The Sunday Salon: She’s Leaving Home

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.

Nonetheless.

Prophecy is not astonishing,
but clear and true.

Everything, I prophesied as I looked shocked,
into his little boy face, would be alright.

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8 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: She’s Leaving Home

  1. I only applied to one university for my BA, and two for my MA (McGill and University College Dublin). I’ve been told this is atypical.

    Congratulations, and may post-undergrad life treat you well.

  2. I read this post last night, or the night before last really. (I drove through the night and just got home, so it feels like last night.) Anyway, I listened to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and thought of it when “She’s Leaving Home” came on. As I was getting misty-eyed and sentimental, I thought about how lovely your writing is.

    In the introduction to The land of Spices by Kate O’Brien, which I highly recommend, her writing is described as being as delicate and practical as a china cup. That description applies to this too, I think.

    In conclusion, let’s get married!

  3. This is just really lovely and bittersweet and I understand what you mean. I only applied to one and a half schools. I don’t know that Mary Washington truly ever felt like my home, but it was, certainly, the homiest school I think I could have found. When I stepped on the campus, it felt right. Like it was just where I wanted to be. I used to joke and say that I went to Mary Washington because it was pretty. It was pretty, but it also felt welcoming and like I would find a place I belonged there. I did and I can’t imagine going to any other place. I never finished my application to George Mason, but I got in anyway and then, later, went there for a graduate degree I never finished. I guess GMU and I have a history with that. Anyway, congratulations on your graduation Clare! This time feels bittersweet, but I hope it also feels exciting. I hope one day we’ll get to meet in person and talk all about it.

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