10 Years Late to University: I don’t Belong Here But I Belong Here

 
My first semester at UCF I cried on my way to campus.

It was 7:30am, the road was clear – as it always is at dawn – and so the drive from West Orlando was quick. I was so excited, the night before, that I couldn’t sleep. I barely ate, barely hydrated, and spent most of the day with the jitters. I’d always loved school, loved learning, loved brainstorming with my fellow students, and this was my time.

But I was also terrified. It had been 10 years, then a brief stint at Valencia College – via the Direct Connect program – since I had been at University. Before, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to go back to school, to do what I loved. It was finally here. There was so much fear surrounding the ideal of being an older college student. At nearly 28, it might not seem like I am so removed from the fresh-out-of-high school teens that are enrolling now but I am. We are in two completely different generations.

I’m a Millennial. For some reason, older people forget just how old Millennials actually are. They forget that we played outside as children, most of us didn’t have the internet when we were kids, and we got dirty. They forget that we, too, had catalogues where we picked out our favorite toys hoping our parents would order them for us. They forget that we had CD players and Walkman. They forget that most of us didn’t have these fancy smartphones or our necks breaking to watch TV on iPads all day. We didn’t get those cheapie pay-as-you-go Nokia’s until we were sophomores in high school (barely). Even then you had to get a job because your mom wasn’t going to pay for the by-text fees and waiting until after 9pm, when everything was free, was too long to make plans with your friends. We weren’t using Instagram, or Facebook or spending all day on Twitter. I had Myspace and only when I snuck to get on when my mother wasn’t looking.

So, it’s different. I’m late. I’m behind the curve. I have aspirations but am quickly realizing that there are 20-year olds going for these internships I would be applying for at 30. I’m a part of a writing group with a recent UCF MFA alum, who is in her early 20s, who currently living my life – had I gone straight through like I was “supposed” to.

I want to be strong. I want to feel like I’m not too late but I’m a Millennial. I’m a part of the “graduate high school, straight to college, graduate in 4 years and into a good job by 21 then a family, and a house,” group. We are pressured to do everything so quickly. No traveling, no taking years off, no breathers, no doing “what you love”. If our lives don’t fit into that timeline we’re stuck.

That’s how I ended up here. I was pressured, by my family, into going for a degree I didn’t want because “writers don’t make any money” and “don’t you want to get a real job” or even “is that even a career”? That didn’t work out – does it ever? So here I am. 10 years later. On the cusp of 30 and crying in my car in my first week at UCF. Wiping my tears with Chik-Fil-A napkins from yesterday’s excited-to-be-on-track run. Picking myself back up. Building my confidence as a writer. Gleaning as much as I can before this opportunity is over, in case it doesn’t work out. Again.

I’m also crying because I’m a full-time student and at the same time I’m a new mother.

These first days at UCF will be the first time I am away from my four-month-old daughter, Naomi, for more than four hours. I’m terrified to be so far from her. If anything happens, I’m on the East side of town and must rush through highways, construction, and rush hour to get to her. Can I get there in time? Am I a good mother?

I’ve been told that I’m supposed to forget about myself. Lose myself. I am a Mother now. That’s how they say it. A Mother with a capital M and in bold. Mother. Does me being on campus – finally shedding the pressures of a toxic adoptive family, putting aside stereotypes about strong black women who endure it all and multitasking relationship, baby, writing, and keeping my house in order – mean that I’m not giving my daughter the attention that she deserves? Should I even be doing this? I grip the steering wheel tight and hesitate before I turn off the car. Maybe I should just go home right now. She probably needs me. Even though her father is absolutely amazing, supportive, loving, kind, and spent the last four months learning about parenting just as I have – I’m sure he’ll need help.

I turn off the car. No. I’m here for a reason. I have to do this. I made a commitment to myself and to my guy. He supports me while I am in school. Supports my dreams and my end goal. I made a commitment to the Universe. It deserves my writing. It deserves my voice. I made a commitment to the young, black foster kids who are abused and unloved. They deserve to know it’s possible to survive through it all and come out loving your life. I also made a commitment to my daughter. I want to show her that it’s never too late to do what you love. Because it’s not. Right?

No seriously, I’m asking.

I check my face in my rear-view mirror and dissolve into more tears. I look a mess. My makeup is all over the place. I never wear makeup but today I must. I’m a college student. University student with pious eyes. Everyone is young, pretty, with tight bodies – that didn’t just have babies – and long luscious hair – that isn’t falling out because of postpartum shedding. They move across campus on trim legs in droves, scattering like roaches the moment the clock marks the hour. I watch them from my swinging hammock strung up on Memory Mall, because I get to campus early, and stay very late, to avoid rush hour. Their laughter is a joyous noise unbroken by the ups and downs of life and the monotony of an unsatisfying day job. They cut through the foot traffic on their tiny skateboards (one of which I have but haven’t used because my unfit body can’t figure out how to turn corners). I sit and watch them as they shove their mouths with campus food because they’re not watching their weight as tight as they are watching their budget.

So I don’t belong here but I do. I pay my fees in late nights of homework. I hand make journals for handwritten notes in classes where I sit in the front row. After the baby is down for the night, I stay up late to write, like I am now at 2:30am, to make sure my priorities are in check. To make sure that I said I wanted to be a writer and therefore I am.

While pumping breast milk, I scratch out feedback for in-class workshops and shake my wrists to deal with the lasting effects of carpal tunnel from my pregnancy. While the food is cooking on the stove, I get in a few pages of the many required reading texts and yell “Hey! Don’t eat that” to Naomi who’s found a way to knock a rented textbook off the table and is using the spine to soothe her teething. I pick it up and put it on the counter and then later have to pay the difference because I accidentally burn a page or two.

I hold my daughter across my lap, the bottle of milk I just pumped clutched in her tiny hands, while I type out the answers to busy-work weekly discussion posts. I definitely paid after I was double-fisting open bottles of breast milk, had a squirming baby on my lap, and she kicked them and the spilled milk destroyed my MAC. I paid in the way my shins hurt going from bedrest while pregnant to walking miles everyday either on campus or on the treadmill to get my stamina back. I pay in the way I clean up my apartment every night, picking up toys and textbooks, sticky yogurt melts stuck to the carpet and highlighters, baby socks and post-it notes.

While on campus I utilize the “Nursing Room” in the Student Union in between classes so I can make sure my milk supply doesn’t dwindle. I spend the first month of school pouring the milk down the drain before the fog of mommy-brain lifts and I remember that I can bring a cooler bag with ice packs to keep the milk fresh.

I do a lap of the fitness center with my backpack, my pump bag, and my cooler before realizing that I don’t belong in this place of young energy and sickening innocence. I get a gym membership at a 24 Hour Fitness near my home because – while I belong on campus – I don’t belong in the campus gym. I feel that my insecurities won’t die there, in the presence of adults my age, only thrive.

So; I love that word – So. It leads from one thing to another. I say it so often. And, hilariously, there it is again.

So, I don’t belong here but I do. And I’m here to stay. Well, at least, until graduation. Then I’m done. My dreams are being achieved; I’m hitting my goals with every turned-in homework assignment that’s accompanied by baby puff snack stains. I’m not letting anyone tell me no, or make me go home. Even myself. I have made a commitment and although there have been many days weeping, arguing, and baby bouncing, I am happy to call myself a Knight.

 

Indecision and Finding an MFA Program for US!

Heya,

In January my guy reminded me, which he often does, that it’s about time to figure out where I want to go for graduate school. He tells me that he loves me, he supports my dreams, and that he’s willing to go wherever I want to go.

This is NOT helpful.

Don’t be fooled; this is not the first time we’ve had this discussion. There’s usually some give and take. I want to make sure he is ok with moving somewhere far, as in across the country even, with a completely different lifestyle. He reiterates how much he’s open and he can get a job wherever we go. “Don’t worry about it!” he says. I want to make sure the place is Kid and family friendly. He says that we already make Naomi feel loved and she’ll flourish wherever we are.

It’s a broken record.

This isn’t a problem, you might say. You might even be giving me some side-eye right now. Let me explain. I’m the type of person that’s very, very indecisive when my decisions will literally change someone else’s life. I mean, I mull over changes in my life. Weighing the pros and cons until there’s a clear-cut path for me to choose. Then I take it with no regrets.

That’s how it was when I first moved to Florida. My lease was up and I had the choice to renew for another year or make a change. I talked with my coworkers (a group of older women who had been ‘stuck’ in the same job for 20+ years) and they practically begged me to leave. “You’re young!” they said. “You don’t have any children and you aren’t married or in a relationship. This is the perfect time to start over. Girl, take your dreams and go.” So, I took that advice and ran with it. I packed only what I could fit in my car (hey, even old me wanted to become a minimalist!) and drove the 19 hours with a friend in the passenger seat. See, I’ve only had to make decisions for myself, before Tony and Naomi, and so it’s scary do otherwise.

So it’s seriously a big deal to me.

It’s not just about the school and what kind of education I will get. I know all about the risks of going into academia. I know, I know, I know, I know. People never let me forget. “It’s so hard to find teaching jobs now,” or “I don’t think you know how tough it is to break into that world,” or “Why don’t you just write as a side job?” I get it. But this is my dream. I will go all in. However, I’m also aware that – WHATEVER I end up doing – finding something straight out of a school, EVEN with a Master’s, is slim. We will most likely live wherever I go to school for years after I graduate. There’s also that fear that I join a program and something happens, like failure, and I end up having to leave school. Then we’ll definitely be stuck in that city, I’ll be emotionally distraught (Obvi), and who knows when we’ll be able to move again. It’s a HUGE decision.

When I choose an MFA program, I am choosing where Naomi will spend the next 5+ years of her life, at least. I’ll also be completely uprooting Tony from his job and a city that he loves. He dreamed of moving to Florida all his life and now I’m asking him to leave. Yes, he says he’s fine with it and it’s time for a new journey (he’s been here 8 years. It’s been 6 years for me) but it’s still a hang up for me. I want to make the right decision for my family. I want to make sure that whatever happens we feel happy about where we live and feel safe in our home.

That’s a lot of pressure when I’m also worrying about ‘am I going to get in?’ I also think ‘what if I choose the wrong school?’ and that’s a big one. What if I DO get accepted to several places and I don’t go with the best offer for me, my education, AND my family? I get chills just thinking about it. Whew.

Thank you for listening to my rant and yes, I know. It’s a little far off. Buuuut….not really. Applications are usually due by December 1st.

I still need 3 recommendation letters, to take the GRE, write my 30 pages of creative nonfiction, complete the classes I’m already taking so I can graduate on time, raise Naomi, foster my skills as a writer, be an attentive and honest woman for my guy, and handle my small business. It’s a lot. I have less than 10 months to do it all. So thank you to those who choose to follow me on this journey to MFA.

Good Readdance,
Jade

CNF: To An Old Roommate, I’m So Sorry

I’m sorry I wasn’t the roommate I was supposed to be. I needed to be slutty and hot and sweet and sexy and wholesome and rich and innocent and snobby. I’m sorry I let you drag me along, open door policy, knocking on doors around the dorm to introduce myself to random people on our floor, tossing hair over shoulders.

I’m sorry I flinched away at that tossed hair. That I wanted a bob that barely passed my chin, that when I tucked it behind my ear guys said I looked adorable. I’m sorry that you got that angry look in your eyes when guys said that even though I was shy I was the friendlier of us two. I’m sorry that guys said they’d rather date me than date you. I’m sorry I couldn’t be the roommate I was supposed to be.

I’m sorry that you said ‘this is a secret, don’t tell anyone’ to so many people that it was no longer a secret. I never said anything to anyone. I’m sorry I kept your secret and let people think you were the sweet one and I was the evil one. I’m sorry that there had to be a difference between the two of us.

I’m sorry that you moved out because others, on the floor, wrote SLUT on the door in big black letters that seemed to dig into the board. I’m sorry that when I spoke up – I’m still a virgin – everyone knew that the SLUT was you. I’m sorry that when you left I shut my door, no more open policy, and I retreated into myself.

I’m sorry for lowering my head, and my eyes, whenever I saw you in the halls because when you left you moved down the hall and I had to see your smug face every day. I’m sorry that after our roommate split, our mutual friends had to choose between us and they eventually chose you because your lies depicted me in a false light. I’m sorry that I didn’t correct them. After a certain point, I didn’t care anymore. I just wanted to do well in school even though I knew, that November, it was already too late.

I’m sorry that I trusted you to keep your word. That when you, and the other supposed friends, lied to me he was able to do what he did. I’m sorry that when I opened the door and saw him standing there – the one who had hit me before but claimed he’d been drunk- I let him in. I’m sorry that I was angry at you for not being truthful. For because you didn’t come – which you’d told him you weren’t – he held me down and slapped me around. I’m sorry that he laughed as he ground his pelvis into mine. Our clothes tugging and pulling between us, the buckle of his belt leaving a deep impression into the soft skin of my belly. 

I’m sorry that I couldn’t move, though I always thought I would, and I’m sorry I thought of you. My eyes were closed so tight and I also thought of my childhood. I thought of when I was a child and one of the teens pushed her hands between my legs and I couldn’t say no, didn’t know better than to say no. I thought of when I was even younger and was burned in my scalp with cigarette butts. I relive that pain everyday that I hide the scars in my head. As I lay there, letting him paw me, I thought of my brother slapping me, punching me, kicking me down. I thought of being told I was too ugly to be loved or cared for. I’m sorry that I remembered when I was seven suicide was on my mind but I promised myself that I’d stay alive long enough to go to college, so I could learn amazing things and oh, how it would be to be on my own and to finally be safe. Feel safe. I’m sorry that I couldn’t move because my life flashed before my eyes and not the highlights – as it’s said to happen when near death but the dark parts of my life. They went by like a bullet train.

I’m sorry that because you lied to me, he did this and I thought of all that when I was supposed to be past it. When I was supposed to be healed. When having gone to college and starting a new life for myself was supposed to be different. Despite some of your behavior, I didn’t think you would want this for me. I didn’t think you told him to come over and do this to me. Did you? Did you tell him to come teach me a lesson? I’m sorry but I never learned it.

I’m sorry that when I finally punched him, with a weak hand, I thought of you. I thought of how you lied to me and how because of that he was able to do what he did. I’m sorry for never speaking up about him despite being so afraid I rarely left my room and flunked two of my classes that semester. I’m sorry that every day I would see him in the elevator and he would look at me with one eyebrow raised as if to ask me if I’d told on him yet. I would take in a shaky breath and blow it out so slow and so silent that I wasn’t sure I was doing it at all.

I’m just so sorry. I hope you can forgive me for not being the roommate I was supposed to be.

Good Readdance,
Jade
(creative non-fiction – written for a school assignment – still revising)

What I REALLY Learned About Myself Last Semester

So…big surprise. Not really, you guys know I’m in school and I’m learning new things. I’ve always loved school. The only drawback to being in school, I thought as a kid, was that other people would be there. Sounds silly. I know. I was so shy and reserved that I never realized that it was other people that made it enjoyable. I loved to learn, loved to interact with my teachers and I loved to be in the school setting. I didn’t realize that it was the back and forth, the give and take, of the student to teacher relationship that drew me in. The constant feedback, the discussion over lecture. I just loved it.
(I’m in the year book as the teacher’s pet, by the way)

Anyway, I wasn’t one of those people who had a hurtful or sad school experience and I’m grateful. School was actually my escape. Being a foster kid, turned adopted kid living in a foster home, was pretty hard on me. I shoveled it inside and didn’t dare let anyone see my pain or what I felt on the inside. Leaving the house, and going to school, took me away from anything bad that could happen. At school, I could expand my mind, learn new things and be a different person. I wasn’t a victim at school. It was a safe haven. If only I could just learn more, I’d be free, I thought.
As I grew older, it became very apparent that I needed to bring that kind of positivity back into my life. Now, my current home life is amazing. Despite any sadness that I’ve have due to my losses, I am very happy. It wasn’t that I needed an escape. I’m in love with my soulmate and I live eighteen hours away from anything that has ever hurt me. In the grand scheme of things, I’m doing fucking fantastic! It was that I needed more. More for me. More from me. More expansion. I needed to prove to myself, not to anyone else, that I could achieve anything I set my mind to.

This last semester solidified who I am as a person…to me. It told me that when I want something, I go after it. It told me that when something is hard, like that third math exam that really kicked my ass, I flip things around. It taught me that I do have the ability to meet deadlines. It said ‘You are attentive. You are responsible. You can do this.’ Most people may think ‘Aww, you’re just now learning that?’ and to that I say YES!

I spent too much time as a kid listening to other people.  Older people. People who knew things. Whether it was my bio mom saying she didn’t want me and wished she didn’t have me. Or a sibling concocting a cockamamy story that I was so worthless that I’d actually been left in a dumpster before social services found me. Whether it was my first grade gym teacher saying that I was so angry, he wouldn’t be surprised if I became a serial killer or that one lady who said I could never be a model because I wouldn’t grow up pretty enough. Or even those who gave the statistics about kids in foster homes or the life expectancy of those coming out of ‘the system’. I spent entirely too much time thinking about how people saw me and I retreated further into my bubble.

I retreated so far into books and fiction that for a moment I forgot what was real. People asked, when I grew up, why I didn’t feel compelled or peer pressured by the stories I read. Asked why romance and passion didn’t turn me into a fairy tale loving, wide eyed, girl with too many wedding aspirations. I just didn’t believe in me or anyone wanting to be involved with me enough to think those things would ever be real. In a way, it shielded me from a life time of disappointment. Now that I know differently, I go unbiasedly into relationships, friendships and yes, heartache still.

Now, as an old soul in a twenty-five year old body (albeit creaking knees and popping elbows), I still had things to learn and discover about myself. I was terrified to start school again. I know what kind of person I was during University back at 18. I was free. I knew exactly what, and who, I wanted to be and yet I knew nothing at all. There are a ton of mistakes I made back then. I don’t regret them, because they brought me here, but I do acknowledge them. I was scared that who I was then is actually who I would be now, in school.

But I’m not.

I’m a ‘stay up late until I get the assignment done’ kind of girl. I’m a ‘create a homework planner so I always know what’s due’ kind of girl. I’m a ‘help other students with their homework and assignments because I know the material’ kind of girl. I’m a ‘stick it through even though I might fail’ kind of girl.

That is what I REALLY learned about me last semester.

I know who I am.
Do you?

Stay Safe,
Jade

Reading for Self Betterment and Accomplishing Goals in 2018

Heya Readers,

I’ve been reading since I was a young child and, for the most part, it’s been for entertainment. I hardly ever read non-fiction. I always found it hard to find something that didn’t drone on like a history book. Lately, I’ve been really getting into biographies (autos) and non-fiction works and I think it’s because I’ve been seeking for something real. Something that will actually do something for my mental health. Don’t get me wrong, my love for fictional books (paranormal romance, thriller, psychological thrillers, mysteries, science fiction, general fiction, the list could go on) will never die but this is different.

I’ve been through a lot over the last few years. After the loss of my daughter last year (my second loss in two years) grief, depression, hurt, nights of crying myself to sleep, days of lethargy and more ruled my 2017. I am feeling better (Although I still cry when I think of her sometimes) and I plan to have a better 2018. I know that you can’t rush the healing process but it has been eight full months since I gave birth. I’m just ready to stop feeling so…down.

I’ve really been trying to take back control of my life. Last year I slacked off on a lot of things. My plans for weight loss, my strive to officially get a job in my career field (I tried to find the right fit and couldn’t and I didn’t try again, I’m embarrassed to say). After celebrating Cherchez La Vie this past December I listed several of these things on my goal list for the next six months. I’ve accomplished a few of them. I just got a new job and I’ve been attempting to figure out how I can work the gym into my new busy schedule.

As a child, I always wanted to be a writer. I thought the ability to spin stories and create new worlds, worlds better than the one I’d been living in, was a fascinating idea. I had a hard beginning and landed in foster care. Then I was adopted. It was tough and I still feel some of the residue of abandonment and rejection that was a huge part of my early years. Reading and writing were ways I could create something new. It could make the pain go away, it could make me feel wanted. Because…your characters never disappoint you right? Riiiiight.

Somewhere along the way I got distracted by the glamour of building design and the philanthropy of creating safe and envirnoment-friendly spaces for the homeless. It was a weird girlhood dream of mine, especially after a few months of HGTV and Extreme Home Make over (Move That Bus!). I studied hard and right out of high school I enrolled in college at the University of Kansas to get my master’s degree in Architecture. That was just a funny way of saying I was going to be stuck in school for six years. I loved it, for the short time I was there. I started out with reciprocity grants and scholarships, that only lasted for a while.

Attending school as an out of state student, without scholarships, would cost me nearly $30k a year. I eventually ran out of money and had to withdraw. That was six years ago. I was really upset about it in the beginning but decided not to drag me down. I moved to Florida; eighteen hour road trip with a friend, stretched over two days. I made new friends, I met my soulmate. I changed the course of my future even though I wasn’t sure how it would pan out.

My love for writing has never gone away, I have dreams and goals that, I feel, are bigger than me. I want to accomplish them. I am going to accomplish them. In 2018 I plan to set that into motion. Get a job in my career field, finish two books (WIP!), and continue my education. It will be tough but I’m sure that I can do it.

I have lived in Florida for three years now. This means that (exaggerated pause for effect) I can get instate tuition at the university here! I had no idea and I just happened to be sitting on the couch, watching TV when one of those commercials drew me in. You know, the ones that are like ‘Hey, do you want to finish your education?‘? Yes, one of those. The university here is actually pretty amazing, I’ve already been on campus. It’s literally a dream come true. That’s a major plan for self betterment that I’ve already put into motion. Less than two weeks from now I am starting my spring courses. I should graduate just over two years from now.  I’m getting my degree in English, with an emphasis in rhetoric and fiction writing.

Wow, obviously I talk a lot. Thanks for sticking around. I said all of that just to say  I’ve picked up Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes (creator and writer of Grey’s Anatomy, How To Get Away With Murder, Scandal, etc). Shonda (as she’s so informally referred to on the inside flap) is an introvert, like me! She, too, has issues with public speaking and large crowds. The book is about how saying yes turned her life around. “Yes, I’ll do…” “Yes, I would love…” “Yes, I will show up to…”.

Year of Yes

I’ve actually already started it and am excited to tell you guys what I’m gleaning from her story. She has a particular voice that makes me feel empowered when reading it. This year, I am really trying to incorporate books that will help me live a better life, fuller life. Live life…in general. This is one of many on my list this year. So here we go.

By the way, if you’ve read this book and loved it, leave me a comment below! Tell me what you thought of it? Did it make you laugh? Did you smile? Are you an introvert like us? (Yes, that’s me referring to Shonda and I like we are best friends). What are your plans for a brighter future? Do you have any goals, big or small, that you want to accomplish this year? Are you in school now?

Happy Reading,

Jade

 

 

Link to Book