My 16-year-old daughter went to the senior prom last night with her boyfriend, who's the senior. We took a few pictures in our back yard before they left.
I was sixteen once, 40 years ago, in New York. I felt like I was trapped in a life I didn't want, with no way out. I was attending a girls' Orthodox Jewish parochial school where I made myself as close to invisible as I could possibly get. My father suffered from major depression, for which he was periodically hospitalized, and my mother, who never received an official diagnosis, had a narcissistic, histrionic personality and was subject to manic episodes. My lifelong ally had been my brother, my only sibling: a year older than me, a boy, and a genius, he seemed to hold the key. I was convinced that I would never get married; I was too strange, too different from everyone else I knew. And I could not conceive of a form of escape other than marriage. The world was a terrifying place. I would never have the power to leave home on my own. My only hope, I decided early on, was to attach myself to my brother's coattails so I could fly away when he did.
But, when I was sixteen, I learned that he didn't share this plan with me. Our parents never let him skip grades in school, so he was the same age as his classmates when he was a senior in high school. But, unlike his classmates, he announced to my parents one day that he had spent his spare time during his high-school years teaching himself college- and masters-level mathematics, had been accepted for the following year into a PhD program at Harvard, and was going. Period. I wasn't aware of things like this at the time, but the acceptance must have come with the offer of a free ride. My parents had no money, and, as my brother made clear to them, the decision was out of their hands, so there must have been no financial control for them to exercise. What I was aware of was that I had been suddenly and completely abandoned.
In my junior year of high school, in the depths of my despair, I learned that the City College of New York was instituting an early-admissions program for students finishing their junior year. I applied. I was interviewed by a kind young woman with long dark hair who didn't look that much older than me. She asked me what interests I had. I told her, none. She asked me what I spent my time doing. I told her, nothing. She persisted, and, God bless her, she wormed out of me the fact that I was a reader. We talked about some of the books I'd been reading. Somehow, despite my best efforts to sabotage myself, she saw something in me. And I was accepted into the program. And that was my very first glimmer of hope that I might someday have a future of my own devising.
There's sixteen, and there's sixteen. And Amy's sixteen fills my heart with joy.