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The Go Home Button
For as long as I can remember, I have always celebrated Thanksgiving at my house. My mother always invited our family over for a huge dinner that took hours to prepare. After returning from the Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, she and my father promptly locked themselves in the kitchen, chopping, dicing, and blending ingredients with precision. Meanwhile, my brother and I always found ourselves with a vacuum in one hand and Swiffer in another, chasing away dust and throwing errant toys into the closets or under sofas.
Our relatives usually arrived around three in the afternoon; with gifts for me and my brother and dishes that my mother placed in the refrigerator and conveniently forgot to serve (my aunt’s lasagna always resembled a giant brownie).
We began to eat at five and our dinner usually lasted until eight but nobody really left the table until eleven, all of us too stuffed to move. That night, my aunts and uncles would sleep in either my brother’s bedroom or mine, while he and I shared inflatable mattresses in the living room with our cousins.
The following morning we all woke up at eleven, watching an old made-for-TV movie and eating leftovers.
This year, however, was different.
My eldest cousin, Sam, had just bought an apartment in Billerica, Massachusetts, a sleepy bed-and-breakfast town north of Cambridge. My mother, tired of standing elbow deep in sauce in the kitchen for hours, urged him to hold Thanksgiving in his new home, so as to have a quasi-housewarming party as well. He agreed.
The ride up to Billerica from New York was uneventful. It took us five hours, my father maintaining a steady speed of sixty miles per hour which, according to him, is very fast. It had just snowed, and the evergreen Pines on either side of the highway were beautiful, dusted with confectioner’s sugar. The radio promised that the winter storms would take a brief hiatus, snow was not to be expected for another three weeks. We believed it.
My parents are usually hesitant when it comes to taking long road trips for a single reason: directions, or rather the lack of good directions. My childhood is dotted with memories of my family and me in a car on our way to Niagara Falls, Lake Erie, or Cape May. These road trips were long and often resulted in our car pulled over on the side of the road at eleven o’clock in the night while my mom tiredly studied a road map, ignoring my dad’s reminders that using the car’s indoor light would kill the battery.
Directions have never been my family’s strong point. Whenever our friends moved out of state, to some remote part of Pennsylvania or New Jersey my parents would always promise to visit but never did, knowing that such trips were impossible when you cannot differentiate the Garden State from the Northern State.
This all changed last year, when my parents bought a Garmin Global Positioning System. For a mere three hundred dollars, my parents had solved their traveling problems. Equipped with turn-by-turn directions to anywhere in the continental United States, lists of restaurants, movie theaters, and shopping centers available at our fingertips the GPS soon became a part of our family. We took it everywhere or rather we took her everywhere.
The GPS doesn’t just list driving directions on its four and half by five inch screen; it says them in a soft female voice that speaks thirteen different languages.
“Turn left in four hundred feet,” she would say.
“Make a right at the next stop sign,” she would advise.
“Arriving at destination, on right!” she would exclaim proudly, commending my father for his brilliant driving.
Whenever a wrong turn was made, or an exit was missed my parents were instantly reassured as she would instantly recalculate a new set of directions.
My family was enamored with her, especially my younger brother who used her to prove that there were in fact Taco Bells in New Jersey (my parent’s excuse that fast food chains only existed in New York was the only loss we suffered from the acquisition of our GPS).
In time, I no longer had a younger brother, but a younger sister too. Named by my brother, her name was Pilotta and was loved by my parents for her ability to help them avoid tolls.
Pilotta helped us get to Billerica in one piece. Thanksgiving at my cousin’s was fun. The ride back home, I’m sorry to say, was anything but.
Empowered by Pilotta, my parents were invincible on the road. No longer did they fear making a wrong turn, or adventuring to an out-of-the-way landmark that was nowhere near any form of civilization but was advertised as a “fascinating look into our nation’s history.”
My parents no longer packed sandwiches and water bottles on long car rides. They knew perfectly well that if hunger should befall on our family, we could easily find a restaurant. They no longer panicked when the gas gauge read almost empty for with the touch of a screen they could easily find a gas station.
Fearless, my parents made the brilliant decision to visit Harvard University on our way back home from Billerica. The plan was Pilotta would take us to Cambridge, find us a reasonably priced hotel, and after a day, take us home again. The plan was, to them, fool proof.
My father had been anxious to visit Harvard for years. Since he first came to the United States, it was his dream that one of his children would one day attend Harvard, become a lawyer, and make a gajillion dollars. This dream fell upon me. I was less than thrilled at my parents plan.
It seemed like the weather wasn’t too thrilled either.
As soon as we crossed Billerica’s city limits, it began to rain.
“Obstructive weather ahead,” Pilotta advised. My parents thanked her.
It lightly drizzled for an hour. All the while my father listed the benefits of going to Harvard.
“They give full financial aid to qualified students,” he explained. “Once you get admission, you’ll be set for life.”
The rain fell softly on the moon roof; a low, steady staccato filled the inside of the SUV, coupled with the shrill music of my brother’s video game.
“Harvard is the number one college in the country,” said my father.
My mother was reading a novel, but looked anxiously between the two of us.
“You know dad,” I said, “Princeton is actually ranked number one.”
As soon as the words left my mouth, we heard the roaring sounds of thunder and lightning. The rain began to fall harder, the echoing staccato reverberated through the SUV, making what once seemed spacious and big cramped and suffocating like a nuclear submarine.
“No Geetika,” my father said, frustrated at my failure to agree, “Harvard has a name.”
I never liked talking about college, especially with my parents. It didn’t matter that I actually harbored a small desire for Harvard; I had an even bigger fear of not getting in to a good, ivy-league school. I wanted to postpone the talk of college for as long as possible and hated whenever my father broached the subject.
Slowly, the fear of failure swept through me, the idea of me going to a (heaven forbid) state school crippled my senses. The sound of the rain pounded in my ears, and the shrill sounds of Mario saving Princess Peach in my brother’s video game suddenly became too much.
My mother saw it coming.
“Geetika…” she warned. But it was too late.
“Harvard is a stupid school!” I yelled. “I’m not going to apply! I’m going to…I think…
I want to…Boston College is just as good!”
This was too much for my father.
He turned around to look at me, “do you know how much sacrifice we made…?”
My dad missed the exit we were supposed to take to get to Cambridge.
“Recalculating directions,” Pilotta said softly, but we couldn’t hear her because my mother was now quasi-yelling at my father.
“You’re always pushing for Harvard,” she said, “What about Columbia? It’s any ivy school, and it’s close to home. Do you want Geetika to be five hours away from me?”
My father’s face twitched, trying hard not to reveal that he secretly agreed with her. “We need to give her opportunity!” he said said.
“I don’t want opportunity!” I yelled.
My dad clenched the steering wheel with his two fists and scrambled to make a right turn.
“We will go to Harvard,” he said. “You will tour the campus. You will meet the admissions officer. You will take her email address. And then you’ll apply.”
“But I don’t want to!” I yelled back. “You’re always pushing me! I hate it!”
“Geetika!”my mom admonished. “Don’t talk like that to your dad! You will apply to Columbia!”
“Damn college!” I swore. And then all hell broke loose.
The rain turned to a disgusting mixture of snow, sleet, and hail. Cars were skidding on either side of us and as nighttime fell we could barely see the vehicle in front of us.
“I’m huuuuungry,” my brother wailed. “My head huuuuuuurts.”
“Be quiet!” we all said as he started to yell.
“We did so much,” said my father, barely thinking of what he was saying, none of us were, “and look at how she treats us. You’ve spoiled her!”
“I spoiled her?” my mother screeched. “You’re the one who filled her head with thoughts of leaving home. She should go to Columbia so she’ll be close to me.”
“Arriving at destination, on right,” said Pilotta, indicating that Harvard was only seconds away. My father didn’t hear her, he made a left turn.
“What did you do that for?” My mother asked.
“I’m distracted,” said my father.
“You wouldn’t be if you both just left me alone,” I said.
All of a sudden the car skidded to the left and hit a snow bank.
“We’re going to die! We’re going to die! We’re going to die! We’re going to die!” My brother yelled.
My dad got out of the car to make sure there was no damage.
My mom turned around and asked if my brother and I were alright.
My dad got back in the car and turned on the ignition. With a deep breath he touched Pilotta’s screen and clicked his way through a series of menus.
He reached the icon he was looking for. He pressed it and Pilotta declared immediately,
“Make a left.”
My dad turned around the car and proceeded to drive home. The only sound in the car was Pilotta’s soft voice, telling my dad how to get the five of us home.
I turned around in the seat to look out my window and I saw the tall buildings of Harvard University become smaller and smaller. College, the future, everything could wait. The “Go Home” button had saved us.