My family never ate at the dinner table. Our dining room held antique plates and my grandmother’s unpolished silver, left to collect dust and form age rings on the armoire. The table no longer crutched tired arms or absorbed the echoes of conversation. I can barely remember the dinners spent within those foreign walls. Since I was old enough to sit in a chair, we ate in the darkness of our living room, our backs sunken into the couch and plates tilted on our laps. The television always blared, blocking out any chance of conversation, except for my father’s subtle remarks of criticism over the food on his plate or the celebrities lighting the screen. Bags of stress pulled at the shutters over his eyes. My mother would tell me that the television was just an escape from work, though I often mistook it for an escape from family. We sat next to each other for dinner, yet never truly saw each other or conversed about our day. They would not learn of my fall in PE, my A on the English test, or the new teacher with an unfortunate name. After watching a Police detective show, there was silence and it was as though we had forgotten how to fill it. My father sat back in his recliner, creaking like tired floorboards. He looked at me and I saw thoughts churning in his mind.
“So you're in 7th grade, Mya…You’ll have to start thinking of where you want to go to high school,” he bellowed too loudly. I dreaded these conversations that we seemed to recycle until the words became overused and tiresome. I felt my mind lingering down another avenue, anywhere to get away from this one.
When my ears picked up on his words again, I heard him ask, “Have you ever thought about looking at the boarding school I went to? It changed my life, you know.”
I wanted to block out the next part, as he repeated the reasons why he loved the school and knew I would “fit in there.”
“Since you're uncle is headmaster you would be guaranteed to get in. He’s offered to have you come visit. Do you think that is something you would like to do?” he continued as my mom disturbed the food on her plate, poking around with her fork. I could tell she was hiding her eyes from me.
“I haven’t thought about it,” I mumbled, taking my time swallowing some of my broccoli.
“I think you should. Maybe, you could go up this winter to see the school.”
I had researched how far the boarding school was from home, the first time he brought up the subject. Williamstown, Massachusetts was about 1,500 miles away from Miami. If I were to attend, I would be leaving home at age 14.
“I’d miss you terribly of course,” he brushed over as if he hadn't said it, “but you might want to consider it.”
I remembered the conversation as I sat on the plane by myself, tapping my feet anxiously while everyone filed into the isle. I’d never flown with an empty seat beside me. The absence of my mother’s smile made my throat tighten. Flying made me nervous and I did not want to visit this school but I reminded myself that this would just be a visit, my only ticket to Massachusetts. I tried to sleep through most of the flight. I woke up, feeling the plane shake, descending into a turbulent cloud. When the gray cleared, my eyes settled on winter for the first time. I put my face to the window and felt it’s breaths seeping through the glass.
My furry boots, fit for a winter in Miami, absorbed the cold as we got off the plane and snaked through the airline gate. Everyone stood in the middle of the airport, adding layers of winter jackets and scarves. My “Winter Coat” was from K-Mart and as I tried to zip it up, the zipper broke. I would meet my uncle with hopes that his hands held my aunt’s spare coat, as promised.
I walked aimlessly until I found doors labeled “Pick up.” He texted me, saying he was here and I looked up to see him walk through the doors. I frowned at the teal color and the amount of material ballooning from his arms. After hugging him, we walked to his car, parked in front of the door. I immediately felt winter on my spine, secluding my bones as if they themselves were caged beneath shivers. Snow gathered in banks next to the sidewalk. Air restricted my steps and turned me blue. Suddenly, I was grateful for the unfashionable jacket clutched under my arm.
“How was your first flight, alone?” my uncle asked, as he turned on the car. My lips shook and I hoped the heat would come on soon.
“I was a little nervous, but there were no problems,” I responded, distracted by the scene outside the car window. Snow coated the corpses of shivering trees and the dirty roads glistened with a certain beauty to them.
I put on my aunt’s jacket before I stepped outside, this time, and the walk from the car to my uncle’s campus apartment felt much better than the walk out of the airport. Being rather late in the evening, I fell asleep quickly. The next morning the trees held sunlight and snow crept up the window from last night’s storm. The thermometer read -5 degrees Fahrenheit. I put on five layers of shirts and sweaters beneath my coat and we began the long, cold walk to the cafeteria for eight o’ clock breakfast.
My ears ached, feeling blue but after a few minutes, I no longer thought about the pain. I felt an excitement being outside in the winter air, making my steps more childish. My uncle told me about the school and pointed out the various classrooms beside us. He explained how they walked from campus to campus throughout the day, even during winter. That concept made students drag their feet, heavy from the cold, but I enjoyed the walk.
I stopped and knelt down to sculpt snow in my hand. I shaped it into a ball but the snow was too wet, so when I threw it, the snowball crumbled and fell short at my uncle’s feet. My uncle looked up, with a smile on his face. I got closer and threw another poorly made snowball. This time, it fell down his chest.
“The snow is too soft for snowballs right now,” he said apologetically.
As I was looking down at the snow, he pushed me face first into the snow bank. My skin met the icy cold with short burst bursts of pain. I got up laughing as I saw the mischievous smile my uncle was wearing. I shook the snow from my hair and warmed my face with a gloveless hand. As we continued to breakfast, a giddy smile hung from my cheeks.
When we entered the cafeteria I saw a room filled with kids, of every ethnicity. I watched a girl sit down in an African dress, next to a boy from Japan. The kids looked happy, constantly laughing and telling stories, yet many of them, troubled, without much direction in their life. I felt as though I was looking at them from behind a glass window, admiring the relationships that had sprouted during their years here.
The school had a certain unity to it. Each student had found their table to sit at but people moved to different tables all through breakfast, rarely staying in a clique. The kids were different from students at my school, being very loud, vibrant and artistically talented yet brilliant. Many seemed to be those children that never fit in, except here, in their niche made up of people that stood out, together.
In many ways, the campus lacked the feeling of home, full of kids that grew up without having lived in a proper one. They seemed to act like a family at the school, but it would not be something they could always come back to after college. Many of them were kids who had to escape home and this school seemed to patch many of their holes.
The next day my dad called. “So, how’s it going?” he asked, forgetting to give me a hello.
“I am having a lot of fun.”
“How are you liking the school? Is it something you would consider?”
“It seems like a really good school but I don’t know how I would feel about leaving home so early,” I replied, trying out honesty.
“You would have uncle Eric, if you went,” my dad said enthusiastically. I thought about having my uncle as headmaster at school and quickly dismissed the idea.
After my dad and I finished talking, I heard my mom’s voice.
“I miss you. Are you having fun?” she said.
“Yes, it’s been really fun! We are going tobogganing tomorrow!” I replied, relieved she hadn't asked about the school.
“Oh, you’ll really enjoy that. Are you freezing?”
“Yes, but I don’t care. I’m loving the cold!”
“You definitely aren’t my daughter,” she said playfully. We talked for a few more minutes and then said goodnight.
The morning brought even colder air and when I went sledding with my aunt and uncle, I felt as though frost hung on my ears. We fell down the hill into the snow banks, sprawled out in our snowsuits, laughing until we were too blue to stay there.
Everyone at home, told me before I left that I would “die in the cold, being a city girl in Miami.” I was rarely cold and I never got used to the heat, growing up in the Sunshine State. I hadn’t expected to like the feeling of winter on my skin.
As I sat on the plane ride home and felt the windows defrosting, I began to miss the winter days of the trip and the playful laughs that came with them. But I was excited to see my parents, although I knew they would ask about my opinion of the school and whether I saw myself going there.
I was not ready to leave these walls prematurely. If I attended the school, perhaps I would not miss the silence that filled our room too often or my father’s failure to pick his words like apples and wash them of their flaws before they fell on me, in order not to leave bruises. But I still needed his endangered lessons and the figures of my parents, even if sometimes they appeared to be shadows. I knew I would not be attending the boarding school next fall. I did not need to escape home, but learn to sew up ripped seams and live with the poor back stitching. I just had to convey that to my father.