20/20

It’s springtime in Boston.  When I left for Florida last week for a friend’s wedding, the weather here was chilly and gray.  My skin was pale and freckles faded after the dim winter.  I marveled at how my skin absorbed the sun, my freckles made their annual return.  After the wedding, I was not ready to come home and settle back into my normal routine.

Luckily I didn’t need to– Kyle and I had offered months ago to take his brother, Tyler, on a trip to visit colleges in upstate New York.  After one night’s rest in Boston we embarked on a mini-road trip, visiting colleges and universities, driving from motel to motel, eating at cheap restaurants along the way.

The purpose was to give Tyler a sense of the different kinds of schools– how a university can have a big campus like Cornell, which has a building for everything, or have the feel of a smaller college, as was the case at the University of Rochester.  A “small liberal arts college” does not have to be as artsy and alternative as Ithaca, but can have it’s own elegant prestige at a college like Hobart.

At the start of each tour, the student guide asked the prospective applicants to introduce themselves– their names, where they came from, what they were interested in studying.  After the last student spoke, the guide always turned to me.  “What about you?”

I had to explain that I was a chaperone.

I found this confusion a little odd at first.  Did I really still look like a high school student?  But as we wandered the campuses in tour groups, I soon became nostalgic, almost remorseful, thinking about college, how things were and how I wish I could go back and do it all over.  I became jealous of Tyler and the other kids on the tour.

Kyle felt the same way, especially at Ithaca, which has a program for Physical Therapy.  “Dammit,” he whispered to me, away from the group.  “How come I didn’t come here?”

He gave me a bewildered look and sighed, especially disappointed, when the tour guides talked about the dining options at Ithaca, including the Tower Cafe, which only served decadent desserts like bananas foster and chocolate lava cake.

“They also serve almost every kind of coffee imaginable,” the perky tour guide told us.  “From espresso to caramel macchiato’s.   You can even order your own french press.”

I turned to Kyle then, and frowned.

Although, I know, if I could go back, I would not change the college I attended.  I knew that Hampshire College was perfect for me, and I still think that’s true.  I was a self-motivated student throughout high school, and I enjoyed working independently.  I did not work for a grade, but because I wanted to learn.  These values made Hampshire a perfect fit for me– and I don’t doubt that my alternative upbringing at a martial arts school was a good addition to their eclectic student population.

This did not make me any less scared of college.  The summer after graduation, my mother kept asking me, “When do you want to go shopping for your dorm room?”

“Eventually,” I shrugged, postponing the trip to Bed, Bath, and Beyond until the night before I had to leave.  Even then, I did not want to buy anything.

“What about this?”  my mother suggested, holding up a mug or an electric kettle.

“I don’t need that,” I kept insisting, but resigned myself to picking what color or pattern I preferred when my mother finally put her foot down and told me I needed more than just a set of extra-long sheets.

It was not until I said good-bye to my father that I realized how terrified I was to leave.  I secured my seat belt and rolled down the window, waving good-bye as if I was running a quick errand and would return shortly.  He reached into the open window to give me a hug.

“I’ll miss you,” he said.  When he stepped away from the car his face was serious, but not sad.  I turned away, wanting not to cry.

At Hampshire, I unlocked the door to my single dorm room.  With its bare, white cinder block walls, it felt like a prison cell.  As my mother and Jason brought boxes from the car for me to unpack,  was listless and sluggish.

“Come on Kate,” my mom urged.  “You have to get this done.”

I did not want to unpack.  I did not want that tiny room to become home.  I had a home, in Boston.  When my mom drove away, I did not want her to leave me behind.

A vague feeling of loss stayed with me throughout the day, although I was happy to make fast friends with some girls in my orientation group.  We explored the dizzying staircases  in Merrill together, and passed through the halls at Dakin, walking through bathrooms that connected the buildings.  I was relieved though, when they wanted to return to their rooms, also needing some time alone to digest the transition.

Alone in my room, I wrote in my journal as I smoked a clove, promising myself that it would be my last cigarette, and feeling happy.  I had my whole life ahead of me, and I was excited about it.  The tiny room no longer felt like a cell but my own place of departure; anything could happen and I wanted to experience all of it.

But that was not my last cigarette, and my excitement faded.  Maybe I was too insecure, or maybe that feeling of freedom became to overwhelming.  I started becoming concerned with how things were “supposed” to be and stopped doing the things that made me genuinely happy.   I spent the next five years clinging onto the idea of home and trying to recreate a place that no longer existed.  Each year was worse than the one that came before, the events culminating what is now becoming my first book.

That’s the thing about hindsight.  Maybe it is 20/20, and I can now see all the things I should have done differently, but other things would have happened.  My experience was not defined by what was happening externally– the setting I lived in or the characters I encountered– but who I was.  Reflecting on the past has, oddly enough, taught me to enjoy the moment– whether that is laying on a sandy towel or dancing at a wedding or teaching a teenager how to drive on the highway or investigating the structural peculiarities at Cornell’s building for art and design or enjoying the blooming flowers in spring.

Now is all we got, and right now, it’s all pretty good.