You Can Go Home Again—Alas
Spending the summer at home, a senior trades Fruit Loops for Fiber One
“Who wrote The Wizard of Oz?” she asked me. “Here are your choices: Frank Capra. Frank Abagnale. Frank Baum. Frank Costanza.” I sighed, thinking of my friend in Hong Kong or the postcard I had just received from Lagos. I let my mind wander to roaming the streets of Delhi or trekking to Machu Picchu.
“Come on, dummy,” my 15-year-old sister prodded, as the orange, pie-shaped piece of the Junior Trivial Pursuit game bounced off of my head. “This is an easy one.”
Yes, while my classmates were conquering the seven continents (really—I even received a postcard from Antarctica) fate had something different in store for me this summer. My “travel companion” had turned into my little sister, and the far corners of the world had been reduced to the floor of my family’s kitchen in Chappaqua, New York.
This was not supposed to happen.
Early in my junior year, I had decided that I was going to spend the summer working on my senior thesis. I was determined to travel somewhere exciting, and I was prepared to do whatever research was necessary to get me out into the world; I got myself psyched about French witch burnings, anthropological discoveries in the Great Rift Valley, even traffic patterns in New Jersey. The world, as they say, was my oyster, and I was willing to do anything to find that pearl (even if it meant eating oysters).
I had been working for a professor for two years on a book about Henry Kissinger ’50, Ph.D. ’54, L ’55, and I came across a study that he did in the fifties with Nelson Rockefeller on the state of the country. Perfect, I thought. Kissinger later became secretary of state and traveled just about everywhere you can imagine. Rockefeller had been a foreign policy adviser to multiple presidents, so he, too, had been everywhere. The study looked closely at the position of the United States in the Cold War world. I surfed the Web for the cheapest tickets to Argentina, to Israel, to Chile, to Anywhere.
Then I sat down with my professor. “Perfect,” he said, when he heard of my choice of topic. “You’ll find a treasure trove in the Rockefeller Archives.” Dear History Gods, began my mental prayer, please let the Rockefeller Archives be housed in Nelson Rockefeller’s property in Venezuela. “And,” he continued, “you won’t even need to spend money on a place to stay. The Rockefeller Archives are in Sleepy Hollow.” Sleepy Hollow! What an exotic-sounding place. The home of Washington Irving and his fictional friend, Ichabod Crane. The home of a beautiful state park with miles upon miles of trails for running and horseback riding, just 15 minutes from the house I’ve lived in since I was two. And the home of my dentist.
At first, I was disappointed. This was my last Harvard summer and I had never taken advantage of the opportunities to go abroad. How would I ever become a true citizen of the world? How would I perfect my Harry Potter impression? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how truly horrible this situation was. Not only would I have to live with adult supervision; I would have to go from living in a spacious single inside a suite with five of my best friends to once again sharing a room with my 15-year-old sibling.
This was not supposed to happen.
The first night I got home, I prepared a mental list of questions for my parents: Would they set a curfew? Would they make me eat broccoli? Would they pick out another Snoopy dress that I’d have to wear for my class picture? I got ready to fight for my independence, but when I pulled into the driveway at 9 P.M., the house was silent. I quietly crept around corners, looking for signs of a struggle or evidence from the brutal kidnapping that must have occurred. The dulcet tones of my father’s snoring informed me that no such activity had occurred. It was simply bedtime. After attempting to look across the hall to see if anyone else was doing anything, only to realize that there is no “across the hall” when you live in a ranch house in the middle of the woods in suburbia, I conceded defeat and went to bed as well.
At college, I have grown to despise the sound of my alarm clock. My first morning home, I woke up not to a clock radio blaring in my ear, but to my dear sister sitting on my head. A mature college student might approach the situation by kindly requesting her sister to remove herself from all cranial regions not her own and then discussing Kant. Had this event occurred in my dorm room, that might have been my response as well. But my house has mysterious powers; as soon as I step through the front door, I become a 16-year-old again. Kant had flown out the window in favor of Kanye-like language. After dislodging my past-and-present roommate from her perch with what some might characterize as excessive force, I began to settle into teenage life. I bickered with my brother and sister over subjects some might consider pointless (but it does matter whether or not the television channels have changed either six or seven times since we bought the set). I felt resentful when my parents asked questions about my social life. I fretted about whether or not anyone would ask me to prom.
And yet, even though I believed at first that I had regressed five full years, I found that I appreciated being a teenager who lives at home much more the second time around. My parents gave me some Great Books suggestions, and I even watched some old-timey movies at their suggestion (the original Die Hard is now one of my new favorites). Though at first I resented having to trade in my Froot Loops for Fiber One, I began to see the value of Van Morrison and even of being in bed at 10 P.M. (There’s this beautiful period some time before noon called “morning,” when waffles are made.) I fell in easily with my high-school friends, despite not having spoken with some of them in three years. I even learned to coexist peacefully in my room with my sister; all I have to do is wear a helmet and we’re two peas in a (sometimes uncomfortably small) pod.
Next time I prepare for writing a senior thesis, I’m picking a subject like Joseph Stalin—interesting, complicated, and someone who never maintained residence in the tri-state area. And yet, I’ll still hope to spend some time in Chappaqua. After all, in the words of Frank Costanza, “There’s no place like home.”
Brett Rosenberg ’12, who truly does adore her sister, Kate, is a senior concentrating in history and the philosophy of Seinfeld.