For Christmas this past year, I told my brother to buy me a copy of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. (Surprises are not very popular in Clan McBride.) That started my first exploration into the Beatles: I listened to their discography for the first time that winter. I’m still parsing them out; there’s a copy of Philip Norman’s Shout! in my to-be-read pile, which I’m rapidly starting to think of as my bibliophilic trosseau. I’ve picked up a few more albums since then, but Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band got into my car and stayed in my car.
Driving back from the Georiga Renaissance Festival, all sunburnt, exhausted, and happy, I put that album on. My friends and I listened quietly until “She’s Leaving Home” came on. It’s a delicate, beautiful song, inspired by a runaway. Paul McCartney and John Lennon only contribute vocals; they’re accompanied by a string orchestra. McCartney narrates the story, from her slipping out of the house in the dead of night to her parents discovering that’s she gone. Over the chorus, Lennon sings the parents’ perspective: “We gave her most of our lives / Sacrificed most of our lives”. We had the windows down. The song slipped out into the Atlanta evening, the sun heavy in the sky.
“I listened to this a lot when I graduated high school,” Minaye suddenly said, breaking the warm silence. “It always made me cry.”
“Why?” I asked. The sun and fun had made me lethargic.
“I thought that this must be what my mother felt like. It reminded me of that.”
I nodded. “I think I feel that way now.”
But the home of the song’s title was not the physical house I’m returning to today. It’s not even the serious kind of home, the place you can go back to after all the world has turned against you. (That home, for me, is my mother herself.) My mother and I, over the last few years, have come to see each other as individuals; the childhood home may physically remain, but, emotionally, it’s long gone.
No, it wasn’t a home given to me by my mother or a home I will someday forge for myself. The home in Lennon’s voice was Agnes Scott College.
I graduated from it yesterday.
When I was in high school, I knew precious little about college beyond the fact that I was lucky enough to go. My mother went to school in France, both my father and brother went to the Air Force Academy, I was exposed to precious little and utterly haphazard pop culture, and I had no stake in sports. While visiting my father’s side of the family in Washington, D.C., my mother told me that one of my uncles was disappointed that I hadn’t thought about Georgetown. My mother repeating his words, in such a way that I could see his forehead crease, was the first time I’d ever heard of the school. My mother, immune to American collegiate allegiances and only eager for her daughter to be mistress of her destiny, communicated this neutrally, but I suddenly felt flamingly ashamed and grew sullen and silent. I felt like, by not knowing, I’d done something wrong.
(I think I constantly go back to this moment, this recalled conversation being relayed to me, because it’s a perfect illustration of one of my life tenets: I can’t do anything, active or passive, about things I don’t know about. And, brother, just call me Jon Snow, because I know nothing.)
When it came time for college applications, I did something that I don’t ever recommend: I only applied to two and a half schools. The first was the University of Georgia, where half of my graduating class ended up. (One of them got suspended during orientation.) The half was Davidson, which my brother had told me to apply to. I utterly failed to send in the last document. The second was this place called Agnes Scott that had sent me an application.
It was a women’s college, but that didn’t phase me one whit. I’d always been in female-dominated spaces, from my own home to fandom to school. Eliminating boys my age entirely would barely register on my radar screen. Plus, the application was free; I’d been shocked that I had to pay to apply to the University of Georgia. I sent it in and forgot about it, until I was invited to visit the campus. It was only an hour away, so my parents grabbed the cooler to hit up Trader Joe’s and their high school senior on their way up to the city.
I am sometimes asked why I chose Agnes Scott. (This is usually a roundabout way to ask me if I’m gay because I went to a women’s college. Firstly, I’m queer, and, secondly, I was long before Agnes Scott. I was just being, well, Jon Snow about the whole situation.) I tell them that I chose Agnes Scott because the first time I stepped onto the campus, I felt sure, spiritually certain, that this was exactly where I needed to be to shed my sullen silence and grow into the kind of woman I wanted to be: confident, intelligent, and capable.
In short: it felt like home.
I wrote this yesterday morning, before the ceremony.
Last night would have been the perfect time for a fever dream,
for fear in the dark and for my heart to pain and burst.
Instead: I dreamed my nephew was older,
that he could walk.
He ran into my legs and I grabbed him,
could not pick him up.
“Hey,” I said.
“Hey!” he said right back.
I have prophesied before in dreams—
well, if he has a sister, I have dreamed her.
Prophecy is not astonishing,
but clear and true.
Everything, I prophesied as I looked shocked,
into his little boy face, would be alright.
This week’s links:
- Justine Larbalestier writes about her experience making a living writing young adult novels.
- Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics produces a lipstick called YAOI. Pound the alarm, people.
- A new love letter written by Vita Sackville-West for Violet Trefusis was discovered when it fell out one of her books.
- At Racialicious, Kendra James and Arturo Garcia discuss race in Iron Man 3. BIG HONKING SPOILERS, PEOPLE.
- At The Mary Sue, pictures from the Whole Hog Theatre’s production of Princess Mononoke.
- Linda Holmes’ review of Iron Man 3 at NPR contrasts and compares Captain America and Iron Man very thoughtfully.
- Safy at Fatwas and Fanboys on tumblr examines how mainstream culture mocks the very public and painful downward spirals of young women, such as Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Amanda Bynes.
- Keith Phipps’ “Hollywood and the Holy Land” at The Atlantic looks at how big films have portrayed America’s relationship with Islamic countries. Spoilers: it’s pretty fickle and political.
- At Lightspeed Magazine, Maria Dahvana Headley’s short story “The Traditional” is gruesome, dark, and loving in the best of ways. A very interesting read that makes second person perspective work. This is nigh-impossible.
- Did you know The Great Gatsby was originally supposed to have a prologue about Gatsby’s childhood? F. Scott Fitzgerald cut it from the novel for neatness’ sake and reworked it into the short story “Absolution”. Slate has more.
- All the ways assumptions about traditional masculinity hurt the masculine, as experienced by a butch woman, over at Autostraddle.
- At Tor.com, Chris Lough walks us through Leonardo DiCaprio’s film canon to show us how they’re all alternate universes stemming from Titanic.
- The ever-fabulous Aja Romano covers Maureen Johnson’s genderflipped covers project from all sides.
- Amanda Hocking’s response to this project is a good examination of her own issues with femmephobia.