To my beloved children: Beatrix, Trevor, Todd, Nick, Sam, Victoria, Vanessa, Maxx, and Zara,
May the paths you travel always lead you to your dreams, to courage, to freedom, and to peace. And may you find a kindred spirit, like Wachiwi, to inspire you.
With all my heart and love,
There was a heavy snowfall that had started the night before as Brigitte Nicholson sat at her desk in the admissions office of Boston University, meticulously going over applications. Other staffers had checked them before her, but she always liked to take a last look at the files herself to make sure that each one was complete. They were in the midst of making their decisions, and in six weeks acceptances and denials would be going out to the applicants. Inevitably, there would be some ecstatic prospective students and more often many broken hearts. It was difficult knowing that they had the lives and futures of earnest young people in their hands. Sifting through the applications was Brigitte’s busiest time of year, and although the ultimate choices were made by committee, her job was vetting applications, and conducting individual interviews when students requested them. In those cases, she would submit her notes and comments with the application. But essentially, grades, test scores, teachers’ recommendations, extracurricular activities, and sports contributed heavily to the final result. A candidate either looked like an asset to the school or not. Brigitte always felt the weight of those decisions heavily on her shoulders. She was meticulous about going over all the materials they submitted. Ultimately, she had to think about what was best for the school, not for the students. She was used to the dozens of calls and e-mails she got from anxious high school counselors, doing all they could to help their candidates. Brigitte was proud to be associated with BU, and much to her own amazement, had worked in the admissions office for ten years. The years had flown by, seemingly in an instant. She was number three in the department and had turned down opportunities for promotion many times. She was content where she was and had never been terribly ambitious.
At twenty-eight, Brigitte had come to BU as a graduate student, to get a master’s in anthropology after assorted minor jobs post-college, followed by two years of working at a women’s shelter in Peru and another one in Guatemala, and a year of traveling in India and Europe. She had a bachelor’s degree in anthropology with a minor in women’s and gender studies from Columbia. The plight of women in underdeveloped countries had always been a primary concern to her. Brigitte had taken a job in the admissions office just until she could complete her degree. She had wanted to go to Afghanistan for a year after that, but like so many other graduate students who took jobs at the university while they were there, she stayed. It was comfortable, safe, and a protected atmosphere she came to love. And as soon as she got her master’s, she started working on her Ph.D. The academic world was addictive and womblike, along with its intellectual challenges and pursuit of knowledge and degrees. And it was easy to hide from the real world and its demands. It was a haven of scholars and youth. She didn’t
They had more than sixteen thousand undergraduate students, and over thirty thousand applications every year. Some were eliminated summarily, for inadequate test scores or grades, but as the number of eligible applicants got whittled down, Brigitte became more and more focused on the process. She was meticulous about detail in everything she did. She didn’t have her doctorate yet, but was still working on it, taking a class or two every semester. At thirty-eight, she was satisfied with her life. And for the last seven years, she had been working on a book. She wanted it to be the definitive work on the subject of voting and women’s rights around the world. While getting her master’s, Brigitte had written countless papers about the topic.
Her thesis argued that how countries handled the voting rights of women defined
She was friendly and kind, trustworthy and responsible. She was a deeply caring person and extremely hardworking, and thorough about everything she did. The only complaint that her best friend, Amy Lewis, made of her, to her face as a rule, was that she lacked passion. She intellectualized everything, and followed her brain more than her heart. Brigitte thought
She didn’t like rocking the boat or taking chances, on anything. Risk-taking was not her style. She was someone you could count on, not someone who would act impulsively, or without a great deal of thought. And she herself readily admitted that she was slow to make decisions while she weighed all the pros and cons.
Brigitte estimated that she was halfway through her book. She planned to speed up the process and finish it in five years, around the time she got her Ph.D. Twelve years spent on a book covering such an important subject seemed reasonable to her, since she was also working full-time and taking classes toward her doctorate. She was not in any rush. She had decided that if she completed both her doctoral degree and her book by the time she was forty-three, she’d be pleased. Her steady, relentless, unruffled way of dealing with things sometimes drove her friend Amy crazy. Brigitte was not a fast-track kind of person and hated change. Amy thought Brigitte should live life to the fullest, and leap into things more spontaneously. Amy was a trained marriage and family counselor and social worker. She ran the university’s counseling office, and liberally offered Brigitte her advice and opinions. They were total opposites and yet best friends. Amy dealt with everything-emotional, intellectual, and professional-at full speed.
Brigitte was tall, thin, almost angular, with jet-black hair, dark eyes, high cheekbones, and olive skin. She looked almost Middle Eastern or Italian, although her heritage was Irish and French. The Irish heritage of her father accounted for her jet-black hair. Amy was small and blond with a tendency to put on weight if she didn’t exercise, and she had all the passion about life that she claimed Brigitte didn’t. Brigitte liked to accuse her friend of being “hyper,” with the attention span of a flea, which they both knew wasn’t true. But Amy took on new projects constantly, and handled multitasking with ease. While Brigitte had struggled with one epic tome, Amy had published three nonfiction books about dealing with kids. She had two children of her own although she wasn’t married. On her fortieth birthday, after years of unsuccessful affairs with graduate students younger than she was or with married professors, she had gone to a sperm bank. And at forty-four, she had two boys, now one and three, who drove her happily crazy. She regularly nagged Brigitte to start having babies of her own. She told Brigitte that at thirty-eight she had no time to waste, her “eggs were getting older by the minute.” Brigitte was far more casual about it, and wasn’t worried. Modern science made it possible to conceive far older than in her mother’s day, and she felt confident about it, despite Amy’s dire warnings that she was putting motherhood off for too long.
Brigitte knew she’d have children one day, and more than likely marry Ted, although they never discussed it. There was something about living in the protected atmosphere of academia that made you feel, or Brigitte anyway,