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A Story of My Life, Part 4: Registration Day
I kissed my mom, and patted her on the back. She had tears in her eyes, and kept removing her glasses to wipe her eyes. She hugged me, showing me more affection than I ever remember getting from her.
"I'm going to miss you," she said.
"You will?" I was a little surprised. The parents were very strict, very harsh on the kids in my house, and we were constantly reminded of what a burden we were.
"You're the last one to leave home", she said. Oh, I thought to myself. That explains it. Being the seventh of seven children, I was "the baby of the family", and got to wear everyone's hand-me-downs, and most of the time felt like a completely superfluous afterthought.
Me, I couldn't wait to get going. I couldn't wait to get out on the road. Ahhhh, freedom!
Mom and I turned and looked at my beat-up old black Chevy, that I bought for $100, during apple picking season the year before. I called this thing "The Crate of Wrath" car. The Joads would have felt right at home in it. It ran, I had to say that for it. But it looked a little saggy; it was weighted down with everything I owned, records, books, the few clothes I had, and a sewing machine I got passed down from my eldest sister Faye. How much sewing I thought I was going to do in college, I don't know. That poor old car! I remember it well--my first car. Rusty and missing three hub caps, but that baby had a V-8 under the hood and was built of solid metal made to last.
Mom and I smiled. She straightened her shoulders and got brisk. "You've got the map?"
"Call me when you get there. I mean it. Don't forget."
Dad came out to the front porch from the garden. He was looking even more solemn than usual. I didn't know what to say to him, or he to me. He just stood there, contemplating the situation. When he was silent it was best to keep silent. He sincerely thought children shouldn't even be seen unless one couldn't help it, much less heard.
Finally, he turned to me. He put his hand in his pocket, then shook my hand.
He put a fifty dollar bill in my hand. That surprised me even more than mother's tears. My Dad was a famous miser.
I got on the open road, breathing a sigh of relief. I wondered how much time Dad spent contemplating that last move. I had to shake my head. People will surprise you, given half the chance.
After I found the Thruway, I was pretty much set to cruise. Albany State University was due east, and I couldn't very well get lost. I put on the radio and bopped along, keeping an eye on the gas gauge. Ah, freedom! Such joy in being out on my own! I felt a little guilty about it. I left my mother wiping her eyes once again, and all that I felt was relief, an enormous, unbounded relief, and joy.
I took the wrong exit once I got to Albany, of course. I wasn't used to city driving at all, having been brought up out in the country. I discovered how very difficult it is to drive and look at a map at the same time. I drove around for what seemed like hours!
I was close to panic when I found some State University signs to follow, and finally made it to the campus. I parked--anywhere, I didn't care. I felt like I never wanted to see my car again. Then I walked for what seemed like miles to get to the Student Union, where the fall registrations were held. This campus was so big, so intimidating to me. I had gone to a Central School--all thirteen grades in one building. I had to keep stopping and peering at the campus map signs posted, and my sense of spatial orientation, which was never good, had taken kind of a beating, getting lost in the city of Albany.
Once inside the Student Union, the lines seemed to stretch forever. Everyone was getting their meal tickets and course registration cards and room assignments and so forth. It was a big, busy, crowded place, and theere must have been many people as lost and confused as I felt, but they didn't look it and I'm afraid I did. I felt like a yokel--definitely uncool.
I calmed down after a little while. There was no one to hold my hand, but that was OK. There were signs directing people to the correct line to get in for the correct purpose, so much of the day was spent waiting in line. After I got past my initial angry uneasiness, I was able to be more observant, and things got a lot better.
Nobody talked to me. I remember to this day how that felt. All these kids from all over the place talked to each other, but no one talked to me. I felt shunned, but that was nothing new to me. I took a novel from my bookpack, and started to read, shuffling along in line. Oh, yes, I definitely could have taken the Nerd of the Year award. I didn't realize it at the time, but that sent a message to the other kids.
I shrugged, kept shuffling along, and thought to myself, "These people don't want to know me? Fine. Books are better than people, anyway. Books don't hurt your feelings."
When I was done with the process, I looked around for a payphone to call Mom. I promised her I'd call. It was late afternoon, trickling towards evening, by this time. I found I had to wait in line to use the phone. Waiting in line, AGAIN! I finished the first novel I was working on and started on another.
I called Mom, and let her know I made it alright. She sounded distant and distracted, so the phone call was brief. She asked me, "Do you want to talk to your father?" and I thought, "What about?" I know this makes me seem like a hard case. A person with a bad attitude in her heart. But really. What could I say to this man, when I was so frightened of him for years?
I passed on that, saying I had to get to the car, and had a few more things to do.
I went out the front door of the Student Union. I had to find my car, and this was a challenge for me, as I didn't know where I left it.
I really took the tour of that campus, on foot, as day settled into evening. There were many parking lots dotting the campus, near the many buildings the campus contained. I went around and around, lost.
I thought, "Will this day never end?" I was feeling very tired, and a little deflated. My grand entrance into the big old world wasn't quite going like I planned.
I finally found my car, nestled next to the Humanities Building. I was elated! I Found My Car!
A campus cop was standing right next to it.
He was writing a ticket.
"Uh-oh!" I thought. Money. And I really didn't have any extra.
"Miss?" the campus cop said, "is this your car?"
"Yes," I said, "and I'm so glad I found it. I've been looking for it for hours, I had forgotten where I parked."
The cop gave me an assessing look, then looked at the car. He started laughing. He said, "Where did you find this car? In a home for the elderly vehicles?"
I tried to smile. I'd sweet-talk him out of the ticket, if I could. The campus cop gave me a break, he could see I didn't have any money, but he said I had to go and get a parking permit, and then told me where I was allowed to park. Apparently I lighted on a faculty parking lot in my travels, and the student parking was much further away, and so was the administration building where I had to get the permit.
So I rescued the Crate of Wrath and got it all legal. By the time I was done with that, night had fallen.
And I still had to find my way to my brother's house on Orange Street, in Albany.
This being an adult business certainly wasn't what it was cracked up to be!
I just caught this, in my reading, from Jerry Seinfeld's "Sein Language", and I wanted to share. I thought this was a good place to put it:
Life is truly a ride. We're all strapped in and no one can stop it. When the doctor slaps your behind, he's ripping your ticket and away you go. As you make each passage from youth to adulthood to maturity, sometimes you put your arms up and scream, sometimes you just hang onto the bar in front of you. But the ride is the thing...
The most you can hope for at the end of life is that your hair's messed, and you're out of breath...
If you want to read the first three chapters, click HERE:
- A Story From My Life (Part I)
When I was five and my sister Carole was six, she got whooping cough. It really isn't surprising--our bedroom was unheated and the snow lay deep in the fields of the farm where we grew up. Mom decided to...
- A Story of My Life, Part II
My eldest sister Faye, my eldest brother Jerry, and our brother David stayed at home while Mom, Dad and the rest of the children went on an excursion into the country to visit some other relatives on a...
- A Story From My Life, Part III
This is one of the saddest stories I have to write. Once again, it isn't a direct memory of mine from my childhood, but part of the family arcana. It arouses in me the strongest empathy and sympathy for...