Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Run, Run Away

About a million years ago, I graduated high school. I turned my tassel with the class of 1987 after crossing the stage and receiving my diploma, my passport to the rest of my life. While I said I wouldn't cry, I did. I cried because I was excited. I cried because I realized a chapter of my life finished, the big world outside the halls of my small school awaited. I knew I'd miss my friends. My emotions were mixed.

I'd changed my mind about a bazillion times about what I wanted to be when I grew up. Briefly, the desire to be a pom-pom girl was my goal. Okay, so I was seven years old, and pom-poms were hard to come by. If I were a cheerleader by profession, I'd get pom-poms because my parents, and even Santa, weren't budging on my request.

Then through the years, I thought about being a lawyer. I seemed to have a natural talent for debate and quick rebuttal. When I announced this career choice, my dad looked a bit overwhelmed over the prospect of many years of schooling.

I decided, well, if finances are an issue, I'll be a beautician. That idea was nixed by my Dad and his wife at the time. "You're too smart to cut hair," they told me.

Back to the drawing board. For a couple months, I entertained the idea of being an interior decorator. It looked like a fun job. I didn't know squat about color schemes, but what the heck. I could give it a go.

One silly idea led to another, and I finally settled on Journalism. I took my SAT and submitted college applications. When my school of choice, Indiana University, accepted me with no problem, I could not have been happier.

You see, I had this idea that the farther away I went, the better off I would be. My teen years were comprised of having my confidence and self-esteem whittled down by the step-mom my dad was married to. She was a horrible woman, but that story is best saved for another time.

I'd never been away from home, save the week I spent at a Journalism camp at a college 45 minutes from home. Even then, a boy from my school was there at the same time. Indiana University was 3 1/2 hours away, and really the farthest away I could go without paying for a private college. I was running away under the guise of going to college.

Two weeks before I left for college, my step-mom cornered me and said, "I hope you have the money to pay because we aren't." Well, that was an interesting turn of events. Not surprising, but interesting. For four years, I stayed captive in that home (I use that term lightly) because of the promise of an education. "If you move in with your mom, we aren't paying. If you stay here, get good grades, you can go to college."

I'd been deceived. It was a blow that knocked the air right out of me. I didn't know what to do.

Financial aid was out because I didn't qualify for anything but a $400 grant. No government loans because the family contribution was everything but that $400. I borrowed a couple thousand from my grandma, which was only enough to pay for the first semester. For all intents and purposes, I was screwed. Royally.

Essentially, I accepted my defeat before I ever left for I.U. My step-mom managed to cause me distress from 200 miles away. When I didn't receive my weekly spending money of $20 that Dad had allotted me, she'd say she sent it and I was lying. I tried finding a part-time job on or off campus, but since I had no job experience (thanks to constant sabotage in earlier years by the step-mom), I wasn't even called for an interview. I didn't even have money for shampoo or soap, much less to hang out with anyone in my dorm.

I felt helpless. I was terribly homesick. It didn't help that the girl next door to me smoked pot in her room on an almost nightly basis. The smoke wafted through the phone box we shared. "Shh," she'd say through the box. "Don't tell, please." Of course, I wouldn't tell, and in fact, I had no clue what the smell of burning tires was until my roommate clued me in when she stuck her head between the rooms and inhaled deeply hoping to catch a "contact buzz."

My roommate, she was a darling girl, I must say. She and her best friend would come in at about 2 on most mornings, drunk and laughing. I was a little less than amused when she'd fall out of her top bunk and attempt to crawl into bed with me on the lower bunk. I had classes every day at 8 a.m. It made for a long day with little sleep.

I couldn't handle another week of it, so I dropped out at six weeks. I was miserable, overwhelmed, defeated, and just wanted to go home. Though, I had no real home to go home to. In the meantime, all of my things had been deposited into a closet and I didn't have a room anymore at my dad's house.

I went to my mom's, got a job, got an apartment, and the rest is history.

Maybe I could have figured something out. Maybe I could have found help if I would have known who to turn to for it. It wasn't like I had the internet at my fingertips to surf to see what my options were. I didn't know the options. I didn't know where to turn for the answers. I tucked tail and ran for the hills.

After 22 years, I've decided once again it's time to give this college thing a go. I'd be lying if I didn't say I was terrified. I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. Though, I'm going to focus on the general education classes that I'd have to take despite my choice of a major.

I'll not feign confidence and say I know I can do this. I don't expect it to be easy. Like I was at 18, I'm certainly in need of some guidance and good advice. There's little solace in being told, "If I can do it, you can do it," by those my age who have returned to school. When I glance over classes and descriptions, reading what is expected of the student, I want to run away, forget all about it, and look for a really good excuse like, "I'm too old for this."

The "too old" excuse is the best I can come up with right now. I've used the "the kids are young" and "I don't think I can get financial aid." Well, as it turns out, the kids are no longer young. My oldest will be attending the same college as I. I was able to get a chunk of financial aid in a government loan because I'm a displaced worker after being laid off.

I know I'm not too old. So, now, it's up to me to decide I can and will do this, even though I don't have the slightest clue what I'm getting myself into. No excuses. No running away. Not this time.

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