I’ve returned to the place where I made most of my messes.
This was a con I never weighed before accepting a job at the same place where I went to college. Every day I battle the ghosts of my late teens and early twenties, which is the last challenge I expected to have with this new job. From the gazebo that bears my initials, to the love triangles drawn within the walls of the student union, around every corner, in mostly all the buildings built prior to 2000, there is a memory that causes my heart to sink. Luckily, it’s just me and the walls that remember. And really, more so the walls. I hardly remember what I say when I’m saying it, let alone the mischeif that is at least a decade old, but boy did those walls keep accurate records. Every time I see one, they narrate stories of my past, like the one of the duck that got into my Alka Seltzer.
And that’s just one campus.
What will happen when I visit the other campus where I took my journalism classes and got into much more than just Alka Seltzer? Those walls will undoubtedly scream, “Quitter,” among other adjectives. It was during this time that I was earning a ridiculous sum of money, or so I thought, from the Miami Herald. I wasn’t even old enough to drink, but I didn’t need to, I was intoxicated with adulthood. I had press credentials around my neck and a vagina I finally figured out how to operate. School simply couldn’t compete. I had trouble making a one o’clock class, but no trouble starting my shift at 5am, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. The jobs that followed, a non-profit, another news station, another non-profit, flowed money to my bank account and filled my calendar with events and happy hours that flowed my money back out of credit cards with limits that I can no longer qualify for today. The little bit of cash I did have, I used to enroll in a class or two, but then, when work consumed my nights and weekends, I’d forget to officially drop them, plummeting my GPA to a number that should be my interest rate.
Among all the false F’s I accumulated, I did manage to attend and complete other courses with A’s. Two years after my originally scheduled graduation date, I had enough credits to earn a Bachelor of Arts in English.
I didn’t attend commencement. I felt I had nothing to be proud of. Plus, my parents and I were estranged at the time, and, most importantly, I had to work that day.
More than a dozen years have gone by and, although I’ve made some pretty bad mistakes, no other project or venture has been more of a scarlet letter than school. My transcripts read like a criminal record and the admissions committee of those programs I previously applied to probably saw me as a recidivist felon. But, now I’ve returned to the scene of the crime and, to add insult to injury, I’m surrounded by eminent figures in their respective academic fields that require large walls, similar to the one I climbed to get away from campus police, to fit all their degrees and accolades. Doctors and deans and chancellors and professors – and me. Now more than ever I need to undo the mess I made so long ago, so that the next time one of those walls tries to retell a shameful story, I could nail it with a well-earned degree.