late autumn of the year 1984 i was 19 years old. the thought of going home during my six week break between thanksgiving and the new year felt like an existential game of "mother may i" and i decided to stick around small town middle usa and work my campus job. i worked in the college post office. i sorted mail into the ornate student mailboxes and picked up and delivered to all of the classroom buildings, three times a day. i earned not a penny for this job as all of my "earnings" went toward my portion of my tuition. (it turns out that this decision was one of my worst financial mistakes as i had yet to learn that my work study portion for the year was to be forgiven when i went abroad the following term, and i could have/should have gone home and worked a regular job and actually made money, but the independence was worth the self-imposed poverty, i suppose.)
i lived in the home of a sociology professor who was on sabbatical. it was cottage style and decorated with all manner of danish inspired pieces. in my sophomoric mind, it was the height of academic sophistication. i shared the house with my spanish professor and her aide. it was then that i learned to appreciate the calm afforded by preparing meals as a community, carefully choosing ingredients and spices while thoughtfully listening to npr. the food was simple and comforting, almost always vegetarian and filling. my housemates were introspective and mellow. i was a loose cannon comparitively and i caught them on more than one occasion, shaking their heads at my choices (personal and fashion-wise). i rode an old one-speed schwinn between my job and the house. i didn't own a proper coat, so layering was the order of the day. army pants, three sweaters, mis-matched mittens and a hat i procured from the lost and found to cover my shaved head. i spent what little money i had on marlboro lights. the house was without a television so i spent my evenings often alone in the study turned my bedroom--reading, writing, smoking and listening to kate bush, joan armatrading, and prince.
on the way to work this morning, the light was exactly the same as it was when i boarded my bike and headed to work and it was just as cold. i remember the satisfaction of smoking the first cigarette of the day in the cold, how the smell could be fresh and lingering. how good coffee tasted...how special i felt toting the mail on the deserted campus. how original it all seemed.
when the students returned after the new year, i was protective of the grounds and the sidewalks and the light in the morning. i didn't want to share it. i wanted to hold it close and guard it from the casual attitudes and loud voices.
those six weeks were the last time i was truly alone in my life. i gave up smoking and solitude and traded those in for a lifetime of devotion and caring and company (all very good things). but this morning i really wanted to stand out in the sunrise and watch smoke curl from between my lips and be 19 again.