Creative Nonfiction Sad Kids

Rite of Passage

The rhythm of the windshield wipers lulled her, as she drove through the heavy thunderstorm. Her brother caught a nap in the seat beside her. They had just driven into the state of New York. Only another couple of hours to get to the Cornell campus! It was close to midnight.

She reviewed, in her mind, the logistics awaiting them at Cornell. She had arranged for two different dorm rooms on two different sides of the campus. Her son was graduating. He had left for two tickets for her to go to the ceremony at the box office.

Oh, divorce! It had seemed impossible to split up assets, manage holidays and other interactions with their children. All this took its toll.

This son needed financial support to continue his studies at the Ivy League school. She worked as a teacher in a special education private school, and had limited funds to share with him. Her husband was much more solvent, but insisted all expenditures had to be split as close to 50-50 as was possible. She had been unable to deliver her share of the tuition money for the spring semester of his junior year. First, she had to arrange the financing and the closing on her new house. Because of this, it meant for two days when her son could not use the library on the campus. Then the tuition matter was settled. Her son, in disgust, broke off all interactions with her.

That was almost two years ago. She rarely heard anything from him after that. She subscribed to the parent newsletters, so she could know what was happening, at least at college. He’d managed to pull everything together after that, and was now completing his undergraduate education. She’d heard he had a fellowship in San Diego to go on for his Master’s.

When the announcement about the graduation ceremonies came out, she decided she needed to go. She had to see him graduate. She called to ask if he could arrange for two tickets for the ceremony, one for her and one for her brother who was staying with her for the year. 

He said that was fine, but that she would have to find her own place to stay. His father was going to stay at his house.

It took several weeks for her to get the forms she needed to secure a dorm room for the festive weekend. Arrangements kept falling apart. It was only that morning she’d heard there were two rooms still available, but they were not in the same building. 

She and her brother could not leave DC for Ithaca until her brother got off from work. They knew they had a five-hour trek north after that. By the time they got out of the rush-hour traffic, it was already dark. Her brother drove that part of the trip.

When they finally got into Northern Pennsylvania, rain splashed over the windshield, causing the wipers to work double-time. She took over the wheel, and Jim fell asleep next to her. She listened to his soft snoring, glad she would not have to be alone over these next few days.

They arrived at the campus after midnight. Her instructions for obtaining the rooms said no one would be available to help secure any rooms after ten p.m. She did not know the campus well, prayed she could find the right place for someone to help her work something out, once she got there.

The driving rain continued as they pulled into the campus. Fortunately, she located security personnel to help her determine how to find after-hour services. They directed her onto a maze-like route heading up toward the rooms which might still be waiting. 

Jim heard her sniffle. “You aren’t crying, are you, Ann? Damn it, I can handle most things, but I refuse to deal with women and their tears! Let me out!”

If Ann had not been crying before, it sure seemed impossible to hold back her pain now! She drove into the parking lot of the dorm just ahead. She clambered out, climbed up the steep stone steps to the lobby. She presented her driver’s license and the name of the person who’d told her the rooms were waiting.

“There is only one room left. This is a big weekend. We’ve got a large graduating class. Hundreds of people have already moved into all our rooms.” She took the phone number for the dorm and went back to the car.

“Jim, your room is here. I have to look further for a place for me to go. I will get in touch with you in the morning. I have your number. Thank you for coming up here with me.” She watched him carry his suitcase up the steps, dodging rain and oncoming umbrellas. 

She sighed in a bit of relief. Although she did not know where to go next, she could figure that out without the pressure of hiding the deep pain she felt at that moment. She allowed her tears to flow.

She drove on up the hill, looking between rain squalls for another building which might be open. Even in the driving rain, clumps of people were on the sidewalks, cheering and laughing. Certainly this was a weekend for them to celebrate, rain or not.

She stopped to speak to one clump of people. They pointed out the dorm where they were heading. “We don’t think there are any rooms available there, but they can tell you where you might go. I hope you will be able to sleep for the night somewhere.

She found a couch in a dormitory lounge to spend the night. She was able to adjust the light shade so the lamp did not directly shine in her eyes. In the morning she found her brother. He sat with her in the bleachers as they watched the students, dressed in caps and gowns, and in colorful hoods, parade by for the ceremony.

They went from the large ceremony to the individual schools that honored their own graduates. She was relieved she remembered the name of the program he’d completed, and located building for the ceremony where he’d be awarded his diploma.

Canapes and soda were laid out on a table. Bottles of champagne stood, awaiting their toast to all of their graduates. She saw her son. He averted her gaze. She and her brother settled into their seats, in the middle of the mass of celebratory parents. 

Then she saw her ex-husband. He stood in the center of a large knot of men. She overheard him speak. “Yes, Bill. I am so glad you were here for my son this past semester. He has had it so rough! You know, his mother has not spoken to him for two years. He is taking that hard. It’s too bad she did not even try to be here today to show him how proud she should be of him.”

She turned to her brother. “Jim, we have to go.”

Jim, saying nothing, followed her out of the celebration. They drove home. It rained most of the way back, but they did not have to navigate any of the trip in the dark.

For twenty years now, she has struggled to maintain any kind of relationship with this son. On some days she finds the pain is no less today than it was that day they returned home from Ithaca. She remembers how the windshield wipers’ sweeping rhythm beat in counterpoint to her own heart. She continues to try and stifle her emotions. 

February 04, 2021 20:12

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