In a few hours I will be standing outside El Cerrito High School surrounded with suitcases, ready to show Don my Kaiser card and California ID. Truth be told, I’d hoped that I would never have to see my high school before three in the morning, but so it goes. In spite of this very teenage reaction against the 2:50 call, I am excited to be traveling as a young adult. Of course, it’s nerve-wracking to think of being away from home for so long and of being totally responsible for my own waking up, laundry, food, and other essential functions. But that discomfort just makes this a real adventure, one that will form my character and broaden my horizons. I’ve never been far from the West Coast and haven’t spent much time in big cities. Chicago and St. Louis may result in sensory overload; even so, I can't wait to see them.
We’ll be gone for twenty-seven days, including departure and arrival. That’s almost a month of comparative independence, including three weeks as a legitimate college student. That’s almost a month away from my family. That’s almost one-twelfth of my 2014. I’ve spent days working on my packing list and finding everything I need to bring. Do I have the items I need? Yes. Will I be able to handle this? Yes. Easily? Maybe not at first. But the whole point of this trip is to learn.
I have vivid mental images of me marching around university campuses on tours, throwing a duffel bag onto a twin bed in somewhere in Cornell’s North Balch Hall, and strolling around campus eating ice cream or frozen yogurt. Clearest of all is the picture of me sitting up late at night in my dorm room, typing an essay or blog post while my roommate tries to sleep.
I spent most of today rounding up my belongings and herding them into my fat red hand-me-down suitcase. I was unable to close it without the help of my sister, but I have some extra space in my backpack and carry-on duffel bag to bring back souvenirs. I have one other assignment: my neighbors, a couple in their nineties, met at the University of Chicago after World War Two. I have to send them a postcard when we get there.
I'm scheduled to wake up in three hours. In theory, my brother and two sisters plan to get up and come down to the high school in order to see me off - we'll see whether they actually make it out of bed. I'll miss them a lot, but given the size of my family it will actually be an upgrade for me to have only one roommate.
Without a doubt, tomorrow morning I'll be crying. But as soon as that's over, I know that my independence will kick into high gear. Ithaca, here I come!