I chose where to go to college based on a craving for McDonald’s, and that decision has determined everything in my life that has happened since.
It was spring of my senior year, and Dad and I were on a roadtrip to visit the two remaining schools on our list. He’d spent the past year researching possible career paths for me, compiling and narrowing a list of schools, and sending out my applications.
I had spent the past year thinking about Bryan as he became my boyfriend and then not my boyfriend and then my boyfriend and not my boyfriend again. Also, my prom dress.
But I had managed to write a college admissions essay about how my first cat and the boy who sat next to me in band class had died on the same day of seventh grade, forcing me to come to terms with mortality at the fragile age of thirteen. The writing of it had moved me to tears.
My dad deleted that essay, saying it lacked seriousness and focus. He re-wrote one, as me, about my firm commitment to my academic pursuits in the field of psychology. He sent that one out instead.
The two schools that didn’t reject me were Miami University in Ohio and Indiana University in Bloomington.
While in Bloomington, my dad arranged for Valerie, a cousin of a family friend, to take me out for pizza and give me the “inside scoop.”
Not that I had a lot of questions. Dad was always the one with questions on college visits. “What percentage of your students have job offers by graduation? Is there any career path that combines psychology and writing? Why on earth do the dorms have co-ed bathrooms?”
I only ever had one question, one that I kept tucked safely beneath my heart, unasked. How am I supposed to start a whole new life?
Valerie must have smelled my fear. Because I remember her assuring me that, by my third night at college, I would have forgotten all about my friends from home.
“I just can’t get over Miami’s ridiculous tuition increase,” Dad was saying as we drove out of Bloomington that last night of our trip to head back to St. Louis. We’d left Miami days ago, but he was still fixated on this. “Who do they think they are? An Ivy League?”
Meanwhile, I was thinking about French fries. I really wanted some. But I knew Dad wouldn’t want to pull over so soon into our trip. Unless… unless I announced that I had made a college decision at long last, which would be cause for celebration, which would call for French fries at a restaurant of my choosing! And, well, I was getting tired of hearing about Miami’s tuition. And that’s when I spotted a McDonald’s—red and yellow glory, tall arches like outstretched arms beckoning me home.
“I’m going to IU,” I said, interrupting Dad.
“Really?” he said, swerving a bit as he turned to look at me. “You just decided?”
“Yep,” I said, pointing to the left. “Look, McDonald’s! Turn in quick. Let’s celebrate.”
And we did.