We’re in the car with the digital clock glowing green, ticking away the minutes until the ascent to 12:45 has my mom handing back dad’s iPhone. I pull up the email I received eleven days ago and swish my thumb over the screen, leaving a sheen of thumbprint, and reach the number at the bottom. My heart is in my ears, I think, and I practice what I should say, then repeat it to my mom. She says I don’t need to go into so much detail.
“Good,” I sigh, and promptly tap the number. I expect a few rings, but the connection barely chokes out its first before I hear a hello. I quickly relay my name–full name, Madeline–and that I have a campus visit scheduled, we’re running five minutes behind. I hope that will be okay. My voice is cool, the timbre resonating in the hollow of my throat; the quality is that of automated recordings and radio hosts. For a few brief seconds, I am more composed than I have ever been before. I sound like somebody who snapped up the phone from the dashboard, dialed with one hand, and knows her place in the world.
In reality, I asked my Mom if she would call for me and received an unsympathetic, “no, you’re eighteen.” This is true. That, however, failed to disintegrate my absolute aversion to phone communication. I don’t reveal this to the girl on the line. She says that’s fine, no problem, and I say thank you, and then I am hanging up and gasping out how much I hate it. I prattle for a moment and then lean forward to check and make sure that I hit the red button for sure, God forbid the receptionist be privy to this information.
After I’ve double-checked with my Mom that she knows where we’re going, and after fast-food chains and car washes begin to sketch in the town, after I’ve grumbled about how it lacks curb appeal, we are turning. The roads give way to pavement, the cement to grasses and trees. I appraise the buildings. They are not as historic-looking as I would like, although my Mom dispels this notion.
We park and get out, and I’m nervous a little bit again, unsure what to expect. We walk one way until we realize it’s wrong, and go back, stop at a fork in the path. Up ahead, a genderless figure with jet-black hair–bedhead-esque, I sense a kindred spirit–shuffles toward us. I suggest asking them if they could point it out but, no more than a few yards away, a small sign boats letters that faintly resemble the name of the building we’re looking for. We’re off.
This is it. In the entryway, a board has a list of names written on it to welcome prospective students, and in my peripheral I catch mine. I go back to make a chaste note of it, appreciate the gesture, and step inside. The receptionist I must’ve spoken to is there, and she knows who I am and hands me a folder, directs us to the Keurig and the K-cups of different drinks. We are told to help ourselves. I perch on the edge of the couch and am sucked in by stapled-together papers listing the student organizations. Mom sits, too. Dad chooses tea.
This is my first college visit. I chose this particular school out of curiosity. I’ve always known about it, but never remembered it in a way that coats my memory. I decided this would be a good place to start, and Mom helped me fill out a request form two months back. We didn’t hear anything for a long while, and I wondered vaguely if they’d turn me down, until we did. A short exchange of emails transpired, then it was added to our calendar.
“Are you excited about visiting tomorrow?” My mom had asked the day before, and I’d shrugged a reply. My eight a.m. math class had just ended, and work loomed ahead. It’s hard to find enthusiasm when you’re tired.
If I really searched deep inside myself, I suppose I took a passive role in the whole process. I chose this school because it sounded good, but I didn’t have any real investment in it; I was trying to feel out my prospects.
Now I’m sitting in the lobby, awaiting the tour to begin. A girl and her mother come in, the only other ones joining us today. I offer her a smile as she, too, sits down. We are in the same boat, after all: college visits. Nerve-wrecking, and intimidating, exciting, but mostly surreal. A year ago I was fumbling through math and leafing through my choices. Now here I am, doing this solid thing.
Our guide is a sophomore wearing a tie and brandishing a go-get-’em attitude. Everything is so cool and awesome that I have to smile. Later, I quip, “we’re going to tell them you weren’t enthusiastic enough.”
As he begins talking about his experience with the school, as we are taken through the first building and he points to the wall boasting all the places the students can choose to study abroad, I begin to feel the first stirrings of something. Rightness, is what it is, as my Mom notes, “Maddie, France,” and my eyes wheel over the construction-paper letters until I find those six.
France, I think. There’s my ticket to France.
As the tour progresses, we learn how small enrollment is, another enticing fact. Oh, he says, here, the students call the professors by their first names. It was weird for him at first. The cafeteria is large and open and boasts a variety of food options. There is a place to get coffee. The auditorium has the prettiest ceiling I’ve ever laid eyes on.
One by one, these benefits stack up on top of one another, until they are towering. My spirit soars. The tour concludes on the steps of the building where we started, and our guide laments that he’d felt included right away here. There aren’t any cliques, matter of fact. Everyone respects one another. Everyone is friendly.
Those words seal the envelope. I am enamored, and so surprised. When the time for my interview comes, I gush about how right this feels for me. The small enrollment, the cultural diversity, the programs and professors and the principles on which the values are based. Everything about it screams Maddie, and my parents agree.
“I don’t even want to see other schools,” I profess to them in the lobby, pre-interview, as I finally reach enough comfort to help myself to a pumpkin spice latte. “I love it.”
All of a sudden, my life’s direction has pivoted. Here I am, set upon a new path yet again. I’m an aspiring live-on-campus student. I have a list of classes in mind. I have a plan for the spring, and a hope for next fall. I am inspired.
It serves to reinforce the fact that you never know what great things are coming. It’s too easy to fall into the habit of perpetuality, but in fact there are opportunities waiting on the edges, hiding in the trees, poised for a hand to reach out and snatch them.
Perhaps, like me, you don’t even know what you’re grasping for, until you pull your fist from the bramble and look down into your curled fingers, and then you do.