Six Months


Six months ago, it was Mother's Day and I was landing at the airport. Six months ago, Melissa and Greg came to meet me and (oh, the poor things, especially Greg!) hauled my extra-heavy suitcases into their car, then out and up the stairs. Six months ago I moved into the spare bedroom of people I'd only met once before, and immediately spread my crap all over the house. Six months ago, I felt as though it was finally time to take an exam I'd been cramming for for months. Six months ago, I was starting a life that was so different from anything I'd ever known, I didn't even have the means to imagine it. Six months ago, my immediate (much less long-term) future was a completely blank slate.

And now, here I am. Six months later, the future is now.

(Bet you thought I'd lost my knack for overwrought melodrama, huh? Obviously not.)

I had illusions that I would carefully chronicle my life over the first few months here. After all, these were big changes, and certainly I'd need to work through some issues, wouldn't I? As it turns out, big changes are kind of exhausting, and sometimes the last thing you want to do is write about them, when they take up so much of your mental and emotional energies anyway. When you have a spare minute or two, it often feels much better to retreat into escapism, or talk about other people's problems, or larger world issues. Not like there's any shortage, and it feels like a vacation.

Am I sounding bleak? It's just the current moment at fault, I'm sure. Actually, the truth of the matter is, I love my life here. I love my apartment (especially now that, as of this past weekend, I finally have a couch). I love school, even though I had forgotten the constant drumming humming buzzing anxiety that envelops me when I am studying (mostly) full-time, and never lets go. I love my neighborhood, with its friendly strangers who come in all colors and shapes and socioeconomic whatsits, and with their above-average fondness for dogs which means the streets are (feel) very safe for an almost-ghetto. I love Philadelphia, which is a city with a rich history and a lively present, and every time I step outside I discover something new. It's a city that loves food, too, which is a clear sign its heart is in the right place.

Of course, not everything is perfect. My life hasn't suddenly become something shiny and fabulous, straight from the pages of a glossy magazine. For one thing, I'm pretty lonely. It's not so bad now, since I have classes three days a week, but over the summer I could go entire weeks without having a meaningful (or even meaningless) conversation. Most of my classmates commute from Elsewhere, many have families, everyone is in a rush to get home after class is over (assisted by the fact that we finish at 8 p.m.). I had romantic fantasies of occasionally going out for a drink afterwards, talking about Theory or gossiping about professors, but so far it hasn't happened.

There's also the fact that nearly all of my fellow students are much younger than me--which I knew, but which was painfully brought home to me when we did an in-class exercise in Research Methods to brush up on basic descriptive statistics like mean, median, mode. We all had to write down our age on an index card, and wouldn't you know? It was the very day after my birthday. "Couldn't we have done this last week?" I groused.

So it is that I can tell you that I am the second-oldest person in my cohort. (And, just between you and me, I have a feeling the oldest is not going to make it through--although it has nothing to do with age. Selfishly, this makes me sad, because then I will be the oldest. Ah, it can be painful to be so shallow!) Both the median and the mode are 28. We have one student who is 23, and two who are 24 years old. When I think back to what my life was like at that age, those ages, I have to marvel at the strange vagaries of fate and chance that have brought us all together in this place, at this time.

Anyway. Things are starting to change a bit, perhaps, on the social front. Since it is the task of the first-year students to organize the department party--which, they tell us, traditionally sucks--a couple of us have been scouting venues. One classmate and I have decided that Tuesday night is pub night, and anyone who wants to come out with us after class is welcome. (Unfortunately tonight is to be the first such occasion, and I'm feeling a bit delicate in the tummy. I'm pretty sure this is the direct result of my, possibly misguided, decision that the most effective way to reassert democracy in this country was for me to eat everything within a five-mile radius. So far it hasn't seemed to produce much in the way of tangible effects beyond my expanded girth and upset stomach, but I'm still hopeful. All the data aren't in yet.)

So, lonely, check. Also, it's a struggle to balance school and work, when both consist mostly of free-form tasks with a variety of deadlines. You'd think I'd be used to this sort of thing by now, but I've discovered somewhat to my surprise that there's a subtle shift that comes about when school is the primary focus, and work is secondary. Because a) I like school, and the work that comes with it, and b) there is a very intense required workload, and c) I am a dork, and want to do more than just the bare minimum, and also d) I really, really dislike translating... well. You can see how this would make it difficult to find the motivation to do any actual, you know, paying work. On the other hand, the need to buy furniture and pretty kitchen gadgets is an excellent incentive.

So, stress, check. Not like that's anything new, but it is a new kind of stress. Then there's also... well, really, those are the big ones. For most of the summer my number one issue was lack of funds, since even though I was working (quite literally) all the time, it took a while for any money to start coming in. Once it did I may have, um, exaggerated a little in my spending, from sheer relief. But I'm over that now, really I am. Watch me be all fiscally responsible and stuff. (Also watch me refrain from making any political remark here.) I need to learn to find a balance between school and work and "fun." I mean, school is fun, but it rarely makes me laugh. I should probably do other stuff, too, stuff that does make me laugh. Right?

I guess the most astonishing thing, really, is that six months later I actually have a life. I have routines, I do laundry, I pay bills, I go out and I work and study and occasionally interact with other people. I look around me, and I feel content. I have learned all kinds of things, like not to be startled when I hear people speaking English on the street, what a "latte" tastes like, how to use my dryer without (too much) fear. How to pronounce a bunch of words that I've been saying wrong in my head for years. How to say hello to strangers.

I think I passed the exam. Thank god, because I really do not handle failure well.