Monday, August 22, 2016

My Last Night

Right at this very moment, my daughter is 95% packed for college.  She's off running a few last-minute errands and I'm taking some time to write. (Our son left for his school--his senior year!--very early yesterday morning. It's quiet here today.)

She's going to Haverford College, near Philadelphia. It's a small college not well-known to the people around here, and so for weeks now my daughter has been fielding the sort of questions people once asked me, when I was heading toward Smith College, in Massachusetts, from northeastern Indiana. Where are you going? Haverford. Have-a-what? Haverford. Where is that? outside Philadelphia. Huh. Never heard of it.  (obviously) It's a great school for her and I'm excited about the opportunities she'll have there.

We're leaving tonight, once my husband gets off work, so that we can get a few hours of the long drive out of the way. Last night when we went to sleep my husband said, "This is her last night in her own bed."

It wasn't, of course. In a few days our daughter will be sleeping in her own bed at college, and she'll come home for vacations and things and her own bed will be waiting, just like always, only perhaps a little more neatly made up than usual. But it was her last night Home Before College, and it made me remember my last night at home.

I remember it because of a book. Dicey's Song, by Cynthia Voigt. It won the Newbery Medal in 1983. I'd gone to the library one last time before I left, to return my books, and saw the paperback and checked it out, even though I'd be leaving the next day. I figured I'd read it on the trip to Massachusetts, then hand it back to my mother to return. I found the story compelling--I still do, it's excellent--and I stayed up late at night to finish it.

My room in my parent's old house was never quite in sync with the heating or air conditioning. In winter my room was cold; in summer it was hot. Always. The walls of my bedroom were painted peach, and the light from my bedside lamp shone rosily off them. My coverlet was white, but I'd peeled it back because I was so warm and lay on the peach sheets, reading, the whole room soft and orange.

I read past midnight. I finished the book. I'd never read anything by Cynthia Voigt before. On the very last page of the paperback edition was a one-paragraph biography. Cynthia Voigt, it said, was a graduate of Smith College.

Where I was heading.

Now it turns out Smith is chock-a-block with famous children's book authors, but I didn't know that at the time. I'd never heard of a writer who went to Smith before. I, of course, was going there to study science and eventually become a physician, even though I was still passionately and voraciously reading children's novels. (I did study science at Smith; I also ended up studying children's literature and writing and emerging with an ambition that had nothing at all to do with medicine and everything to do with being just like Cynthia Voigt someday.)

I stared at that bio page for a full minute before I put the book down. Then I reached to turn off my light. Maybe it's a good sign, I thought, and it was.