My time at home is brief. I meet my brother’s boyfriend and visit family I have not seen since the summer. My cousins are all taller than me now, growing up in the literal sense. Sometimes I find myself hiding from them all, retreating to somewhere quiet, my mother my only pursuer. I tell her stories about physics that I’ve picked up from instructors along the way. It’s the only way to get them out of my head, crammed as it is with questions about extrasolar planets and magnetism and cosmology—relentless.

I meet a professor from the local university with coffee. For an hour or two he empties my head of those questions and fills it with new ones, about C++ and real analysis and elusive big data.

I fly back to school alone. I become precise, methodical again: unpack, get dinner, do laundry, do homework. I clean my half of the dorm rapidly, efficiently: scrub the sink, make the bed, stick up the posters that crawl off the wall every three days, put on music to drown out the commotion in the hallway as more people slink back to their rooms for the next three weeks. And it’s only three weeks: two of classes, one of exams. I have recommendation letters to request and essays to draft for research program applications. I have no time to be tired. I know this isn’t beyond me anymore. ♦