I live 48 miles from campus and in my time at Yale, I’ve gone home less than my friend Hashim from Syria. Of course, I have valid excuses for being a deadbeat daughter: too much work, can’t miss watching the Bulldogs give it up on the gridiron to yet another junior college, trains smell funny, yada yada yada.
For those of you who have not been off the Yale campus since August, going home is not as cut-and-dry as it may seem. It’s more than just an opportunity to stock up on fresh hot yummies and cold hard cash, or a once-in-a-lifetime chance to have people 30 years older than you will treat you like a visiting dignitary just for being useless in their houses instead of in yours.
And this is coming from a girl who admittedly adores her family. I spend half my time in New Haven reflecting fondly on “the good old days” of living with my parents. In my old age, I’ve warped my childhood into something straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. I picture these idyllic little scenes of family functionality that would make even the Brady Brunch look like amateurs: raking leaves with my dad and jumping gleefully in the leaf piles, eagerly unwrapping my first Cabbage Patch Kid doll on Christmas morning, and habitually bouncing out of bed to check for snow on chilly winter mornings.
What actually happened was that my older brother used to launch me headfirst into wet leaves every fall, I unwrapped the Cabbage Patch Doll and screamed at the top of my lungs that I wanted a Teddy Ruxpin, and I habitually woke up with my joints locked because the indoor heater had broken in the middle of January. Yet however much of my childhood memories is pure fiction, I most certainty got the royal treatment in some ways: the laundry was always fresh, the dinner always homemade and the house always quiet by 9 p.m. on a weeknight.
I realized in my recent trip back to New York that while home hasn’t changed, I certainly have. Being back in my old digs only made me suddenly aware of what a neanderthal I’d become in the last few months of school. It must have been how Brendan Fraser’s character felt in “Encino Man,” or what Courtney Love feels like on a daily basis: part bewildered by civilized conduct, part resistant to it. Like Encino Man attempting to eat with his face at the breakfast table, I was in the habit of putting my dinner in a paper cup and carrying it back to my room. I had to fight to keep conversation with my parents from sounding as potty-mouthed and hostile as a Courtney Love interview. And like both the caveman and Courtney, I had become a hazard to pedestrians when trying to operate a car.ÊHad college made me unfit for society?
The answer seems to be “yes.” For a few months now I’ve been running around New Haven like a preppy little savage from “Lord of the Flies,” and if I spend any more time here, well, I might just eat Piggy. That’s why, however awkward Thanksgiving break may be, it is an important — nay, essential — opportunity for all of us to recalibrate our perceptions of what is and is not respectable human behavior. The challenge is to get through the week without making your parents think you belong at a different kind of “institution” altogether.
First of all, I have a sleep cycle so different from my parents’ that I might as well be in a different time zone. At school, when I wake up at noon I’m the first one to hit the shower — on my first morning home, everyone’s looking at me like I’ve just risen from the dead.
To make matters worse, I soon realized that at home there are only three kinds of cereal, not 30; there is no industrial toaster and no bottomless coffeemaker, either. What is this, 1850? My parents frown as I rove around the kitchen like a nomad foraging for bits and pieces of food, gathering them up and grunting that that’s my “meal.” From the looks of things, my mom only stocks the house with decaf green tea now, which doesn’t really jive with my habit of mainlining black coffee into my body at all times of the day. By 5 p.m., I’ve missed three cups of coffee and am snapping at my family like I’m Robert Downey Jr. on his first day off blow. My next unfortunate discovery is that in the real world, daily naps are not the norm. I announce that I am going to sleep to a resounding, “Again?” When I wake up at 9 p.m., I’m surprised to find the house deserted. No, my parents are not pregaming at the neighbors’ house, as I first suspect. They’re in bed. As in, for the night. There’s no one to make me dinner and Durfee’s is 48 miles away.
In the end, there might be something to that “Lord of the Flies” analogy; those lost little kiddies weren’t so different from any of us. Typical prep school kids crash on foreign shores (Yale) and make lawless yet Utopian beginnings (freshman year) but eventually devolve into lifestyles of demoniacal and savage chaos (all the rest). Hostile as conditions were, in the end those kids became more fit for the survival game than for civilized life. If Simon and Ralph could call a grass hut on the beach home, it makes sense that I’d do the same with a dust-covered Yale dorm room. If they could eat raw rodent meat and like it, well, then that explains my growing passion for the London broil in Branford. Sure, my parents’ house is essential for recuperation and recalibration — but when you think about it, so is rehab. Maybe when you journey back to the ‘Haven in December after a week of R&R, you won’t be leaving home — you’ll be going there.
Liz Gunnison got her Teddy Ruxpin. And alllll the gear.