I am eighteen years old, writing for the newspaper of a school I have never seen before.
The choice was difficult, although I wish I could say it wasn't. I believed I would end up in New York, imagined myself walking through city streets in a trench coat, peering at Christmas sales through store windows while snow covered my red rain boots. I had secured a scholarship, alleviating the weight of an unknown financial aid package and a well-known need for it, and gratifying the four years of late-night coffee-binge-frequent-nap study sessions. A teacher I held in the utmost respect had recommended New York, and for a gal who often prays for direction, I considered it divine intervention. Atlanta did not exist in my future; there was only security.
And yet, here I am, writing for the newspaper of a school I have never seen before.
When my grandma was eighteen years old, she frequented a brothel for Chinese food. She worked as a secretary, filing papers, scheduling appointments, brewing coffee. Her work ended at five o'clock, regardless of the day, at which point she rode to meet a friend for dinner on a '61 Schwinn Stingray bicycle with white-walled tires and a basket for her belongings.
She told me once, while we discussed our lives over coffee I made with my newfound skills as a barista, she and her friend stumbled upon a little home converted into a restaurant. She met a lady inside who's broken English confused both parties (retrospectively, the confusion most likely stemmed more from my grandmother's presence than the employee's mother tongue), and was able to communicate her wish of a table for two, inside, please.
It was at this point another woman walked inside, wearing "a skirt that barely covered her behind and a provocative little cloth for a shirt" (thanks, Grandma). She spoke to the first women in a language my grandmother did not recognize and proceeded to walk up old wooden stairs to an unknown level above the restaurant. The lady at the front chuckled and mumbled, "It's about time".
When my grandmother was seated at a floor table surrounded by pillows, she was served a bowl of noodles. Unsatisfied, she continued to the bar area, which occupied the majority of the restaurant's space. Her friend was approached by two men, who gently grazed their arms and asked to buy them drinks.
When my grandmother refused, the men proceeded to offer them a "first-class ticket to Alaska", to keep them company. Disgusted, my grandmother left. Her friend stayed.
She later received a phone call from the friend. They had eaten Chinese food at a brothel.
My grandmother and I could be carbon copies of one another, in mannerisms, in appearance, and in personality. She was born in 1949, and I in 2000.
At eighteen, I took a gamble and chose to attend a school I did not know I could afford. At 18, my grandmother took a gamble and chose to eat Chinese food at a new restaurant. I am only a few thousand dollars in debt. My grandmother has a new story.
My grandmother and I are overwhelmed with contentedness.
We've lived our lives making choices; regardless of the outcome, we've experienced things we may never experience again. We've opened doors, we've closed doors, and we've shared those stories with one another.
I've realised I could not live the life she lived, now. I would never ride my bike home, alone, in Denver, for fear of awful intentions and memories of terrible objectification by posh men I swear didn't even use a toothbrush.
She could not live my life, either. She lacked the opportunity and encouragement to research, to write, to analyse and think critically and gamble on a future she knew she deserved.
Call it what you want - feminism, idealism, nostalgia - but I've gotten to live two lives through my grandmother, through sharing our struggles and our choices and our laughter. I've gotten to see two samples of the same person, growing up in different eras, observing civil rights movements and political upheaval and oppression and opportunity and security and an overwhelming sense of content.
I am eighteen years old, writing for the newspaper of a school I've never seen.
I will be riding to class on a '61 Schwinn Stingray bicycle with white-walled tires and a basket for my belongings.