Smile politely. Don’t let them see you cry. You got this. I smile but as they walk away I’m silently glaring. Yes. I can do that. Whatever you need me to do. Oh what I’d do if I could say out loud what I want to say. Really. Let me do your job and my job and their job. I can do that. Because that’s my job. It’s an exhausting conversation I have with myself. At least once…twice…in any given week. The frustration is not really related to the current situation. It goes back a quarter of a century ago when I was young and dumb and thought I didn’t need to think about my future.
When I met my husband’s mother (we’ll just call her Sister because that’s what I called her everyday) I was intimidated. She was very nice, but I worried that if I crossed her things would go bad for me. As the school year rolled along I began to like, even appreciate, the quiet woman who had the lucky…or unlucky…job of getting me through my last year of high school. One day she asked me a question that no one had ever asked me. “So, what are you doing for college?” I was shocked. Seriously. I didn’t think I was going to live past the year 1992. I was supposed to think about college? I stammered something like, “I don’t know if I can go to college.”
Once I realized I was indeed going to become an adult, college became a possibility. But then I had to figure out a “major”. Like I really knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life I wasn’t supposed to have. I was enjoying my accounting class, so I chose accounting. Sister began talking to me about SATs and financial aid and college campuses. I managed to take the SAT and score enough so I could *technically* get into Portland State…if I wanted to…but I still wasn’t sure that what I wanted was to go to college. Then the boyfriend entered the picture. He was a college graduate and encouraged me to pursue an education. When I told him I was scared that I wasn’t smart enough he would tell me how smart I was…and promised to help me study. When I graduated in June 1992 it was decided that I would start college at PCC (local community college) in the fall.
Registration day arrived. I learned that college meant sitting on the floor, with other college hopefuls, for a very long time. This was WAY before cell phones, hand-held games and *gasp* FACEBOOK. I was bored and still could not sit still for long periods of time. Luckily my best friend Lottie was with me. She was going to be a senior and we talked about graduation and getting an apartment and going to college together. Registering for classes was the first time I felt in control of my life. Excited about my new adventure AND not wanting to ride the bus, we called the boyfriend. He defied the terms of our dating contract and drove all the way out to pick up two exhausted teenage girls.
College was harder than I thought it would be. The realization that the adults around me were free to do and go and wear and see and explore whatever they wanted challenged me. I managed to attract boys for friends and that complicated things. When I tried to make friends with girls, so as to avoid all appearances of evil, they were the edgy ones. They couldn’t understand why I wore strange clothes and I went to church all the time and I was dating someone because I was going to marry him in 4 years. When they told me that I was old enough to make my own decisions, wear what I wanted and even decide if I did or did not want to go to church I didn’t know what to say. Eventually I met a girl named Amy who would spend every other day telling me just how much sex her and her boyfriend were having and how much fun it was to get high. She was the most terrifying person I had met and I was drawn to her like a moth to a flame. She taught me the best bus routes and which drivers to avoid. She taught me how to speak up when the café messed up my order…again…because I was still talking as low as possible. She taught me that if I wanted to get somewhere in life I had to ask questions and get the job done. Most of all, she taught me how to survive in a world that terrified me. Amy was only there for two terms. She ended up pregnant and I never heard from her again.
The third term was not easy. I decided to take Economics and I didn’t get it. AT ALL. No matter how many times the boyfriend explained it to me. And then, we became engaged and things just went sideways. Because we still couldn’t be alone, I ended up skipping classes just to spend time with him during the day. I couldn’t balance it all and ended the year with just good enough grades so I didn’t have to pay back my financial aid. I knew I was not going back.
One afternoon I was in the kitchen with Sister and the fiancés sister. They told me about a small college town where I could live in a dorm, take classes and find out who I was. I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. When my fiancé came home and they told him about the plan, he was angry. He grabbed my hand and we left. A few months later we were married.
I tried going back to school. I applied and was accepted into George Fox with transfer honors…but then our marriage began unraveling and I withdrew. I continued to take classes at the community college off and on, enough that I am one term away from my Associates degree. I want to finish, but now I have a job and there is no time for school and parenting and keeping a house and exercise and eating and sleeping. I could technically do whatever I want, but it would be at the expense of those I love. One day I will finish the degree. One day I will walk across a podium and get a degree and my family will be there cheering me on. But for now, I wake up every day and take my babies to school and drive to the office. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love my boss. For reasons that I don’t necessarily understand, helping him with the pressure of running two companies tells my husband I love him. More than anything else I’ve done. So, I take classes for a job that frustrates me and I go to the bathroom and cry when I lose my confidence and I try my best to not be to loud and opinionated and respect him because he’s my boss. And I do this because I’ve learned that sacrifice and love are worth way more to him than my name on a piece of paper.
But honestly if I could go back and talk to the girl I was…I’d kick her butt and tell her to buck up and go to college.