It’s always been in the back of my mind. It’s in the power-suit-wearing executive-level high-rise meetings I’m in, no matter how skilled, talented, experienced and respected I am for my abilities. It’s in the casual conversations over crisp glasses of wine with new friends when they talk about where they went to school. It’s in the stubborn subconscious that somehow I am less than, not as smart, not as accomplished – despite my accomplishments. It’s in the paralyzing fear of public speaking I have that all those eyeballs will see right through me, that I’m a fraud in their midst. It’s in the algorithm that eliminates my 20-years of expertise when applying for a job I’m qualified for with the wave of a “No” box checked for the question, “Degree?”
The answer is no. I don’t have a college degree. There is never a follow up on the application, “If you checked ‘No’, explain below.”
One look at my high school transcripts, though, explains it all. I happened across it when I dusted off my ancient files in preparation for my spontaneous decision to apply to college for the third time – this time as a 43-year-old woman, wife and mom.
As I scanned the grades column, my chest deflated into an unexpected sadness as my eyes welled with the tears I never cried back then. D’s. F’s. Some C’s. 7th grade, 8th grade, 9th grade, 10th grade, 11th grade. All those memories on the page. The ditching to get high on the bleachers at the nearby recreation center by myself. The snorting lines of tweek off the toilet lid in the school bathroom by myself. My former “advanced classes” teachers standing in the hall shaking their heads as I walked by where I could overhear them saying, “Such a shame…” The getting expelled. The dropping out. The re-enrolling. That 12th grade year where I was living on my own, supporting myself, and doing a homestudy program getting the best grades in five years – B’s and three A’s my last semester – when I realized it was all on me now.
It was all there on the page. I’ve seen it before with no emotion attached to it. I lived it, and at the time, all this time, I gave two shits.
This time, though, as the woman I am today, the mother of an incredibly intelligent, remarkably capable 9-year-old daughter; as the professional that rose from those ashes with grit and determination, surprisingly traveled the world, and achieved her youthful goals with no help, no support, no guidance, no place to fall, and no college degree; as this woman today, I was struck by how sad, alone and lost that incredibly intelligent, remarkably capable, broken young girl was.
That girl didn’t care about things like school or the future. She willfully and intentionally threw it all away at 14 years old. She was numb. She was full of rage, anger, and distrust with a defiant independence unmatched by even the most fearless of leaders. She knew she was capable, all right – of scoring weed, tweek, alcohol and acid, underage; of handling herself in drug houses and trading belongings for drugs with gang members; of dating guys that abused her, devalued her, and enforced her damaged self-view.
Absorbing all those memories in the silence of the blinking curser of my community college application, I actually got re-angry with my mom. I say only my mom simply because my dad wasn’t there. He left when I was 8 and didn’t look back. He broke my heart, permanently, in his absence, but he wasn’t there to witness it. It was my mom who was physically there, the one in charge, the one responsible for the minors in the house – my younger brother and I – the one who birthed us and therefor was supposed to know what was best for us, right?
What parent would let their child, who tested advanced in academics and was placed in Gifted And Talented Education (GATE) classes throughout elementary and early middle school, spiral to such deapths? What parent would leave their child alone at 17, with still a year of high school to finish, in that condition, and move 1800 miles away?
I spent a lot of years with those questions, with that blame. Yet, as quickly as that anger and blame came in that moment, as the woman of mature age and regular yoga practice I am today, I released it with a sense of compassion for a woman younger than me in the male-dominated 80’s, struggling as a single mom raising two children, by herself, without the tools or insights to know what to do to fix it all.
No matter what our childhoods were – no matter what they gave us, took from us, deprived us of, or overinvolved themselves in – when it comes to our parents, it will always and forever boil down to these six words…
They did the best they could.
And so did I.
The past is gone. The future isn’t here yet – and it will be whatever you tell it to be. If you tell it to drink yourself into oblivion because you’re not happy, then happy overweight hangovering. If you tell it that the asshole voice in your head can keep roadblocking the shit out of your inner badassery – then get comfortable, because you will never live up to your full potential.
I enrolled in Astronomy and Math classes in the upcoming Spring ’18 semester because I have this insatiable interest in space, this dream of someday floating beyond gravity among the stars, and the audacity to think that maybe I could still be an environmental scientist of some kind – and write about it all as an artist and a scholar. After all, my high school transcripts show that even in the mess of my wayward youth, I still managed to eek out high grades in Science and Math, English and Art – when I actually showed up.
It doesn’t mean I’m not absolutely terrified – not of being the in a classroom surround by barely legal kids just out of high school, not of the reading, writing, memorizing, test taking and insane amounts of math, for which I am at beginner high school level. I’m slightly scared of being able to stay awake for my night classes until 9:30pm after mom’ing, wife’ing, and working all day, but there’s coffee for that. My biggest fear is that on the three-year path to the finish this once and for all, life will get in the way and that asshole voice in my head will, once again, keep me from following through.
The decision is made. Tuition is paid. I’m doing it anyway.
There comes a time when we must beat the living shit out of that inner voice that keeps making excuses for why we can’t and telling us we aren’t good enough anyway; when we must let go of the version of ourselves that is long gone, that didn’t then, doesn’t now, and never will represent our true selves and our true paths – by loving ourselves.
After that, there is only one thing left to do because the rest will work itself out – show up.