Friday, October 20, 2006
For the eighth (and final) time, I am making an October pilgrimage to New Haven to check in on a daughter in college (no, she did not take eight years to finish; there are two daughters with two consecutive college experiences).
Fall, 1973, my own last semester in college, my last autumn in New York. I'm thinking: I have to get out. My parents are suddenly a presence. They have packed their trunks, closed their eyes to Warsaw (for the time being) and returned to New York. The U.N. is their turf again. And so I must switch from being an au pair for strangers, to once more being a daughter. The Fall daughter. The fall-from-grace (eventually) daughter.
Take me away!
Last semester in college... I fill out applications to graduate school. I bypass New York universities. I apply to schools in Berkeley, in Chicago, in Ottawa for God’s sake. Who ever applies to study sociology in Ottawa? I do. I pick my schools in terms of distance from New York. And then I recoil. Berkeley is too far from Europe. Dear Berkeley: I do not wish to go there after all. Dear Nina: Call us right away. We’re not sure we understand your reason for this. In the alternative, we think you’re crazy.
I will be spending next fall in Chicago.
Thanksgiving, they say, is the best New York holiday. We, in my family are too Polish to know what to do with it. I’m not sure my parents ever learned how to do anything proper with this or any other holiday. Oh, eventually they find their gig. Movies. Proclamation: henceforth we will walk to the moviehouse, briskly, for the exercise, up second avenue, down third, on each and every holiday, laying to rest fears that Christmas, New Year’s and Thanksgiving will not be properly celebrated.
I need to leave, I do not want to see turkey and pilgrim images. Shouldn’t there be snow up in northern New England? There is no snow. No white capped firs, no fireplace for defrosting cold limbs, no frost, bare trees, restless limbs.
Shouldn’t I rush to the arms of my man of the season -- Chris, the artist, the one I met at college because he crashed a college party? He has a dog and paints ugly canvases and he drives around Manhattan in a truck. I do not especially like Chris – he is my third choice. But my first choice, a music professor, is married. (This was before the days when the first part of that phrase, the fact of his professorship over me would have laid to rest any hopes of forming a meaningful connection.) Indeed, I suffer. I sit in the music class and take copious notes on Mahler – a bigger punishment than the previous semester spent on Bach.
My second choice? He is available only when his real girlfriend is out of town. He, too, teaches and he has years on his side. I am just twenty and years are an asset.
I do not want to spend Thanksgiving with Chris. I never want to see Chris again. Good bye Chris.
It strikes me that even though I attend college for two years in New York, I never date a college boy. American college boys don’t get me, of that I am sure, although I am uncertain as to why I prove to be so difficult for them, their young eyes looking past me, in the same way that I look past them.
A long Thanksgiving week-end at home? No, I cannot. I fly to an island far north, in the middle of the ocean and watch day turn to night all in the space of one hour.
And here I am, boarding a flight, chasing my daughters to New England. Can’t even wait until Thanksgiving. No snow in New England, just apples and trees and walks past covered bridges. Tired limbs, outstretched arms, long meals, listening to stories of what it’s like to spend a last Fall in college. Because her days, their years are so refreshingly different than mine.