I have so few memories of those pivotal, ostensibly memorable rites of passage: losing my first tooth, getting my drivers license, heading off to college. Movies always show the family station wagon pulling up in front of a dorm somewhere, while a football team or some suitable this-is-a-college stereotypes run by in the background. Parents lug boxes upstairs, impart words of wisdom amid hugs, and drive off, after which the student (close-up shot, panning in the background to show the towering, imposing edifice representing their new life) is immediately tripped over by the random acquaintances who will become the pivotal actors in the crux of the movie, and their life to come.
Yeah, I never had that. The only reason I remember leaving Denver is that, as my mother was dropping me off at the airport, I asked what I thought was a brief, innocent question about our family history. Instead there was an awkward well-this-is-actually-a-long-story silence. I always remember those well-this-is-actually-a-long-story silences.
Some time that evening, or maybe the next day – I have no idea; maybe I spent the night somewhere? – when the Vermont Transit bus deposited me and my foot locker in front of McNutt Hall on Main Street in Hanover, I dropped into the swirl of new faces and freshman trips and checklists, and it was all a blur from then on. Mind you, some of the first people I tripped over that day became pivotal to my college experience and remain my closest friends: Tito, Gretchen, Ken… that part holds eerily true to script.
But the whole dropping off thing? No one in my family, other than myself, even had much of an idea where Dartmouth was until they visited some time in my sophomore year there. I’d been visiting my sister in Boston, a three-hour bus ride south, when the acceptance letters went out. I called the college, and got forwarded to the Dean’s office. Margaret Bonz, the incoming Dean of Freshman answered.
“Hi. My name’s David and I applied and I live in Denver but I’m in Boston for a couple of days and I could come up and visit if I…um. If I knew I’d gotten in. But, umm, I don’t know if I got in.”
By then, I’d been rejected by damned near everywhere I’d applied. Harvard and MIT must have laughed at my application, and probably a dozen other schools “wished me luck on my search.” Only Reed – ever willing to take a chance on an oddball – and Michigan, my father’s alma mater, offered admission.
“That’s puzzling. You should have received your letter by now.”
“Um, yeah, but the letter went to Denver and I’m in Boston and um, so I won’t get it until I get back to Denver.”
There was an apologetic pause.
“Isn’t there someone at home who can open the letter for you?”
“Nope. Nobody’s home at all. Sorry.”
“Will anyone be home before you have to leave Boston?”
“Nope. Sorry.” It was the truth.
“I’m very sorry.” I could tell by her voice that she was. “But we just can’t discuss admission decisions over the phone.”
I’m sure, by then, my eyes were bugging out in telepathic PleeEeEeEeEeEeZe!! vibes that I tried to squeeze down the telephone line and beg for some kind of compassion or loophole.
The Dean “hmmmed” in the gaping silence and in my mind’s eye, I thought I could see her scrunching her chin up and glancing around the room. Her voice shifted, took on an almost conspiratorial tone. Maybe those vibes were working.
“So, David. If you weren’t to come up here to visit – what would you spend the next couple of days doing?”
I hadn’t thought about it, and said as much. Probably hanging out in Harvard Square and annoying my sister.
“Well,” she mused, “You know…” The thoughtful pause was palpable, ponderous. “The weather up here the next few days is supposed to be gorgeous.”
I’m sure I said some sort of thank you before I hung up, whooped around in crazy circles, and stuffed my knapsack for an impromptu overnight trip up to Hanover.
Anyhow. That was, what, 35 years ago? And we’re doing it differently with Miranda. She and I did the midwest college tour and the east coast college tour together last spring. Hampshire (“Isn’t that the hippy school?”) stole my heart as well as Miranda’s, and rocked it old school by sending a big thick admissions packet in the mail instead of the acceptance email that other schools seem to prefer these days. I think it took maybe 15-20 seconds after opening it that we were all pretty sure where she was going.
So here we are, eastbound on JetBlue 534 to Boston. A rented Ford Fiesta will stand in for the family station wagon, and the foot locker of old has been replaced by a voluminous blue nylon rolly duffle…thing. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s sort of a Tardis on wheels for your clothes. And tomorrow we’ll pull up on campus (I don’t think Hampshire even has a football team to be running by in the background). I’ll lug the clothes Tardis upstairs or wherever and impart some words of presumed wisdom, to which Miranda, in her own wisdom, will nod politely. And then I’ll drive off, wondering what happens next in that crazy amazing movie of hers, hoping she’ll give us some spoilers before we see her in November.