I looked at my old college transcripts today. The ones that ended in 2010, with my mother’s diagnosis of cancer. The ones that had gotten really, really bad before the cancer diagnosis. The ones that my mother and I conspired to blame on her cancer diagnosis. The ones that really had nothing at all to do with my mothers cancer diagnosis.
The truth is, I was 15 when I started my first day at Everett Community College. I was 17 on my first day at Portland State University. And I started at PSU a week after the community college commencement ceremony. I was lonely all summer, and when the kids came back in the fall, I made few friends. The ones I had went off to their freshman level classes, while I climbed the stairs to my three and four hundred level courses, where I was surrounded by men with beards and women that knew about things like the Cold War.
I knew shit about the Cold War.
When we broke in to study groups, I was the one who had to raise my hand and suggest we meet somewhere other than the local bar. I constantly felt inadequate. Young. Stupid. What am I doing here? I’m not in their league. And it dawned on me that it was much easier to stay in my room, under the blankets, watching episode after episode of Roseanne or Full House, than go to class and deal with how young and stupid I felt.
So I failed. A lot. I withdrew, and when I failed to withdraw, I got Incompletes and Xs. I got Bs in the classes that I stuck out, usually thanks to extraordinarily patient and kind and understanding professors. Professors who saw something in me, and expressed it.
When my mom got cancer, I saw my escape. I planned to lie. I planned to say the two years at PSU had been successful! I’d finished! It was time to move home! And I did. I packed up my things and moved home. And then I got a tidy, business sized envelope in the mail. Return address: Portland, Oregon. I was officially dismissed. I was dizzy and sick at the same time. I sobbed on the floor and then found my phone and dialed. When my advisor picked up, I asked through hysterical sobs what my options were, what I could do, who I could talk to, what the next steps were. She had nothing to say to me. No words of support. No sympathy. Just that there was an appeals board and I’d have to “explain why 26,000 other students were able to get to class and [I] couldn’t.”
Over the next few years, that transcript haunted me. Even after the truth came out and my family was so sure I’d return, I lost hope. Every time I thought about applying to a new program, I was stopped dead in my tracks, mentally scrolling through the letters at the bottom of the alphabet. X, W, U, F. It was never going to happen.
I had a nice job and made nice money. I lived with my partner and we were playing house, building a nice life. I started to tell myself that it was fine. When acquaintances suggested I go back to school, I got smug. A stupid defense mechanism that didn’t help anything.
And then I took a chance. I applied. And I failed. And I applied. And I failed. And I applied, and I got accepted.
We packed everything up and moved across the state. I went to class on the first day, one minute late, and the door was locked. I looked in the classroom, made eye contact with some kids, and no one got up to open it. I was so mortified and angry at myself I cried the entire walk home. I called my boyfriend, sobbing, “It happened again. I’m the same. I’m the same person. I’m missing class.” I’m missing class. I’m skipping class. I was late. I promised it would be different this time. How could I let this happen? I’m so stupid. The whole way home.
The next day, I got to class early and told the teacher what had happened. She was horrified, had no idea what had happened, apologized profusely that the door had somehow accidentally locked itself, and I was reborn.
As, As, As.
I’m not the same person. I’m not the same person at all. I go to class — I mean every. class. period. — and I am the girl who sits in front, who raises her hand, who goes to office hours, who makes eye contact, who did the reading, who’s ready for a pop quiz, who groans when class is cut short. I’m the good student. I’m on the Honor Roll. I got a 4.0! I’m president of the anthropology club. I’m a double major. I just added a new minor. I have a cumulative GPA of 3.5!
I need to remember this story. I need to remind myself of my story. I need to remember my strength and sit in awe of myself. The next step is graduate school, and I can feel a part of myself putting up a stupid defense mechanism as I look into everything that’s involved. I need to not do that to myself. I need to remember that I am amazing and brave and powerful. I need to remember that I am NOT that student any more and that I will NOT be that student ever again. I need to open the doors to and for myself. I did all of this to and for myself. I can do this to and for myself again, bigger next time! I’m going for it. I’m applying, all the way around the globe. And I’m going to go, I’m going to find a program that wants me and I am going to go, again, and blow the lid of this thing. And impress myself again, a thousand times over.