Leaving home, truly leaving home, for the first time was a wrenching experience. I had done so before when I attended summer camps, but this was unmistakably different.
It was time. I was becoming increasingly restive under the rigidities imposed by my father's fears—I did not yet realize how much I had by then internalized. But to leave family, friends, the familiar neighborhood and city, the grid of school and stores and movies and sport facilities and transportation systems for a blank—Boston, a dot on a map—was daunting.
I did not then realize that, in fact, I was leaving home forever. Except for a few weeks during college years, in summer or at Christmas, I would never again live in Chicago. My high school friends would tread different paths. Even my place within the family was henceforth to be different, separate, increasingly external, even as the family I had always known lost its structure.
Where was MIT? We had been told it was on Massachusetts Avenue, just across the Charles River. Now we were on the bridge. It couldn't be that six-story red brick building on the left, almost surely a hotel. Was it that massive grey structure on the right, looking more like an industrial plant? It hardly resembled a university campus. As we drew closer and the Great Dome came into view, I recognized the scene from the MIT catalog and realized the truth. Here, for better or worse, was my future.
My parents had driven with me to Boston to start me off at MIT—a three-day journey in those days. We now located Bemis Hall, the oldest dormitory, where I was to be in room 413. The room was small and sparsely furnished. A bed, a bookcase, a desk and chair, a reading chair. No lamps. A sink and mirror, a small closet. Showers and toilets down the hall. One window looking across a court to another dormitory.
The next day my parents went on to New York, and I moved in. I acquired a floor lamp from the porter, who had a small side business of collecting floor lamps at year end and reselling them the next fall. That evening I looked about the spartan dormitory room with an intense churning mixture of sadness, uncertainty, and eagerness. Sadness because I knew in some visceral way that I was now outside the nest. Home—the only one I had ever known—was a thousand miles away. Uncertainty because an unknown world was all about me and before me. How would I stand up in this strange setting? Of course, I was not wholly on my own, but I had never been quite so much on my own. It was now up to me. And yet eagerness—to explore, to enter the world of science and technology at whose door I literally now stood. In those formidable buildings across the way was the gateway to my life.