So I have a college degree now. For the first time in my life I was filling out paperwork, and where it asked “highest level of education” I could choose something other than “some college.” I know that doesn’t seem like the most monumental moment, but I think I teared up there more than I did during commencement. Three years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you if you told me I would make it. I felt broken. Lost. Flawed. I had my life just the way I wanted it and it was wrenched away. I thought, “I can’t hold things together.” I thought, “everything always falls apart.”
Honestly, I couldn’t tell you why I went back to school. I was tired of not doing anything? I thought a drastic measure might be what finally shocked me out of complacency? I’d been talking about it for long enough that people expected me to eventually follow through and I was embarrassed not to?
Here’s the thing: I’ve always had big dreams. When I was in fourth grade I wanted to write a play, so I started to. And it kept getting bigger and bigger until it was too big and I got depressed and gave up on it. It grew away from me. Same thing with my novels. Same thing with my homes. Same thing with my gardens. Same thing with me. I grew away from me. And somewhere along the line before I ever even started things, this place in the back of my mind would say, “oh, screw you, it’s going to happen AGAIN. You know it will.”
So when I enrolled in college, before I ever even walked through the doors for the first bit of paperwork to sign, there was a part of me that said, “do you really want to go into social work? Do you really want to go to school? Don’t you think you’ll be one of those people with a master’s degree still waiting tables? Oh, screw you.”
And, for the first time in a long time, I was fed up with myself. I had to steel my nerves and confront the fact that I didn’t, perhaps, really know what I wanted to do. I couldn’t guarantee that I wouldn’t end up waiting tables. I might be like I was the first time I went to college, and completely implode and flunk out of everything and sneak away in the dark of night to lick my wounds and cry. People always told me I was brilliant, creative, beautiful, whatever. I would roll my inner eyes because only I knew the truth. Everything inevitably grew away from me. I was a brilliant, beautiful, whatever, cripple.
But not this time. I was sick of myself. I was exhausted. I had moved across the country to try to save a marriage that like everything else grew away from me. I had lost the one job that I truly loved and traded it for a job that made me completely miserable. I had lost my book deal, I had lost control of my kids, and even more importantly I had lost whatever thread of hope told me that despite all my various failures I was still good at being a decent person. I wanted to succeed. I had to succeed. I had to believe that I still had something of value to offer.
A bit of a rabbit trail, here, but community college gets a bad rap. It’s like the losers school. It’s the place that takes in all of the tired and weary downtrodden that can’t be successful anywhere else. Right?
Maybe. But it took in me, and the instructors that I worked with from day one completely changed my outlook on myself. Suddenly, when I had something to say in class I could see a response that affirmed me. My answers to questions contributed something. My essays were full of notes in the margins that made me feel like I was saying something good. My classmates asked me to study with them and we were learning together. I was helping them learn. I was good at it. Not that I was remarkable, there were times where I was embarrassed not to have done better and I still had to fight the old bogeyman of never living up to my own expectations. Yet there was a buffer there, because as frustrated as I was with myself there were other people who believed in me. I can remember talking with my English 101 instructor about not being sure about going into social work. She mentally twisted my arm (and may have literally if I hadn’t given in!) and encouraged me to go with my passion for English and work in the Writing Center. That experience quite literally changed my goals and understanding of myself.
The Writing Center itself taught me so much, too. Hey, maybe I can be a teacher. Maybe I do understand people. If I can teach other people how to break down their goals and have realistic expectations, maybe I can help myself too.
Oh, and Creative Writing? Words don’t describe.
I feel like I’m blathering on too much, so I need to try to get my thoughts in a tidier line. I guess all I’m trying to say is that I started out this journey broken and faithless. The only reason I stuck with it is stubbornness. I didn’t want to be one of those people who never tried to get their lives back together. I may not have succeeded, if it weren’t for class after class where the instructor believed what I started out not believing: I could, and would, be successful if I was willing to do the work.
So here I am, three years later, twenty pounds lighter, a million times happier and more confident. I wish I knew what to say, other than a heartfelt thank-you to each and every teacher who I’ve had over the past two years. It can’t be easy, quarter after quarter, taking in classrooms full of people who like I wandered in out of hope and options. It can’t be easy dealing with students who are unwilling or able to do the work, or even believe they can. But yet you do it, and time after time you project the sincere belief that the students in front of you can and will be successful, and you push and prod and argue them into agreement with you, knowing full well that many of them will give in to their demons and just give up.
You didn’t give up on me, so I didn’t give up on myself. And I am grateful. Sincerely.