(re)Kindling the Fire

HelloPart 1 of 3.

Boy, it’s been a month. What with graduations, birthdays, a trip to Nowhere-Ohio, a nagging cough that wouldn’t abate, and dropping out of the gay dating pool altogether. It’s been quiet around the Sacred Bonfire, but here’s what’s been going on while I was away:

Strike a match.
Kindle twigs.
Set the bonfire ablaze.

The past six weeks have been a whirl of family activity, celebrations, rites of passage, and last minute, panicked travel. It began when my sister called and asked me to look into colleges for my nephew. According to my sister, my nephew was about to apply and commit to a college he wasn’t thrilled about going. She wanted me to talk to him and help him figure out where to go in the fall.

The week before, my sister and nephew traveled to South Carolina to visit a college that was interested in recruiting him to play basketball. When they returned, it all but seemed like he would be going there in the fall. When my sister told me the news, I happened to look at the college’s ranking and statistics; with an 18% four-year graduation rate, I wasn’t too thrilled about the prospect of him being one of the school’s casualties. I began to research the school and others around the country, and I became alarmed enough by the school’s number to tell my sister something was not right with the college. It was either so hard in academics students dropped out or failed out of the program, or the students used it as a stepping stone to other colleges, transferring to other schools with better programs and curriculum. The kicker, for me, was when I asked my nephew if he was excited to go to school in South Carolina and he replied with a shrug. That’s when I went into college selection high gear.

The day before I talked to my nephew, he’d gotten a call from another school that was also interested in his basketball playing skills. I translated my nephew’s grumble into a recognizable word that Google Translator identified for me, and I began to compare schools the two schools he’d have a chance to attend. By the end of the afternoon, I had convinced my sister that a trip to the second school would be a good idea simply to compare the two. My nephew, I told him, could still go to the school in South Carolina if he wanted to, but only after he had something to compare it with. After some cajoling, bribing, threats, lies, and arm twisting, he acquiesced with a barely audible, “OK.”

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Downtown Cleveland from the air.

The next day, the three of us were off to Ohio. My nephew wore the worst possible outfit he could find in his closet to meet with the basketball team’s coach. My sister was pleased to leave Miami if only for two days. I went armed with information, statistics, and college rankings to verify any information gathered. I also had my camera ready to record any and all events so I could bring them back home and make a case for the school if my nephew insisted on going to the other one.

We arrived in Cleveland early afternoon, rented a car, and drove south to Nowhere, Ohio, a small town near the Ohio River where the college is located. There, we were welcomed by the coaching staff of the school’s basketball team and given an extensive tour of the campus. I had to nudge and prod my nephew to ask questions about the team and school’s curriculum. For the most part, he tagged along while the coaches walked us around the campus’ manicured lawns and red-brick buildings. It wasn’t until they showed us the basketball facilities, the gym, and workout rooms that my nephew perked up and started showing interest.

By the end of the tour, my nephew became animated and started talking and riffing with the coaches. At dinner, the coaches went over the team’s goals and spoke frankly about what would be expected of him if was accepted to the school. My nephew didn’t skip a beat and said he’d enjoy attending school in Nowhere. When they asked him when he’d make his decision, my nephew told them in two days. My sister and I looked at each other and knew there had been a shift in his thinking.

The drive back to Cleveland was animated. Unlike the drive to Nowhere where my nephew slept in the back seat for most of the drive, he was now talkative, enunciating words, and he DJ’d from his iPhone all the way back to Cleveland. When I pressed him about the school, and asked him which school he like better, he grumbled Nowhere. When I asked him if he still wanted to go to school in South Carolina he said No. Nowhere was the better school with the better basketball team, he said. “You’re welcome,” I told him.

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At the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I’m the short one, next to the 6’7″ giant my nephew’s become.

The next day, we took the day to explore and walk around Cleveland. We stayed in the downtown area, and walked around the clean, ample, and pleasant avenues that stretched all the way to the shores of Lake Erie. After a short lunch at a local pub, we shopped at the Cavalier’s sport store where my nephew stocked up on shirts, shorts, and Cavs paraphernalia. From there, we took a short drive to Cleveland’s lakefront, and spent a few hours walking the halls of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. There, my nephew indulged his 80s music fandom, and my sister and I re-lived some of the music and sounds of our youth.

Back in Miami, and two days later, my nephew announced that he’d changed his mind and that he would be applying to school in Nowhere, OH. I was pleased he’d made the choice of going to a school where he would not only be challenged as an athlete, but also tested academically and given a much better liberal arts education.

The day after the trip, I kept to my rooms and spent much of the rest of the weekend alone. I felt happy, but sad. I felt elated, but deflated as well. I was excited, but also anxious. I felt like there was something wrong, missing, in me. My sister called and asked how I was doing and I told her as much. “Now you know what it’s like to be a parent and know your child is going away to school.” This sucks! I told her. I don’t know how you do it! I mean, I’m happy for my nephew, but I feel terrible inside. I’m going to miss him! And FaceTime or text messages won’t do! “Welcome to parenting 101,” my sister said. Then we both cried together on the phone.

My nephew applied to Nowhere, and a few days letter, to our excitement (relief), he was accepted. He’s now excited and can’t stop talking about playing basketball in college. The difference in him is palpable. South Carolina does not register in his mind anymore. It’s as if it never existed.

A few weeks ago, my nephew called to ask me to the movies. We went to see Deadpool 2 and after went for a bite to eat. At the restaurant, he pulled out his cell phone and showed me the T-shirts, hoodies, and hats he was going to get from Nowhere. So, you’re excited then, I said. He nodded and showed me posts from his IG account. All his friends were happy and excited for him. I beamed and smiled proudly at him. I told him I was happy he was going too. I said that I had already started looking for an apartment in Nowhere so I could move and be close to him. A look of panic and horror began to show on his face. I said I hadn’t found anywhere where they would let me stay with Lucky, his dog, yet and that seemed to relieve him. I told him I’d miss him, but that I would try to make it to as many games as I could during the season. This pleased him far more than me moving to Nowhere, and as he paid for our lunch (on his parents’ credit card) he said, in clear English, “I’m going to miss you too, tio.”

I went home, and I wept.