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Saturday, 16 April 2005

misdeeds from my youth

My thesis defense is two weeks from yesterday. So what to do? Procrastinate!

First of all, I love my family. We were a standardly dysfunctional American family, which meant that during my teenage years, there was much friction.

When I was a child, I used to complain that we never went anywhere. This was actually true. We lived an hour from Santa Cruz. I didn't go to the beach until I was 8. I didn't experience snow until I was in college. I didn't go to Yosemite until this very year. We didn't get out much. When I was in my youth and I did travel with my parents, it was sometimes stressful. Being in confined places, like cars, with people you get along best with at a distance is something of a problem. Also, the homebody tendency often meant that we sort of got stuck in and around the hotel. We should have gone on a cruise together. It would have been perfect. Traveling without really going anywhere and lots of space.

I was almost never left home alone as a kid. My parents didn't trust me. During the big earthquake in 1989, my mom was actually gone running errands and that didn't seem to be unusual, so I think the lack of trust came later. Maybe it was the time neighbor kids (enticed by my "little" brother) broke in and started setting off firecrackers in the hallway and that I responded by attempting to shoo them off by grabbing the biggest kitchen knife I could find and waving it around. Or maybe it was the time that I, enraged at my brother, emptied his sock drawer onto his floor and he responded by smashing my bass guitar case (the guitar was still in it, but mercifully unhurt) and smashing my backpack into the ground repeatedly until all the pens broke and quite a few of the book bindings too. Ah, the foibles of teenagers. Anyway, I was never left alone. So I tried to stay away as often as possible. I did 723691246 extra curricular activities and took evening classes and summer school.

It's not to say we didn't have our moments of togetherness. My brother and I both took German in highschool and my dad, apparently inspired, took German at adult school at some point. I love my dad. He can look at any math problem I've ever seen and find an answer within moments. I almost published a math paper in highschool (another story), but it was my dad who found the formula. He is brilliant at math and engineering. His language skills are not as good, though. He tried out some of his German on me, "My douche is fruit bar." he said. "I beg your pardon?" I said. Finally I realized he was trying to say Mein Deutsch is fructbar. which appropriately enough means "my German is terrible." I laughed until I cried, while still trying to be encouraging. My dad didn't take any more German after that. Alas. My brother hated school and hated German, as far as I can tell, because it was part of school. We never spoke German together. We probably would have killed each other if either of us could have come up with a way to do it and avoid punishment. So (this is ALL still buildup to the main story, so I can procrastinate in style), I liked speaking German and had taken more of it than the rest of my family. My dad was embarrassingly terrible at it and my brother sullenly refused to speak it. Speaking of embarrassing parents . . . well, no, never-mind, you were a teenager once. You know everything I would say. My parents were loud though. We all shouted at each other all the time, just to talk. Sometimes we would shout at each other about the neighbors. I was certain they could hear us. Augh, the psychic pain!

Ok, so one summer, my dad had the completely uncharacteristic idea that we should all go to Germany. We bought a book on Europe at $45 / day. We all got passport photos taken. He kept bugging me to find out when my summer classes ended. I didn't know. I never know deadlines or when things end. I advised him to check the course catalog and told him which course I was taking. I was not a helpful teen. Finally, he bought tickets and made all the hotel reservations. I looked at the ticket dates and my final exam schedule and said "this is in the midst of my finals. I can't go." I noticed this maybe two weeks before we were supposed to go. The tickets, iirc, were non-refundable.

My parents did not make me drop the class as some might have done. It was Pascal or C or something at the local junior college. They did not just leave me behind, as I desperately hoped they would do. The just didn't go. They never even talked about it again. The date came that we would have left and we just went on as if nothing had happened. My dad went to work. I went to school. We didn't go to Germany. Oh, but we paid to go to Germany. The tickets, the hotel, everything.

I recall feeling some guilt over this. But mostly relief. I knew they weren't going to let me go off on my own at all. I would be stuck in a confined space with my brother and two people who were so embarrassing that . . . well, you were a teenager once. And I would have been the designated speaker. They would have shouted at each other in english making all sorts of observations and then my dad would have tried out his incomprehensible loudly-using-the-closest-sounding-english-word-to-the -german-word-he-meant speaking and then I would have had to translate.

I, being highly self-centered and having a seriously defective memory, quickly forgot about everything. I probably wondered why everybody was being kind of sullen at me. But I think my brother felt relief too. It might have been a rare bonding moment. Maybe my parents did too. It's not like they couldn't have made me drop the class or left me behind.

And that is how my family didn't go to Germany, even though they paid for it, because of me. And I feel guilt about it now even though I don't think I felt much then. The end

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