Seventy-six days. Nineteen lectures about dead sociologists. Approximately 25 slices of pizza. Three days of parents and siblings buying us food and checking for dust in our common room corners. Two days when the temperature dipped below 35 degrees. One giant inflated bulldog.
Thousands of Americans dead or missing in Sept. 11 attacks. Each month $1 billion being spent on the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan. One plane ticket home for Thanksgiving; 300 times I will bite my nails on that flight.
We’re rushing to finish papers and take midterms during the last week of class before Thanksgiving break. With my first “Game,” and an entire week of not having to climb into a bunk bed, only a few days away, I’m ready to leave the Old Campus bubble.
I was talking on the phone in the Vanderbilt courtyard a week ago, recapping the events of my week to my mother, when my new job came up.
“Will you be opening mail?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I carefully answered.
“Well, will they train you? Will they teach you how to look for anthrax clues? Will you wear gloves? I don’t like this idea.”
My mother was acting no differently from many other freshmen parents who leave messages on our cell phones, e-mail us almost daily with news updates, and, in one case, supply antibiotics to treat anthrax exposure, for “safekeeping.”
Parents are no longer concerned only about how much sleep we’re getting, but now also about anthrax scares and terrorism.
I have found myself disconnected from life outside Yale since the day I moved in. While I still read the paper every morning, two and a half months have passed since I’ve had to live in the real world. As long as Kline Biology Tower is as far as any of us has to hike each day, the freshman’s world has narrowed to a cozy bubble where our college buttery’s French fries offer an escape from reading.
It is time to pack my suitcase — and leave behind all of those recently bought articles of clothing for fear of my mother’s grilling when she does my laundry — and go home to see my family, high school friends and dog.
According to my mother, only small things have changed at home. My bedroom looks the same, except “much cleaner.” There’s a new sushi bar down the street that we have to try over break, and the Bears are finally looking good. Other than that, Chicago and many of our homes look just like they did when we left it.
Nevertheless, Thanksgiving break will be our first direct experience with a new world. I’ll most likely see state troopers at O’Hare Airport. American flags will outnumber rotting pumpkins left over from Halloween. After my mom’s famous spaghetti my first night home, Larry King will dominate our evening’s entertainment. And for the large percentage of New Yorkers in the freshman class, a city will be changed forever.
Since Sept. 11, my life has proceeded almost painlessly — if a phone call from my parents interrupts my daily routine, I can say “I have too much reading to talk now, dad” and hang up the phone. If the news gets too intense, I can turn it off and make a trip to Durfee’s.
Before Yale, my parents’ home was my bubble. Dinner didn’t require card-swiping and lines of people. If my alarm clock didn’t wake me up, I could rely on my mother to bang on the door a few times. When I needed an escape from school, my dog was always there to drop her nose in my lap.
Old Campus is my new bubble. My friends have become my family. Sure, if my alarm clock doesn’t wake me up, I don’t get out of bed, and my only escape from school is a sterile weenie bin in Cross Campus Library, but Yale is my shelter from reality.
Our parents sent us off into the “Real World” where we have to take care of ourselves and make adult decisions in our academic and social lives. Freshman year has challenged us to mature but at the same time has only occasionally reminded us of the war on terrorism with expressions of free speech and phone calls from our parents. Yale is now sending us back to the “Real World,” where people are grieving for loved ones, soldiers are dying for our country, and politicians are planning military campaigns.
The world we are returning to has changed immensely since we first entered the Old Campus bubble. While you’re scarfing down turkey and candied sweet potatoes, surrounded by your family and friends, don’t forget what your home at Yale looks like. But also don’t forget that this Thanksgiving break is a time to re-enter the world, with only a modest understanding of what it was like to live through Sept. 11 in downtown Chicago; Warsaw, Ohio; or New York.
Sarah Weiss is a freshman in Branford College. Her columns appear on alternate Wednesdays.