vacation

Road Trips, Airbnbs, and Dallas, Texas

Erica.
My friends and I started talking about spring break at the end of last semester, but compromising between four people only led to two months of disagreement. Flying was too expensive, the beach was too cliché, camping sounded too much like a Dante’s Inferno experience, and all in all, neither one of us had the same idea of what we wanted to do for a week in March. After finally settling on a camping trip and then me quickly realizing I would want nothing more than to not go camping, we settled on visiting the second-most exciting city in the state (due to already living in the first): Dallas.

We decided to leave campus promptly at 9am on the first day of break. By 8:45, two of the four of us were packed and ready in our respective dorm rooms, eagerly awaiting a “I’m outside” text from our friend with the car. But the minutes passed without evidence of life from the other two, so just before 9 we called and texted, only to be met with one “sorry, I just woke up,” and one “sorry, I haven’t left my house yet, but I’ll be there in an hour”. Eventually, only an hour and a half off schedule, we hit the road, the four of us eighteen and nineteen year olds and no parental supervision–truly a dream come true.

The drive there seemed eerily reminiscent of long drives with my siblings on family vacations: there was the same, if not amplified, level of bickering and name-calling, only the roasts were more well-crafted and the crying was less common. Without the safety net of the “I’m telling Mom” card, mutual dragging ensued, with everyone and the entirety of our seven-month-long friendships being fair game. Without parents to keep us on reasonable eating habits, we were excited to eat anything and everything we were craving, but by day 2 I was ready to break down into tears if someone told me I had to eat another donut. Maybe my sugar tolerance had dropped to a reasonable level or maybe donuts and kolaches weren’t actually good for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but the reality of getting to eat whatever we wanted seemed less fun than the prospect of it.

Due to none of us being old enough to get a hotel room, we ended up at a charming apartment via Airbnb in the middle of downtown. There was something about the fifteen-foot ceilings and free range of the apartment that amped up the “look at us, we’re kind of adults” feel and made the problems stemming from lack of comfortable sleeping arrangements, poor window insulation, and lack of hairdryer seem minuscule. Apartments were more exciting than dorm rooms, and the full-size fridge and multiple couches made it feel like a luxury vacation.

At other times, it felt like a family vacation with four overgrown kids with drivers’ licenses and high school diplomas. The childlike enthusiasm was still rampant, but geared towards historical events and live music instead of carousels and ice cream parlors. One friend was giddy with excitement about spending hours at the museum on Kennedy’s assassination, buying a JFK shirt from the gift shop, immediately putting it on after we left the museum, and continuing to wear it to bed for the rest of the trip. Another friend beamed ear to ear about finding a restaurant with live jazz, sitting in fascination for hours and and basking in the music as the rest of us exchanged dying glances. It became routine to stop and stare in awe at well-designed buildings and remark on impressively-designed highway systems–cities were like zoos for the civil engineering majors in the group, the jungle-animal enclosure being replaced by a concrete jungle. Every time we’d come across some poorly engineered aspect of the city, someone would remark about how someday, somehow, they’d build something better.

So for several days we went around Dallas, visiting a bevy of museums, eating at the most Texas of places, listening to live music, sitting in pretty parks, and taking enough pictures to stockpile for Instagram posts and Facebook profile pictures. And every night, drained and finished with the excitement of the day, we’d get back to the apartment, crash on the couch, and watch movies and TV shows until 1am. And that was spring break.

Trips like this always seemed like a “when I grow up” kind of thing. “When I have money.” When I’m older.” “When I can do things on my own.” And even though we still can’t check into hotels or have a particularly large amount of money to spend, those ‘when’s are slowly becoming nows, with every school break and lump of money that comes along. Even though this spring break we could only make it several hours away from home, with more time and planning, soon our lives will point to bigger adventures in farther places. Maybe Chicago, maybe Boston, and maybe even overseas. More breaks are yet to come, studying abroad is becoming more of an option, and who knows where it will all lead.

There’s something about new cities, new skylines, and new places to be that makes traveling exciting–and with the addition of new friends, adventure seems limitless. This spring break wasn’t the family vacation I was used to, but nevertheless, it was a memorable sort of vacation with a different sort of family.

Veronica and the California Coast

by Erica

Veronica flew out to California to spend a week of Christmas break with me–a familiar routine in VP friendships. It was the first time she had come to CA since the summer after sophomore year, but I had begged her to come out as a late birthday present, and being the incredibly gracious friend she is, obliged. And so, for several days, we trekked about southern California, going as far as we could possibly go in a day’s drive.

The last time I saw Veronica, I was at the Newark airport falling to pieces—VPSA friendships and open-ended goodbyes will do that to you. We were going off to college, one in Texas and one in Massachusetts, none of us sure when our paths would cross again. Seeing her a mere six months later was a much less daunting wait than anticipated (a welcome surprise regardless).


So here we were, one semester of college under our belts, both with our different five-month stories to tell. Having spent the last few years of our life in the same classes with the same friends, hearing her spout off names of people I had never heard of was jarring at first. But soon, after hours in the car and in coffee shops and on beaches, our individual college experiences, and friends, and more-than-friends (@Veronica) seemed to come to life in each other’s minds.


In between the catching up on life, we went to Santa Barbara and San Diego, perused around Los Angeles, got caught in the rain in Long Beach, and spent hours upon hours every day driving in heavy traffic and on open road. This was home, and Veronica was high school, and for a small period of time, Texas and college and all the responsibilities and worries that came with them seemed so miniscule.


I soon said goodbye to Veronica and to California and headed back to UT, where I am again for yet another semester. But these goodbyes felt easier than the first time I left for college. Even though I again was leaving home for five months, and I again didn’t know if I was going to next see Veronica in three months, or six, or twelve, or eighteen, my heart rested easier this time, more comforted, and more hopeful.

Dermatology and I: A Shakespearean Comedy

by Erica

2016 was a hectic year, full of long drives, plane rides, goodbyes, and nice-to-meet-yous. But somewhere between the college decisions, high school graduations, and college beginnings, was a smaller, less glamorous story. It was no boy-meets-girl tale with no meet cute, but it involved a boy (my dermatologist), a girl (me), and some not-so-cute miscommunications.

In early June at my yearly physical, my doctor noticed a spot on the back of my neck and suggested I get it checked out. “You should probably do that before college, just in case,” she said, “because once you leave, you’ll forget all about it.”

On doctor’s orders, I went to the dermatologist a couple of weeks later, and he too decided to be cautious and performed a biopsy on my neck. It was “precautionary”, he said, and it was highly unlikely that it was anything. But he just wanted to check. So after some stinging anesthesia and a removal of a chunk of my skin, he sent me away with a “Wound Care Instructions” sheet and the promise that I’d get my test results back in a couple weeks.

And so it fell to the back of my mind. Besides the uncomfortable bandage placement on my neck/shoulder and the occasional stinging pain, I forgot all about my possible plight. I drove to northern California for the Fourth of July, went to Texas for orientation, and flew to New York to spend a couple weeks with Allison. Life was busy, and the only things that were on my mind were the color of my future sheets in my dorm room and how I could mentally prepare myself to spend nearly 300 hours straight with Allison.

It was the middle of July and there the two of us were, at a zoo in New Jersey, eating homemade sandwiches on a safari-themed patio. In the middle of some drawn-out conversation on what we thought our first semester of college was going to be like, my dad called. I hadn’t been home in a couple weeks and being the responsible daughter I was, I hadn’t called my parents at all, so I picked up the phone not expecting anything much besides a “why haven’t you called? Are you dead? Are you partying?” inquisition.

My dad started off with something about college, per usual, and asked how orientation went. A few remarks about college later, he spiraled into a tangent on preparing for my future at UT and all the things I wanted to talk about on vacation. But as the academic chatter began to die down, his voice got slower and softer. “Oh by the way,” he said, “your biopsy results came back positive.”

Positive for skin cancer.

It wasn’t terribly serious or life-threatening by any means, but it was still skin cancer. Of all things to find out about this summer. I half expected to break a bone, or get arrested, or undergo some other tragic accident whilst spending time with Allison, but I hadn’t imagined at all I’d be told I had skin cancer.

For the next couple of weeks, I carried on through the incredulity of the situation, laughing to myself at how ironic it seemed to be. Before this all, whenever Allison got badly sunburned I’d chide her, relishing in the fact that I’ve never been sunburned myself. Whenever her mom told me to apply sunscreen on Allison’s back at the beach every hour so she didn’t fry like an egg, I used to boast that the sun just gave me a golden tan.

(And apparently skin cancer, too.)

My careless sun care habits came crashing down on me in the end, leaving me with yet another thing to think about during my already frenzied summer.

August first came quickly.

I headed in to the surgery center at the crack of 7:30am that morning, where the nurse gave me the necessary attire to blend in as a guest star on a medical television drama. Once I had settled in and gotten surgery-ready, the doctor came in. “This is highly unusual,” he said, looking at my records, “you’re a young girl, you have darker skin, you don’t go out into the sun often, and there is no history of skin cancer in your family. I didn’t expect this to happen.”

(Let’s say I was a little bitter that I happened to be in the small percentage of “people who you’d never think could get skin cancer but end up with it anyway” but never ended up being in the small percentage of “people accepted into Princeton”.)

“But we’ll work through this,” he continued, “and keep extracting skin from your neck until all the cancerous cells are gone.”

The nurse followed shortly after with the all-too-familiar burning anesthesia. “It’ll just be a moment,” she said as she closed the door behind her.

I laid on my un-numbed side, scrolling through my Tumblr dashboard. Soon fifteen minutes passed, then thirty, then an hour; I was getting to the end of new content on all my social medias, and I was somewhat afraid that the anesthesia would wear off before the actual surgery occurred.

Eventually I started questioning my memory. Did the surgery already happen? To be fair, I couldn’t feel anything—my entire shoulder could be missing and I wouldn’t really know. Did I black out? Knowing me, that’s not out of the question. Did I just forget it all happened?

Finally, over an hour after being given anesthetic, I heard a knock on the door. The dermatologist was back.

“Well,” he said, looking nervously at his clipboard, “this has never happened before.”

Shoot.

“I’m really sorry.” He thumbed at his papers a little more. ”You see, as it turns out, someone else’s test results were accidentally filed under your name and identification number.”

You don’t actually have skin cancer.

I apologize again for the error.”

(I don’t remember anything he said after that.)

And so just like that, nearly three hours after trudging into the surgery center, mentally preparing myself to be sliced into, I left with a numb arm and no skin cancer—with no surgery needed.

August is now long past and the first semester of college has kept me quite preoccupied, but I still have that not-quite-fully-healed splotch of skin on the back of my neck from the biopsy, to remind me of that little filing error in the middle of my summer that made me think the sun had (perhaps too literally) stabbed me in the back.

I wear sunblock a lot more often now.

Small Habits

Your local procrastinator here, Allison.

(*Disclaimer: if this post is riddled with grammatical errors and general nonsense, it was probably autocorrect’s fault. Or my general lack of ability to proofread*)

It’s probably been two months since I’ve posted, which might be a record for my laziness and general busyness. I visited a college in the midwest, flew to Italy, tried to make up three weeks of school in five days, and have maintained a vague air of still caring about my senior year of high school. Needless to say, its been stressful but wonderful.

Part of that insanity was a trip to Italy. While the European was extremely enjoyable (more on that later), it certainly added to my packed schedule. When my parents first asked me a few months ago if I wanted to go to Italy, I immediately said yes. I expected my brothers to be just as excited as I was. But they all said no for various reasons, and suddenly I was facing two and half weeks in a foreign country alone with my parents. I love my parents and respect them immensely, but I certainty use my brothers as a buffer between their nagging and general parental concern. Even though I knew before I left for Italy that it would be challenging to spend so much time with my parents, I didn’t realize living in the same room with my mom for sixteen days could amplify her motherly habits so much. Honestly, I didn’t even know it was possible for those instincts to be more amplified than they already were.

I’m a chronic nail biter. I always have been. One of my worst memories from high school happened while I was biting my cuticles during a class presentation and someone interrupted me while I was speaking to inform me there was blood dripping off my hand. And they were right. I had bitten my cuticles so severely I had caused a tiny genocide on my fingers. When I was younger, I read a book about Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, which causes people to compulsively eat their own flesh. The book concluded that people who compulsively bite their cuticles could have the same genes as those with the more gruesome Lesch-Nyhan syndrome. So I concluded I simply suffered from a form, albeit minor, of Lesch-Nyhan. Thus my excuses rolled forth when someone reprimanded me for my bad habit.

Naturally, while in Italy I found myself biting my nails. My mom began slapping away my hand, yelling at me, or telling me how ugly my hand was becoming. You know, the typical things that makes anyone respond positively to criticism. By the twelve hundredth or so time she did this, I snapped and told her to leave me alone. Only half jokingly, I reminded her I had Lesch-Nyhan.

She met my angry gaze with a smirk. “That sounds a lot like an excuse.”

I was indignant and tried to explain to her what I meant, but I found my mouth filled with an excuse explaining away my, well, excuse. She shook her head while she looked at me knowingly. Though the moment passed, I found myself dwelling on her words.

How many things in my life was I just telling myself I was destined to suffer from? Nail biting was a small issue, but it didn’t take long for me to think of other things. I always told myself I could’t sleep well at night. Maybe if I even tried to fall asleep at normal hour, I could. I told myself I would always have anxiety. But had I ever tried to work through that anxiety? Had I ever tried to put myself in situations that would make me less anxious?

It didn’t take me long after getting to back to New York to try to actually be mindful about the little habits I have. Instead of bitting my nails, I filed them. I stopped myself from pulling at my cuticles. When it was one am, I decided to try to read for a little bit before going to sleep, instead of staying up on my laptop all night.

It’s only been a few weeks since I’ve been home, and of course my life isn’t radically better. But I do feel calmer. More under control. I have a lot of ability to shape my emotions and the events in my life, as long as I take initiative to do so. I’m not proclaiming a miracle cure from all my issues, but this is a general reminder to fix the things in your life that have been upsetting you, because a lot more is probably within your grasp than you realize. I’m not destined to be a nail biter, and it’s unlikely I actually share genes with someone who has Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, and I’ve finally taken the time to accept that.

(Also, someone please beat me with a stick until I start posting more often. I apologize to the Internet for being so bad at this.)

Boston, Massachusetts

>by Erica

Here’s one misconception about online school: doing online classes while on vacation is super easy and super convenient.

It’s not.

Straight off of a cross-country redeye flight, having slept a solid 3 hours out of the 5 hour trip, here I was sitting in a tiny, cold Starbucks in Boston on my laptop. Our hotel room wasn’t ready yet, and Starbucks being the only known source of free wifi, here I was, leeching off of their internet, cold, tired, and in no mood for a latte.

I was there for five hours. It would’ve been almost seven if my last class of the day hadn’t been cancelled, which was probably disheartening to most of my other classmates but came like an answer to my unspoken prayers.
Then there was the next day. I was thankfully in the hotel room this time, where heaters, sweatpants, and king-sized beds exist, but admittedly it was still difficult to stomach the fact that here I was, holed up in a hotel room, chained to my four classes while a brand-new city waited outside.

And so during the small sliver of time between classes, I put on my coat and headed outside, ducked into the country’s oldest graveyard and walked through the country’s oldest park, enjoying that precious time alone that I as the oldest of five kids rarely get.

As a resident Californian, it absolutely tickles my fancy (lowkey hoping Allison punches me for using that phrase) that so much history can be mixed into a major city. In Los Angeles you won’t find old graveyards or historic buildings every couple blocks, you won’t find old structures repurposed as more modern Starbuckses and Chipotles. Everything has a history in Boston, and I love that. Fresh off of studying the American Revolution in Omnibus, the history entwined in the city seemed surprisingly relevant.

We stayed in a hotel just across the street from the site of the Boston Massacre. I just learned about the Boston Massacre. I learned about its usage as propaganda in the American cause for independence. Through the many trolley tours and walking tours we went on, my admittedly school-obsessed self squealed inside, basking in the fact that there was no way for me to escape education even while on vacation.

Now for one thing, I was cold.

It wasn’t that cold, really, with the temperatures hovering in the low 40s most of the time, but as a Californian who owns nothing but shorts and tank tops I was disgusted at the idea of layering my clothes. But I soon learned the importance of warm clothes, and silently thankful for gloves and scarves, I made it through the week with minimal complaining and shivering and cursing the sun for not being very effective. And trust me, if I end up going to college somewhere cold, I will most definitely buy a good coat.

But it was fun.

In the craziness that life and senior year and college applications are, it was nice to take a short break and escape my responsibilities for a little bit in a place I had never gone to before.