I’ve always struggled with the interview process because I forget that we’re not just getting to know each other. Sometimes this hasn’t been completely my fault. When I interviewed for Sarah Lawrence (I wanted to go to all those girly east coast schools), they had an alumna meet me in San Francisco. I showed up at the bustling coffee shop she picked, and I found Helen, my interviewer, and her three-year-old son. He was usually crying or grabbing something off the table, so we spent most of the time talking to and looking at him. When I wasn’t trying to prove I was good with children, I answered her haphazard questions about school. Then I’d shout my answer again because it was so loud inside the cafe.
Some how my family came up. I explained my three family situation. I was raised by a stepfather who is my father in every way except for biologically. She seemed amazed, puzzled. Most people don’t bat an eye. Divorce has bred a multitude of unusual family situations. But Helen was really good at honing in on the important part. “So your father, he’s gone.”
“That’s true.” I said. I was working hard to project well-adjusted calm, hoping maybe this “disadvantaged childhood” would help me get in.
Helen nodded as if she saw through my little act, and as she blew her son’s snotty nose, she said, “That’s like that song.”
“God, Mark would know the name.” By Mark I think she meant her husband. “My daddy gave me a name. Then he walked away.” She started singing “Father of Mine” by Everclear. Even though I was incredibly nervous and inclined to let her do whatever the hell she wanted, I knew she wasn’t handling this very professionally. Was she mocking my pain?
After she grilled me on my family history, we took a walk to the park up the street so her brat could run around. She told me how incredibly creative her son was. He was in the sandbox, eating sand. I said he seemed like a very bright little boy. She nodded, “What’s your essay about?”
“My grandparents.” I paused. My essay was about their death and my grief. Was I really going to have to tell her about another loss? I gave up and told her. She gave me a long hug, there on the park bench, and I felt like I’d somehow prostituted myself. Since this was the second hour of the interview, I figured I could finally mention how I needed to meet my mother. She seemed sad to see me go, and Helen promised to send positive remarks to Sarah Lawrence. I was waitlisted.