Our daughter Q began college this fall at a small liberal arts college in a small movie-cute town in the Northeast. She was born and raised in New York City but always remained in tension with it, often exhausted by its attentional demands and inescapable hard edges, especially for young women. She was anxious to leave, and when she could, she did.
My wife and I have deep experience with small-town living, and we were curious to see how Q would adjust. She would be able to see the stars at night, and her city soundtrack would have little siren or garbage truck. But the dark and the quiet come from not much going on, the few stores and restaurants that close even earlier on the weekends. Being on your own for the first time can be tough enough without nearly every part of your environment changing.
Q has adjusted quite well. She often told us how these new woods suited her. She did mention now and again how she missed certain foods and her room, but nothing more than a normal low-grade fever common to routine homesickness.
Her fever seemed to intensify as the Thanksgiving holiday approached. Dark was coming on sooner and the days turned colder, coursework piled up, and she’d been away for a good while. She talked excitedly about coming home, spending quality time in her comfortable non-institutional bed, whom she was going to catch up with, and, most importantly, what she wanted to eat (phở, salads with ginger dressing, spinach dumplings from Xi’an Famous Foods).
As soon as Q stepped off her Amtrak car, she sent us the text at the top. (Hudson Yards is the new glittering mall on the west side whose greatest cultural contribution is the Vessel, a large wire funnel-like thing that people can no longer go up in due to some unfortunate incidents.) The joke being that she was so excited to be back in NYC that a billionaire’s brooch of luxury stores and office buildings pinned to the West Side Highway even seemed entrancing.
My first time coming home from college went in the opposite direction. I’m from a small, quiet town with a big sky full of stars, and I attended college in a town ten times larger with all kinds of restaurants open late and clubs where most days striving bands believed in themselves for little or no pay. Just a few months away reset my sense of scale, and my hometown’s houses…