Editor’s note: This was co-written by reader columnist Aidan O’Neill and his father Brian.
Aidan: If home is where the heart is, then I left my heart for San Francisco and for my freshman year of college.
Thanks to my school’s late-September start, I had plenty of time to savor the moment. Plenty of time to use up the last bit of summer on the water with friends and family. Plenty of time to watch my younger brother start his junior year of high school, watching shows on Netflix as he stayed up late with homework and sleeping in as he woke up at 6 the next day. Plenty of time to wander around the harbor with the last remnants of the class of 2013, watching it turn into a ghost town as more and more former classmates left.
During this fun, peaceful, empty month, it was almost a surprise when I realized that it was now my turn to leave.
However, as I pulled out of the driveway with a packed car, my mom waving from the driveway, it all became real. My dad and I spent the next two days driving the 900 miles down the coast to San Francisco. I watched through the window as the grass outside coarsened and yellowed with the passing miles, watched the trees suddenly erupt into enormous redwoods as we crossed into California, then twist and shrink into leafy oaks.
The ocean was with us the whole way, scarcely changing a degree in temperature across the 8 degrees in latitude. I looked at my new home state with equal parts excitement and anticipation. This was no longer just a vacation.
But most of the time my thoughts were within the windows. I thought about how long ago graduation seemed, and about all my friends from high school that were taking the same journey I now was. It really wasn’t as dramatic as I was making it, I thought; leaving home was simply part of life.
Then I thought about my dad, knowing each click of the odometer set us further and further apart even as we drove the miles together. More than the homework, the shared bathrooms and the abundance of 49er fans, not being with my family would be tough.
When we said our final goodbyes and I turned away, I knew that he was still only 20 feet behind me, yet he might as well have already been back home. For the first time, we would be separated not only by miles, but by months. I had known that would happen, as I know that college is a chance to validate my family’s efforts, to make them proud. It is happy and sad, bitter and sweet. But I’ll be home again soon.
Dad: We had been planning the drive to San Francisco for weeks. We squinted over road maps, highlighting spots that looked interesting – a surfing spot on the Oregon coast, Redwood National Forest, even an outlet mall for last-minute school shopping.
It would be a cool road trip. With all that fun stuff, I had hoped it would distract me from the fact that I was dropping my firstborn son off at college – his new home, in another state. Two days later, we arrived in San Francisco. My hometown. Ironic, isn’t it?
I know this road. Thirty years ago, almost to the day, I was the young man leaving home. Like my son, I made my goodbyes quick. I hopped in a car and headed north to college and a new life. The future was filled with limitless possibilities.
But now it is his road, his college, his life which is opening up to a world of possibilities. His mother and I must now share his experiences at arm’s length. That is the way of things. It is for the best, I suppose, but it is hard.
Aidan O’Neill, a freshman at Santa Clara University, is one of five reader columnists whose work appears on this page. Email him at aidanbo.neill@ gmail.com. His father, Brian, is the author of the Blue Byline blog on thenewstribune.com.