Chicken and Waffles

by Peter Stein | 11/17/11 11:00pm

This is the story of fall.

When I was little, my parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents tried to teach me about life. They told me that with hard work and dedication I could have whatever I wanted. They said that I needed to get good grades to get into a good school to get a good job to have a good life. As long as I stuck to The Plan, they said, I'd be okay.

I don't remember my freshman Fall as well as I would like. I remember the big things. The fire. The friends. The trips. I remember how new everything felt. I didn't have a plan for college. I didn't have a plan for what I'd major in. I didn't have a plan for what I was going to do after school. That all changed.

Most of my friends spent this term stressing about jobs. A few found one. Most didn't. I'm writing this in Logan Airport on my way to another interview.

Before graduating from high school, my mom and I went to buy me a new suit. I was giving a speech, and she wanted me to look nice. We looked at a couple, picked one and went for a fitting. The tailor asked me why I was buying a suit. I told him, and he asked where I was going to college. I said Dartmouth. He told me that he went to Dartmouth too. The Plan doesn't always work out, I guess.

I thought that The Plan always worked out. That's what I'd been taught. Last winter I found out that plans don't always work out. I was reminded in spring. I've been repeatedly reminded this term.

Life is messier than The Plan led me to believe. But I like math. I like simplicity and regularity, and I still believe in The Plan. I don't know anything else.

A few days ago, a friend asked me what I would do if I could do anything that I wanted. It took me two days to think of something.

I like the weather in fall. It's usually pleasant. You can walk. I sometimes wonder what would happen if I just started walking. If I got up and walked into the woods and just kinda lived. Where would I end up? Would I be able to survive? Would I end up doing something that I actually enjoy? Then I realize that I have work to do and I don't have time to waste on that crap.

I admire people who actually do things that they want to do. I know a girl who is going to spend time on an organic farm in Spain just because she wants to. That doesn't make sense to me, but I wish I had the courage to do it. I don't know why I think that's courageous.

This is my last fall at Dartmouth. This is the last time that freshmen are going to ask me where Reed is. The last time that I am going to go to the practice course on a lazy Friday. The last time that I am going to see the leaves change here in Hanover.

I don't know what I'm going to be doing this time next year. I am supposed to have a high-paying job with great potential for advancement and development. At least that's what I've been told. If that doesn't work out, maybe I'll do something that I want to do, if I can ever figure out what that means.

A few years after that, I think that I'm supposed to move into the suburbs. Settle down. Get a dog. In fall, I'll rake the leaves. Play catch with the boys. The leaves will still change. Maybe then I'll have time to go on a long walk.