Spring meant only one thing to Alison, Franny’s elfin neighbor: the deadline for finishing her master’s thesis was one quarter closer. This filled Alison with a sense of dread for which she had no rational explanation. Her data set was complete, her analysis was straightforward, and her conclusions were not likely to irritate any of her committee members, at least not enough to provoke them into blocking her completion.
The dread seemed to emanate from the large blank space on Alison’s mental calendar that loomed after what all involved presumed would be a successful thesis defense. Alison’s boyfriend wanted to fill it, at least a week of it, with a trip somewhere together to celebrate her accomplishment. This, too, seemed angst-ridden. Alison strongly suspected he would propose during such a trip, and although she loved her boyfriend very much, she kept telling herself, she could not imagine the word “wife” following her name.
Yet she had not been able to motivate herself to apply for more than a single PhD program. Staying in school seemed the answer to all her worries, but now most deadlines had long passed and Alison was stuck waiting to hear from that program as her only hope. She could not understand herself at all. Normally, when she had a goal in mind, she moved heaven and earth to achieve it. But this whole grown-up life thing, with all its monumental decisions, seemed to slip through her fingers like sand.
Or like being in a dream, she thought, one of those dreams where as soon as you think something, you are there. You think “I’m tired” and you’re in bed. You think “I’m hungry” and you’re at a fancy restaurant. You think “I want to go home” and you’re on the road in an old jalopy. But nothing really works – your bed turns to water, the food at the restaurant tastes of salt and mold, the jalopy breaks down and you can’t dial your cell phone for help. Your fingers simply won’t go to the right numbers.
That’s how grown-up life feels – I can’t get my fingers on the right numbers, and in the meantime, everything is passing by so fast.
Alison’s cell phone rang then, in a kind of poetic gesture from the universe, and the sound prompted her into an immediate, if small, decision.
She left the phone on her desk, ignoring the call from her boyfriend, put on her windbreaker and ski cap, and headed outside for a walk in the brisk spring wind. Only twenty-eight miles per hour today, barely enough to lean into! She smiled to herself as her eyes began to water.