more” than before the visit.  He also sat on the patio of our hotel room last night and thought about what it would be like to live in Long Beach the next four or five years.  Little baby steps.  He’s got one more campus to visit – San Francisco State University.  He’s holding his cards close to his vest.  Or maybe he just hasn’t figured out what he wants to do.  The decision doesn’t have to be made until the end of April.  Good for him for not rushing into it.  But, damn, I’m losing patience.

I ask him, “if you had to decide right this moment, what would you do?”  His reply, “I don’t have to.”

And, then there was a change.  I noticed when people asked him what he thought of Long Beach and whether he had other colleges he was looking at, his response went from Long Beach State, San Francisco State and Sac State to Long Beach and San Francisco.  The local college, Sac State, appeared to have been dropped from the conversation.  I asked him about this yesterday.  He confirmed that he was thinking only of Long Beach and San Francisco.  Now, if only we can figure out a way to pay for it all.

* * *

A few other things along the way.  Had a great dinner Sunday night with my nieces (by marriage).  Michele and Danielle are in their mid to late twenties now.  They’ve taken different paths to where they are.  One struggled with making the right decisions early on, and still struggles with the consequences, although she certainly appears to have turned the corner.  The other knew what she wanted to do, took the steps to get there, and is now leading a pretty successful life.

When I look at my oldest, the decision that confronts him, and some of what he has done in the past and present, I can see him going in either direction.  It scares me.  I don’t want to be dealing ten years from now with his decision to get out and away regardless of the costs and consequences.

I marvel at this idea – when I first met my nieces, they were seven and five years old.  These two cute little girls.  Almost twenty years later, I could sit and have dinner with them, have a couple of beers, have great conversation and laughs.  For instance, we discussed the different ways people make jets in Jacuzzis, or in their bathtub that has no jets.

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They became real adults.  Strange how that happens.

* * *

We spent a couple of hours in Union Station in Los Angeles.

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There’s something about train stations.  They hearken back to a bygone era.  Calmer, slower, quieter.  The architecture is older, with features you don’t see in other structures anymore.  Arches and tiles on the walls.  Flooring and comfortable chairs.

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Even with all of the activity, the endless stream of people coming and going and people waiting, it seemed so hushed in the terminal.  There’s a leisure to the pace of many people at a train station.

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This last picture really doesn’t do justice to the quality of the lighting and architecture, but, well, there’s that guy who was sleeping.  How could I resist?  🙂

I’ve always wanted to take a long train trip.  Maybe over the Sierra Nevadas and into the Rockies towards Denver.  Or up the coast towards Seattle.  I could do it.  Give me my laptop, a book to read, a deck of cards and a companion who wants to play a card game, and I’ll fill the time.  No doubt.  Train travel is unrushed and something that happens in its own time.  When I drive, the only thing I care about is how quickly I can get it done.  There are no stops other than those that need to be made.  Stop at the outlets?  No.  Stop at the fruit stand along the side of the road?  No.  (Which, by the way, is why I have started posting bicycling moments — same thing applies to my bike rides, but now, with an IPhone and some incredible vistas, I’m forcing myself to slow down and stop.  Take a picture.  Post it.  Look for more.)

So, the plan was this.  The oldest Princely Midget and I, after our sojourn to Long Beach were to take a train ride up to San Luis Obispo.  Five hours.  The next day, the Queen Midget and the most Princely of Midgets would join us for a couple of days near the ocean, hopefully traipsing in the sand, washing the ocean crash and foam, and do who knows what else.

The eldest and I fulfilled our end of the bargain, arriving at my sisters shortly after 8:00 a couple of nights ago.  And, here’s where the cycle hit.  With full force.

That youngest and best of Princely Midgets and the missus were working an event at the synagogue,  all part of raising funds for his trip to Israel later this year.  They called while on their way home.  “My stomach is really hurting,” my wife told me.  Here’s where a segue comes in.

Last night, in the hospital, I was reminded that it was exactly two years to the day when my wife had surgery to put three titanium plates in her face to hold her eye socket and cheek bones together.  One day, she had a salad from Winco.  Tasted off, didn’t look that good.  She only had a couple of bites.  That night, she was sick as a dog.  At some point, she left our bedroom because she couldn’t get comfortable and didn’t want to keep me awake and laid down on the sofa in our family room.

When I woke up in the morning and went downstairs, she was still there.  With an icepack on her face and “I think I need your help.”  Turns out that at some point during the night she had woke up with the need to vomit.  She got up and tried to get to the bathroom, but blacked out or fainted and in the process fell and hit our closed laundry room door with the right side of her face.  Hard enough to knock the door off the bottom hinge.  Hard enough to fracture her right eye socket in three different places.  And, she spent the night on the sofa while I slept.

Segue over.  We’re at Tuesday night.  I’m down in San Luis Obispo — a five hour drive away.  She’s home and complaining of major abdominal pain.  An hour or two later, my youngest is texting my oldest to let him know that she is throwing up and in pain.  We talk, she’s miserable and I know that she is terrified of the same thing happening again.

In the morning we talk.  She survived without further harm but is still in pain.  “Call Kaiser,” I tell her.  “Yeah, yeah,” she replies.  But she does.  While I figure out how to get home.  My vision of ocean waves and sunsets and toes in the sand is no more.  She gets an appointment at 11:30 and I get a rental car to get home.

The oldest and I leave San Luis Obispo at 10:00.  Via the wonders of modern technology, we get the regular updates from home.  We hit town at 3:00 and at that moment, more or less, are told it’s appendicitis and she’ll be going into surgery immediately.  We get to the hospital a little after 4:00.  I get in to see here before she goes in for the surgery.  It happens at 5:20 last night.  Less than three hours later, we’re all home and she’s doing fine.

Here’s the struggle.  Here’s the massive question mark I’m confronted with.  I love my wife.  Always will.  But, those who know me and those who may have read between the lines of comments posted here in  my realm, know that there are cracks, crevasses, in my marriage.  I’m not the most happily married man.

I never want her to suffer pain or to hurt.  Regardless of the issues that exist between us.  She provided me with two boys who are the marvel of my life.  Who are more than I ever was at their age and will most likely end up being more than I could ever hope to be.

This month was our 20th anniversary.  A lot of those years have been, within the confines of the marriage, miserable for me because my marriage is not what I wanted it to be.  There’s this huge hole that exists in me caused by what is lacking in our relationship.  There are these things I need — intimacy, communication, partnership, companionship — that have never risen to the level I need.  My wife is a nice person.  A decent person.  She is not a bitch.  Or a shrew.  She does not nag me unreasonably.  On a lot of levels, there may be no reason for me to complain.  But … well there’s a core that is missing from the thing that is the two of us.

So, I struggle.  Queen Midget must be well.  Nothing can go wrong here.  I love her and always will.  But, to what end?  Where does this all come out?

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3 responses to “Travel Notes and, Well, A Little More

  1. oliviaobryon March 29, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    So much life in this post. Glad you had a good trip with your son, hope your wife is okay. Congrats on 20 years, perfect or otherwise. 🙂

    • kingmidget March 29, 2013 at 6:43 pm

      Thanks. You know that last sentence makes me cry … they’re not necessarily tears of sadness. They’re ambivalent tears. So much wrapped up in there. Sigh. And, yes, she is doing just fine. Recovering at home. Doing very little, with three of us to provide for her every need.

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