25 years after being put on a plane with a casual, ‘“please watch out for my daughter” to a total stranger in the security line, I find myself back home among family.
Although my life had been a series of strategic maneuverings between parents, broken promises on the softball field and adult experiences that no kid should have, high school found me as a naïve 15-year-old with two long ponytails left over from middle school years. In the threshold of high school I learned how to think and realized the power of my intellect and independence. It was in the house-turned school that I learned how to learn. I excelled in debates during spirited school ‘family’ meetings in the dining room of the house. I took walks to classes with teachers to the public library as we discussed math problems and stuffed more people than was allowed into my VW beetle as we navigated to tai chi class at the local community center to regroup and center oneself.
High school took me in, gave me a community and pushed me out onto the steps of a top-tier university alone in New York City. I was three hundred miles away from myself; loafers held to the sidewalk by a steamer trunk and the last smile from the airport stranger. On the corner of 116th street and Broadway, I instantly felt small and unworthy-a feeling that I didn’t ever really shake. It didn’t matter that I figured out how to move my belongings across campus ten steps at a time. It didn’t matter that I met a friend for life that first day. It didn’t matter that the hopes and dreams of my family were etched in the iron gates of the university. I did not belong. Someone had made a mistake.
For four years, I crisscrossed the campus looking at the names on the library façade, Voltaire, Goethe, Sophocles, Dante-how many steps to the top as I repeated the names over and over in my mind. Feeling unworthy to have them as friends. Unworthy to understand their timeless message.
I was in a birdcage looking out. I was watching someone else’s life unfold. Yet, I found my way around the places where the water pools on the cobblestones, around stone statues and blue-eyed portraits always carrying my student identification, if I had to prove something to someone…just in case I had to prove something to myself.