Why I’m Taking a Gap Year at 60
After a lifetime of living other people’s stories, I’m finally choosing my own
I’m turning 60 soon and I’m finally taking my gap year. I meant to do it sooner, at age 22 or 25, but I was too old back then and way too sure of everything.
I knew women who gallivanted off to Europe at age 18 or right after college. “Loose girls,” my mother would sniff. They were mostly the affluent girls at my private high school, the ones who drove their mothers’ Volvos and snuck smokes in the restroom.
I had a few things in common with my classmates in those days, like speech team, yearbook, National Honor Society and being Princeton-bound. But a gap, for me, was the two-hour break between my shift at Sears and my babysitting gig.
The guidance counselor’s office was filled with seductive brochures about youth hostels and Eurail passes. I fingered the shiny pages and stroked the pictures of smirking European boys, all of whom seemed to be dying for me to grab a backpack and hop a plane.
But I couldn’t figure out how to ask my parents. They were the first in their families to even dream of college. My mother was a college professor born to sharecroppers in Mississippi. She sent me out of my segregated neighborhood every day to an all-white, private school. “You’re going to learn everything they learn,” she said. Getting my education was my secret CIA mission.
The problem with being in the wrong life is that the only way to survive is to detach yourself.
My civil rights lawyer father survived his childhood in the Chicago slums by stealing food and shining shoes for pimps. “Gaps” for him were days between meals, weeks between safe shelters, and months between court dates.
How could I bring home a gap year brochure to these people who worked so hard, who sacrificed so much to make sure I wanted for nothing? How could I ask them for sailboats on the Aegean Sea or snowy Swiss chalets?
No. Instead, I kicked ass on my college boards and saved up my babysitting money. I finished college and landed a government job. I married a Navy officer, moved to California, and had a baby nine…