Monday, September 21, 2009

Save the Date

Some dates on a calendar are easy to remember and need no explanation: January 1, December 25, 9/11, Fourth of July, just to name a few. Other dates take on personal meaning, like birthdays and wedding anniversaries.

Today, September 21, falls in the latter category for me and my parents. It was on this day 18 years ago I flew back East to go to prep school for the first time.

The roots of this moment took hold more than a year earlier when my East L.A. junior high school set up a scholarship program in which two or three kids would go to a New England boarding school starting with their sophomore year of high school (we were grades 7-9 at the time). I was in eighth grade then and I figured if I kept getting strong grades, I might have a shot at this.

A year later, the first two students from our school go East. What we didn't know at the time was that one of them got terribly homesick and decided to come back after only one week.

I was sitting in math class on Wednesday, September 18, when an office messenger came in and handed a note to the teacher. The teacher looked confused, but then walked up to my desk and handed me the note. I needed to see the assistant principal. I had no idea why.

I get to the office and he calmly explains to me that he helped set up this scholarship program in our school and that one of the kids who went this year came back. Not only that, but the prep school had an opening for a ninth-grade boy. So with this extra scholarship in hand, would I be willing to take their place immediately and fly out on Saturday, September 21?

I said I would.

It seemed like a golden opportunity to get a better education, which would lead to better options for college and beyond. Plus, I was 14 years old so it wasn't like I was fully able to comprehend exactly what I was about to embark on. So leading up to it and even when I first got to my new school, I was pretty calm. It was all happening so fast that there really was no time to feel homesick or overwhelmed.

My parents, however, were another story. I'm an only child, so to have to tell them that I was going to go away to school at 14 and, oh yeah, that they only have three days to wrap their heads around that concept was quite jarring.

They came in that afternoon to speak with the assistant principal and in his best broken Spanish (with me translating some), he tried to tell them what going to a school like this would mean for my future and how well I'd be taken care of and that I'd be able to come home for Christmas and spring break. All the while, my mom and dad sat there, stone-faced.

Finally, they looked at me and asked me if I wanted to do this. After I said yes, they said (at great pain, by the looks on their faces) they would do everything to support me. I don't know what would have happened if they had said no, but deep down I figured they would understand. They always stressed education with me and even though it was now unfolding in a surprising manner, they remained supportive. For which I'm eternally grateful.

After two days of frantic packing, Saturday morning came. It was time to go to the airport and start a journey that would eventually take us to places previously unseen by the family. A high school and college graduation. A son's life built primarily on the East Coast. Grandchildren born in Manhattan, with grandparents who were born in rural Mexico.

It's a quiet life we've carved for ourselves out here, with children, school, errands and work filling most of our days. But I always wonder how different it would have been if it hadn't been for what happened on this day 18 years ago, when everything changed.


Jen said...

I never completely understood your parent's sacrifice until we had our I think I get it.

Chloe said...

Wow Ed, I had no idea. That's amazing - thanks for sharing :)

Ami said...

What a great story. I truly believe everything happens for a reason.

Matt said...

Cool story Ed! It's neat to think about the moments that have such huge and positive effects on our lives.