A mingling of cheery voices and happy greetings curved up the staircase as I turned the page in my book. The broken conversations of asking about each other’s lives filled me with dread. How much time can I waste up here? I glanced out my window, admiring today’s bright blue sky after yesterday’s April showers, contemplating the many things I could do in my room to delay the onslaught of relatives, thirsty for information about college. Not boys, not friends, not extracurriculars. Not fun memories, not big changes, not exciting plans. Not-
“Ready, Rach? Can you contain your excitement?” My sister Amanda was standing in the doorway, flashing a too-obvious-to-be-convincing fake smile. Her chocolate-brown hair shone sparkling red in the sunlight streaming in. Her desire to go downstairs for Mom’s birthday dinner wasn’t any greater than mine.
“You remember there’s a thing called knocking, right? I know I’ve been gone for a while, but I feel like that’s pretty innate,” I said, only half-joking. This was my first time home since Christmas.
“Oh, please. You know you miss me at college. Besides, you should be thanking me. I told Mom that you’re helping me fill out some scholarship application. That should buy us some time. You’re welcome.” I rolled my eyes, but my grin gave me away. I really do miss her at college. The decision to go to an out-of-state school had nothing to do with Amanda and everything to do with the reason I was avoiding the first floor.
My grandparents lived a short ten-minute drive from us, so having them over was nothing new. Their presence in our home didn’t begin as bothersome; I quite liked it. Amanda and I never got to meet our mother’s parents, so Dad’s took on the role of both sets over the years. Grandma often brought over cookies so we could snack and chat, gossiping about school and any other hot topics circulating around town. Grandpa used to help me with homework. His passion for learning had rubbed off on me over the years. There came a time, however, when his focus moved from creativity and imagination to practicality and predictability.
I peered up at the bookshelves atop my desk. Dust lined my textbooks, untouched for quite some time. My eyes drifted to the big block letters labeling each spine. SURVEY OF ACCOUNTING. MARKETING: REAL PEOPLE, REAL CHOICES. UNDERSTANDING MANAGEMENT. I remember thinking how much of a waste it was to buy, not rent, these books, but Dad insisted that I would need to refer back to them throughout undergrad. If only he knew.
Amanda and I spent a half hour lying in my bed, searching through dozens of dorm room decoration ideas on Pinterest. My amber curls, always difficult to contain, enveloped us both as we cuddled under my blankets, fuzzy and faded pink. Amanda always teased me about my hair when we were younger, joking that it was a monster waiting to attack her.
“I cannot believe my baby sister is getting ready to go to college. How’d you get so old?” Amanda had always acted way too mature for her age, but it was still weird to know she was graduating from high school in a month.
“You’re the one to talk. You’re almost halfway done with college. Undergrad, I mean,” Amanda said, winking at me. She knows that word gets under my skin.
“Stop. It’s not ‘undergrad,’ it’s ‘college.’ There will not be any Master’s degrees in my future, thank you very much.”
“It’s not me you have to convince. I know all about the business major you dropped, the English major you’re working on, and the fact that you’re gonna keep them all in the dark until you turn out a bestseller someday.”
“Keep your voice down,” I hushed, glancing at the cracked door. I’m pretty sure they had moved into the living room by then, but you never know when someone could be listening. “You don’t know how hard they’ve been pushing this lately. Grandpa sent me fourteen emails about grad schools last week. There was some email about applying to Stanford…Does he even know me?”
“It’s true, you wouldn’t last ten minutes in California. Moi, on the other hand, was made for the West Coast,” Amanda said, flipping her hair.
“Well good thing you’re going to school in Madison then.” Now it was Amanda’s turn to give me the eye roll.
Mom called up the stairs, summoning us to dinner. We both let out a sigh, not wanting to leave the cozy warmth of my old, fuzzy blankets. Amanda finally relented and rolled off the side, offering me her hand. She pulled me up in one quick motion. It was crazy to me how she seemed a different person each time we reunited. Constantly maturing, gaining strength, bettering herself. I just stared at her, looking deep into those mesmerizing blue eyes, like a wave pulling me in deeper, until I got lost. I could see our past, tiny scenes of our past in her. Like the rainy mornings spent in Grandma’s living room, curled up in the big arm chair with Grandpa. He’d read to us for hours, breathing life into the characters with his intriguing inflections. We’d sit there under the soft, bright pink blankets, captivated by his stories. In an instant, that happy memory was replaced with one that pains me to remember. I saw the look on her face when I left for college last year, trying so desperately to show encouragement. But all I saw was my little sister, betrayed and lost.
Sure, she’d adjusted well to being the only one on our second floor. She’d found ways to keep herself busy when I wasn’t around, channeling her energy into school and new friends. Her dazzling smile was still there, but I fear it was forced most of the time. When I left for school, so did the crutch that held her up whenever life became too heavy. So did the source of answers to all her big questions, when she couldn’t find them herself. So did the voice of reason when she felt enslaved to the expectations placed on her by everyone who thought they had a say. So as we stood there, soaking in each other’s presence, appreciating the fact that we had one another, I couldn’t help but plead. On the inside. Please, Amanda. You are capable of anything in this world, so long as you chase it with everything you have. Please stand up for yourself. Please make the decisions that you want to make.
I noticed how sentimental, how protective I’d become since I left Colorado. Maybe it’s because I’ve felt what it’s like to follow a path that I’m not supposed to walk. Perhaps it’s because I saw her determination to please others at the sacrifice of her own happiness. Or maybe it’s because I’m her big sister and will never reach a point when her happiness is not at the top of my priorities list.
We decided it was time to make an appearance downstairs, as Mom was surely muttering under her breath about our whereabouts and questionable listening skills. Amanda was paces ahead of me. Bracing for a thousand questions about the business degree I was not pursuing, I slowly rounded the corner and took in the scene. They all seemed to be getting along, enjoying each other’s company, appreciating this time where all of us could gather in the same room. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t bad people. They just have a hard time thinking outside of their own heads.
We all made our way to the dining room table, which was draped in a spotless, white cloth. The walls, freshly painted a deep, dark blue, made the room appear much smaller. Gone was the pale yellow color that surrounded me as a kid. Whenever I had writer’s block, I would come down to the dining room. I’d stare out the window, searching the endless sky for inspiration. The water in the pond out back sat perfectly still, shimmering in the bright sun. The endless green called to me, begging me to run fast and far with my ideas, spanning out until I couldn’t see my dreams anymore. I ran to find them, my thoughts racing and combining and reforming inside my head, waiting to find their place on my paper. And on those dark days, where the sun was nowhere to be found, hidden from me, I found my sunshine inside, on the brightly colored dining room walls, waiting to tell me stories of people just out of my reach, waiting for me to find them and bring them to light. The warmth of those walls had been covered with a glum darkness.
A clear vase sat in the center of the table, holding beautiful red roses Dad had brought home for Mom’s birthday. It never failed; he always bought her flowers to mark important occasions: their wedding anniversary, Mother’s Day, her birthday. My parents’ love didn’t demand attention or beg for admiration. It was always nice to see those quiet reminders of their affection. Often times, it seemed like they were both married to their jobs.
Once everyone was seated, all eyes went to Mom, who was prepared to give the annual Edwards’ birthday speech.
“First of all, thank you for this wonderful meal, Martha. You spoil us with your cooking.” Mom and Grandma exchanged a smile, as the rest of us chimed in with our thanks. “Now let’s see, forty-eight has been quite a year. Business has doubled in the last three years, so we’ve been keeping busy at the office. My girls are doing very well in school, and they’re on track to be successful young women. Looking around at this beautiful house, and sitting next to my wonderful husband, I feel incredibly blessed. I’m hoping for an even more prosperous and accomplished forty-nine.” Mom looked at each of us, smiling, appreciation and admiration in her eyes.
In our family, birthdays are about proving that you made the last year of your life count, that you contributed something of significance to the world. Mom’s source of pride and accomplishment usually centered on her marketing consultation firm and Amanda and me. Most birthday speeches consisted of successful business endeavors and signs of personal growth. Coming from a family of businessmen and women, I knew where my priorities were expected to lie.
Grandpa wasted no time filling the brief silence that followed. “So, Rachel, how are classes winding up this semester?”
“Really well. I’m on track for the Dean’s List again,” I replied. That was met with a chorus of congratulations and a circle of smiling faces.
“That’s wonderful! Do you have an internship lined up for the summer?” He was always thinking about the next step, never content to settle on the present.
“I’ve been looking. I have a few interviews lined up next week.” Amanda was fidgeting next to me. She kept shifting her weight from leg to leg and pulling her ring off just to slide it on again.
“Fantastic. And did you get those emails I sent you last week? You know, you’re almost halfway through undergrad. You’ll want to start thinking about the GRE pretty soon.” It took everything in my power to not roll my eyes. Amanda sensed my frustration. As the family college student, I was often targeted with endless streams of questions at get-togethers.
Amanda swiped her napkin off her lap and tossed it onto the table in front of her, standing up in one quick motion. “Excuse me, but I have something to say.” All eyes fell on her, everyone confused by her outburst. “I am proud to announce that I will be studying psychology at UCLA next fall. That is all.” And just like that, she sat back down, replaced the napkin on her lap, and continued eating her mashed potatoes. I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone else. It was as if all the fear Amanda should have been feeling in that moment shifted one body to the left. I felt scared for her, unprepared to take my parents’ or grandparents’ questions. I hated confrontation.
“Umm, excuse me?” Dad said.
“Where is that coming from, young lady?” Mom replied.
“That’s not the plan, Amanda Jo.” Grandpa looked shocked.
Grandma kept quiet, as she was never one to chime in on either of our future plans. She was more of the you’ll-figure-it-out-when-you-figure-it-out person, rather than the plan-plan-planners that consumed the rest of the adults in the room.
I’ll admit, when Amanda told me about this weeks ago, I figured it was just another one of her bold ideas. She seemed to change her mind every week. I knew she wasn’t exactly passionate about studying actuarial science in Madison, but I never thought she’d make a declaration like this.
“I know, but here’s the thing: I don’t want to sit in silence at a cubicle for eight hours a day for the rest of my life. I like math, but let’s be real. I would be much happier on the West Coast, learning about something that interests me,” Amanda said.
“Well, hon…that’s new. What happened to make you change your mind?” Mom tried to set her preferences aside and be supportive, but we could all tell it was difficult for her. Dad’s face didn’t reveal disappointment, but rather a look of concern.
“Amanda, do you really-” Dad started, before he was interrupted.
“Why psychology? What do you want to do with that?” My grandpa had never encouraged us to pursue the soft sciences.
“I don’t know,” Amanda stated, unshaken by the less-than-thrilled looks from around the table. “I’m seventeen. Right now, it’s enough for me to know that it’s what interests me. It’s what I’d like to spend the next four years learning about. It’s what I want. And you’re just going to have to be okay with that.” I was stunned. And by the looks of the rest of the table, I wasn’t alone.
Neither Amanda nor I had challenged their opinions before. We had figured it would be a losing battle, not worth the fight. But apparently, we didn’t think that way anymore. Dad was staring at some invisible muse in the open space between Amanda and me. Mom was staring down at her wrist, playing with the charms on the bracelet we got her for Mother’s Day years ago. Grandpa looked dumbfounded, as if Amanda had told him that she was going to be an astronaut. The silence moved from understandable to uncomfortable after a couple minutes.
Amanda opened her mouth again. “Think of the adventure. Doesn’t that sound like me? Doesn’t that sound like something I’d enjoy? I’m not the type to sit still and work on numbers at a desk all day. I’d go crazy in ten minutes. I want to talk to people, to learn about people, to enact some type of positive change in the world.” Good for her. I didn’t lift my head; I couldn’t face the looks of the others. Fidgeting in my seat, I rubbed my hands together like I was washing them without soap and water. This wasn’t the time or place to have a conversation about Amanda’s major. Maybe someone will change the subject…
“Look at your sister. Rachel made a wise decision about her education, and that business degree will open up countless doors for her after school,” Grandpa said. Shit.
After rubbing my hands back and forth on my thighs, nervously working out the fear I felt inside, I took a couple deep breaths. Working up the courage, I decided to open my mouth. “Actually, I changed my major after first semester freshman year. I’m not in the business program anymore. I’m an English major.” My eyes searched for some reassurance at the table. Amanda wore a smirk, clearly satisfied that her little announcement inspired me to come clean, too.
“It’s the feeling of crafting beautiful words together in the most perfect way possible,” I continued. “The way you can precisely express the thoughts you wrestle with inside your head. Not many people can put those dilemmas into words, but I can. I have a gift. And I want to put it to use,” I said. Catching everyone’s nervous ticks out of the corners of my eyes overwhelmed my already-shaking self.
Grandpa cleared his throat, and his frustrated expression revealed itself, despite his attempt to hide his annoyance. “Don’t throw away your education on an English degree, hon. You’ll regret that someday. Business will suit you much better,” Grandpa insisted. I could feel myself getting warmer by the second. My heart felt like a paddleball, pounding in my chest and up into my ears.
“Dad, do we really have to talk about this now? This dinner’s supposed to be about Karen,” Dad said. Mom squeezed his hand and smiled, but she didn’t seem as irritated with us. Her silence showed me she didn’t know how to react to this turn in conversation.
“I have been preparing myself for a happy, successful future for years! Have I not proven my abilities through straight A’s and campus involvement and the relationships I’ve built? I have exceeded expectations and put in a tremendous amount of work to prove myself. But I’m tired of this pressure, this feeling of discontent. I am in control of my own life.” I could feel the discomfort in the room as soon as I shut my mouth.
“No matter how prepared you feel, no matter how much you’ve accomplished now, it’s not enough to carry you through. You can’t just sit there, happy with what you have, because you don’t know when that could be taken away from you. I want you to do everything in your power to make a good life for yourself. I can’t sit in silence and watch you make a terrible mistake.”
Grandpa sounded angry. Mom and Dad could not make eye contact with any of us. Their lack of reassurance made me uneasy. Nevertheless, I responded.
“This is not a terrible mistake. It’s what I want to do. And if you can’t accept that, then I can’t continue to sit here and act like everything’s okay. Because it’s not. You don’t realize what’s wrong with this picture, and it’s not on me to point it out,” I said.
The looks of disbelief and annoyance quickly faded into blank expressions of deep thought and recollection, questioning and hurt. When had they decided that their goals outranked our dreams? Why did they think we would blindly follow in the direction they pointed us in? Anger built up inside me as I realized how long they had been ignoring Amanda and me, failing to acknowledge how we wanted to answer the most loaded question in the world: what do you want to do with the rest of your life?
Simultaneously, knots of nerves twisted in my stomach, and jolts of excitement surged through me. It was refreshing, having that weight off my shoulders. I didn’t have to live a double life anymore. The truth was out, and I felt free. Through the blank expressions written on my parents’ faces and the look of disappointment from my Grandpa, I could tell they could not accept the fact I had taken a detour from their plans for me. My Grandma’s sly, subtle smirk added to the confusion I already felt. I knew I would arrive at their same dream destination: success and happiness. They just didn’t like my path to get there.
I nodded, taking their silence as an end to the conversation, and left the room. Walking up the stairs, I continued to feel a sense of peace, but also a tingling frustration I couldn’t shake. How hard is it to accept the fact that I don’t want what they want? I made my way up the staircase, each step heavier than the last, until I stopped in place. It was hard to tell whether or not I felt blissful relief, the weight of this secret off my shoulders, or deep remorse, regretting how I handled that conversation. Immediately tears began to well in my eyes, and I ran the rest of the way to my door. I thrust it open and slammed it behind me. I curled up in my bed, enveloping myself in my fuzzy blanket. The matted down, worn strands of fuzzy pink strings warmed my bare arms as I smoothed them over my skin.
A polite yet urgent knock drew me out of my trance. Amanda. As I approached my door, I swiped under my eyes, rubbing the streams of non-waterproof mascara off my face. She didn’t need to see me like this, acting like a child after she fearlessly stood her ground. Twisting and pulling the knob towards myself, I forced a too-obvious-to-be-convincing fake smile as I met her eyes. She immediately wrapped her long, thin arms around my shivering body, comforting me like she had always done when I felt sad. We made our way over to my bed and curled up together like we had earlier, right before everything blew up.
Amanda reached over and pulled open the squeaky bottom drawer of my nightstand. She reached in and drew out my childhood favorite: Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. She knew I could never get rid of such a special book. Lying next to me, she flipped through the pages. Her pauses at the dog-eared pages quickly reminded her of our favorite parts, as she giggled and nodded at the memories flooding back. Grandpa used to read to us after school on Wednesdays, when Mom and Dad couldn’t leave work for our early dismissal. Eventually, Amanda and I became the readers. We worked our way through so many series, traveling to made-up places and making friends with imaginary characters. Of all the different worlds we visited, my favorite was the Fudge series.
I couldn’t shake my frustration over my Grandpa’s shift throughout the years. How could he act as if the years we spent telling stories and exploring our imaginations was a waste of time? How could he sit there at dinner tonight and deny us the right to make our own choices regarding our futures? “Amanda,” I started. She peered over at me, still engrossed in the tales of Peter and Fudge. “Am I doing the right thing?” I said, my voice shaky and worn. After months of keeping secrets and holding all this stress inside, it felt weird to have it all out in the open, exposed, real.
“I can’t say, because I don’t know what’s right for you. You’re the only one who can decide that. What I can tell you, however, is that I’m incredibly proud of my big sister for standing up for her dreams and desires, for sacrificing a drama-free get-together to let her family know how she really feels. That’s a big deal, and I know that I couldn’t have done what I did if it wasn’t for your bold example. I look up to you, Rach. It’s been hard since you left. I’ve had to do some soul-searching, figuring out what it is that I want out of life, the kind of person that I want to be. And seeing you go for what you want, regardless of what other people say you should want, is empowering. Thanks to you, I’m following my own dreams. So for what it’s worth, I say you should keep following your own. Keep making me proud.” Amanda smiled at me- genuinely smiled- and squeezed my hands. She placed the book down on my nightstand and slid off the comforter, walking toward the door.
“Amanda,” I said once more.
Stopping in her tracks, she spun around to face me.
“I think you’ll do amazing things in psychology, whatever it is you decide to do.”
“Thanks, sis.” She grinned and turned back around, opening and closing my door as she disappeared into the dark hallway.
I figured I should smooth things over with my parents, as the last thing I intended to do was ruin my mother’s birthday celebration. Looking again at the row of useless textbooks, I felt a twinge of guilt. Dad had been looking out for me, trying to help me prepare for the future he dreamed I would have. It wasn’t his intention to pressure me to pursue a dissatisfying major; he only wanted to give me the best start he thought I could have.
I opened one of my desk drawers and pulled out a box, wrapped in a sheet of whimsical spring flowers. Present in hand, I tiptoed down the stairs, knowing my parents were in the kitchen. I didn’t want to interrupt any important conversations, given how tonight’s dinner ended. I assumed Grandma and Grandpa left after I stormed upstairs, leaving Mom and Dad to pick up the pieces.
I entered the kitchen as my parents were finishing the dishes. “Mom, Dad, I’m really sorry.”
They both turned from the sink, Mom with a sponge and Dad with a dish rag. “What is it, hon?” Mom said. She didn’t sound mad, just disappointed. I didn’t know which one was worse.
“Can we talk for a second?” I took a seat at the kitchen table, motioning for them to sit down. They accepted my invitation, sitting down across from me. “I just want to start off by apologizing for my fight with Grandpa tonight. That was totally out of line, and I did not mean to ruin your birthday dinner, Mom.” They weren’t shooting me judgmental looks or cold eyes; they seemed to know that I was going to say that. It’s not often that I have to apologize for inappropriate behavior.
“We’re not mad, Rach. I’m just disappointed you kept it a secret from us. Changing the course of your education is a big deal,” Mom said.
“I was just avoiding the lecture I got tonight,” I admitted.
“Do you think we would have reacted like Grandpa did? To tell you the truth, we were both surprised you had kept the business major this long. It never fit you quite right. You aren’t meant for the corporate world, my dear,” Dad said. A sense of relief flooded through me. I didn’t have to feel like an outsider for abandoning the Edwards family tradition.
“We’re glad you found what makes you happy. All we expect out of you is that you use that drive to do some good in the world,” Mom said. I hadn’t expected my parents to disown me after my reveal, but I also didn’t expect it to go this smoothly.
“It’s not that I don’t love you guys or that I don’t appreciate everything you do for me. It’s just not my path. So I’m not going to take it,” I said. Mom and Dad looked at each other, grinning slyly.
“We never wanted to pressure you to pursue something you weren’t passionate about. We just want you to have a happy, successful future,” Dad said.
“And if you think you can achieve that with an English degree, then we support you,” Mom added. Their comforting smiles and genuine concern for my well-being assured me they had my best interests at heart. They really were great parents.
“Happy birthday, Mom.” I handed her the gift, hoping it would soften the harsh ending to tonight’s dinner. Mom’s big smile reassured me that she could still enjoy some of her birthday. Tearing through the paper and opening the box, she uncovered a new addition to her charm bracelet. She teared up looking at the tiny, silver graduation cap in her right hand. Her eyes met mine.
“I haven’t gotten a new charm in years!”
“Yeah, Amanda and I figured this year called for a new celebration. Both your girls are college kids now, and it’s all because of the support you and Dad have given us over the years. Thanks for giving us such a good start. You guys are the best.” Mom and Dad both stood up and leaned over the table. Our group hug felt nice; I missed these small moments of affection at college. Our family might not be overly expressive or outward with our emotions, but I never question that I am loved.
We let go and pushed our chairs back in. “You might want to smooth things over with Grandpa. We understand your side, and we want you to do what you want to do, but hear him out and remember that he wants what’s best for you,” Dad said. He was right, but that didn’t make me any more eager to have a follow-up conversation with him.
“OK, I’ll worry about it tomorrow.” Mom and Dad rolled their eyes teasingly, knowing that I would put this off as long as possible.
The next day, something inside me prevented me from getting on the entrance ramp. My grandparents’ house was just five minutes down the road. I hadn’t talked to Grandpa, as my Dad had suggested I do. They didn’t pressure me during our goodbyes, but Dad made some comment about me making an extra stop before heading back to school.
I rolled my eyes at my hesitation and sped out of the turn lane, en route to my grandparents’ house. Parking my car was the easy part. The hard part was forcing myself out of the car and up to the front door. It’s not that I didn’t like my grandpa; I just hated the conflict we faced over my education. MY education. But I couldn’t leave town without mending things between us.
I eventually decided to grow up and approach the house. After ringing the doorbell, I paced across the porch, hands in my pockets and jitters running through me. Surprisingly, Grandma opened the door. “Grams, what are you doing here?” She normally goes out to lunch with friends on Sundays, so I wasn’t expecting to see her.
Grandma smiled, pulling me in. “Rachel Ann, I am so proud of you!” She beamed, smiling a reassuring smile and nodding with assurance. “I know Grandpa is very set in his ways, but he didn’t mean to get you so upset. I am incredibly proud of you and Amanda.” She pulled me into a hug, and then grabbed my hand. “Come on.” Grams led me into the library, just off the entryway. Grandpa was sitting at his desk, reading the newspaper under lamp light.
“Frank.” Grandpa looked up at the sound of Grandma’s voice, not completely surprised to see me standing next to her. “I’m off to lunch with the girls, but I’ll be back in a couple of hours.” She mouthed something like “stay calm” to him before turning and leaving the room, his blank expression softening slightly. Drawn to the splattering rain drops against the cold glass, I walked in and sat down on the window seat. I used to hold my hand against the window on those days we’d come over and read, enchanted by the comfort of their home on those dreary days.
“So, Rachel, where would you like to start?” I could tell he wanted to make things right, but I knew it would be hard to convince him to see my side. I decided to get straight to the point.
“Do you realize that I got interested in English in the first place because of you? This isn’t some careless choice I made. All those days spent writing and reading as a kid made me happy. Studying business did not. For me, this was the right choice.”
“I admire that you’ve decided to pursue something you’re passionate about. I just wish it was easier to see the value of an English degree.”
“I know you want what’s best for me, but please respect me enough to acknowledge that I know what I’m doing and that I’ll make the right decision for myself.”
“I do respect you and your choices. I guess it’s just hard for me to see you girls grow up. You know, the recession hit us pretty hard. We fared a lot better than many other people, however, most of whom didn’t have a reliable job to cling onto,” Grandpa said. I guess I had never thought of it that way before. I didn’t personally understand the effects of the recession, as Mom and Dad did a great job of keeping financial worries and adult matters away from Amanda and me when we were younger.
“That must have been tough,” I offered.
Grandpa nodded. “That’s my concern here, Rachel. It’s not that I don’t trust you to pursue a worthwhile education. I just don’t see how an English degree can launch you into a successful, reliable career. I want you to be taken care of.”
“Thanks for your concern, but I’m taking every opportunity I can to get the most out of my education. Now I have something to ask you. Why didn’t you encourage me to keep doing the things I loved as a kid? How come we stopped reading together? When did life become about academics and being the best?”
“There wasn’t time for those hobbies anymore. The business consumed my life for a few years there. I guess I’ve forgotten how important reading used to be for us,” Grandpa admitted. My eyes wandered throughout the room, admiring the enormous collection of books. I caught a row of thin, worn paperbacks in a corner. Approaching the books, I immediately recognized them as the ones we used to read after school with Amanda. I carefully pulled Junie B. Jones Is a Graduation Girl from the lineup and held the book to my chest. I turned around to find Grandpa watching my nostalgic moment unfold.
“You kept these?” I asked, looking up into his eyes. It surprised me. For so long, our relationship had revolved around pressure to pursue the future he wanted for me. I never would have imagined that he’d keep these out in the open, amongst the memoirs of entrepreneurs and guides on making it in business.
“They didn’t go anywhere. My priorities are what shifted. Navigating a poor economy when your business is on the line is very demanding. It consumed my time, and I didn’t have time for the fun stuff anymore. But that doesn’t mean I abandoned it all together.” Grandpa reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a stack of old notebook pages, the ends curled under from years of wear. The first piece of paper had “Rachel Edwards” written across the top line, the letters obnoxiously large and crooked. I gasped, brining my hand to my mouth to cover my surprise. I began writing stories at age six, using my free time in class to let my imagination roam free and create new worlds. I would bring those stories home, and when Grandpa and Grandma picked us up on those early dismissals, they would get my story from that day’s work time. I had no idea he had kept them, let alone in a spot where he could reach in and read them whenever he wanted.
Grandpa could sense my disbelief at his revelation. “I could never part with these, Rachel. I read through these stories every day when the recession hit. Business was insanely stressful, and I was so concerned with you and Amanda’s well-being. I didn’t want my girls to grow up and struggle to make good lives for themselves. I just wanted to keep you little forever.”
I knew Grandpa wasn’t at peace with the whole thing. But I could tell he was trying to be more understanding. “I know we’re not going to solve everything today, and I need to get going, but I have an idea,” I offered. Grandpa’s look of encouragement for me to proceed restored some of my hope in strengthening our relationship. “There’s a banquet at school in a couple of weeks to honor award recipients from different departments. I’m receiving an award from the English department for my dedication to our literary magazine this year. I thought you might want to come.”
Grandpa smiled at the invitation. “Grandma and I would love to be there.”
“Great.” I smiled back and gave him a big hug. “I should probably get going. I have a couple final projects to work on, and I need to prepare for my interviews this week. Getting older sucks,” I complained.
“Tell me about it,” Grandpa responded, stirring a laugh out of both of us. He walked me out to my car, and as I prepared to drive away, he added one more piece of advice. One from a favorite of ours.
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.