In January, Sharon started, somewhat grudgingly, to think about college. Under the direction of the school counselor, she had applied to various places, minimizing the effort required. She wrote only that she liked mathematics and history, and wanted more of them. She didn’t say that she had tutored underprivileged children, or picked up trash along the riverbanks. Nor did she claim a pen pal in Uzbekistan. If the colleges didn’t want her, that was okay with Sharon. She could always be a guerilla unrecognized student at Harvard, or somewhere else.
Still, a friend and former schoolmate who was now a sophomore at Geary College invited her to spend a weekend there. Geary was said to be a ‘good small college’ where the professors knew the students and taught them wonderful things. Okay. Sharon had applied there, and she might as well have a look.
It was a two hour drive into middle Massachusetts, and Sharon arrived on a Friday night. Marcia, a tall black-haired young woman with a touch of rosatia on her unusually white skin, greeted her warmly. They hadn’t seen each other in some time, and stood talking before they went into the old red brick dormitory.
Marcia had always been a good student, and was now a pre-med. She said, “I think I can see my way through the program here. I do want to be a doctor, and that makes up for the fact that most of the courses aren’t very exciting.”
Sharon wondered about that, and Marcia replied, “It’s just that all the essential stuff that I have to know is so far from scientific discovery. It’s not string theory or quantum mechanics, or general relativity. A lot of it is memorizing chemical reactions.”
Wondering whether the college advertizing was true, Sharon, a little humorously, asked, “Do you know your professors?”
“Oh yes. They’re nice enough, and mostly teach in an informative straight-forward way. They do their job, and I do mine.”
“Is any research done here?”
“I don’t know of any. The emphasis is supposed to be on teaching. ”
The obvious thing would have been for Marcia to go to a more exciting place. However, Sharon suspected that she wasn’t quite smart enough to actually be a scientist. Like herself, she only wanted to understand what they did.
With that, they went up to Marcia’s room, and talked some more. Sharon tried not to be boring about her recent experiences, but Marcia was certainly interested and curious. At the end, she said,
“You have a chance to lead a really interesting life.”
“I’m beginning to realize that, and so I have to make some sort of decision about college.”
“That’s why I invited you here. This is the sort of place that people in your position are always urged to consider. However, if I were you, I wouldn’t come here.”
That was interesting, and Sharon asked why.
“People do stay up half the night talking and drinking, and the claim is that we thereby educate one another. It’s supposed to be like an Oxford or Cambridge common room which, in turn, is supposed to be like spending an evening with Socrates and his pals, drinking something a little lighter than hemlock.”
“On the one hand, I think, in the time here, I’ve learned only from classes and books. Not a single thing from another student.”
“That’s not entirely fair. The kids here are learning about one another, what sorts of people there are in the world, and how to deal with them. It’s not what I count as education, but it does have practical value.”
“I imagine that it could also be learned in the business world.”
“The difference is that those people have to get up in the morning, and can’t spend the whole night figuring out what’s really wrong with one another.”
A little later, it struck Sharon as odd that no one else seemed to be around. Marcia explained, “There’s a dance going on, and we can go join in if you’d like.”
“Don’t you have to be dressed up?”
“No, you can wear just about anything or nothing. We won’t be conspicuous as we are.”
On their way over to the student union, Marcia explained, “This isn’t like the dances at our school, even when I was there in the pre-coed days.”
“I don’t go to them.”
“As I recall, there were almost as many adult chaperones as students, and the boys had to be dragooned into dancing with the girls.”
“I think they’re still pretty much like that.”
“I’ve seen learned that the Adams Academy is virtually a throwback to another era.”
“The new headmistress has loosened some things up, and there are a few boys. But I guess that the changes are mostly cosmetic.”
“This will be different.”
The very loud band could be heard at a distance, and, squeezing in, there seemed to be about fifty couples in the large room. It first struck Sharon, from the smell, that it was more like an athletic event than a dance. Then, at a second glance, it looked as if the couples near her were engaged in wrestling. Pressed painfully together, it was easy to think that, in each couple, the participants were trying to throw one another to the floor. But, then, no one went down. Or was it that the boys were trying to rape the girls? However, it was clear that the girls were at least as enthusiastic as the boys. She asked Marcia,
“Are they about to have intercourse?”
“If you look closely, you’ll see that, in every case, there are at least two layers of fabric between the private parts of each couple. After a couple of hours of this, the actual mating will take place in the dorm. But my room-mate will be otherwise occupied, and we can lock the door. Did you bring ear-plugs?”
“No. Are all colleges like this?”
“You’ve been around Harvard with Tim, haven’t you?”
“Yeah. His friends are more like married couples. I don’t know exactly where and when they have sex, but I’m sure it isn’t like this.”
“There probably are scenes like this somewhere around, but, in a small residential college out in the middle of nowhere, there’s a dominant culture. I have to distance from it to get my work done.”
Marcia was as good as her word about the privacy of her room, and Sharon had always been able to sleep through almost anything.
Snow fell that night, ending just as they had breakfast. The dining room was almost empty, and Marcia explained, “Everyone sleeps late the morning after a dance. I love the solitude on a glorious morning like this.”
They were soon outside following a largely obscured path up to the top of a nearby hill. Once on top, they wandered off the path, their feet falling softly between bushes sticking up through the snow. There was no breeze, and, for the moment, no sign of life anywhere. Looking to the other white hills, some with tall bare trees, Marcia said, “The beauty of this place is one of the two things that keep me here.”
“And the other?”
Pointing back to the college, she replied, “What I’m learning, in a purely practical way, about the goings-on in those buildings.”
Following her gesture, Sharon saw what anyone would take to be a sleepy little New England college, totally picturesque, in which persons conversed in the language of Shakespeare. But, of course, she now knew better. Marcia explained,
“I want to be an internist, a family doctor. And, of course, most of the patients will be women, mostly the younger ones who’ll come to a new woman doctor. In some ten years time, girls like the ones down there will be getting their first divorces, and they won’t be so silly. They’ll have problems which are as much psychological, and psycho-physical, as purely physical. I’m learning enough about them now to be able to understand what’ll be wrong with them then.”
Sharon had to laugh. It was the sort of planning she couldn’t imagine herself doing, but she replied, “If we’re in the same place, I’ll make you my doctor.”
“Thank you. Of course, you are, and will be, entirely different.”
“I’m not sex crazed in the way those girls are, but I have had some experiences with a somewhat older Japanese woman. It was exciting, but also humorous and light-hearted. Really, nothing I feel embarrassed about afterward.”
“I’m still a virgin, simply because the alternative here is the barnyard and the pigsty. Eventually, I’ll find something like that with someone.”
That afternoon, Sharon talked with some of the students. They didn’t like the food at the college, had trouble with the washing machines, and wished that there was a decent restaurant within a reasonable distance. No one said anything bigoted or stupid, and Sharon didn’t think that they ever would. But it wasn’t at all like being with Tim and his friends.
When Marcia saw her off the next morning, it was agreed that Sharon would not come to Geary. But she was sure that they would manage to stay in touch.
On getting home, Sharon told Doris about her visit. Doris could only laugh as she replied, “When I was at Wellesley, it was a whole different world. Boys were only allowed in the lobby of the building, and the only opportunity for sex was in cars. Even then, there was usually more than one couple in the car, and the girls lived in mortal fear that there would be gossip about them. You knew that the other girl would spread the word if you did hardly anything at all.”
“So there wasn’t a lot of trust among the girls?”
“Not hardly. It was every woman for herself. There was also a convention that you could break a date, or any sort of arrangement, with another girl if a boy asked you out. Girls looked on each other as competitors, and potential enemies. The feminist movement was getting going, but it took a long time for female solidarity to get to places like Wellesley.”
“It’s hard to guess whether the young ladies I met at Geary would torpedo one another. It may be that there’s so much sex going around that no one has to worry about getting her share.”
“Anyhow, Sharon, you don’t want to get trapped at a place like that, out in the sticks with a single unpleasant dominating culture.”
“Yeah, I already figured that out. In a big city or big university I’ll be able to find what suits me.”