Dear Johns Hopkins University,
I’m writing to say goodbye.
I’m writing to say thank you.
I’m writing to say I love you.
This is difficult.
It’s difficult and exciting and terrifying all at the same time.
When I came to you in August of 2010, I set up camp and planned on staying forever. The thought of graduating, growing up, and moving on was a teeny tiny speckle in the furthest corner of my little freshman brain.
And now—as if I literally turned my back for one second in CharMar and somebody took the last pack of Oreos—here we are. Classes are over and finals are starting and I’ve already picked out my dress for the senior prom. My apartment lease is ending and I’ve taken the pictures off of my wall and I can’t go outside without taking Claritin anymore. It’s almost time.
So I’m writing to say a lot of things. I’d mostly like to reminisce. About the nights Liz and I spent watching “Orange is the New Black” and eating Monkey Bread from Miss Shirley’s. About the time Rose decided to call out the orders from UniMini and almost blew out my eardrums. About Liza’s 10,000 water bottles that she continues to lose one after another. About the time Monique and I took a cab home from Power Plant singing Taylor Swift songs and replacing all of the lyrics with “meow.” About sitting with Alexa at the JHU Admissions front desk pretending that I worked there and that I knew what I was talking about. About Monday nights at Stressbusters with Lindsay, getting free massages to our hearts’ content. About sleepovers with Michelle and finding her earrings on my nightstand five months later. About how quickly I became best friends with Alyssa while studying abroad in London. About brunches with Zoe and calling her mom for any and all medical questions. About the epic version of “Let It Go” that my Phi Mu little, Lexi, and I performed for our “phamily” over a spread of wine and cheese. About finding out that Deb was my sorority “twin” and about that time when she tried to jump into my arms in the kitchen and we both went down. About the time Allie squatted in the hallway and recorded my entire Skype job interview so that she could send it to our parents. About all of the completely idiotic, insane, and amazing Mental Notes. About my beautiful Phi Mu sisters and all of the long formal business meetings that I missed because of Mental Notes rehearsal. About Spring Fair and Homecoming and puppies on the beach. About the rain and the sunshine. The construction and the cherry blossoms. The Levering salads and the two Starbucks on the same street.
I have so many thoughts and so much to say. You’ve given me the four best years of my life and the most incredible friends to spend them with. And we will always be grateful for that.
So I guess I am writing to say goodbye. And I’m writing to say thank you. And I’m also writing to say I love you.
I will be back.
We have two weeks of class left and the end is inevitably in sight. For the most part, we’re trying not to bring it up. We’re going around pretending our days here aren’t numbered—acting as if we have all the time in the world to run around this beautiful campus, suntan on the “beach” when it’s warm out, and explore the quirky charisma of this lovely Charm City.
But deep down we know it’s happening. We know that in less than one month we will be marching across the stage on the lacrosse field, receiving our diplomas, and then scattering across the globe. And while some of it is hard to grasp, it’s not all sad…
Allie (my twin sister), my friend Liz, and I took a trip to NYC last weekend to sign the lease for our new Hell’s Kitchen apartment. Our building is absolutely beautiful; we’re living in a 2-bedroom (converting it to 3) on the 50th floor looking directly into Times Square. Even though it’s a loud area, almost no noise at all makes it up to our floor. We’re practically living in the clouds.
Our view is something else. I have a beautiful view at Hopkins—my 9th floor apartment looks right over the “beach” and towards the stunning (and often lit up) Gilman bell tower. But Baltimore is nothing like NYC. Both have their unique advantages, and I’m so fortunate that I have the chance to spend years of my life living in both cities.
In a weird way, Allie, Liz, and I feel like graduation isn’t the real end of our time at Hopkins. We know the thought of living together in NYC will help get us through the melancholy and mixed emotions of graduation day. We met at Hopkins and have been the closest of friends since we were introduced to one another the summer before freshman year. As long as we’re living together, Hopkins will remain vibrantly in our memories.
Getting our new apartment keys and spending a day on our new living room floor truly changed things. Before, it was all sadness and denial, but now…we’re excited. Don’t get us wrong, we don’t want to leave and say goodbye to our Baltimore home, but it’s nice to know that we have another home—just as great—awaiting us in New York!
Senior year—whether it’s high school or college—can be stressful, confusing, and full of tension. Between figuring out post-grad plans and coming to terms with leaving, seniors are often high strung and temperamental. What they don’t tell you about senior year, however, is that your course load tends to be a lot lighter than normal.
Hopkins students organize their course loads on their own, and everyone knows that saving the fun and enjoyable classes for senior year is the way to go! So while my friends and I may be stressing out about moving to a different city and starting life in the “working” world, schoolwork isn’t really posing an issue this semester.
In fact, my workload has been so light that I’ve found myself binge watching TV shows with my friends and staying up late to bake cookies almost every night this week. Just last night, I took the Blue Jay Shuttle to Hampden with my sister, Allie, and my friends, Alexa and Rose. We enjoyed a delicious dinner at The Food Market followed by pounds of ice cream at the Charmery.
Hampden is absolutely wonderful (as we’ve come to realize throughout our four years at Hopkins). Commonly referred to as “JHU’s backyard,” Hampden is a cute little town tucked away right behind Charles Village. Fully equipped with restaurants, boutiques, beauty salons, and bookstores, Hampden is the perfect place for an afternoon walk or a full day’s shopping excursion.
I’ve learned over the years just how important it is to get off campus and explore Baltimore. Coming to college is as much about getting to know a new city as it is getting a great education. Immerse yourself, travel, see the sites and monuments! There’s so much history right here in Baltimore…don’t let it pass you by.
The countdown has officially begun; it’s only a matter of weeks until I graduate and head off to New York. It’s time to soak up the moments with friends. Instead of cooking in my apartment, it’s time to get out, go downtown, and try new restaurants. It’s time to embrace my seniority! Seniors 2014!!!
We all know the acronym “YOLO.” You Only Live Once. Of course, it’s an overused expression thrown around daily in order to rationalize otherwise unjustifiable decisions. These four letters, however, have never carried more weight for me.
As I mentioned in my post Trying Not to Blink, I’m becoming increasingly aware of the fact that my time at Hopkins is running out. Opportunities are currently dangling in front of my face—opportunities that will be quickly whisked away come graduation day.
This is the time to take risks, to step out of your comfort zone, and to constantly justify bold and out-of-character decisions with four letters—YOLO. When I heard that students at Hopkins were starting an on-campus news organization called The Charles St. News, I immediately reached out and asked if I could help. I’m pursuing a career in production, media, and entertainment, so any additional experience in that field can only help. I wrote, shot, and edited a short news piece for them about the ongoing construction on North Charles Street (video below).
To be clear, I don’t want to be a reporter. I had a lot of fun making the segment and I’m not opposed to reporting at some point in my professional career. That being said, I just don’t see myself as a reporter at the end of the day. I can already tell that my career path will not unfold in a straight line. I don’t know where I’ll be in 5, 10, or 15 years from now, and I’m OK with it!
So take chances and DO something! Especially something you may never have the chance to do again. Think outside of the box. After all, you only live once.
While my latest blog was quite deep and heartfelt, it was also quite depressing. We all know graduation is around the corner, but still—we don’t need to keep talking about how sad we are, right? I figure I’d lighten things up a bit with today’s post!
I’ve already given you a glimpse into the academic lives of various Hopkins students in my post titled Class Chat. Well, now we’re seniors, and as our academic careers come to a close our professional ones are only beginning.
Just last week, I was officially offered a job at OgilvyEntertainment in New York for after graduation! After interning at JWT—another huge advertising agency (actually owned by the same holding company)—last summer, I developed a great interest in both the creative and production sides of the advertising world.
OgilvyEntertainment is the branded content branch of the large advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather. Production at OgilvyEnt is actually a little bit different from regular production at an ad agency. In a branded content division, producers can be working on any type of project ranging from a TV series to a full-length feature film. They strive to be “storytellers” and their work is strikingly different from the 30-second commercials that ad agencies typically generate. I’ll have the chance to work towards becoming an associate producer while still being given the opportunity to offer my creative input. It’s the perfect combination for me!
I signed my offer letter last week at the same time that I signed a lease for an apartment in NYC. My twin sister, Allie, and I will officially be living in Hell’s Kitchen with our amazing friend since freshman year at Hopkins, Liz! New York City…we’re coming for you shortly!
In the meantime, here’s a look at the amazing post-graduation opportunities that have been offered to some of my friends at Hopkins this year. We’ve all worked so hard on our schoolwork, and dealing with post-grad employment has evidently been the main cause of stress for many of us. Congratulations to all those who are already set, and good luck to those who are still actively searching!
Liz H., Political Science major & English minor
“Next year I’ll be moving to New Orleans to teach 3rd grade through Teach for America. I’ll be working at a school that came into existence post-Katrina and I’ll be working towards my master’s degree as well. I’m looking forward to this adventure in the big easy!”
Debra S., Economics major & E&M & Jewish Studies minor
“After graduation I’ll be working as a Business Technology Analyst for Deloitte Consulting, LPP in NYC. I learned in college that you never know what lies ahead. I still may end up in law school, as I always thought, but I’m excited by the prospect of new unexpected opportunities that I will find or that will even find me!”
Teddy L., Economics major & Applied Math & Statistics minor
“Next year I’ll be moving to Washington DC and will be working at Deloitte Consulting, LLP as a business technology analyst. After interning there this summer, I’m very excited to work there full-time! After taking the standup comedy intersession class at Hopkins, I hope to frequent all the comedy clubs DC has to offer in my spare time!!!”
Allie F., Economics major
“Next year I will be joining Morgan Stanley’s Distressed & Leveraged Loans Sales Desk on their Fixed Income Trading Floor. I’m looking forward to returning to the high-speed, exciting environment and to the diverse group of smart and driven individuals who have thrived in this business.”
Jordan B., International Studies major & E&M minor
“I’ll be moving back to LA to work in entertainment marketing. After working at Sony and 20th Century Fox, I hope to return to a studio to combine my International Studies and Entrepreneurship and Management degrees to work in intentional marketing. (And hope my friends come visit when they need some sunshine and banana bread.)”
Phoebe M., Public Health major & E&M & GECS minor
“Next year I’m working for Deloitte Consulting in Washington, DC in their Federal Human Capital practice. I’m really looking forward to finally applying what I’ve learned in my studies in Public Health and Business as well as gaining new skills hands on.”
Nick G., Computer Science & Economics major & Financial Economics minor
“After graduation, I’ll be heading to The Big Apple to pursue a career combining my two areas of study, Economics and Computer Science. As a technology analyst for Goldman Sachs, I will be helping to develop innovative software to manage banking operations and finances. Ultimately, however, I still have no idea where I’ll end up in the long run, but for now this is certainly my dream job!”
Liz M., International Studies major & E&M minor
“Next year—well in three months from now—I will be joining Bloomberg, LP in their Financial Products department as an analyst! I will be learning all about the Bloomberg Professional Service and how to assist clients with the service. I can’t wait to work for such a dynamic, innovative company, right in New York City!”
Daniel C., Economics major & E&M minor
“I’ll be staying here in Charm City and moving right down North Charles St. to Fed Hill. I’ll start work in early August at Stifel Nicolaus as an Investment Banking analyst, with two of former Hopkins graduates and friends.”
Alexa M., English & Writing Seminars double major & Psychology minor
“After graduation, I am in the process of interviewing for a couple of Public Relations companies in NYC and continuing to research job openings in the (overwhelmingly extensive) communications field. I am hoping to land a job soon! Regardless, I will be moving back to New York after graduation, and I am both sad to leave Baltimore and excited to return to an Empire State of mind.”
Taylor B., International Studies major & Economics minor
“The International Studies major at Hopkins is very interdisciplinary, and there are quite a few directions you can take this education in after graduation. In the fall I will be attending law school, which will give me the basis for a career in politics in the future.”
Rose S., Biology major
“I’m pursuing a Masters of Science degree (I’ve applied to a few fields in biology) to help me decide if I want to go to medical school or do research and get a PhD after!”
Liza M., English & Art History major & French Literature minor
“I’ll be pursuing a PhD in English Literature, at the University of Pennsylvania, Brown, or Columbia. I’m fascinated by the transition from medieval to Renaissance, which I look forward to studying in the texts of both periods as a graduate student.”
Merrill A., Political Science major & Economics minor
“After graduation I will be working for Google as an Associate Product Marketing Manager out of their Mountain View office. As an APMM I will be helping Google define their product strategy while working to design, build, price, and market their products (Search, Gmail, Youtube, Chrome, Google Glass). I hope to one day combine my passions for technology, marketing, and politics by working in Government or on Political Campaigns.”
Malachy D., Writing Seminars major
“After graduation, I plan to get involved with education, at least for the next few years. I’m currently waiting to hear back from Teach For America and the Baltimore Education Fellows program, a scholarship with the JHU School of Education that allows five seniors to earn their masters in elementary education while teaching in East Baltimore for a year. While I am unsure of my final career goals, I love to write (both creative fiction and music) and will continue these pursuits after I graduate.”
It’s happening. I’m starting to understand. It’s that dreaded feeling…the knowledge that the end is near. Everyone says to hold onto each moment as it passes because nothing lasts forever. Everyone warns that the end will creep up and take you by surprise. And everyone claims that college will be some of the best years of your life. Well, that’s all the truth, and I’m finally reaching the point in my life when these thoughts have become my everyday reality.
As a soon-to-be graduate, I’m starting to recognize that some mundane aspects of my everyday life at Hopkins are more precious than I’d originally thought them to be. For example, think of how many pages of notes a typical student takes daily on a college campus. We’ve all used pens and pencils since elementary school. We’ve probably written on hundreds of thousands of sheets of notebook paper. However, if I had an active countdown of the number of notebook pages I’m going to write on for the remainder of my academic career, I’m pretty confident I’d be down to double digits right now. As of now, with no plans to go to graduate school, I’m starting to realize that these four classes that I’m currently enrolled in will most likely be the last four classes I ever take in my life.
I’ve loved school since the first day of kindergarten. I vividly remember my first homework assignment in fourth grade—I was so excited to get to it and beyond disappointed when I’d completed it too quickly and had nothing left to do. While I no longer find homework or note-taking to be that enjoyable, it’s still difficult to come to terms with the fact that I may never do either again in an academic setting.
Just last week I found myself frantically taking notes in my film course—a small, 10-person class where students do more listening and speaking than note-taking. My professor was giving a brief history of film in France before WWII, and I sat there writing down every last word, thinking to myself, Come on, Lucie, this is it…learn everything you can before you graduate! In that moment, taking notes seemed so imperative and pleasant, I just couldn’t get myself to stop.
On a similar note, I’ve been working on creating a short news reporter piece for an on-campus news organization called the Charles St. News. In order to film it I needed to borrow cameras and equipment from the Digital Media Center (the DMC), and in order to edit it I needed to brush up on my Final Cut Pro skills. I spoke with a representative at the DMC and—to my surprise—I learned that the DMC offers classes, workshops, and one-on-one private lessons for using all of their equipment. And what’s better? Everything is entirely free for Hopkins students.
For the past week I’ve spent at least two hours a day in the DMC. Some days I’m at a computer working on my personal project, other days I’m utilizing their free online video tutorials and becoming more proficient in Final Cut Pro and other editing programs, and, still, other days I’m having one-on-one lab coach sessions learning how to use their Canon XA10 and DSLR cameras. I know that all of these skills will really come in handy as I apply for post-graduate production positions; I just regret that I wasn’t familiar with the DMC sooner.
As you can probably imagine, senior year feels pretty surreal. There are days when I wish that I could freeze time and be a college student forever. Even though I know I’ve accomplished so much in my four years here and most likely couldn’t have handled more (just ask my friends how busy I was all the time and how many girls’ nights I missed), I still feel like there are tons of things I haven’t even had the chance to dip my toes into yet. That’s just how college is, though; you blink and it’s over. I’ll spend the next few months trying not to blink. Better get those eye drops ready.
Coming to Hopkins next fall? Busy searching through Hopkins Interactive trying to figure out which classes to take? Look no further. I’ve found the class for you.
Creative Improvisation. It may not sound like the right fit. In fact, the course’s title might scare the living daylights out of you. But if the thought of standing up in front of a group of random students makes your heart race, then this class is a must-take.
The class meets for two and half hours just once a week. Professor Peg Denithorne urges students to step out of their comfort zones through team building and partner exercises, pushing them to work with students they’ve never met. She emphasizes that our classroom is a “safe zone” where we can say anything, do anything, and think anything without judgment.
So far we’ve done trust exercises (one person is blindfolded and their partner guides them around campus), team exercises (a group of people guide a blindfolded member of their group through a class-constructed “minefield”), and personal enrichment exercises (students keep an observation journal and share their experiences with the rest of the class).
My favorite part thus far has been the eclectic mix of students I’ve met. Although the course is in the school’s Theater Arts & Studies department, almost every major is represented. My twin sister, Allie, and my friends Liz and Rose are also in the class with me. To give you an idea of the students’ various majors, I’m a Writing Seminars major, Allie studies Economics, Liz, International Studies, and Rose, Biology. Our class is also full of engineers, athletes, students in Greek Life, and more.
Every single person who’s taken Creative Improv will tell you that it’s one of the greatest classes they’ve ever taken at Hopkins. Peg teaches students how to interact with one another, encourages touching and eye contact, and shares relaxation techniques. Her energy inspires students to let go and just be themselves. There is definitely not a certain “type” of student for this class—anything and everyone goes!
The class description might sound silly, but I assure you it’s not. The skills put to the test in Creative Improv are some of the most essential life skills. This course enriches the whole person–a refreshing change from most college courses that teach purely facts and figures. If you’re looking for one fun class to add to a rigorous curriculum, improvise….and improvise creatively. Consider Creative Improvisation!
The Writing Seminars major is amongst the most demanding majors at Hopkins. In addition to thirty distribution credits (credits outside of the humanities department), Writing majors need four semesters of English literature, two semesters in the Department of Philosophy, two semesters in the Department of History, demonstrated competence in a foreign language through the intermediate level, and close to ten classes in the Writing Seminars department. Many students actually shy away from the Writing Seminars department because of the program’s intensive requirements.
Even still, all Hopkins students are required to take some writing intensive courses before graduation. For example, my friend who’s a Biology major (Rose), is currently taking Introduction to Fiction and Poetry to fulfill a writing requirement for graduate school. Naturally, she’s turned to my friend Liza (an English major) and me for help!
I’ve been in her shoes before; although I entered Hopkins as a Neuroscience major, after I officially became a Writing Seminars major, completing my natural science requirements proved a bit more difficult. Having friends like Rose helped me get through it! When I forgot the various lobes of the brain, Rose was there to refresh my memory. When I couldn’t name the “stuff” in a cell’s protoplasm, Monique was there to shout “nucleic acids!”
I was there to explain to Rose that Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” is actually about an abortion, and that “The Lion King” is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Liza, who gets paid to edit students’ papers in the Writing Center, looks over our friends’ work for free, correcting grammar and offering input just because she wants to help.
As a prospective student, I was told that Hopkins students were competitive and entirely unwilling to help others—even their peers. I was told that people gave their friends the wrong assignments, deleted others’ notes, and did anything they could to get ahead. How could that possibly be the case while my friends and I are sitting here reading each other’s assignments, offering to share notes from previous semesters, and supporting one another through rough academic times?
My Hopkins friends have been a better support system than I could have ever asked for. Even beyond my best friends, every Hopkins student I’ve come into contact with—whether it’s through an organization, a class, or just randomly in an elevator somewhere on campus—has been the opposite of competitive. For the prospective or incoming students out there: don’t listen to the rumors! Hopkins students are sympathetic and giving. Yes, everybody here wants to succeed, but that doesn’t mean we’re selfish and unwilling to help; often, teaching others is the best way to teach yourself.
I’ve loved everything about my academic experience at Hopkins, and I can only hope that the real world is as good to me as the Hopkins community has been. Let my final semester begin!
As we roll into 2014 and my final fall semester officially comes to a close, I’d like to share five pieces of advice with incoming freshmen. Leaving home for a new city is strenuous enough. Add tough classes, new faces, and being forced to do your own laundry and you’ll have enough stress to cause hives and severe acne.
I know how it feels to be the one who’s leaving. People throw advice at you left and right—your parents, your friends, your parents’ friends, your friends’ parents…you get the gist. And while you may want to take everyone’s opinion to heart, I’d say the best advice comes from current college students.
I love being part of the Johns Hopkins Class of 2018 group on Facebook because there’s really no better place for incoming freshmen to ask questions. Current students know what’s happening on campus. We all have advice, regrets, and anecdotes to share.
JHU_Lucie’s Top Five Pieces of Advice for Incoming Freshmen
5. Be sure to make friends in different groups. Everyone feels vulnerable going into freshmen year. We all want to fit in, make friends, and define a “space” for ourselves in the social sphere. People naturally break into groups and cliques, and that’s okay. But what’s absolutely essential is having friends in various groups. Whether you have a subset of friends from a club, a sports team, a sorority, or a class, the more the merrier! More friends mean more parties, more laughs, and more “likes” on Facebook (and I mean, come on, what’s more important than a “like” these days?).
4. Take out-of-the-box classes. When perusing the course list, don’t zoom by classes just because they don’t sound like you. If there’s something you’ve always wanted to explore and you have room to stray from your area of study, dive into something new! I’ve found out-of-the-box classes to be the most fun and enriching of all. My twin sister (an avid supporter of my on-stage ventures but the least likely human to ever climb atop a stage on her own volition) pushed herself to take a theater course this past fall. The course’s final exam was a class production where she designed the playbill and even got up on stage for the final number.
3. Audition and try out for clubs even if you’re scared. One of the most frequently asked questions in the Class of 2018 group on Facebook is how competitive the performing arts groups are. I’ll be honest: they are very competitive. Tons of people try out and there are very few spots available (some smaller groups only have room to take two new members each year). Don’t let that discourage you from trying out, though. With no formal musical training whatsoever I auditioned for an a cappella group. I couldn’t read music and did a terrible job holding my own voice part in my audition. My personality clicked with the group, however, and after a couple of rehearsals I had developed a better ear for a cappella. After three years, I became the group’s president—still unable to read music. If you wind up being rejected from all groups, don’t shy away from starting something of your own. This leads me into my next point…
2. Start something and leave your mark. As a freshman, I thought incoming students didn’t know enough about Baltimore. After about a week of being on the Student Admissions Advisory Board (SAAB) and working with admissions counselors on Hopkins Interactive, I pitched and shot the pilot episode for a new video series that I titled “Learn More, See More, B’More.” Prospective students began writing about the series on their college applications, and what was previously a volunteer position became a paid job! I’m hoping the show will carry on in some capacity after I’m gone.
1. Time flies. First semester of freshman year feels the longest—but don’t be fooled, that’s just the adjustment period. Each semester thereafter moves faster and faster until you’re the oldest one in all of your clubs and you’re getting ready to try on your cap and gown. Everybody will tell you that time flies, and guess what? They’re right. You won’t really pay attention to them until the end, but you’ll wish you had. Enjoy every day, every night, every meal, every class, and every seemingly frivolous trip to CharMar.
People like concrete examples. I can’t tell you how often prospective students ask me how my writing courses are run. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked what kind of lab work Hopkins students do or what types of fiction stories we write.
This blog won’t be helpful for everybody, but ATTENTION: prospective Writing Seminars majors and anyone else who’s interested! Below is a writing sample; it’s a fiction story for my Advanced Fiction Workshop with Professor Brad Leithauser. Of course, this is a work in progress—it’s just the first draft. Nonetheless, this eleven page double-spaced story is a classic example of a Writing Seminars major’s workshop assignment. So sit back, relax, grab a cup of coffee, and read a story!
I thought I was going to vomit the moment Margie entered the restaurant; her tall forehead and misshapen ears induced a nausea in me that I had never before experienced, and I pressed my glass of ice water against my wrists to remedy the situation. The restaurant was dark and stuffy—a Manhattan tavern tucked away on a quiet, cobblestone street in the West Village. It was one of those hole-in-the-wall Italian places with carpeted floors and exposed wooden beams on the ceiling; the room was square and lit by a dozen brass candelabra and a single chandelier in the center. The white tablecloths seemed to indicate charm and cleanliness, but, situated at a wobbly table in the back corner, I was beginning to feel smothered and dirty.
Margie looked frazzled and weak. She had spent the day at home, in Westchester, with our two little ones, probably playing jacks or rock tag. She was wearing that dreadful houndstooth dress of hers—the one with the useless buttons on the front that didn’t unfasten—and her oily, black hair seemed to part irregularly, forming an enormous lump on the left side of her head. I stood to greet her and leaned in for a kiss, but she turned away.
“I had garlic for lunch. Pasta with garlic. No kisses, Jim.”
I inhaled as she spoke and, while I couldn’t smell garlic, her breath carried a noxious acridity fused with the unmistakable stench of cigarette smoke. She sat opposite me, stuffed her coat behind her back, and dropped her purse at her feet.
“Have you been smoking?” I said this while examining her nose; it had never looked quite so pointed. Her chin, too. In fact, every part of her face looked angular and sharp.
“I just smoked one. On the platform. The girls made me anxious today,” she explained as she picked at the flaking skin on her cuticles. I cringed, imagining bits of her thumb skin drifting through the musty restaurant air and settling in my scotch or in the olive oil dish. Her fingers were long and skinny, and her bright red nail polish had been on for so long that her nails had grown out and only the top half was still coated with the chipping, faded crimson. “Helen stubbed her toe this morning,” she said.
“Is she alright?”
“Well, of course she’s alright now,” Margie replied, “But she was crying for practically the entire day. And Tessa had a horrible stomachache starting at noon. I gave her crackers and had her drink a glass of ginger ale, but you know how she hates fizzy drinks. Anyway, what are you having to eat?”
The menu was flimsy in every sense of the word. For one, it was paper and had a tear in the right corner. There was an amber stain beneath the word “Florentine” and a spot where a dribble of brown liquid had dried. I had begun scratching at its crustiness when the waitress came over.
“Hello, I’m Caroline and I’ll be taking care of you this evening. Have you had enough time to look over the menu yet?”
Caroline was small and curvy. She looked young—twenty or twenty-one—and she wore her streaky blonde hair in a neat braid that stayed intact on its own without a hair elastic. Her black tank top was bunched at the shoulders and dipped low across her chest revealing a light brown birthmark amidst a palette of smooth, fair skin. Her arms were thick and strong, and her ski slope nose sat quietly on her face. I noticed her breasts almost immediately; they were surprisingly large for her petite frame but she kept them modestly concealed beneath her blouse. She smiled at my wife and me, and—I swear, I don’t know how it could have happened so suddenly, but it did—the crinkle along the edges of her narrow, hazel eyes looked so enchanting, so adorable, that I fell in love with her instantly. I looked at Margie and even she—the way she dragged her finger along the menu and wrinkled her mouth sideways in indecision—looked so agreeable and pleasant in that moment.
“Yes,” Margie said, “I’d like the spinach salad to start and then the mushroom risotto.”
“Yes, ma’am. And how about you, sir?” Caroline turned to me.
“Would you recommend the halibut or the filet steak?”
“I’d go with the halibut, sir,” she said as she leaned towards me and whispered, “The filet is always a little dry.” She winked and stood upright. I caught a whiff of her vanilla perfume and, once again, felt profoundly in love with the girl. It didn’t seem real; the moment felt almost theatrical—staged. I could picture it this way. The table was stage right and my wife sat to my left as I angled myself slightly upstage. The audience couldn’t see my entire face but they could see Caroline’s—full and heart-shaped—as she smacked her lips together and offered me a warm, closed-mouth smile, waiting for my response. I became hyper aware of my actions and thoughts (and of the fact that I was thinking about myself having thoughts), and, when I next spoke, I felt I was delivering lines from a script.
“Well, that was easy. Halibut it is! Oh, and Caroline? Thanks for your honesty.” I shot her a wink in return.
“Jim, you’re allergic to pine nuts,” Margie cut in.
“Pine nuts? Who said anything about pine nuts?” I smiled reassuringly at Caroline. Don’t mind her, I wanted to say. Plain and simply, Margie was a bad reader—always had been. Newspapers, menus, boxes of food. “Hey, Jim,” she’d say, “Did you read this? Twenty-seven people were set on fire in a bank yesterday.” “What?” I’d stand over her shoulder and read the article myself. “Margie, that says ‘twenty-seven people were fired from JP Morgan,’ not set on fire.” When I wanted to make split pea soup with ham, she came home with two tins of canned yams. “Margie, what is this?” “It’s canned ham, for the soup. You can drain it and slice it.” “These are canned yams, Margie.” “Oh. Well, maybe we have some ham in the fridge.” We didn’t.
“It says right here on the menu,” she turned it to face me, “The halibut comes in a sauce that contains pine nuts.”
“That says peanuts, Marg.” I handed over my menu and said, “Thanks, Caroline.”
Margie looked at her copy again before saying, “No it doesn’t! It says pine nuts. Right there!” She handed it to me, keeping her fingernail below the word.
I squinted. The restaurant was very dark. I removed my glasses and rubbed them on my shirtsleeve, then held the menu away from my face. It said pine nuts. “Oh, it does say pine nuts. Huh. Okay. I guess I’ll have the sauce on the side then. Thanks, Caroline.” I started to hand her Margie’s menu.
“I’m very sorry, sir, but the halibut is pre-marinated in that sauce. There’s no way to separate it.”
I felt embarrassed, as if Margie had set the whole thing up—as if she’d paid Caroline to wrinkle the skin around the edges of her eyes, to recommend the one dish with pine nuts in it, to lean towards me chest-first, to push her vanilla scent up my nostrils, to wink at me and get me to fall in love with her. Margie would have gone all out; she’d have chosen the restaurant for its dull lighting, placed us at the smallest table in the corner, given me a paper menu with some brown schmutz on it, and picked Caroline as our server. She’d have done it all so she could mock me later—so she could torment me with my fleeting sight and my inability to impress a young girl. I sighed and said, “I guess I’ll have the filet then.”
Our eleventh wedding anniversary was coming up and I had bought Margie a gold necklace. It sat, tangled, on a plush cotton pad inside a blue box on my lap. I had planned to give it to her at dinner, but I simply couldn’t. Perhaps it was the way she had looked—her disturbingly large forehead or the bags beneath her eyes—or maybe it was the fact that she had kept me from ordering the halibut. Whatever the reason, the box remained on my lap, unopened.
Caroline came back to our table three times throughout the course of the meal, and it was during her second visit that I decided the necklace would be hers; I could almost see it dangling delicately from her neck, its pendant deftly positioned beside her birthmark. I caught one final glimpse of her on our way out, and, as we exited the heated vestibule and were slapped by the harsh December wind, I remember thinking that New York City looked more beautiful than ever that night. The string of Christmas lights inside the Laundromat across the street and the heavy scent of mulled wine in the air produced a sentiment of happiness and carelessness in me that I hadn’t felt since I was a little boy. I spun myself around a lamppost (once again, feeling as though that were the stage direction written in the script) and we took the six to Grand Central.
The golden clock tower in the center of the main concourse was lit up red that night and holly wreaths hung on practically every open surface. Even the beggars looked beautiful—almost sacred—kneeling, heads bowed. The entire city seemed to be zinging with an almost toxic level of affection, and—to think—I’d be back the following morning. I decided I’d stop by the restaurant after work to grab a drink. I’d see Caroline again and I’d smell her again and perhaps I could convince her to come home with me. Not to Westchester, of course, but I could certainly buy out a hotel room for the night. I’d tell Margie that the hedge fund due diligence team at the bank had to work on an overnight project, and Caroline and I would split a bottle of Beychevelle in our white cotton robes. I carried on with this thought as Margie and I rode the Metro North home in silence.
The next day was Friday and the restaurant was a bit more crowded than I hoped it’d be at six o’clock in the evening. I entered the vestibule, removing my gloves and scarf, and glanced impatiently through the glass-paneled doors. Caroline looked more conservative than she had the previous night—she wore a pleated white dress underneath a black shawl-like sweater, and her hair was slicked back in a tight ballet bun. I entered and was taken to a small table in the front.
“Hello, I’m Rick and I’ll be your server. Can I get you something to drink?”
A tall, lanky man of about thirty stood before me. He held one hand stiffly behind his back and grasped his notepad with the other. His eyes were unlevel and separated by far too much space; I could feel him staring at me as I looked hopelessly across the room at Caroline, attempting to map out which tables she covered—I’d be sure to sit at only those tables in the future.
“Yes, I’ll take a scotch on the rocks please,” I said distantly.
I had the necklace in my pocket but this certainly wasn’t the night for that. I finished my drink and went home, vowing to return the following Monday.
The weekend went by slowly; Helen and Tessa had a dance recital on Saturday morning, a book fair on Saturday evening, gymnastics class on Sunday afternoon, and a puppeteering lesson on Sunday night. Margie had signed them up for the lesson, claiming her father had been an excellent puppeteer and would have loved to see the girls follow in his footsteps. On Sunday, after gymnastics, Helen—our nine-year-old—declared that she had an “enormous bellyache from all the flips and turns.” She refused to get in the car for the puppeteering lesson.
“I have to sit still, Mother. If I get in a car I might throw up.”
“Helen Judith, I will get you to that lesson tonight if it’s the last thing I do. Your father and I paid a lot of money for it and we expect you to go.” Margie always found a way to drag me into it.
“No buts! We won’t take no for an answer. Now, put on your jacket and I’ll meet you in the car.”
Margie went for tea at the Balters’ while the girls were at their lesson, so I had the house to myself. I had watched Caroline very carefully on Friday and I knew which tables she waited on. I prepared myself for Monday’s visit; I’d sit at one of her tables (preferably the same table and seat from my date with Margie so that she’d recognize me based on familiar surroundings—it’s scientifically proven) and I’d make a joke about the halibut’s pine nut marinade. We’d flirt briefly and then somehow—the details could be ironed out later—I’d produce the necklace. She’d squeal with delight, her tender, young frame collapsing onto my lap with such fervor.
Monday evening went decently. The corner table from my date with Margie was taken, so I asked to be seated at another of Caroline’s tables. She remembered me.
“Hello, you,” she said, “How are you tonight, sir?”
“Fine, thank you. And how are you on this delightful evening?” Once again, I felt I was reading from a script. I could see the pages in my mind; a majority of the text consisted of stage directions—smile, gesture broadly, take a sip of water—but every so often there’d be a line of dialogue, and no matter how ridiculous, how over-the-top, the language seemed, I felt compelled to say it. I wanted to flip ahead—to see what would come next. I felt I could change my word choices if I knew how Caroline would respond. I tried to do so on numerous occasions but it was impossible; the text remained entirely illegible until I arrived at that moment in real-time. I delivered my lines impeccably, and, despite the dim lighting in the restaurant, the script in my mind sat under the brightest, most clarifying light.
“I’m fine, as well. Can I bring you anything to drink?”
“Why, yes you can. I’d like a scotch on the rocks please. Oh, and what did you say your name was again?” Of course, I knew her name was Caroline. Those eight letters—three mellifluous syllables—had been fixed in my mind since the first time she’d introduced herself. Truthfully, I had just wanted to hear her say it; I wanted to watch as her lips curled around the “R” and her tongue slid between her teeth on the “L.”
“Caroline, sir,” she said, giving me a brief, closed-mouth smile.
“Caroline, right. That’s it—Caroline. A beautiful name.” I felt odd using the word ‘beautiful’ but it was in the script—right there before my eyes. “How old are you, anyway? You can’t be much older than twenty, twenty-one. No?”
“I’m twenty-four, sir,” she replied softly. She looked down and began dragging her right heel along the floor. When I looked closely enough I could see crumbs flying loose and resettling into the carpet. A pink flush arose in irregular splotches across her bridge of her nose and on her cheeks.
“Twenty-four? You’re much too pretty.” I winked, feeling odd once again, but there it was in the script—‘Winks.’
“Ha. Thank you, sir. I’ll be right back with your scotch.”
She dropped my drink off quickly and scurried over to another table with three young children. She squatted and spoke to the little boy, handing him crayons and extra sheets of blank paper. He was taking her away from me; I despised him.
“Goodnight, sir,” she said as she placed the guest check folder on my table. I tried to smile at her—to catch her attention one last time before the night was over. I thought about grabbing her arm and saying, “I got you this necklace.” It sounded so stupid, though—so contrived and immature. Perhaps I’d leave it in the folder; I’d pay with a credit card and that way she’d have to see me again after finding it. “Look behind the card,” I’d whisper, gazing into her hazel eyes.
I couldn’t decide what to do so I went home, figuring I’d return the following day with the necklace once I was a bit more prepared.
Tuesday was shitty; the weather was shitty, my wife looked shitty, and my morning commute was shitty. I had one thing to look forward to. The restaurant was, again, crowded when I entered. I was seated at one of her tables and was settling in when a man approached.
“Hello, sir. I am Alessandro. I be taking your order today. You like a drink?” He was young. Italian.
“Oh, I’m very sorry Alessandro but I believe there’s been a bit of a mix-up. You see, my friend Caroline normally waits on this table. I was hoping to see her.”
“Caroline what? I’m sorry, I new here.” He was quite unattractive—I felt bad for him.
“Oh no, that’s alright. Don’t apologize, please signore.”
He lit up at my Italian and asked me, “Parla italiano?”
“Oh, no. Solo un pò.”
“Oh, well thank you. Grazie. Anyhow, do you know where Caroline is tonight? Is she off?”
“Do I know where is Caroline? I don’t know Caroline, so how can I know where is she?” He cackled unpleasantly but stopped as soon as he caught my expression. “I shall ask somebody. Give me minute.”
The Italian walked off and an older man returned alongside him. I recognized him from my returning visits—I figured he was the owner or the manager.
“Hello, sir. This man tells me you’ve asked for Caroline.” His voice was thick and husky.
“Yes, I have. Is she in tonight?”
“Are you a relative?”
“Me? Oh no, I’m not a relative,” I replied, taken aback. “Just a friend. How come?”
“Well, sir, I’m very sorry for the circumstances under which I come—under which I have to,” he stumbled on his words, “to, to tell you this. But Caroline is no longer with us. Just last evening she was in a terrible accident—taxi cab on the Queensboro Bridge. It flipped or something like that. She was in critical condition until this morning but she…she just didn’t make it.”
I don’t remember too much after that point; I thanked him, left, and puked in the alley out back. Supporting myself against a brick wall, I slapped my coat pockets to find the necklace. It was in my left breast pocket. Caroline. My lovely Caroline with her birthmark and her strong arms and that braid. I had spoken with her just the night before—it’s always weird when somebody dies and you’ve spoken with him or her the night before. She’d been the only person on my mind for days. She’d been getting me through. At home, Margie had begun ignoring me. She said I didn’t help with the dishes and I never volunteered to put the girls to bed. She’d begun intentionally burning my steak and leaving sizeable wrinkles in my clothing. I felt the necklace’s box—its blue, velvety exterior. I couldn’t open it. I puked again and started walking to the six. It almost felt like I was floating—like a puppeteer above was in control and I was just moving, pushed and pulled at the joints by invisible strings. I rode to Grand Central then took the Metro North towards North White Plains. The train was chilly and, as I looked out the window and watched the city gradually fade into the suburbs, I began to feel trapped; I was a delicate pendant on an 18k gold chain inside of a blue velvet box. And whoever was holding me—whatever goddamned asshole had that box in his pocket—had refused to open it. He just sat with his mind racing, trying to conjure up the script that had been so clearly etched in his mind the previous night. But it was over. Through. The final page had been turned. And now, in its place, blackness pervaded—an emptiness darker than any Manhattan tavern in December.