“I got nothing below a B in high school,” Hailey tells me, sitting on her unmade bed out of the earshot of her mother, whom we hear prancing across the tiled floor of the kitchen below. “I’ve wanted to go to college for as long as I can remember.”
“What did you plan on studying?” I ask, lowering my inflection as my tongue carves the word ‘did’ instead of ‘do’ into the back of my front teeth. I could have used the present tense, but I did not want to get Hailey’s hopes up. Her mother thought it would be “for the best” to smother any remaining determination she has to attend college.
Hailey clasps her hands together and bites her bottom lip. “I think…” her voice trails off. “Well, I’ve always wanted to study math and English.” She swallows, as if to take it back, but continues after a few seconds. “I just think they intertwine so perfectly.”
When I mention how antithetical the two subjects seem – one revolving around numbers and the other around words – she laughs softly and glances up at me, her brown-black eyes glinting in the languishing afternoon light.
“Exactly,” exclaims Hailey, her excitement morphing her whisper into a slight hiss. “But, we can make them coalesce in ways that tell us things we didn’t know before. We can write new forms of poetry by taking the derivatives of sonnets… or, we can use logic to immerse ourselves more into the perverse mind of Humbert Humbert.” I open my mouth to speak, but she seems to know what I’m going to say and concludes, “And then, with that, we can solve child pornography cases.”
Hailey does not need a purpose to justify her longing for an education. She does not need to serve civic justice or “solve cancer,” in the words of her mother, so to speak. Of her own declaration, she “just really likes to learn.”
Her brothers, on the other hand, not so much. To them, college is an obligation and a family tradition. Both Mrs. Markowe and her husband agree that, in the long run, it will be safest for their daughter to stay at home while her brothers attend college. Hailey’s brothers study business and advertising – which her parents assert are “separate” – and one is currently working towards his MBA at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, while the other is completing an undergraduate degree at the University of Virginia.
When I ask Hailey where she saw herself studying, she responds “anywhere.” But, when her male peers were applying to college, her parents sat her down in the living room and confessed that they did not believe she would be safe – not “anywhere.” They cite their sentiments – which are not uncommon these days – as responsible and indicative of their “unconditional love” for their daughter. Another couple in their neighborhood had had the same “Talk” a week earlier, which had inspired the Markowe’s to disclose their own decision to not send Hailey to college.
“I actually dropped out of college my junior year,” Mrs. Markowe reveals to me in the parlor after her husband leaves. She arches her neck to make sure her husband has closed the door to his study before continuing, “I, um, I’ve been a bit hesitant to tell Hailey about this, but––” she swallows and looks at her knees. “I had a bad experience at a party, once.”
“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Markowe,” I try to console her. “It must be so hard––”
But she interrupts me. “One in three is just too much, and I couldn’t put my daughter through what I went through,” Mrs. Markowe mutters. “For sixty grand a year, too.” She shakes her head and wipes her hands aggressively against her apron, as if trying to achieve catharsis. “Mr. Markowe agrees,” she continues. “You never know what those men put in their drinks.” Mrs. Markowe clucks her tongue lightheartedly. “So, naturally, we decided it would be most economic and most healthy to keep her at home earning money for her brothers, who aren’t high-risk like she is. She can get an education later, when this crisis simmers down.”
“When do you think the ‘crisis’ will end, Mrs. Markowe?” I ask.
“Well,” she chuckles and lowers her eyelids a bit. “Based on the pictures I see of my sons on Facebook, I couldn’t say.”
As I walk towards the door, I see a faded photograph of Hailey’s great grandmother Mildred framed on the wall. Mrs. Markowe told me earlier that she keeps the picture there to remind her family of the good that exists in the world. Mildred sacrificed her college education for her two brothers,’ just like Hailey.
Backing out of the driveway, I can see the glow of Hailey’s face gleaming against her window. In the sky, there is a full moon.
-- Julia Smith