“This is so weird.”
“Yeah, but she’ll get used to it.”
He smiled at his wife as the car drove through the campus entrance. Neither of them were sure that this was the right thing- though their daughter’s education was free thanks to the wonders of good politics. He remembered struggling to make loan payments, fighting tooth and nail to make progress in a world that held him back- held everyone back. Weird to think how long ago that was.
“I’m just glad the GPS can find the damn res halls. I remember back when I was a delivery guy and had to use my brain to find customers with the old Doom Machine. Of course that was before every car was awesome. Thanks Elon.” He patted the hood of the car gently.
“I kinda miss my old Doom Machine- He was a good car.”
“I don’t.” He shrugged.
His wife gasped at him, “Don’t talk about my old car that way!”
You were a delivery boy? I thought Drones replaced those forever ago, you must be really old Papa Bear.”
“Oh yes!” He replied, “That was back when drones were just toys for perverts and videographers!” He sighed- “I can remember it like it was yesterday… Zooming around Potsdam left and right, then coming home and crying into Mama Moose’s arms about how useless I was. Guess you were right, Moose- it all turned out okay in the end. Well aside from the whole Climate change thing… that- that’s not going so well..”
Mama Moose chuckled to herself and looked out the window. This was still strange, after seventeen years of being together the whole kitten leaving the nest thing was not an easy experience. Sure she had been a pain here and there- but that’s what growing up was like.. and she figured it would be nice to be just the two of them. Moose and Bear tearing up the side streets, her favorite love story all over again.
“Welp, guess this is where we’re parking!” He said.
“Could have parked closer if you were driving..” Their daughter grumbled.
“Oh don’t even get me started with him and parking, it’s an absolute wonder I ever let him drive before you were born.”
“Yeah, and besides you two love long walks with your Papa Bear!”
She rolled her eyes at her father and hopped out of the car. Her parents got out together. The three of them were greeted by a cool August breeze as they coagulated into a family unit. There were a ton of families in the lot all walking in the same direction. Gods this is not helping my anxiety, she thought.
Her parents had tried to help the night before, well her father did- as he was the academical one of the family. His advice wasn’t the best; all those years of communicating with others and he still had trouble with his own daughter. All he said was meet as many people as possible and make friends whenever you can. Nothing about studying or eating, and it completely ignored how uncomfortable she felt about all of it. Nothing was more awkward than meeting new friends.
They followed the group to a BBQ. A few kitchen staff handed out meals on thin wood plates, and she sat together with her parents for one last meal. Her parents spoke and laughed, but she didn’t feel much like laughing. She would be alone soon.
They walked over to her dorm, and helped her unpack. Her father did most of the lifting. She only brought three boxes. Papa Bear said that the worst thing you can do is bring a whole house to school. “Every first year does it and every first year realizes too late how stupid an idea it would be.” Picking what to bring and what to leave was an absolute pain for her.
“I’m not sure about this.” She said.
“We know.” He said.
The car unpacked and the dorm looking livable, they stepped outside and walked around campus.
“You know, the strangest feeling I ever experienced was the feeling you get when everything changes all at once. Just like now, how I’m sure you feel.”
The two women continued walking with him, not saying anything.
“Mama Moose and I love you, and we are a call and a facetime away. That said, we have to do this for you. It’s not easy nor is it fun, however it is the only way to transition you into adulthood.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for each of us. You will grow and make friends and do wonderful things, and we will get to see the one thing we made together become something beyond our wildest imaginations.”
Why did he always have something to say about everything, she thought as she gave into tears. Suddenly he grabbed them both and held them close as they each felt the same emotion.
“I did not wanna cry today.” Her mother said.
“I- I’m not like you,” their daughter admitted, “I can’t just go out there and have friends and be happy all the time.”
“No one can, kitten. We’re all just awkward humans faking it until we find people and things we like. The Confidence comes with exposure. All you need to do is introduce yourself, treat people like genuine human beings. Over time, you’ll have thousands of friends, and you’ll have lived a happy and fulfilled life.”
They talked for a good few hours. She then walked them to the car where they both kissed her and hugged her.
“When I first went to school,” Papa Bear started, “I had a friend named Danny. He and I were very similar teens. In fact for a while he was my very best friend. But when we arrived on campus we did two very opposite things. He introduced himself to everybody and I kept my distance, he said to me that he was never like this before but he just wanted to do it and so he did. He went out and joined clubs, acted in plays. Sure he and I spent time crying in each other’s shoulders, sure we both struggled and had great experiences. And I was possibly the worst roommate a person could have- especially towards the end. But after I left that school and moved on- do you know what happened? I found out that no one cared much for me the way they cared for him. I found out that my approach was wrong from the very beginning, mostly I found out that I was a total jackass. And to this day I think back on how much I missed out on by shutting myself in. How much growing I could have done much earlier. Though it turned out okay.
“I didn’t meet Mama Moose until I decided to grow up and meet as many people as possible. It took years for me to develop the skill that gets the social media followers that friends like Danny had. I just want you to know this before we go: You can’t control how a person feels about you once you’ve met them, but it all starts with an introduction- and that introduction labels you in their mind in the way you present yourself to them for the rest of their life. So be like Danny. I love you sweetie.” He kissed her once more and turned to his wife. “I’ll be in the car, okay?”
“Okay.” She said, and waited for him to be out of earshot.
He went ahead and sat in the car. He felt like he shouldn’t listen to what Moose had to say- as if a goodbye with a mother held a special weight in life. He’d figure out how it went once they drove off anyway.
After the last hugs with her mother, her parents drove off campus. She pulled her phone out and looked at herself. Panda face. There’d be a lot of that around today, she thought. She hurried off to the bathroom and fixed the smears. She sighed as she walked into her room. This is weird as hell. The dorm was more of a suite, and she had her own room, which was comforting. She sat on the couch. Her suite mate came in through the front door just as panda faced.
“Uh, hi…” She said to the girl. “If it helps, I just came in crying too.. My name is Willow, but everyone calls me kitten.”
The young woman sniffed, “H-hi, I’m Arya..”
And that was how it all began.
I love you.
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