Authors: Emily Franklin
Lessons in Love
You know how many songs state the greatness of summer? Too many.
Or, too many for me to count because I only have an hour before I have to report to orientation.
Consider “Summer Breeze”, “Summer Lovin’”, “All Summer Long”, and the perennial favorite, “School’s out for Summer” — what do they all have in common? A certain joy, a gleefulness (even though sometimes cloaked in cheesy lyrics) that filters into not only your ears but your entire system as soon as the first notes escape from the speakers. Your limbs go loose, your hair cascades (even if it’s suddenly short, like mine), and your summer self takes a long, lung-expanding breath. These songs belt out what we already know: summer is a time for freedom and romance, long days and less concern about the mundane qualities of the other seasons.
Looking around my room, I feel the chilled September air that wafts through my open windows. Along with the subtle temperature change, my body registers the dread of that first homeroom bell. Hard to believe that in less time than it takes to tour a college campus I’ll be moved out of my bedroom and into the Hadley Hall dorms. Taking in the contents of my soon-to-be-former place of residence, and the changing light on the trees outside, it’s pretty clear why no one writes kick-ass songs about heading back to school: the return to academia has nothing compared with summer.
Maybe I’m just mourning August’s passing. I haven’t quite let go of that feeling of waking up in the summer, stretching my legs out under just a sheet, the slight grit of sand by my feet, and knowing that the rigors and rules of school are far off. Those days when all the possibilities are waiting outside the screen door should you choose to roll out of bed and find them.
“You could make a mix of fall songs,” Chris says from my doorway when I express my woes. Look of the moment for him is that of a golden boy at Harvard circa 1970 — very
. And yet, he’s single. Chris has been on campus on and off over the summer, so he’s past the settling in point. I, on the other hand, am disoriented about orientation. I’m not a new student but I’m new to the boarding life and from the sounds of it — life away from home is an adjustment.
“Which songs, exactly, were you thinking would grace that playlist? Genesis? ‘Evidence of Autumn’?” All those songs are good, but such downers.” I fold my sweaters and stack them into a long red duffel bag. It’s not a long walk to the girls’ dorms from my on-campus pad, but too long with all of the stuff I’m bringing. As if I’m a regular boarding student, Dad has offered to drive me over to Fruckner, AKA my new abode. Somehow he thinks he can bypass the weirdness of his title as Headmaster of the school and be, for the drop-off, just a normal father seeing his daughter off for her final year of high school.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Chris asks. He eyes my room the way I do, like it’s a person and we’re saying goodbye to it.
“Oh, right,” I say and run back for my Hadley sweatshirt. I’m not big on the namebrand — school, hot label or otherwise — but my tattered zip-up is a must have. Admittedly, I have visions of sitting on Fruckner’s fire escape (not allowed) at midnight (past light’s out curfew) with Chris or Jacob (major violation of gender/visitation rules as all boarders must be in their own rooms by nine pm). Not to mention that the boys’ dorms are way far from the girl’s — a long-standing item of contention among the Hadley masses. Then again, the school was built over two hundred years ago when walking the three-quarter mile to class was considered a luxury (girls grew their own crops then). Now it’s just a lesson in how to be late for first period. “I wouldn’t want to be without my only Hadley item of clothing,” I say. “Don’t want to look like a misinformed freshman.”
Freshman are of two camps: either they have an entire Hadley wardrobe from ankle socks to ski hat or they have nothing, thinking this makes them above it all and cool. Personally, I could give a crap about what items someone purchases from the price-inflated campus store, but I do love that fall feeling of sliding into this sweatshirt, tugging at the frayed cuffs, and sometimes chewing on one when I’m deep in thought.
“Not that,” Chris says pointing a toe to my sweatshirt. “Those.” He gestures to the towering stack of journals near my bed. Each one contains a part of me. A part of my life until now. I like to see them amassed; they feel substantive. Like all those days and weeks that passed, all the ups and downs and jokes I had really happened.
“No way am I risking taking them to the dorms,” I say and pat them protectively. “I should probably move them”
Chris laughs. “Oh, like someone’s going to break in here and read your innermost thoughts?”
“No…” I say bitchy on purpose. “But it could happen.” I unstuck them — the orange one from when I first got to Hadley, the black one, the composition notebook I schlepped through England, all of the books — and slide them under my bed. “They can take up residence with the dust mites and stray socks.”
“And what about you?” Chris has his hands on his hips, ever the team leader.
“Oh, I think we both know where I’m taking up residence. In the land of hell…” I start to think about it: the small room, the new roommate who won’t be assigned until later today, and the suspicious list of “new rules” that will be revealed at our welcome picnic tonight.
“I can always come back if I forget something, right?” I survey the room, fighting the urge to cram everything — each pencil, all my music, the books that line my shelves, the photos I have fake-organized in boxes rather than albums because I’m too lazy to deal.
“You know what they say,” Chris raises his eyebrows. “You can never go home.”
I nod. He means it to be funny — it’s not like I’m off to hike unexplored territory or discover new frontier — but it hits me that he’s right. I won’t come back to this room the same girl I am now. And when I do return, it won’t necessarily feel like home any longer. “I gotta go.” I check my watch. “Half an hour and it non-officially starts.”
“It?” Chris questions my pronoun.
“It. Senior year.”
He grins and I mirror the expression. “Isn’t this when we’re supposed to rule the school?”
“Okay, Pink Lady, we’ll see.” I shrug. Those last few traces of summer cling to me like leeches, if leeches were pleasant; the Vineyard and re-meeting Charlie, my now boyfriend who is precisely eighteen long miles away at Harvard, the earth-shattering reentry of my missing mother, Gala, into my life, not to mention my sister Sadie, the fun times with Chris and our friends Chili Pomroy and her brother, Haverford, Chris’s long-time crush. Why does summer flick by in an instant while school stretches endlessly? It’s not just the time in actual days, it’s that feeling that summer exists on its own — not entirely consequence-free, but close. “Everything counts now,” I say and Chris gets just what I mean. Kissing Charlie in the waves at night, that was fun. Kissing him when he comes to visit next weekend, meaningful. Singing on the rooftop with Jacob Coleman, my “old friend” who defies categorization, sweet. Seeing him at the picnic tonight, loaded. “It all feels heavier.”
“That’s September for you.” Chris swipes a hand through his hair and then looks at mine. “Think people will be surprised about your new look?”
With my palms I smooth out my newly-cropped locks. Chris rough-chopped my hair on the Vineyard and no one’s seen it yet. At first I kept reaching for the hair that wasn’t there (and other bad rhymes) but now, after a few days of shampooing and air-drying, I’m into it. Plus, I look different. I feel different. “I have no idea. I like it, though, and it’s actually going to be nice not to blend in with all the other ‘long hair makes me feminine and sexy’ girls on campus who use their hair to get attention.”
“Oh, like you never used your flame-colored dead cells to get noticed.”
I grin. “Maybe I did. Once…” I kick my over-stuffed bag and yell down to my dad. Have to yell so he’ll hear me over his Mozart concertos — he blasts music when he’s practicing his opening remarks, which we’ll hear tomorrow at the non-denominational chapel service. “We should head down.” Chris nods.
“I got it!” Chris says as I pull the weight of everything — summer, fall clothing, books and big expectations for senior year.
“A song. About this time of year.” He takes my backpack for me.
With a smug look and raised eyebrows, he says, “‘My Old School’, Steely Dan.”
I stare at him and heft my duffel bag onto my back, stooping as though I’ve aged sixty years which is entirely conceivable, considering the newest wave of back-to-school jitters that have found me.
“You know the lyrics to that?” I say from the middle of the spiral staircase. How many afternoons have I bolted out of class and back here? I won’t be on this staircase again for a while. No signing out to home until Columbus Day, Dad has warned me — lest I get confused about my resident status. I sing the line. “And I’m never going back to my old school….” At the bottom of the staircase, I turn to him. “So there.”
“Fine — my mistake. I may be many things — but never let it be said that I’d like to challenge you in the realm of music.”
It’s funny he says that, since that’s the realm I’ve been moving away from. Most recently, it’s been writing that’s taken up my creative thoughts. But I can’t resist the urge to return every now and again to my previous passion. “And PS, there’s a cruel girl in that song — but thanks for the reminder.”
“I’m assuming you mean Lindsay Parrish?” Chris says her name slowly, enunciating every consonant.
“The one and only.” My bag lands with a thud at the last twist of the spiral staircase. “Can’t say I’m looking forward to seeing her. Let alone having her as the dorm head…” I sigh. “And co-head monitor.”
Chris coughs and my dad steps out from his office. “Is it that she’s evil and manipulative and has it out for you and therefore doesn’t deserve her positions or that she’s…”
“What?” I pull my lips in, checking again to see if there’s anything I’m leaving behind.
“Maybe it’s not that she’s high up in the school’s echelons, but more that she’ll be working — hands on…” Chris gives me a wink. “With Jacob.”
“Ready to go?” Dad asks, his tall frame taking up space in the hallway.
I nod. We walk towards the door and I finally get it. What I’m leaving, what I can’t bring with me, isn’t my journals, my music, photos, or a comfy sweatshirt. It’s the past few months. I step out the door with all the tangible items I can carry, casting off summer and heading full-on into fall.
Dad drops me, gives the traditional hug (close to the chest) paired with a couple of deep breaths (to highlight how emotional it is to drop your child at school), and then waves from the driver’s seat (the wave is upbeat, almost like a thumb’s up, perhaps to make me feel confident about my new venture and also to assure him he’s done the right thing, ostracizing me from the house).
The first thing I see, other than the summer-tanned girls in shorts and tanks, all with boxes and piles of bags, is something even more surprising: boys.
The Hadley Hall campus is laid out the same as it has been for centuries — boys’ dorms up on the main campus (they haul ass out of bed and go to the dining hall) and girls’ dorms — three of them — down here. Here being the part of campus that used to be pastures and visions of agrarian life (girls then had courses in health, knitting, sewing, being a wife, and milking cows). Basically, you never see guys down on this side of Hadley unless there’s a dance and they’re doing the chivalrous thing of collecting their dates form the flower-trimmed porches of Fruckner, Deals, or Bishop. Or else they’re having a snowball fight as flirtation since foreplay’s highly limited. Or they’re part of serious campus couple and engaged in one-on-one intense conversation in the common rooms or on the grassy oval of lawn that unites all three dorms.