HIGHER EDUCATION by Liane Kupferberg Carter
Summer hadn’t been my college roommate for more than an hour before she told me she’d been voted most popular girl in her high school class. She let it slip casually as we unpacked our trunks in the cinder block cubicle we’d been assigned.
I’d arrived first. My mother insisted on spraying the shelves with Lysol. I watched in helpless fury as she lined the garbage can with contact paper and made up the narrow cot with new and hideous designer sheets I planned to lose in the laundry faster than I intended to shed my virginity.
“There,” she said. “Isn’t that perky?”
“Terminally so,” I muttered, just as a girl with lank blonde hair backed into the room holding one end of a trunk. A curly head appeared at the other end of the trunk, connected to a boy Summer breezily introduced.
“Honey, you left the car unlocked,” she said. He trotted out, never to be seen again.
“Your boyfriend?” my mother said.
“Mom,” I said, humiliated but curious.
“Oh, no, I’m too young to get serious,” Summer said. She’d obviously been around parents. Mine fully expected I’d be sent home mid-semester, embalmed in beer, needles hanging out of my arm, illegitimate grandchild in tow. The night before, Dad had come to tuck me in and deliver his Polonius speech. He’d perched uncomfortably on the edge of the bed; words failed him. “Man’s not made of wood,” he’d finally said.
Mother watched Summer unpack enough cosmetics to fill a Clinique counter. She was getting her soggy nostalgia look, remembering, no doubt, her years at junior college. She still nurtured fantasies of giddy girls swapping clothes endlessly. Sometimes it was more than I could bear, living with an aging Hayley Mills.
I watched Summer empty a suitcase. Not a chance of sharing clothes; even if she weren’t two sizes smaller, precious prints weren’t my look.
“How old are you, dear?” my mother said, vigorously damp-mopping the linoleum floor.
“Almost 17, Mrs. Bernstein,” Summer said. I knew with dread what Mother’s next question would be.
“Your parents let you drive up all alone?”
Summer smiled disarmingly. “I didn’t want them here,” she said. “Anyway, they’re in Cabos.”
I was filled with admiration. Didn’t want them?
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Liane Kupferberg Carter’s articles and essays have appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times, Huffington Post, Chicago Tribune, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Parents, McCall’s, Skirt!, Babble, Brevity, Literary Mama, and many other newspapers and journals. She is a 2009 winner of the Memoir Journal Prize for an excerpt from her memoir in progress, Love is Like This: A Family Grows Up With Autism. You can follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/LianeCarter and on Facebook at facebook.com/liane.carter.