My mother was referring to the envelope that was in my hands. An envelope addressed to me from the University of Florida, my dream school. The school that had everything I wanted: a great party scene, a good Jewish population, many different majors to choose from, and an athletic team that I had been rooting for my entire life.
I sat on the couch with the envelope in my hands, sitting next to my mom and my girlfriend Melinda. Before this moment, I hadn't told Melinda about my pending application to the Gator Nation, mostly because I had applied before we had gotten together and I hadn't thought about much of anything besides her since the two of us became official at my sister's wedding.
"Open it, Michael."
Her tone was encouraging, but I could see in her facial expression that she was trying to process what was happening. Melinda has never been the type to ask a ton of questions when a new concept is presented to her; she always tried to digest the information as it unfolded in front of her. Right now, she was learning something new about me: she was learning that one of my dreams was to be a Florida Gator. In the 17 years that her and I had known each other, this was probably the one thing that she didn't know about me. Most of our lives, we always talked about living in today and not worrying about tomorrow. Needless to say, the future was never a topic of discussion for the two of us.
"You sure I should open it now?"
"Well, now is as good a time as any."
"Aren't you, like, making dinner?"
"Melinda told me that you guys were having a date night, so we're all going out so you two can have your privacy."
You may want to take note of this moment: this is the first time my mother ever trusted me to be alone with a girl in our home.
"Okay, well, I guess I'll open it now."
As I lifted my hand to tear open the envelope, my father stepped into the house.
"Al, Michael got a letter from Gainesville."
"The University of Florida? My alma mater?"
"Wow. I didn't even know you applied, son."
"I guess it's the top news story of the day."
"Well, what did the letter say?"
"I haven't opened it yet."
"Haven't opened it yet? Well, what are you waiting for?"
I was mostly waiting to wake up from this stressful nightmare.
"Just open it already. The suspense is killing us, Michael."
Believe me, it was killing me too.
"Okay, here it goes."
Quickly, I tore open the envelope and took a look at the letter that was in there. I was too stunned to speak when I looked at the letter from the Director of Admissions.
"Well, what does it say?"
I mentally prepared myself for a moment, and then I began to read out loud:
Congratulations! On behalf of our faculty, staff, and students, I am pleased to offer you admission to the University of Florida for the Fall 2010 semester.
At the University of Florida, you can experience a challenging academic program, directed by world-class professors who really care about your learning experience. You can engage in numerous extracurricular activities while meeting students from down the street and around the world. As a student, you can expect a great experience!
Welcome to the University of Florida. I look forward to your enrollment!
Director of Undergraduate Admissions
Everyone in the room looked at me. I couldn't help smiling when I said: "I got in."
My parents acted as if they were more proud of me than they had ever been in my entire 17 years of existence.
"My alma mater. I'm so proud of you Michael!"
"I just knew you could do it, Michael."
Melinda, on the other hand, didn't say much of anything. It wasn't until my parents left that she spoke.
Her smile faded away. It was then that she changed the subject.
"So, do we wanna order pizza?"
"Yeah. Extra cheese?"
It went to the phone to order the pizza. When I was done ordering, it was quiet. I was the first to speak.
"Do you wanna talk about this?"
"Talk about what?"
I could tell that she had a mouthful to say, but I could also tell that she didn't want to say it.
"Melinda, I applied before you and I got together."
"Oh. Well, that would explain why you didn't tell me."
"It never came up in conversation, Melinda."
"You knew about ASU."
"Melinda, the whole world knows that you're gonna go to ASU. You've been talking about ASU since Kindergarden."
"How long have you wanted to go to Florida?"
"Since the first time I was able to say 'gator'."
"How come you never talked about it?"
"Because I have never talked about the future, Melinda. Thinking past tomorrow makes my stomach hurt."
"Which is why it's always been easy for you to just hook up with anything on two legs. You never thought of the consequences."
Okay. Now that was out-of-line.
"That's not fair, Melinda."
"Why not? That's who you are."
"Not anymore, it's not. I'm with you. You're the only one that I'm interested in. I haven't so much as looked at another girl since I've been with you."
"Will you still feel the same when you're 2000 miles away in Gainseville?"
"Melinda, when I applied, I didn't dream that you and I would have what we have."
"Now, I am thinking that this is a stupid reason to fight."
"What a surprise. When things get tough, you wanna avoid it. Just like when Dara broke up with you and you ran off to California."
"If memory serves, Melinda, I ran off to California because of you. I was never heartbroken over Dara. I was heartbroken over you. When we were fooling around a couple months back, it was you that didn't want anything more. And right now, it is you that is arguing about this."
"You wanted to talk about it."
"Well, I was obviously wrong for wanting that."
Our argument was broken up by the doorbell ringing. It was the pizza guy.
"That'll be thirty two dollars."
I gave him $40 and said: "Keep the change."
When I shut the door, I looked at Melinda.
"I don't want this to ruin our date night."
"Well, neither do I."
"So can we please not talk about it?"
"I love you. I really don't wanna lose you."
We kissed again.
"I'm not going anywhere at the moment. I'm with you right now, and that's all that matters."
The kisses made for a good band-aid to resolve the situation for the moment. We ended up having a nice evening that consisted of us not talking about my offer of admissions to my dream school.
I met up with Ben for lunch at By the Slice the next day. I needed some serious advice on the situation.
"Congratulations on getting in, man."
"How are you feeling?"
"That's a strange emotion."
"Melinda flipped out about it last night, Ben. We got in a huge argument."
"Then what happened?"
"The pizza arrived."
"Saved by the bell."
"So what are you gonna do? Are you gonna accept your admission?"
"You know I want to, Ben. But it's complicated now."
"Well, you love her."
"But how much do you love her?"
"To be honest, I think I love her more than any man could love any other woman. I love her so much. You have no idea."
Ben assessed my statement before he proceeded.
"Is your love worth choosing a different school?"
I thought about the question for the next couple days. I had plenty of time before I needed to formally accept my offer of admission, but I felt that it was a decision that needed to be made immediately. Unfortunately, I couldn't seem to make up my mind. Did I want to stay in Arizona with my girlfriend, or did I want to go to the school I've always dreamed about and pursue the opportunities that would present themselves 2000 miles away.
I decided to talk about it with my dad when I went to work in his office that week. He was just finishing up a meeting with the synagogue president, Mr. Jerry Steinberg, when I arrived.
"Rabbi, we just feel that with your health, you need an associate to take on some of your added stresses."
"Jerry, the heart attack happened in August. That's four months."
"This is just how the congregation feels, Rabbi. We'll be voting on it after the First of the Year."
"Then talk to me after January 1st."
"I'm just looking out for you, Rabbi. We all are."
"And I appreciate your concern. Goodbye now, Jerry."
As the president exited, I entered.
"Hi, Michael. Can you please hold all of my calls today?"
"Yeah. What was that all about?"
"The board wants to hire an assistant rabbi. Some young hot shot from Atlanta."
"Apparently they've been talking about it since my heart attack. The money is in the budget now, with the next fiscal year starting on New Years' Day. I don't really wanna talk about it right now."
"Okay. Well, I have to talk about something else."
"Well, you know I got into UF and all."
"And I'm so proud of you for that, Michael."
"I know you are. But, you see, I'm having some second thoughts."
"Second thoughts? You've always wanted to go to Florida."
"And I still do. But there's other things. Like, Melinda for instance."
My dad seemed to understand. He looked at me and put his arm around me.
"You know that when I was in high school, I had a very special girlfriend. Her name was Jane and I was crazy about her. We got together in 7th grade."
"Jesus, you were with a girl for five years???"
"I've been with your mother for thirty five years."
"That's different. You were with one girl for all of middle and high school."
"Yes, I know it's a hard concept for you to grasp."
"Seriously. Too much commitment."
"Anyway, I was originally going to go to Michigan State, because that's where Grandpa Sam went. However, Jane decided to go to UF for their psychology department. I followed her there and went to the business school. Two weeks into the first semester, Jane dumped me for another psych major."
I had never heard this story. Before he told me the story, I had never even heard of Jane.
"At the moment, I felt that I loved Jane more than any man could love any other woman. She was my first everything."
I listened to my father speak, and the message was becoming very clear to me.
"The point that I'm making is that you need to do something because it's what you want to do. I ended up loving the Gator Nation, but I still wonder how life would be different if I had been a Spartan. I don't regret it, but I understand that it was a stupid reason to go to a school."
He looked at me.
"You do whatever you want, and I promise I will support your decision. I won't be mad if you decide not to go to UF. But don't do it for Melinda. Do it for yourself."
It was the single greatest piece of advice I had ever been given. When Melinda and I went out that night, I knew exactly what I needed to say.
"I've been thinking a lot about this Florida thing, Melinda."
"I know. So have I."
"Then I need to tell you something."
"No. Me first."
"If going to Florida is going to make you happy, then you need to go there."
"That's what I was going to say. I accepted my admission to UF. I'm going there next year, and I'll be spending the next four years there."
"I'm happy for you."
I looked at her and took her hand.
"Listen, I don't know what the future holds for the two of us. All I know is that I wanna be with you right now. Right now is all I care about. Yes, I'm going away to school, but we can cross that bridge when we get to it."
"I love you."
"I love you too."
We kissed again, and I felt okay. In fact, I felt great about my decision to go to UF. I knew in my heart that I made the right choice. However, I also knew that the next few months would probably be the end of me and Melinda, but, like I told her: we would cross that bridge when we got there.