All said and done, start to finish, my father was in the hospital and the rehab for like seven hours short of exactly six weeks, and I am glad he is home and getting well, and it isn’t like those six weeks were all fun (I started school, I went back to work after a vacation and entered a place of total turmoil, I learned I have no extended family I can count on in times of crisis, I learned I even have a friend or two I can’t count on in times of crisis, I learned my brother has a totally different value system from me that can make him impossible to put up with) but they were six weeks I didn’t steel myself every time I walked in the front door of my house wondering which version of my father would be greeting me and here I am, on the night of my father’s first day home, already at the end of my rope and exhausted of the stress.
This week was the week to survive, and I did it. I had two essays due Monday, an essay due Tuesday, and an essay and a presentation Wednesday, and here I am on the other side of it, still alive. The one essay to worry about was the first big one for Monday, which had actually been due the week before but I took an extension on. I stayed up all night Sunday and slept for an hour before I had to get up for school, and then I spent the two and a half hours on campus before my first class further revising it. When I handed it in I had to staple the rubric to the top and when I read over it again my heart sank. Best papers connect to period and context, fluid citations… there were long lists and I did none of those things, I thought. A whole extra week to write it and I still rushed it. Usually my first paper of the semester sets the standard really high and then as the months go by and I get exhausted the quality drops and my teachers are understandably disappointed that I’m not as good as they once thought. This time it will be the reverse, I realized. I will start out low—not a terrible paper, I can compose a good sentence, but somewhere between 77-82—and then end the semester with a solid low A paper. Like a 92.
Except I got the paper back Wednesday, and my professor slid it to me and said before class started, “A week late but really worth the wait. Just exactly what I was looking for—connected it to the period, to the movement, gave it context. Great work.” And I thought she was joking but no, there it was, 95 at the top, and all the little lists with checks by the highest levels.
That night I finally had a moment to breathe and look it over. I wrote a whole long paragraph connecting the usage of a specific word to The Gleaners. I wrote at length about Greek myth. I discussed the acceptance of human fallibility. And it’s not a great paper, I can see the things that make it a low A or a high B rather than that 95, but this was such solid and irrefutable evidence that I know nothing of myself and my abilities and what I can accomplish.
The same thing happened the week before, actually—I met up with my wonderful professor from the spring during his office hours to catch up, to get some class advice. He asked me about transferring, and I told him of the two places I am torn between, one in Philadelphia and one in Pittsburgh.
The school in Philadelphia is affordable. I won’t have a lot of debt. If I enter into an agreement with them within the next semester and then keep up my (currently inflated, unrealistic) GPA, I can get a guaranteed academic scholarship of like two grand a semester. If I get everything figured out early enough I can get housing through them but I could probably still figure at way to work and live in the city and if worse comes to worse I could live at home.
I like the school in Pittsburgh more, but because I just like Pittsburgh, because when I was last there in April I felt so at home, felt like nobody knew who I was or that I had made so many mistakes, felt so surprised at every random person who said they liked my cardigan or my jacket or my smile or who didn’t immediately glare at me when I accidentally bumped into them. But it’s riskier there, and there’s no housing option, and I just don’t think it’s realistic that I would be able to put aside money here and move there and get by. Though I know a friend who has done it now several times… but I’m not her.
I said all this to my professor from last semester and he gave me a funny look when I mentioned these two schools and then finished off my saying it was really more a dream to go to the one in Pittsburgh because I didn’t think I could figure out all the steps.
"Well, yeah," he said, and half-laughed while still giving me an eye. "But it’s not impossible."
"I guess not," I said. "It just kind of feels like it is."
He gave me another look before he asked me about the size of the schools and if I actually wanted to be somewhere as large as either of them.
"No. But I don’t really have any other options." I shrugged. And we talked about the little state schools that are nowhere, near nothing, that I don’t want to attend even if you do get a lot more personal attention before he started telling me about when he applied for colleges:
"I was stupid, actually," he began, and then talked about the three expensive liberal arts colleges he applied to, not knowing if he’d get it and not even considering how he’d afford them. And he didn’t get into one, and one accepted him, and the last one accepted him but also threw a huge scholarship his way that made it possible.
"And it totally changed my life," he said.
Then we started discussing little schools like that and he gave me some names to look into, to see if they would offer a transfer a lot of money, if that could be an opportunity for me, before his hours ended and I realized my ride had been waiting for ten minutes. And as I ran down the steps to the parking lots, shoes skipping and tapping in rhythm against the concrete, I thought of my professor giving me that look while saying “But it’s not impossible” and wondered what else I’d been holding myself back from.