On Monday, June 22, less than 48 hours after I got married, I packed my car with a few bikes, some clothes, seven books on writing, the King James Bible, and an almost five-pound volume of John Milton’s works. I made the five-hour drive from Brooklyn, NY, to Middlebury, VT, alone. This decision was not based on an epic first fight but rather a deep impression left on me by my sixth-grade English teacher.
On the last day of school in sixth grade, my classmates shared their summer plans: sleep-away camps, family vacations, and sports camps were the most common. Our teacher, however, told us that he was going to school. We idolized him but had no problem laughing when he shared his summer plans. Who in their right mind, we wondered, would spend nine months teaching a bunch of preteens and then go back into the classroom as a student? When he said the school was called Bread Loaf, we laughed even harder. But this Bread Loaf place was obviously magical—it seemed to train teachers not only in literature but in the art of teaching.
Almost twenty-five years after snickering at my English teacher, I emailed him to ask for a recommendation letter to include in my Bread Loaf application. The following June, I relinquished a much-sought-after summer vacation; left my girlfriend, who is now my wife; and started the first of what would be five summers of intensive literary study. I questioned this decision numerous times. The first was when I received paper feedback from Michael Katz some three weeks into that first summer.
Adding to the uneasiness about abandoning my 48-hour-old marriage for a second summer at Bread Loaf was the thought of reading Paradise Lost and Samson Agonisites while also taking Jennifer Wicke’s Critical Writing course. I almost turned around in Glens Falls, NY, as there was really no need for me to be in the car. I already had a master’s degree and there were myriad options for taking English courses online or at one of the many programs offered in New York City. I could have my summers back and enjoy the start of married life with my wife.
However, the thought of missing out on six weeks of enlightening course work with likeminded teachers and professionals while being taught by prominent professors left me no option but to point it north towards route 7 and onwards to Middlebury. From an academic and social perspective, my second summer was even more demanding than the first. I lived alone in a garage apartment some 25 minutes from campus and spent most of my “free time” studying in Davison or biking in the valley. At times, I wondered if Milton wrote Paradise Lost in order to tempt me to give up and head back to my wife. But every time I walked out of Professor Shoulson’s class, my mind struggling to grasp the connections he and my classmates had just made between the Bible and Milton, I knew I had made the right decision. Every time I strained to follow Professor Wicke’s lectures, knowing that at some moment she was going to make a profound comment that would alter the way I think about writing and the world, I knew I had made the right decision. Every time I sat with my professors reviewing my writing, I knew I had made the right decision. Every time I sat at lunch and talked about literature or the fickle Vermont weather with my classmates, I knew I had made the right decision.
I drove home after my last class that summer excited about my upcoming honeymoon. But I was also looking forward to the fact that in less than a year, I would be on the other side of route 87 heading north for another six weeks on the mountain.
Tommy Mulvoy MA’19 lives in Basel, Switzerland, with his wife and young son. He teaches English and special education at the International School of Basel.