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2001-05-21 - 5:33 p.m.

Graduation: Fading in the mirror

(Fifth in a series. See the previous four days for the rest.)

Monday, May 21

In the morning, the alarm goes off at 5:30 and Jess leaves for one final walk around the lakes. I get up from the couch half an hour later and look out the window at the morning light over Morrissey, Howard and South Quad.

Mom and Dad arrive, we stuff the last few things into the two cars and hit the Toll Road at 7:15 – 8:15 everywhere east of Indiana. For the day, it’s Mom and me in her Volvo; Dad and Jess in her Civic, both cars loaded down. We see no fewer than 10 cars with ND markings and New Jersey plates. We stop for lunch in one of the new Ohio Turnpike rest areas and see one of Jess’ former roommates, Liza, and her parents. It starts raining lightly around Youngstown and increases across Pennsylvania. The temperature drops from the 70s in Indiana to the upper 50s by the time we near the turnoff for Pittsburgh. Fog hangs over the valleys between Johnstown and State College and darkness descends as we pass Bucknell and continue on into New Jersey, where the rain and the mist and the fog make dealing with aggressive drivers all the more enjoyable after 10 and a half hours and 650 miles.

Jess’ Civic struggles up the shorter but steeper hills of northern New Jersey – Pennsylvania’s long, gradual inclines gave her little trouble – and I can crawl along no more. I pass them for the final time on Route 24, just before I-78 and the Garden State Parkway, and Mom and I enter the house just before 9 p.m. – 12 hours and 45 minutes after beginning the drive. Dad and Jess arrive 15 minutes later and we unload Mom’s car in the light rain so that she can use it to get to work in the morning.

After going out for a quick dinner, we unpack our suitcases and crawl into our beds. In record time from the time my head hits the pillow.

I hardly have time to think about the day, the weekend, but one thought does cross my mind – I'd wished I could have stayed and gone to Chicago for that visit, taking my scheduled flight home Tuesday morning. But I know I made the right decision – they needed me to help with the drive, and a good night's sleep was worth it.

I'll be back.

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