As much as I like the blue skies and dry air that hold steady during the ninth month of the year, there have been few Septembers in my life that I actually looked forward to. They include the four--maybe three really as the first year loomed unknown--college Septembers, after boring summers posting life guard duty at a small lake in my hometown.
Like many kids I suppose, growing up I was not a fan of academia. Within the walls of the Hunnewell School, the Phillips School, and our Junior and Senior High, I suffered overwhelming shyness stemming from a tiny and reed-thin physique, poor posture and severe nearsightedness in a pre-contact lens world. All of this supplemented an innate lack of confidence that was the biggest thing about me. Each year I hated returning to school and spent the year longing for the end of June and the warmth that summer delivered in ways not only related to the weather. For me, the season offered the opportunity to shed the cloth of insecurity, to ride my bike to the beach where as an expert swimmer I floated suspended in green depths, treading water with more self-assurance than the brick and mortar confines of a school building ever offered.
When I went to college though, that all changed. After eighteen years in the same town, planting roots in fresh soil presented the luxury to grow myself beyond the image that others had constructed. Without pause I weeded out that soft-spoken, hunched shouldered girl, greeted my peers enthusiastically, developed friends, and never wanted to leave. The summers that I had previously adored became boxes on calendars to cross off, months that dragged their feet--endless hot-sun days away from friends and comfort.
As I look back through the tunnel of time, it was all such a short spell—the brief summers themselves, and those four short years. If I knew then what I know now I would have angled for graduate school, and then some. But after avoiding reality for a year after graduation by traveling overseas to visit my sister, it was time to knuckle down and get a job. I did the right thing, and until last February, other than a two month hiccup when my daughter was born, I’ve worked ever since. In later years, I celebrated day care lapses at the end of the summer for the two vacation weeks with my daughter they allowed me; once again dreading the arrival of September and the return to the work routine.
Today I face September, the month filled with weather I love, the month of our wedding anniversary, and my chest constricts like it did all those years ago, when back to school loomed like a forest fire ready to burn me. Except that this year, with no school or job on the immediate horizon, it's a new kind of angst that threatens.
Our daughter goes back to classes Wednesday and her junior year in high school. Her eagerness at being an upperclassman is written all over her beaming face. Next door, her cousin, two years older, packs for college; she’ll depart on Thursday. Having lived fifty yards away from this young woman for most of her eighteen years while watching my daughter trot merrily right behind, I know one thing. It’s time for a deep breath because as soon as I exhale, two years will have passed.
My daughter and I went shopping yesterday for a gift for the college cousin, some utilitarian piece that would help the freshman get settled and remind her that we care. As we wandered around the domestics store eyeballing pillows and hot pots, various clerks offered to help us. Once we selected the present, more than one looked at my daughter and asked, “Is this for your college dorm room?” The second time I answered more sharply than I intended "Not yet.”
After the purchase, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.