Good Riddance, College Girl

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic

After dropping off his daughter at UCLA, an unexpected connection helps a father realize how much he misses his new college girl.

September 17, 2021 – Los Angeles, California, USA

It took eight trips to transfer the minivan’s contents.  Eliza Alvarez and her parents each took an armful with each trek between the parking lot and the new dorm room.  Eliza’s dad, Joseph, discovered brand new clothing and comfort items every time he held out his hands for a load.

“A new lamp too?  Why can’t she use the one from her room at home?” Joseph complained to his wife and daughter.

“This one has more style.  You don’t want her starting college with a lamp that looks like it came from a garage,” answered Eliza’s mother, Mattie.

“It shouldn’t matter, as long as it works.  Why are you spending extra money so people think you’re a millionaire?”

“Why do you always have to talk about money?  I’m sorry, nice things cost money,” replied Eliza in a pouty voice.

“I have to talk about it because no one else seems to care.  And I’m the one who has to pay for the tuition and housing that your scholarships don’t cover.”

“What am I supposed to do?  Am I supposed to go back?  Should we get back in the car already?  Or do you want me working like three jobs so I can pay for everything myself?”

“I want you to go to college, but I still think you should have started at Sacramento State.  Even Davis would be better than coming all the way to UCLA.”

“Here we go again, you two.  Can’t we give this a rest by now?” interjected Mattie.

“Maybe you want me at Yuba City Community College.  That would be even cheaper,” snapped Eliza.

“I’m not saying that.  I want you to go where you want, just not so far,” replied Joseph defensively.

“It wouldn’t be such a big deal if I just took the car.  Then I wouldn’t be stuck on campus and could drive back and forth.”

“No one gave me a car when I was your age,” said Joseph in a well-rehearsed response.  “And you’d have to pay to park it and change the oil.  No, your little brother’s going to drive it.  I’m not paying for four cars in this family.”

“Then I hope you liked the seven-hour drive down here.  You’re gonna have to come get me for Thanksgiving.”

“Like I’ve been saying, you can fly.  Or take the train or the bus.”

“I’m not taking the bus!”

“C’mon, that’s enough.  You two are both so stubborn,” said Mattie.  “We shouldn’t be arguing right before we say goodbye.”  The tears she had been fighting finally leaked from her eyes.

Joseph and Eliza went silent until Eliza began to cry like her mother.

“It’s not like this is permanent or anything,” said Joseph.  “We’re already planning to see you for Thanksgiving.  I’ll bet your mom finds an excuse to drive down to see you every week.”


“Well, don’t you feel like crying?” Mattie said to Joseph, pleading for him to some emotion to prove he loved his family.

“We aren’t the first parents to drop off a college student.  You’ll cry enough for both of us.  I’m trying to look on the bright side.”

“You are?  I haven’t heard much bright side from you yet.”

Eliza and Mattie sat on the dorm room bed, sniffing and embracing as they sensed the impending goodbye.  Joseph brought up the traffic on the 405 Freeway and how they should probably get going if they did not want to get stuck.  Eliza and Mattie suggested waiting around until Eliza’s new roommate arrived.  Joseph argued they could meet her another time, after she had settled in.  He ended up pulling his wife away from the little room after giving his daughter a quick kiss on the dark brown hair above her forehead.

Mattie Alvarez did not seem to regain consciousness until she and her husband were three hours into their trip up Interstate 5.  Her gentle weeping suddenly stopped, as if a raincloud no longer blocked the sun.

“It will be good for her.  She’ll have a lot of fun,” Mattie said out loud, reassuring herself.

“Who wouldn’t have fun when there’s nothing to worry about?” replied Joseph.  “Her room and food are taken care of like magic.  I’d have lots of fun, too, if I got to live like that.”

“The house isn’t going to feel the same.”

“No more worrying about saying the wrong thing and hearing about how mean and out of touch I am.”

“She doesn’t think you’re mean and out of touch.”

“Could have fooled me.”


“You can’t take teenage girls too seriously.”

“How am I supposed to know what she’s thinking?  She needs to learn some appreciation instead of being . . . uh, what’s the word they use to describe kids these days?”

“Entitled?


“Yeah, entitled.  It would be nice if she thanked me once in a while instead of feeling entitled to new lamps and going to UCLA.  I tried to teach her all kinds of things but she never listened.”

“Sure she did.  But she’s like you.  She’ll never admit it.”

After Joseph and Mattie finally got back to Yuba City, it took several days to return to their old routine.  During their first meal together with their son, Leo, Joseph tried to enjoy that he no longer had to tell Eliza to put her phone away at the table.  But every time he looked up, Leo was busy sending text messages on his phone.

“Hey, you know the rule about phones at dinner,” said Joseph.

“I thought that was only for Eliza,” Leo lazily replied.

“No, it’s for everyone.”

“I’ve gotta go anyway.  I gotta meet Skye.”

“You can’t leave until everybody’s done.”

Leo stood up and strolled away as if he had not heard his father.

“Did I not say he had to wait for us to finish?” Joseph said to his wife in an annoyed voice.

Mattie shrugged her shoulders as a sign it was not worth arguing about.

“And I don’t like him hanging out with that Skye kid,” added Joseph.  He turned toward Eliza’s usual spot at the table.  She shared his feelings about Skye and was happy to pile on with her own complaints about him.  With Eliza absent, Joseph turned to his wife for support, but she had no interest in Skye criticisms.  Joseph put his fork down and cleared the dishes from the table.

When he crawled into bed later that night, Joseph thought falling asleep would be easy.  Without Eliza blasting music in the adjoining bedroom, the house felt still and lifeless.  Joseph rotated on his pillow trying to get comfortable.  Did he need the thumping noise on the other side of the wall to feel secure?  He tiptoed into Eliza’s room in hope of finding her speakers, but they were gone.

The nights of rocky sleep continued.  Then Mattie suggested it was time for Joseph to transform Eliza’s room like he planned.

“You kept saying you would turn it into a home gym or an office for paying bills,” Mattie reminded him.

Joseph walked into the bedroom, with Mattie following close behind.  “To get an exercise bike and some weights in here, I’d have to take out all the furniture.  Where would Mattie sleep when she comes back?  You know, for Thanksgiving?”

“She could always sleep on the couch.  Or maybe leave just her bed.  Slide it against the wall.”

Joseph stared at Eliza’s dresser, desk, and bookshelves.  They still held framed pictures and the silly smashed pennies Eliza liked to collect.

“It’ll be a lot of work moving things around,” said Joseph elusively.  “Maybe we should think about it for a while.  How much are we going to use an exercise bike anyway?”

Mattie smiled to herself and left Joseph standing alone in Eliza’s bedroom.  Mattie stayed quiet for the next few days about their daughter.  But when Joseph returned from picking up Leo from the skate park, a task which used to be handled by Eliza, Mattie reminded her husband about the car sitting in the driveway.

“You wanted to get a cover for it and vacuum it out.”

“I know.  Maybe I could get Leo to vacuum it.”

“You can ask him.  You might need to remind him a few times.”

Joseph groaned and concluded, “It’s less work just doing it myself.”

The 2013 Hyundai Sonata in the driveway had taken Eliza to school and work since she was sixteen.  Joseph suspected she had left it full of candy wrappers and dirt-covered floormats.  When he pulled open the driver’s door, he immediately saw that he was right.  Rather than tackle the cleaning using his home vacuum, Joseph drove the Sonata to a nearby carwash.

Joseph fished old lipstick tubes, toothbrushes, and Tic Tac boxes from between the seats and tossed them into a barrel-sized trash container.  Under the passenger seat, he found a bird nest Eliza had used for a class project.

When Joseph reached the driver’s side, he pulled out a spiral notebook from a slot in the door.  Joseph recognized it immediately.  He had given it to Eliza while he was teaching her how to drive.  She was supposed to use it to keep track of miles and gas purchases.  Joseph thumbed through the pages and recognized his daughter’s handwriting.  The last entry was from the week before she left.  She had faithfully recorded the car’s mileage and how much gas she bought.  She divided the two to calculate gas mileage.

Joseph sat and stared at the numbers while carwash customers around him vacuumed their carpets.  He would have bet money that Eliza had stopped using the notebook.  He assumed she thought of it as one of her dad’s antiquated ideas.  But there were the numbers going all the way back to the beginning.  He stared until the tears in his eyes made the handwriting blurry.  He could not explain why he was crying, but for Joseph Alvarez, those numbers were love notes he was reading for the first time.

“I was thinking that the car isn’t doing any good just sitting there,” Joseph explained to his wife when he returned from the carwash.  “Maybe Eliza should use it after all.”

“I thought you were saving it for Leo.”

“He won’t be driving for a while.  Maybe I’ll take it down to Eliza.”

“You’re going to drive it to LA?”

“Maybe tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?  You’re going to take off, just like that?  That doesn’t sound like you.”

Joseph shrugged his shoulders.

“When are we leaving?”

“I was thinking of doing it myself.  Just me.  I want it to just be me.”

Mattie did not press her husband for more of an explanation.

“And I want it to be a surprise, so don’t tell her,” Joseph added.

All the way down to Southern California the next morning, Joseph tortured himself with regrets.  He remembered all the times he ignored Eliza instead of giving her the attention she craved.  She went through a phase in middle school when all she could talk about was seals and sea lions.  Instead of driving Eliza to the ocean, he told Mattie to find Eliza some sea lion videos to watch.  He was nothing like the dads who sailed around the world with their kids.  He was not a dad who brought home baby animals or planted gardens.  He did not pose for pictures or dance for videos.  He was not fun or easy to love.

Joseph followed the same route used for Eliza’s drop off and found the same UCLA parking lot.  He reached her dorm room a little after 2 pm but was reluctant to knock.  She was probably in class or doing something important.  He put his ear to the door and heard a voice inside.  He knocked.

Eliza answered right away.  “Dad!  What are you doing here?”

“Your mom didn’t say I was coming?”

“No!  Where is she?”

“It’s just me.”

Joseph expected to see disappointment on her face.  Eliza’s surprised smile did not shrink.  She looked backward toward her roommate in a gesture of introduction.  The roommate sat cross-legged on a bed, in the half of the room decorated all in black.  She was reciting something from a book.

“Hey Leah.  This is my dad,” called Eliza.

Leah looked over while still chanting and gave Joseph a little nod.

“How about if we go somewhere else?” said Eliza.

“You’re not busy?  You don’t have homework or anything important?” asked Joseph.

Eliza walked out of the room and pulled the door shut behind her like she was escaping.  “Please, let’s go.”

“So, are you doing okay?  Do you like that Leah girl?” Joseph asked as he followed Eliza down the hallway.

Eliza made it a few more steps before letting out a sob.  “No, I hate her.  She wants to read her poetry 24 hours a day.  Either that or she’s talking about Star Wars.  She makes me hate Star Wars too.”

“Are there other people you can talk to?”

“I don’t know anybody and it’s like they all have friends already.  And I have no idea what’s going on in class.  It’s not like high school.  I wanna go home.”

“No, you can’t say that.  Everything seems hard when you first start out.  That’s how I felt about all my jobs.  You probably felt that way about kindergarten.”

“Did I?”

“Yes.  Now that I think about it, you hated kindergarten.  You said you weren’t going back.”

“Kindergarten was better.  I didn’t have a psycho roommate.”

They reached the end of the hallway and descended a flight of stairs to get outside.  Joseph could not think of anything inspirational, so he said, “I brought you the car.  I’m leaving it with you.  I’m sure you can make friends and go places.”

“Are you serious?” replied Eliza as she wiped her eyes and cheeks.  When they reached the parking lot and she saw the familiar Sonata sitting there, Eliza covered her mouth with both hands and squealed.

“It’s kind of dirty from the drive down.  We should probably wash it and register so you can park without getting tickets.”

“And maybe we can get something to eat?”

“And definitely get something to eat.”

Joseph let Eliza drive to the carwash and then a Jiffy Lube to get the oil changed.  He paid for her parking registration without complaining.  Then they drove to a Mexican restaurant Eliza had learned about through an overheard classroom conversation.

“Wait a minute, how are you getting home?” Eliza asked Joseph over chips and salsa.

“How about dropping me at the bus station?”

“What if I took you to the airport?”  Eliza pulled out her phone and looked up flights to Sacramento.

Two hours later, she waved goodbye to her dad at LAX.  She stopped for gas on the way back to school.  She found his handwriting in her mileage notebook.  Under her last entry he wrote, “That’s my girl!”

 

For more stories like this one, including audio versions, please visit 500ironicstories.com


Submitted: August 27, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Aaron Hawkins. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

Comments

kate winchester 2

This was sweet! I enjoyed it.

Tue, August 30th, 2022 4:00am

zilka.44

I liked the comparison, the rain cloud, crying. Good short story.

Wed, August 31st, 2022 12:44pm

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