Susie turned 17 last Monday, and I spoke to her on the phone, mailed her a new knapsack, and dropped some vague hints about how she would be getting another gift later this week.
The gift was me. I suggested coming down to the Space Coast in Florida about six weeks ago, but Steph and I did not start making definite plans until I had actually gone to Southwest Airlines’ Website and bought the tickets for my flight. I elected to go down this weekend–Columbus Day weekend–rather than on the date of her birthday itself because Monday is a holiday for government employees, and I would not have to use as much paid leave.
Keeping secrets has not always been a talent of mine. With age comes some modicum of self-restraint (which usually happens with me about as often as Halley’s Comet), and the ability to put the brakes on some impulses. Steph and I vowed that we would keep my imminent arrival a secret from Susie, so that it was a genuine surprise.
So, she went to school this morning, and I caught a 7 a.m. flight from Port Columbus, and went through a cloudy sky on a bumpy flight that put me down at Orlando International Airport (MCH) almost exactly two hours later. I was too wound up the previous evening to sleep, even after I had finished packing, so I am now starting to feel the effects of that (it’s 6:14 p.m. right now, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to hit the right keys here). My friend Deb generously offered to drive me to the airport, so she picked me up at the ungodly hour of 4:30 and I was all checked in, with my suitcase en route down the conveyor belt, by a little after 5.
I did steal a little sleep while we were in the air. The view outside my window (mostly to the east) either blinded me with sunlight, or showed nothing but white clouds, almost as smooth as a just-opened box of vanilla ice cream. I had brought along only one book in addition to my diary, and this was the hardcover of Thomas Pynchon’s newest novel, Bleeding Edge. It interested me enough to engage me for the first three or four chapters, but I did find myself asleep with my head against the Plexiglas more than once. The sleep was too short to be refreshing, and I think only adrenaline and the anticipation of seeing Susie for the first time since August were all that was fueling me.
The trip was one hour and 52 minutes, and we landed in Orlando at 10 a.m. on the dot. By 10:20 or so, I was aboard the Cocoa Beach Shuttle on my way 46 miles to the west to where Steph, Susie, and Mike live on Merritt Island.
After lunch at the Olive Garden, Steph and I sat in the Starbucks on Crockett Blvd., where Steph and her women’s writing group was meeting. I caught up on email and made some Facebook posts, mindful to not mention that I was in Florida, in case Susie was on her Nook and would learn of my whereabouts.
And it was a joyous reunion. Susie got off the bus from school some time after 3 and came to Starbucks, and ran over to hug me when she saw me sitting at my laptop.
She came proudly bearing gifts. In her backpack, she had a brand new copy of Volume I of The Titan Lantern, which is the new literary magazine of Eastern Florida State College. There, on pp. 7-8, was her short story “A Funeral For a Girl We Barely Knew.” She took several writing classes at EFCS (née Brevard Community College), and had mentioned publication in a Facebook post almost a year ago. The magazine and the publication finally came to pass, and she brought home her first copy today.
I remembered the day The St. Anthony Messenger mailed me a $35 check for my poem “I Want to Live Above the Catholic Bookstore,” and shared in her pride. Three copies were in the mail several months later, but the check was long spent the following day.
One of the things that makes our visits special, whether she is coming to Columbus or I am coming to Florida, is that our time together is spontaneous. We don’t over-plan with too many activities in too many different directions. This afternoon, Susie and I visited two different thrift stores in the vicinity of Starbucks (and came away mostly empty-handed–one of the stores looked like the setting for the season debut of Hoarders), and now we’re at Barnes and Noble, and I am drinking yet another cup of green tea in the vague hope I can stay conscious a while longer.
We are going to be on a grownup mission tomorrow. Susie will be graduating in May, and she has applied to Stetson University in DeLand. We will be touring the campus tomorrow, much the same way we toured the Ohio University campus in June, when she was in Columbus in the interim period between the end of her junior year and the start of her classes at EFSC. She had arranged the tour last month, and did not know I would be tagging along until this afternoon. (I am interested in seeing the campus, but I checked the YPMobile app on my phone, and saw there are three record stores within walking distance.) That will be the next project after going to the campus. On Monday, Susie forwarded to me the email from Ohio University saying they had received her application (immediately after I paid $45 for the application fee).
Susie is applying to several colleges, in Florida, Ohio, and elsewhere, taking the steps toward adulthood. My fervent hope is that she does not follow my lead. I think I would have extended my adolescence well into my 30s even if I had never taken a sip of alcohol in my life, and whenever I have an extended period of time when I don’t have to be at work, I am content to be on the mañana plan. This never extended to being lazy about finding work, or working when I was employed. The idea of any type of plan was foreign to me, since I was pretty much taking life as it came, and acting based on the situations before me at that time.
Susie saw that not all of her peers are jumping into the post-school world of adult responsibilities. Many of the seniors who graduated last May went straight into jobs, or began families, or enlisted in the service. Susie met peers who are taking their time. At the mall, Susie ran into a female couple from her high school. They had graduated not three weeks before, and had just celebrated three years together. Susie asked them, “Well, how are you handling adulthood?” One of them answered, “We just spent $200 on Pokémon cards!”
And me? After I tour the Stetson campus with Susie, I’m going to buy records and books.