4 November Breaking with Tradition

I Wasn’t Supposed to Go Away for College

I wasn’t supposed to go away for college.

The majority of my family either didn’t graduate high school (most obtained GEDs later, but not all) or attended community college sporadically. A couple received nursing degrees- LN then RN- but most drifted from bad jobs with back-breaking labor to worse jobs where the smallest infraction was treated like the start of a major war. The only cousin who went away to college, four hours away at Kansas State, came back 1 year later to become an apprentice farmer instead.

“They don’t know anything up there” he declared. “They don’t understand what it’s like in the real world.”

The real world, as they saw it, comprised tiny towns where no one was a stranger and no one had secrets. People were rich or they were poor but where they fell on the scale was no one’s fault but their own. For my family and for many others, this is more than tolerable. It’s familiar and as comfortable as a warm blanket in the winter.

I wasn’t supposed to go away for college.

I spent the majority of my childhood bouncing from school to school, moving from house to house and district to district. Most of our moves were conducted in the dead of night, boxes and trash bags carrying whatever belongings we managed to save. Anything left behind (a stuffed bunny, the first book I read on my own, my favorite emerald green jeans with silver stitches) was lost forever. When you’re behind on rent and skip out under the cover of darkness, the landlord doesn’t care about handing over your forgotten things.

I wasn’t supposed to go away for college.

I stopped sleeping for a week straight in middle school. My skin felt two sizes too small and thoughts raced around my head at the speed of lightning. The next week the world was a black pit and I fell fell fell into the bottom.

Year after year it got worse. I was relieved when they diagnosed me as Bipolar 1 (Rapid Cycling) at 16. I thought “finally, now I can get better. Now my life begins.” No one told me the medication would rob me of my memory. No one told me it would make me gain weight- first ten pounds and then a hundred. No one told me it would leave me feeling numb.

Of course, it shouldn’t have. Properly adjusted my medication would have left me feeling even. Feeling present. I had no frame of reference for better. And when the pain and confusion got to be too much, I tried to check out and for the briefest of moments, I succeeded.

I wasn’t supposed to go away for college.

Despite my less than stellar grades, I got into almost every school I’d applied to. Maybe they had a quota to fill for poverty-stricken students from the Midwest with mental issues. Maybe my essays were compelling enough to overlook the D in Geometry or the C- in freshman English. Whichever it was, it didn’t matter.

My family put the kibosh on my dreams. “You can’t go away. Your doctor would never allow it.” With a different doctor, any other doctor, they would’ve been wrong. Next psychiatrist visit he said, “Absolutely not. You’re not strong enough.”

I wasn’t supposed to go away for college.

I went to community college, bored out of my mind. My high school teachers taught senior year at a higher level than most. The majority of my freshman syllabus was a low brow rehash of my senior year. By the time I graduated with an Associates degree I felt lost and useless.

I wasn’t supposed to go away for college.

But it was ok to move away with my boyfriend to pursue his dreams of becoming a video game designer. We moved and I worked a retail job that paid most of our bills while he fooled around at an internship that paid hardly almost nothing. And when he started working at my same retail job they paid him more. He talked about marriage and children and buying a house and the panic rose in my blood. My airways closed, my lungs burned.

I wasn’t supposed to want anything more.

I found an ad in the paper for Arizona State University. The school was right down the street from my tiny apartment. When I applied, I didn’t tell anyone. When I was accepted, I told everyone.

I was lucky that my grandmother helped me get a loan (that I’ll be paying back forever). I was unlucky that by the time I started school the fire that burned within me as a young girl was mostly extinguished. It took me nine years to graduate. I changed my major from Journalism to Interdisciplinary Studies- a general studies course. I had no idea what to do with my life. Getting that degree helped me find a position in San Diego after I moved there with my girlfriend. It helped me meet friends who didn’t pity me or find me strange. Having a degree, being around people who saw the world as bright and big and open, despite our differences, felt like being born again.

I wasn’t supposed to go away for college.

And I’m so grateful that I did anyway.

 

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Allie Yohn

Allie Yohn is a writer currently living in Phoenix, Arizona. She writes history articles about women's history and is a supporting member of the Horror Writer's Association. She is (constantly) working on a novel.

2 Comments

  1. As the direct opposite of you I “was” supposed to go to college. My family were all teachers, doctors, head nurses, principles. I… was a kitchen porter at a greasy spoon. An underachiever, and someone that knew he underachieved but had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. Previously I was an A* student. In the Scotland International youth golf team, and well on my way to some prestigious colleges.

    My mum cried as it all fell through my fingers. My home life destabilised and I could never shake the feeling of grief and disappointment. I got into drugs, and became an alcoholic. My jobs were menial and basic.

    I went to college eventually though! And I’m glad I did. I was a weird kid (now man) and luckily through my study I met some amazingly weird and wonderful people too. I realised that I’m not the only weird person in the world. I think that’s important!

    Lovely story 🙂

  2. I loved reading your story, though it spoke so much of hardship. I was supposed to go and I did. But, it would take many more years for me to understand my true purpose, or how the privilege of going to school and having all that I have cannot insulate from every kind of pain. Only later would I appreciate the value of adversity. Though you had a truckload of it early on, you seem the better for it. I’m so happy you found the path that felt right for you.

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