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Riding the Wave
By Kathy Wiesenauer
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2016 Kathy Wiesenauer
All rights reserved.
Mitchell Lawrence was indeed one very lucky young man. Born the only child of a three-star general in the US Air Force and the daughter of one of the most prominent attorneys in Chicago, his life was destined to be one of ease. Even at an early age, Mitch looked on it as one of tremendous opportunity.
He accompanied his parents all over the world on General Lawrence's command assignments and learned to be comfortable in almost any situation. Mitch had a quick wit as well as an insatiable thirst for knowledge; he was fluent in three languages by the time he was five. Given the fact that the family moved to a different location almost every six months, his mother took it upon herself to school him, and she was stern yet supportive. She realized quickly that her son was very intelligent, so she pushed him harder than he would have been in any school. The harder she pushed, the harder Mitch worked to please her.
She had a simple way of teaching difficult subjects: she applied them to real-world situations in a way that made them easier to learn. She took Mitch with her on mercy missions to help him learn compassion for those less fortunate than him, and she was both surprised and pleased that her young son needed no prodding or encouragement to assist her. More than once she saw him sneak food out of the mess hall and take it to especially needy families on his own. Her pride in her son knew no bounds, and he adored her in return.
General Lawrence often allowed his young son to accompany him on diplomatic missions that were considered to be out of harm's way. He wanted to teach Mitch that words could be as powerful as the guns and the bloodshed he had been unfortunate enough to witness. And Mitch was always full of questions and ideas for his father. He was still naive enough to wonder why people would want to hurt one another when there was so much good in the world to pursue, and General Mitchell felt he had a responsibility to show him that evil did exist. Though Mitch trusted in the words of his father, he was determined, one day, to find a better way.
The family spent as much time together as possible and often tried to Americanize their outings so Mitch's transition back to his homeland wouldn't be too difficult. They had family picnics with Mitch learning about football and baseball and the traditional American holidays. They talked about the differences between military and civilian life and about how, one day, Mitch would have to make a choice as to how he wanted to live and what career he would be in. Mitch knew, even then, that it was his choice to make, but he also knew that mediocrity was not acceptable.
More often than not, the three of them just spent time talking and laughing. Being an only child, Mitch was eager to know about his extended family — about cousins and grandparents and aunts and uncles. He knew that his father's parents had passed away before his own parents were married, and he knew that his mother's parents were still alive. He was puzzled as to why she never spoke of them. He didn't ask often, as he was acutely aware of a pain deep in her eyes when he did. But sometimes his curiosity got the best of him, and he couldn't help himself.
When he was a little older, his mother told him solemnly that her mother had left when she was a young teenager and that she'd lived alone with her father until she was old enough to go to college. When he pressed her harder, she simply said, "If you aren't happy with the family you have, you have to find one of your own that you can love and cherish." That simple explanation made sense to Mitch, although it didn't lessen his curiosity. But he was smart enough to know that his mother had found a family of her own and that, because of it, he was loved and cherished beyond imagining.
Only after ten years of international commands was General Lawrence offered a permanent appointment to the Pentagon. As much as they had enjoyed their assignments, both he and his wife decided it was time to put down permanent roots and settle into a more traditional family life. Mitch was also at the age where formal schooling was becoming important if he was to achieve the expectations he knew his parents had for him.
His parents immediately enrolled him at the Capitol Hill Day School, an exclusive private school well known for its emphasis on assessment and the application of classroom learning to real-world scenarios, similar to the way his mother had been teaching him. Although his initial battery of standardized tests indicated that he was two grade levels ahead of the children his age, his parents opted to place him in his age group. For most of his life had been with adults, and they felt peer socialization would be integral to Mitch's adjustment to a more normal environment. And they knew he would thrive regardless of being held back. If the work was too easy, he would help the other children or do extra credit. He was just that kind of young man.
Not long after they arrived in Washington, the Lawrences were invited to the White House as a gesture of appreciation for the general's service to his country. Although Mitch couldn't accompany his parents, he was almost insanely proud of his father. He had always been a hero to Mitch, but to have the president of the United States recognize him for his efforts was a dream come true. Mitch's river of pride extended to his mother as well; his adoration for her was clear.
On the evening of the event, Mitch presented both his father and his mother with a single white carnation tinged with red and blue. His mother immediately pinned the flower on the lapel of her coat and bent down to kiss her son on the forehead, so moved was she by his gesture. Franklin's eyes grew misty at the thoughtfulness of his young son, and he bent down to hold him close.
As they were leaving, they turned with a last wave and good-bye, but Mitch begged them to wait while he ran and got his camera. He returned quickly with his Kodak Instamatic and snapped a picture of his parents as they left.
Somehow he sensed he would need it.CHAPTER 2
Mitch sat in his room, staring at letters of admission from the various universities he'd applied to. Yet his attention was drawn to only two: Stanford and Northwestern. From his grandfather's perspective, there was no choice to be made: Mitch was going to Northwestern. He had graduated summa cum laude from Northwestern, and now his only remaining heir was going to follow in his footsteps. Had he known that Mitch had secretly applied to Stanford, he would have been irate. California, in his mind, was for surfer boys and hippies — and definitely not for his grandson. But Mitch had different ideas. California was a place to escape the expectations, the well-defined plans, and the well-defined life imposed by his grandfather.
After the deadly car crash on that fateful night in Washington, Mitch had been sent to live with his only surviving relative, his maternal grandfather. Gone were the laughter-filled days, the home filled with love and warmth, the support that surrounded him. What was left was a home filled with expensive furnishings, servants to answer every beck and call, and an atmosphere of focus, drive, and determination. Not that Mitch didn't appreciate those qualities. But he also recognized the need for balance, for play time as well as work time, for enjoyment as well as the achievement of success. But his grandfather couldn't be bothered with such trivialities. Success wasn't just a part of life; it was life. And he was going to ensure that Mitch was successful.
Mitch had to admit that the last few years had been lonely ones. His grandfather usually worked late at the law firm, and when he finally did come home, he certainly wasn't one for casual conversations. His demeanor was usually terse, as if he was mad at the world, and the only things that seemed to interest him about Mitch were his grades and his accomplishments. Of course, servants were in plentiful supply, but it always seemed to Mitch that just when he was feeling comfortable with one of them, they left for a different job because they were tired of putting up with his grandfather.
Mitch often wished that his mother had told him about what really happened with her parents. There were no pictures around the house of his grandmother, and the servants who had worked there when his grandparents were still together were long since gone. But there was gossip, and Mitch was led to believe that his grandmother had left for many of the same reasons as the servants: she was tired of living in a house devoid of warmth and love.
After seven years of living in that environment, Mitch could understand her actions, although he couldn't comprehend how his grandmother could have left his mother behind. But he sensed that his mother had inherited many of the same qualities as his grandmother; he could see in her no physical or emotional resemblance to his grandfather at all.
Mitch still glowed when he thought of his mother and the many hours they spent together learning, playing, and talking about the future. It seemed ages ago that he had spoken with anyone who made him feel like his parents had. He wasn't allowed to have friends at the house, and he was expected to come home right after school unless there was an after-school activity in which he was involved. It took only one act of disobedience and the ensuing tirade by his grandfather to realize that it just wasn't worth it to stray from his directives.
But Mitch was older now, and he knew he couldn't allow himself to participate in the life plan that his grandfather had for him. Mitch had made his own decision: he was going to Stanford. He had suffocated long enough in an atmosphere of unending expectations and plans. As a boy, he had experienced freedom and had been given the opportunity to explore and to delight in what the world had to offer, and he knew he had to find those things again if he was to regain the perspective that had been choked out of him.
Mitch knew the conversation with his grandfather would be difficult. But he also knew that putting it off would not make it easier. When he heard his grandfather come in that evening, he summoned his courage and went out to greet him. "Good evening, Grandfather," he said tentatively. But his grandfather was so focused on berating one of the servants for moving a prized vase, he didn't notice the hesitation in Mitch's voice.
"Hello, Mitchell. Come with me into my study and tell me about your day." It was more of a command than a kind request, but Mitch took it as the opportunity he had been waiting for.
As they entered the study, Mitch quietly closed the door behind them. "Grandfather," he said in what he hoped was an assertive voice. "I have received my acceptance letters from my top three colleges, and I wanted to let you know that I've made my decision."
His grandfather cocked an eyebrow and looked at him intently. "What decision is there to be made? We have planned on you attending Northwestern and then going on to Harvard Law. That is the only decision!"
"No, Grandfather, you planned on me going to Northwestern and then on to Harvard. I was never given a say in the matter."
"That's because you have no say! You will be going to Northwestern."
"With all due respect, Grandfather, I won't. I have informed Stanford University that I will be attending there this fall."
"Over my dead body, you will," he raged. "This conversation is over. Either you get your sights set on Northwestern or you will find yourself paying for college yourself. As you know, you can't touch your trust fund until you are twenty-five. By then, you will have graduated."
The smugness of his grandfather gave Mitch courage he hadn't felt in a long time. He faced him eye to eye and stated firmly, "If that's the way you want it, so be it! I'll find a way to do it on my own, but I am going to Stanford."
His grandfather laughed derisively and said, "Go ahead. You'll be back here begging on your knees in no time. And don't expect me to accept your apologies. If you do this thing, we are through as a family, and you will be as dead to me as your mother."
Mitch's eyes filled with angry tears with the mere mention of his mother in the same sentence as the word family. "We have never been a family, and we never will be," Mitch said softly as he turned and left the room.
Henry Mitchell stared at the door long after Mitch had left and secretly admitted to himself that he admired the boy's resolve. He thought maybe it would be good for Mitch, having to make it on his own — although he was furious that he had been defied. Henry wrote himself a mental note to have a few of his best men monitor Mitch's progress. He wanted to be there to throw it in his face when he failed.CHAPTER 3
Mitch quickly returned to his room amid a sphere of emotions. He was angry and excited — but most of all, he was scared to death. He had never defied his grandfather before, and though he had expected there to be consequences, he had certainly not expected this.
He had absolutely no idea of what he was going to do. He was certainly bright enough to earn a scholarship, but he was also sure application deadlines had passed. Student loans? He would need his grandfather's participation for that, as his grandfather was his legal guardian. Getting that information was now impossible. Mitch had some savings, but it certainly wouldn't cover even half of the $41,000 tuition bill, much less books and room and board.
That meant only one thing: he was going to have to work his butt off in a job and excel in his studies. His mind wandered back to a time when he and his parents had been in one of the poorest parts of Vietnam, and they had witnessed the daily struggles the peasants went through just to have food. And for the first time in hours, he smiled. If they could overcome life's biggest challenges, so could he.
Fortunately, Mitch had completed his high school requirements at the end of his first semester as a senior and was taking courses only for additional credit. Technically, he was a high school graduate, and he began to formulate a plan. He knew that life in his grandfather's house would be a nightmare unless he attended Northwestern. And he was determined not to do that. So that evening, he began to pack, throwing together only those things that he knew he would need: clothing, some favorite books, his personal papers, and of course some pictures of happier times with his parents, including the picture he'd taken the night his father was to be honored at the White House. He wanted nothing that his grandfather had given him, including the car that was a gift for his sixteenth birthday. He wanted nothing that would remind him of the unhappiness of the past seven years.
As he lay in bed that night, both his excitement and his fear began to grow. Though he was emotionally exhausted, his mind would not rest and find sleep.
Several hours later, Mitch realized he hadn't had dinner and padded silently down to the kitchen. Somehow he found solace in the quiet room, which was void of the usual servants, and he found it comforting to fix his own sandwich. He poured himself a glass of milk and carried both back to his room. Not long after, sleep caught up with him, and he rested peacefully.CHAPTER 4
The next morning, Mitch got busy as soon as he knew his grandfather had left for work. His first stop was to his high school guidance counselor's office to inform her that he was dropping his extra classes and would be leaving for college early. He then stopped at the bank, emptied his savings account and his safety deposit box, and headed to the bus depot in downtown Chicago.
The depot was filled with tired, haggard-looking people — some old, some young, some with children, but all appearing as though they could use a meal and a shower. Mitch was definitely out of place, but he didn't care. This was the last place his grandfather would check for him, and Mitch was already thinking of ways he could slip into the crowd without being noticed.
He stood in the ticket line and asked for the departure of the next bus to Palo Alto, California. Luckily, there was a bus leaving later that afternoon that would take him as far as Los Angeles, and he could make additional arrangements from that point. He paid for the ticket, looked at his watch, and realized he would have to hurry to make it back home in time.
Mitch made a quick stop at the Goodwill store across the street and then hurried home. Once there, he changed into the rather ragged-looking clothing he had purchased, jammed the clothes he had been wearing into his suitcase, and took a long last look at the room he had occupied for the last seven years. He felt no sense of nostalgia or misgiving.
Excerpted from Riding the Wave by Kathy Wiesenauer. Copyright © 2016 Kathy Wiesenauer. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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