“David,” my mother said, “we are here.”
I sat up straight as we passed through the main gate of Harvard Yard in a caravan of
unassuming vehicles, rooftops glaring under the noonday sun. Police officers conducted
the stammering traffic along the designated route. Freshmen and parents lugged suitcases and
boxes heaped with bedding, posing for photos before the red-brick dormitories with
the shameless glee of tourists. A pair of lanky boys sailed a Frisbee over late-summer grass in
A timpani concerto pounded in my chest as we made landfall upon the hallowed ground that
had been locked in my sights for years. We’d arrived. I’d arrived.
“For the tuition we’re paying,” my father said, carefully reversing into a spot, “you’d think
they could give us more than twenty minutes to park.”
My parents climbed out of the car and circled around to the popped trunk. After tugging in
vain at my door handle, I tapped on the window. “Where’d he go?” I could hear my mother ask.
“In here,” I shouted, knocking louder.
“Sorry, thought you got out,” my father said following my liberation.
I checked in under a white tent and received my room key, a bulky orientation packet and
an ID card. It read David Alan Federman, Harvard Student. When we reached Matthew Hall,
we shuffled to the fourth floor. The doors were marked with signs listing the occupants and
their hometowns, stamped with Harvard’s Veritas shield.
My roommate, Steven Zenger, had yet to arrive. I claimed the front room, envisioning it
would lead to impromptu visitors, a revolving door of campus characters popping in, lounging
on my bed, gossiping late into the night.
My parents took my student card and fetched the remaining stuff as I unpacked. “Well,” said
my mother after setting down the final box. “This is exciting. I wish I were starting college
“And I bet you’ll find your tribe,” my father added. “You’ll have a great time here,” he said
with the hollow brightness of an appliance manual congratulating you on your purchase.
“Yep.” Sensing more imperatives and prophecies, which I was fed up with, I opened
the door to let them out. After our own swift hug, my mother pushed my father into initiating
an avuncular, back-patting clinch and they left.
The door swung shut with a muted click. I resumed unpacking, yanking the price tags off
a few items. I was standing inside my closet, hanging shirts, when the door flew open and my
roommate bounded into the room, his equally enthusiastic parents in tow.
“David!” he said. “Almost didn’t see you. I’m Steven.” He walked over with his arm
puppetishly bobbing for me to shake.
“If I look different from my Facebook photo, it’s because I got braces again last week,” he
said. “But just for six months. Or five and three quarters now.”
All hopes I had of a roommate who would upgrade me to a higher social stratum snagged on
the gleaming barnacles of Steven’s orthodontia. I could sit back and laugh at the irony of it.
He would have fit right in at my cafeteria table at Garret Hobart High, where I sat with
a miscellaneous coalition of outcasts who had banded together less out of friendship than
survival instinct. We rarely associated outside of school and sheepishly nodded when passing
in the halls, aware that each of us somehow reduced the standing of the other.