If you had told me three years ago that I would start crying real tears of joy when I got a diploma for a moderately useless two year degree from a community college, I would have probably laughed in your face. No, really. For one, if I ever wanted to go back to college I would have been going for a four year degree in something that could help people, like social work or psychology. And I didn’t want to go to some community college where half of the freshman drop out after one quarter (or two weeks into the first quarter). I wanted to go to a Proper University and get a Proper Degree.
So how did I end up locking myself in my bathroom to cry upon receiving the meager title of Associate in Arts heading to an English Major with a teaching certificate? I mean, this isn’t my life, right guys? This isn’t the life I moved across the country to live.
But, it’s better. Because it is real.
Originally when I moved to the Valley it was with these grandiose dreams of getting a psychology degree. My first job after setting foot here was working for a non-profit mental health organization. I wanted to get my doctorate. I wanted to run the place. But not having many options open to me, I had to enroll in the only school that I could make work with my job and my newly minted separation from my husband (also unexpected). I went to Yakima Valley Community College because it was inexpensive, close to home, and admitted everyone. At the time I felt like I was just making the best of bad circumstances, but it wasn’t really what I wanted.
How silly I can sometimes be!
The instructors I dealt with were some of the smartest and most hardworking people I ever dealt with. And the work itself was both harder and easier than I anticipated. To be honest, I worked my butt off. I stayed up nights late. I did homework ALL THE TIME. Supper is boiling on the stove? Homework. In the bath? Doing the reading. Working on an essay? Expect me to dialogue stuff to myself while driving in an attempt to figure it out. For the first year of my school career I worked 36 hours every weekend. I got out of class at 11 on Friday and was at work by noon. I worked until midnight, picked up the baby from her grandparents, went home, and tried to sleep. I was up at six to be out of the house by seven so I could drop the baby off and be at work at 8, often working until 5 or midnight. And the same the next day. Looking back, I wonder when I did my homework. (Oh, wait, always.) And how did I stay sane?
I don’t know. I wouldn’t accept failure from myself so I tried to do better than my best, always. Other students would explain why they couldn’t spend more than four hours on an essay. I told myself I wouldn’t be that person. I would sacrifice whatever I had to in the short term as long as it wasn’t the kids. The kids got my full attention during dinner. I helped them with their homework and read to them for a half hour every night.
And I worked, and I worked. Somewhere in there my husband and I reconciled, and I wish I could say that made everything easier. It made it possible for me to only work part time, and it made the crazy reading schoolwork in the bathtub let up some.
But it didn’t make things EASY, just easiER.
If getting a degree and making something out of your life were simple, everyone would do it. It’s not.
I feel so ridiculous. I want to just walk around town shoving my diploma in everyone’s face and pointing at the Honor’s badge and saying, “I DID THIS. ME. ME WITH MY HITTING ROCK BOTTOM AND FAILING AT EVERYTHING. THIS IS ME.”
I’m going to embrace the crazy, though. I’m going to be as proud of that silly little bit of paper as if it were a degree from Harvard or Yale, because I had to work for it. I suppose only I will ever know how much I went through to earn that ridiculous little gold emblem with the honor’s cap, but, hey.
I do know.
And if I’d told myself two years ago that it wasn’t worth it, I’d still be cleaning toilets for fifty cents above minimum wage, and mouthing off to anyone who would listen how one day I’d make something of myself.
Guess what, I made something of myself already. And it may not be the fantasy, but I’ll settle for the reality.
A reality you earn with sweat and tears and sheer grit is better than a pipe dream anyway. And did you see my diploma? It has a shiny gold honor’s badge. I did that! Me!