Quiet time in Cleveland

lee family blog

Throwback to 2004 when my family went to London!

♪♫♪ At the end of the world I will hold you so close / So we won’t notice the destruction of all we used to know…

I’ve never been one to be impulsive. I used to think this was because I’m overly cautious, but as of late I’ve come to realize that it’s usually because I’m lazy. It takes energy to drop everything and go, and it takes time to compensate for whatever I should have been doing. But since the school year started, I’ve been a lot better about indulging for unplanned opportunities that pop up. So when my mother called me on late Friday night asking me to join her and my father for a last-minute trip to Cleveland for the weekend to visit my brother, I did something I’m still learning how to do: drop everything and go.

Okay, to be fair, I am giving myself too much credit here. I didn’t have any wild or exciting plans for the weekend in the first place other than getting some extra MCAT studying done, handling some work and extracurricular commitments, and getting ahead for school. I know from too many times of experience that the first weeks of school are deceptively simple because everything is operating on a slowed timeline. It’s like that scene in Interstellar (mild spoilers ahead) when Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway enter the wormhole and find out that every hour on the foreign planet is worth seven years of Earth time…by the time they leave the planet, they’ve lost over 23 years of Earth time. I feel like if I’m not on my grind immediately as the semester starts that midterms or finals will roll around and these early “simple” weeks will have actually accumulated too much material to handle and I’ll have to grasp 23 years of material that somehow slipped from my grasp…

Alright, so this metaphor is kind of falling apart. What I’m trying to tell myself is that if I stress out (a bit) now, it won’t be nearly as bad later.

But I’m getting off topic. Despite my grand and exciting plans for studying at perhaps a different coffee shop this weekend, I decided to swat those plans out of my head and join my parents in visiting my brother. Even though winter break ended only shortly ago, the time that I have with my entire family together is not nearly as frequent as I wish it could be. With my brother and I getting older and older with different schedules, it gets so much harder to plan a family outing other than a lunch or dinner together. Which, of course, I cherish. But I long for when I was kid and Mom would tell me about our next family vacation together, the next grandiose new place I’d get to see. With my parents busy with their work with the Chinese newspaper they work together on and my brother and I having our separate school and study schedules, it proves to be hard to mesh our schedules like we used to.

And how could I resist my mom’s voice on the phone?

lee blog family

My brother Bob and I in Taiwan last year.

“Come with us,” she pleaded. “Now, when you have the chance and some time. Another week or two and there’s no way you’ll be able to leave your studies. Who knows how long it’ll be when all four of us will be together again? Your brother won’t be back until summertime.”

So my heart told me to go. On Saturday morning, my parents drove to UIC to pick me up for Cleveland. Although I packed my backpack with books, I also knew that they would barely see the light of day throughout the weekend. I’ve never been able to study intently on the car, always dozing off before long to the lull of the engine. The drive to Cleveland from Chicago is roughly seven hours, including a couple rest stops for bathroom breaks and food. Thankfully — and kind of eerily — the roads were completely empty as we made our way from an urban center through rural emptiness. When I looked out the window, it was a little spooky to see near nothingness. Just miles of snow-covered farmland as far as my eyes could see, with perhaps a farm or two in the distance. Coming from Chicago, a hub of constant activity at all hours of day and night, I found it rather disconcerting to drive through such a desolate area with hardly any cars around.

With such clear roads for driving, we reached Cleveland before nightfall. I looked around with fresh eyes — after all, I’d never taken a good look at Cleveland before as far as I can remember — and was not especially impressed, to be honest. (No offense to any Cleveland natives of course.) It’s a nice city, maybe a handful of skyscrapers and some pretty cool small stores downtown — but it can’t hold a candle to Chicago. But maybe I’m a little biased…ha.

We drove to my brother’s studio apartment on the campus of Case Western Reserve University. He’s currently a graduate student there studying physiology as well a business degree…I don’t know how he does it at the same time. But he does. I saw his place for the very first time because in the year and a half that he’s lived there, for some reason I’ve never found the time to go and visit even once…but now I can say otherwise! It’s a lovely studio and I found it extremely charming, perfect for the comfort of one person, despite he and my mother saying it was an old place. But as far as I’m concerned, as long as the hot water, Wifi, and air/heat work, there is nothing to worry about! Textbooks are everywhere in my brother’s room, lining his tables, floor, and walls. While Bob’s always been a hoarder who’s too sentimental to throw anything away, he’s always been pretty organized (or maybe he did a speed clean right before we arrived to humor our mom).

Shortly after, we went to dinner downtown at B.D. Mongolian Barbeque (which made me miss Flattop, to be honest). While we waited for a table, my brother showed me some of the cool little shops on the street, including a used video game store and an old toy store…it was very eerie! I’ve never seen some of those toys that date back to the 50s to the 90s. Over dinner, we caught up on our mundane student lives. He showed me Google Translate’s new camera translation function. I showed him Trivia Crack and made him download and play me (he beat me three times in a row. Of course). That evening, my mom, dad, brother, and I lounged about his tiny place with just enough room for all of us. Mom made use hot cocoa with two bags instead of one, like she did when we were kids, and Dad read the newspaper, catching up on the latest sports news.

And I thought to myself, These are the times that I will always remember.

At 2 AM, my mom was sound asleep in the one bed and my dad the same in his sleeping bag. My brother and I were still up, laying on the spread out sheets on the floor playing Trivia Crack and talking about all the TV shows we’re behind on and want to watch. We all sleep in until 10 AM for a lazy Sunday morning and weren’t out the door until nearly noon. After a little Costco shopping for apartment stuff for my brother, we ate Sunday brunch at an Asian buffet. All too soon, it was high time for us to depart, especially if I wanted to get back to UIC at a decent hour for some miniscule time for my commitments and schoolwork. After a lengthy goodbye, we start our long drive back to Chicago, braving the snow that was already coating the slippery streets.

It was late evening by the time I returned to my room, tired and sore from being in a car for a large fraction of the past two days. But I don’t regret a single minute of it. Whatever work I could have gotten done at school this weekend can’t really compare to the time I spent with my family, no matter how simple or quiet it was. We were together, and that is what’s important to me. That is what I’ll remember, always.

We will close our eyes as the water rise / We’ll float away and you will say, “Oh, isn’t this nice?” ♪♫♪ 

(End Of The World – Lenka)


Sarah Lee (F)


Sarah Lee is a junior studying neuroscience and Russian in the GPPA Medicine program at UIC. She’s still trying to figure out exactly what she wants to do, but some of  life goals include running a marathon, exploring Eastern Europe and becoming fluent in Russian. In her free time, she loves running, playing piano and guitar, and reading. A Naperville native, Sarah is a peer mentor in the Courtyard residence hall.


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