I went to college – for a day. Well, kind of.
We made that long stretch of a drive through the Central Valley of California, on the way to Santa Cruz to collect our daughter from college. After passing the astonishing, fairy tale architecture of the Madonna Inn, the landscape turns brown, boring and uninviting except for the occasional scenic magic of old deserted barns, which appear as if dropped into frame by the set designer.
In the stark surroundings, the barns suggest history and stories past, capturing the imagination, provoking musings about the humans and animals that dwelt there once upon a time. There is something about an old barn that also hints at the dark side, as there is with anything deserted and falling down, something that inspires tales of hauntings, murders, buried treasure, or even UFO abductions.
Aside from the barns there are, appropriately, cows. Now, a cow is nice but they don’t seem to do much; standing around, or lying down, that’s about it.
The drive goes on and on, past billboards, occasional strip malls, fields of unidentifiable agriculture, produce stands, lone houses in the middle of nowhere, cars with Trump stickers, and more cows.
Occasionally, like an oasis, a singular vineyard offering wine tasting appears and though tempted, as a break from the monotonous scenery and without a designated driver, we press wearily on (although, it occurs to me we could flip a coin and at least one of us could imbibe; maybe next time).
We’ve played all the CDs, which were in fact not many, as we discovered three of the cases were empty which prompted a rousing discussion as to where to place the blame. Should the person, (the Beleaguered Husband) who selected the CDs be deemed at fault for not having checked to make sure there were disks in the cases or should the negligent party, (maybe Charming Wife, but can’t be proven), who did not return the disk to its proper case in the first place, be held accountable? Fortunately, the marriage was strong enough to withstand the debate.
An uglier episode lay ahead by the time I took the wheel. We were tired of being in the car, traffic had increased, and we were unsure of the correct route to UCSC. Utilizing the husband’s phone to map our course, I was given last-minute directions to streets I didn’t know with instructions to make an impossible U-turn in the middle of a busy road and to turn right onto a street I was already on. It was confusing, dangerous and voices were raised.
Though it was not our desired destination it was a nice home and at this point I admit to being tempted to knock on the door and ask if they could spare a glass of wine, preferably a nice Pinot Noir.
After meandering through a lovely mountainous neighborhood, the phone announced, almost proudly, that we had finally arrived at our destination. We looked and saw, not the University at Santa Cruz, but someone’s private home. Though it was not our desired destination it was a nice home and at this point I admit to being tempted to knock on the door and ask if they could spare a glass of wine, preferably a nice Pinot Noir.
Finally, we arrived, somewhat worse for wear, at our daughter’s dorm on that enchanting forest campus. Suddenly, there she was running towards me with arms out stretched. My very own college girl, having just completed her freshman year, happy, independent, brave with youth, giddy with education.
As we brought our things into what was now the almost deserted living quarters, Miranda showed us to the empty dorm room where her father and I would spend the night. It was then I realized this was as close to being a college student as I had ever been.
Back in the ‘70s, we were all so glad to graduate high school and be free of that institution of learning, which really did seem like an institution; the last thing we wanted was to go to college. We wanted freedom from books, desks, tests, bells, cafeteria food, dress codes, and the dreaded principal’s office. That freedom was heady, and some took off for travel to parts unknown, some joined rock and roll bands, some became lovers and moved in together, some sold marijuana, some moved to San Francisco, and some, it being L.A., went to method acting school.
It was at the acting school that I encountered the works and worlds of Chekov, Ibsen, Strindberg, Shakespeare, with a smattering of Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Dorothy Parker, Eugene O’Neil, and some Harold Pinter, to round things out. I was instructed in Stanislavsky’s teachings, grew as an actress, and had many acting school flirtations. Overall, it was an invaluable education, but it wasn’t college and I can’t help but wonder from time to time, how much I’ve missed by not having had that experience, although I suspect (oh, woe is me) I would never have made it through the required mathematical courses.
So here I am at a real college, standing in front of the bathroom mirror, which must have been completely shocked to suddenly find a face of such, shall we say, maturity, reflected. Thank God it didn’t crack. I imagine what it would be like to wear teen girl pajamas, share living quarters, and be getting ready to dash off to a class in an oversized sweatshirt, my hair in a scrunchy, and my whole life ahead of me.
Later that night I laid in the dorm room in the single bed, under an open window, tired after the long day, while the voices of students celebrating the end of the semester, wafted through the air. Their young voices are laughing and they speak of summer and plans to go places and get together for a camping trip, with that easy freedom of those who still feel that the world is theirs and anything is possible. Though it’s late and their voices are loud, I cherish the revelry and drift to sleep, smiling a little to think little do they know that somewhere quite close by, a strange lady who never went to college, envies and blesses them. Then I have this dream that I am about to take a test and don’t know the answers.
In the morning, we finish packing up our daughter’s things, all those things we moved in, in what seems like only yesterday when I cried to leave her there. Now I stand next to her, as in an act of tribute, she takes a final picture of her now empty room, a room I thank for having kept her safe and happy. She will never really know how proud I am of my college girl, for her courage, capabilities, kindness, and for being better at math than I. We bid goodbye to the big, all-knowing trees, and Miranda, herself, drives us most of that long way home.
The next day she reminds me I am supposed to help her rewrite an essay she was invited to submit for some kind of literary award, and it’s just like being in college.