It came by UPS last week. A thin cardboard box, no more than 1/2 an inch tall, and about 11X14. I heard the big brown truck pull up outside my house and ran to the front door, standing there until the delivery guy put his hand on my door knob. Then I whipped the door open and scared the living daylights out of the man. But I was too excited, I couldn’t wait for him to ring the doorbell. He handed it to me, and I smiled at him, a little shaky, and as he gave me the electronic tablet to sign, I told him, “This is my degree!!!” He gave me kind of a half-grin, and said, “Yeah, I’ve been delivering a lot of those today.” I thanked him, and walked back inside. What for him was a routine, and a repetitive one at that, was the most momentous day in my intellectual life. It was the arrival of legitimacy. He didn’t know it, and perhaps couldn’t know it, but he had just delivered back to me a piece of my soul.
I sat down at the dining room table, pushed aside my laptop, stacks of papers waiting to be graded, and my toddler’s breakfast dishes. I pulled the ez-open cardboard tab, and slid out a large white folder. Inside it was a thick piece of paper, although it wasn’t as thick as I thought it would be. It felt oddly insubstantial. The page had my school’s name on it in large, gothic letters at the top, and then my name underneath it. Then it had a paragraph about how I was now to be admitted into the privileges and rights that all holders of my degree have, and finally there was a shiny seal and some signatures. That was it.
I sat there holding that piece of paper in my lap and I wept out a giddy little laugh. It was suddenly real. Apparently in the months since August, nobody had called the graduate school and told them it was all a big mistake and that I should never have been admitted after all and all that coursework I did was of course inadequate and I my defense wasn’t good enough and all of those errors that still remain in the submitted text clearly disqualify me for this thing oh and by the way you didn’t pay a fee back in 1999 so it’s all over now. Apparently none of those things happened because here it was, in my lap.
It was real. And it was mine. My name was right there on it. Printed in black ink.
Right after I had submitted my dissertation, Spousal Unit said that for him the stress of the whole experience fell away slowly over time, kind of like a shedding. I’ve been shedding bits and pieces for the last few months. But it’s not natural yet — and I’m still stressed. It took 15 years to create the stressed out energy that pushed me through the process, and that’s not going away overnight. Every now and then I’ll be cooking or eating or reading or walking with the Gadlet and I’ll think, “Oh shit! Stop what you’re doing RIGHT NOW and get back to work on your dissertation!” But then I remember I don’t have a dissertation to work on any more. It’s done. And then I take a deep breath and shed some stress, feeling a bit of my anger, my pain, my fear, my armor, my sadness fall away.
But I still wasn’t sure it was real. Until last Tuesday when a nonchalant UPS guy in doofy brown shorts who had clearly talked to 150 other overjoyed overwrought dissertators that day brought vindication in a small, white cardboard box.