Editor's note: This column originally appeared in the April 11, 2016, edition of The Daily Nebraskan.
My dad woke me up at 5:50 a.m.
He wanted to see the eagles in Lawrence, Kansas. He heard they flew around Clinton Lake, and he wanted to use his new camera lens.
We left the house early enough that coffee shops had barely turned their lights on. My dad ordered us Americanos — his was half caf. Ever since he started experiencing vertigo, he’s had to be careful drinking caffeine. It can trigger a flashback or make the room spin.
He cruised in his Mini Cooper. Somehow, being able to lift 500 pounds for fun and standing 6-foot-2, he thought it would be a good idea to buy a bigger version of a traditionally and comically small car. His shoulders stretch wider than the back of the seat and the top of his almost always backward turned hat occasionally skims the top of the car. But he loves it. He loves driving stick and how he actually has to commit most of his conscious self when manipulating the pedals for a smooth ride. We made it to Clinton State Park about 7 a.m. The sun had just risen but remained hidden behind a curtain of grey clouds. Storms were coming, and deer, in groups of three to four, were close to the road. We stopped to snap a few pictures. My dad set the ISO and the white balance. He handed me a camera with a lens that hurt my wrist if I held it too long and told me how to adjust the focus on this specific lens. A deer stood on its hind legs to reach a bloom on a taller branch. I stuck the lens out the window and shot.
We didn’t find any eagles after 30 minutes of circling. My dad shifted gears and asked if I wanted to learn how to drive stick. He put the car in park and we switched seats. He told me stories about how he learned by a lake, too, but his teacher put the car face-to-face with the lake on a ramp.
It was much harder, he explained to me. He didn’t have the technology we have now. We circled more until I wedged myself into a three-point turn. I fumbled with the pedals, killing the car a few times and roaring it to life a few others. We made it back to the front of the park, then I had an audience.
In front of strangers, I killed the car.
For some reason, it was too much for me. Yeah, it’s petty. But in that instant, not being able to move that all-too-small car had a different meaning to me.
My dad and I stopped talking about the election like we had the whole way up. We stopped talking altogether. I didn’t feel like it. He asked what was wrong and clumsily commented about things that happened at work and at home, things I had missed and things that filled space.
Finally, I started crying. I told him I wasn’t happy with where I was, I wanted out, I wanted to be good at driving stick and I wanted school to be over and to be somewhere else - anywhere but here.
This was the first time I’d ever told my dad anything like this. He and I had always stayed floating at the surface, refusing to dive deeper than bands and everyday updates.
Driving stick cannon-balled us into depths we’d never before explored.
Going to college sent us deep sea diving.
I’ve always been close to my parents. My mom jokes about how we’re a team and whenever one of us is gone, the whole dynamic is thrown off. Since leaving for Lincoln, I realized it was one of those jokes that isn’t a joke at all.
Leaving for school is one of the most bittersweet transitions I’ve experienced in life so far. It’s scary and exciting. One day, the whole world is at your finger tips, and the next day, there’s nothing to even reach out for.
That’s when I started searching for stability, consistency, something (anything) that would provide a solid foundation for me to explore. My family was one of the first places I went. I’m incredibly lucky to have the relationship with my family I do. My mom reminds me I’m always welcome home, and my sister always asks me not to leave.
But leaving is the reason I’m so close to them. As cliche as it is, the distance brought us together. I cried in front of my dad the day we went looking for eagles and found that our goals were much more similar than we had thought. My mom danced with me in aisles of the grocery store. They’re where it all started, and they were there when things fell apart.
In high school, because of boyfriends and empty ambitions, I wasn’t kind to my parents. I was convinced that staying in with them screamed a lack of a social life. C’mon, no one in high school stayed home and watched movies with their parents, pausing the movie and talking about life when conversations were too important. Of course, no one did that, I convinced myself. There was no way.
Looking back, one of my biggest regrets is thinking I was too good for them. The angsty “you wouldn’t get it” mentality, the hearing but not listening, the rebellion and the intentional separation. I severed myself from the two people who loved me the most and wanted nothing but the best for me, and it took being away from home to figure that out.
I started to miss the dancing, the comfort, the bad movies, the hugs, the advice, the unconditional care and being able to cry into a plate of biscuits and gravy on a rainy, eagle-less day.
Leaving brought me closer to my family. The distance was the best thing to ever happen, and appreciating the people who have been there all along is something that comes with expensive textbooks and newfound independence.
Remember the people who care, whoever they may be, and realize that one of those nights staying in with a movie always was, and always will be, worth it.