I could say that grad school ended mid-May when I turned in my final paper, relinquished office keys, and quit the campus. As I left, the greens were being carpeted with ramps and scaffolding and metal risers; the sidewalks had become a labyrinth of gates. Alma Mater steeled herself to belch forth one more crop of twenty-two-year-olds armed with various degrees. And the School of the Arts took down my name from a bank of mailboxes to make room for someone else.
I could say it ended when I handed in my thesis. That felt more like an ending.
Or I could say it ended yesterday, the last day of our one-week holiday. Too poor to fly or drive anywhere else, B and I stayed put in NYC and ate street food and swilled IPA. We listened to blues and read the New York Times and novels (and we didn’t check our email and I left my phone at home). It was a strange bit of in-between – not going, not staying. I had to be reminded to relax. That every day can’t (and won’t) include a list of tasks and deadlines. That soon – as soon as Monday – whole days will pass in unfulfilling work to pay down debt. So we took one week from summer for fish tacos and cheap champagne. A milestone tax. One week to mark the place between the finish line and yet another starting gate.
Some people buy houses or retirement plans. I bought Columbia. And, for now at least, I wear that like a tent against the elements. The rain, the doubt, the debt.
Last night, on the ferry back from Rockaway, I realized it was and wasn’t over. There will still be a thesis reckoning. Followed by the anti-climax of a graduation some months hence. At which point, I’ll be thirty. Decades have passed and pass and will keep passing in a great series of “and thens.” And then I will be thirty-one. And then I’ll move somewhere and start a family. And then one day it won’t be grad school ending. There will be other milestones. And the aftershocks of other milestones. And then.
We did not take pictures. But last night we stood up on the ferry for its final leg – just where the Hudson branches off into the East and downtown Manhattan looms up, glassy and impressive. The wind blew hard against our skin. Some drunken folk were singing boisterously on the port side, but the roar of air and motor was too loud for us to make out what they sang. We took in the southern edge of Brooklyn and the barges in the bay. It was the kind of sunset that paints everything in rust: the cranes, the railway cars, the dredge pipes, and the buildings on the shore. Everything but the water and the watery blue sky.
In the coming days, schoolchildren will sharpen pencils and tuck unbent folders into stiff and shiny knapsacks. College kids will quit their summer jobs and fill their family vehicles with tupperware containers full of winter clothes. Newly made doctors of philosophy will greet their classrooms full of undergrads. I’ll be the girl in ill-fitting officewear manning the phones. But I’ll also have the best night-job there is: making things with words.