I am standing on the half circle cement stairs looking out at the driveway from the entrance of Bates Hall.
The entrance behind me has double doors, is white and flanked by two white columns. The structure is ancient red brick, three stories tall with white bordered windows on the main floor, and smaller similar windows on the two floors above. One of those windows is mine.
To my right, I see a huge white statue of some saint standing in the middle of the garden, bushes and flowers circling her feet, her arms outstretched to the heavens, pleading for something.
My arms are outstretched, too. I am trying not to plead; I am trying not to cry. I am waving at the brand new station wagon leaving the circle driveway in front of me. There are 2 sets of small hands waving wildly out the rear window (Bobby said he’ll miss me, but he was too old to wave), and 3 sets waving out of the back seat windows. And there are two adult hands sticking out of the front windows, each waving with a cigarette between the index and middle fingers.
I am wondering, will they miss me? I feel lost as they disappear down the hill and turn out onto the road, trailing my identity behind them in the smoke of their exhaust. I have no idea who I am without them around me, without them to be the big sister to, without them to be the kitchen assistant for, live-in babysitter for, the mediator for. . . I wonder if I have done something wrong.
I have been charged to do my best, to make them proud. You’ve been accepted at Mount Marty. It’s not Loretto Heights where Susan and Nancy are, but it is closer and less expensive. We mentioned it to the Petersons and rest our friends at the country club last night – they were so impressed. Be a big girl now. It’ll be fun. You’ll see. We’ll talk next Sunday when you call home – remember to call collect.
As the tiny car and the little hands disappear behind a hill, I remember the room above me. There are three beds, mine and two for unmet persons not arriving til tonight. Among my stuff is a new checkbook and a laundry basket with an unopened box of Cheer and a roll of quarters nestled inside of it. I have no idea how the checkbook works. I have no idea how to do laundry – never having been allowed to use the new washer and dryer at home. I’ve met no one except the Sister at the front desk and Olga, the scary Russian woman with the keys who smells of fried onions and speaks barely recognizable English.
I turn to go in the building to finish unpacking, remembering that I may not use the elevator any more. Olga had said “students stairs, no Otis”. Inside the doors beside the front desk I see the wall of many mailboxes – above them hangs a huge white banner:
Welcome Freshman Class of ’71
Welcome Residents to Bates Hall.
As I slowly register that this greeting is for me, reality arrives: this is not the convent in The Trouble With Angels; I am not Hayley Mills; this is neither a movie nor British fiction. This is Mount Marty High School in Yankton, South Dakota. It is 1967.
I am fourteen years old.