Part 1 – This is the first writing in a multi-part series in which I describe my hectic experience in learning responsibility, humility, and maturity, all while going to college and learning more about myself along the way. This part details my moving out of home at 16, barely making it through high school, and my decision to go to college.
” By the time I was 16 years old, I had transferred schools so many times that things were beginning to go missing from my transcript, lost in-transit apparently. “
Soon, and very soon, (April 20th actually) I will be turning 21 years old. In realizing this, I’ve been trying to reflect, and I’m reminded of times when I used to wonder how I’d even made it 16 years old, let alone as far as 21. It seems like forever ago that I turned 18, perhaps this hectic life of mine has kept me busy enough that I’ve lost track of time. I can remember my wise grandpa once telling me, “The older you get, the quicker time goes.” For me it definitely has, and every year seems to go by quicker than the last. I remember defiantly arguing with my mother as a child, warning her that as an adult (at 18) she wouldn’t be able to tell me what to do anymore. How naïve I was! I had found, when I moved out, that life actually was very much harder than I could have imagined, who would’ve guessed?
One thing I’ve heard college students say most often is that they wish things were as simple as they were when their parents took care of them. I sure do, but I have to admit that I’m also happy for the life lessons I’ve learned, the friends I’ve made, and the crazy experiences I’ve gained. This causes me to believe that, above all, I appreciate them too much to truly wish to go back (however nice it sounds.)
“I remember how exciting and new everything felt, like I was an adult and everything would be easy from here on out….except it wasn’t.”
For me, my coming-of-age, didn’t come with turning 18. Contrary to what I believed, it was not an immediate transferal of adulthood. There was no light that shined down from above, no heavenly voice telling me, “You’re a man now”. There was no innate feeling or even hint that change had occurred. I was 18, and that was it. My coming-of-age was a process that occurred throughout my time in community college. You see, I had been somewhat on my own since 16, so I had no nearby family either to help celebrate my birthday. By the time I was 16 years old, I had transferred schools so many times that things were beginning to go missing from my transcript, lost in-transit apparently. My mother planned on moving again, and I had already spoken to my friend Andrew about moving in with him and his family. After much deliberation, and a lot of tears, my mom decided she would allow me to stay. I had a small, black Chevy S-10 that I loaded up to take my things over. I remember boxing up all of my Coca-Cola collectibles, my Xbox 360, the ancient TV my mom owned when she was a teenager, and my teddy bear my dad had given me when I was little. Memories of the drive through the country side and the feeling of empowerment I felt have me dazing out, forgetting to continue typing. I remember how exciting and new everything felt, like I was an adult and everything would be easy from here on out….except it wasn’t.
I am completely thankful to my friend Andrew and his mother Barbara (Babs as I like to call her) for taking me in, but it was single handedly the largest culture shock I’d ever been exposed to. This family came from Florida, and New York. They were Italian, and did things way differently than what my family did. We all ate at one table together, and before our meals we would share positive things that happened to us that day. They drank coffee….all day. Literally, that coffee pot endlessly poured out more and more coffee as the day went on. I wasn’t allowed to drink coffee growing up, but I can honestly say I drink around 3 cups a day now. Also, everyone talked a lot more loudly than what was common for my home. So much so that they constantly had to explain to me that they weren’t arguing because I would always come running as if something was about to go down. They had numerous cats and I had, at one point, learned the names of all of them. At that point they had over 20 cats, and two dogs. Sadly, I can only remember the cats Cowface and Gabe anymore. Most importantly though, was the sense of acceptance I had felt with them. Don’t get me wrong, my mother is my best friend in the whole wide world, but there is something different about a whole group of people accepting you and taking you in as one of their own and expecting nothing in return. They were truly great people, and I greatly admire their humility.
“If I’m being honest, I felt that even though I didn’t do all my homework, I still thought I would have graduated.”
Staying in Neodesha, my hometown, was great. Neodesha had been the one town I spent the most time in during all of our moves. I had my oldest and best friends there, and I actually loved the little town. At Andrew’s house, responsibility was one of the most important messages that they tried to get through to me, but I struggled with it greatly. I wasn’t organized because of all of the moves, I’d never been in one place long enough to really be held accountable for my lack of doing homework, and I’d never really been without my mother either. My mother may still not even know it, but I constantly told her I was doing my homework when none of it was being done. You can’t really address an issue like that without help, and if no one knows, then they can’t express care. Senior year came, and nothing had changed. I was still irresponsible. I’d go to the counselor’s office during classes I didn’t want to be in, I’d dwell on others problems for them, and created more problems for myself to ignore. I built a personality off of pleasing others, or fixing their problems, and never took the time to work on myself. Babs would tell me, “People are going to just keep taking and taking from you because they know that you will let them. You have to stand up for yourself, and care about you first because no one else will care about yourself like you do and they will walk all over you.” It truly opened my eyes. I had been failing my classes, missing deadlines, and not showing up for school functions.
Ultimately, it was too late, I was told I wouldn’t be able to walk with my classmates. My heart ached as I walked home that day. Both of my parents didn’t graduate high school. At the time, it seemed like graduating high school would be my lifetime achievement just because I’d be the first in my family to do so in a long time. Learning I wouldn’t walk destroyed me. If I’m being honest, I felt that even though I didn’t do all my homework, I still thought I would have graduated. Maybe it was “No Child Left Behind”, maybe it was a sense of entitlement, maybe it was fruitless hope, but I never actually thought I’d be told I wouldn’t get to walk. I hadn’t really thought that far ahead, graduating. I really wasn’t prepared for either outcome really. I was told that all I had to do was come the following summer, take online classes, and I could be done in a month. For something so easy to do, I sure didn’t want to do it. The commencement for my class came and went, and I did not go. I was embarrassed. Isolating myself in my room I slept numerous days away. This was when my depression really started.
“Sitting in a room of computers, from 8 am til 3 pm in the same school I failed to graduate from, I grew weary about my potential.”
I was never one to consider myself someone who suffered from depression back then. All the things I had experienced as a child only made me want more for myself, except, I didn’t want to work for it. To be clear, I absolutely abhor the notion that this is a trait that exists only in my generation, because it isn’t. In fact, I truly believe wholeheartedly in the potential of my generation, but I was tremendously disappointed in myself that I happened to carry on that same laziness that plagues students from generations back. I didn’t go to the first few days of that summer class. Rather, I went to the first day, and didn’t show back up for a while. Sitting in a room of computers, from 8 am til 3 pm in the same school I failed to graduate from, I grew weary about my potential. I started doubting myself. And, for almost a week after, I slept in every day and wouldn’t go back. There was an old lady who lived with Andrew, his grandma Mary. Mary and I were great friends. She always shared her ice cream with me, we’d sit and talk about the world while petting the cats together, and she was raised somewhat similar to the way I was. Mary would come in to check on me, and after a few days of seeing I had no intention of going, she jumped my case.
It was the first time in a while, since leaving my mom’s house, that someone really got upset with me about my lack of responsibility. I quickly sat up as she told me that I was acting ridiculous, that I could do so much with my life, and that I (whether I liked it or not) was going to finish school. She offered to wake me up every day and make me leave, and she did. She wouldn’t leave my room until I got up out of bed. Having someone behind me that was literally cheering me on helped a lot, and eventually she didn’t have to try so hard to wake me up. During those times, she was the only person living in that home that I actually saw because everyone was working so much. So, I went to school. I put in the work, and I finished within the month.
“In a huge auditorium, among hundreds of empty chairs, sat one excited, hopeful, loving old lady who carried all the faith in the world for me.”
Graduation was, interesting at best. You see, when you graduate as a summer school kid, you have almost no one there. With kids having no school to attend, and parents having to work, people can’t just come and watch two kids who failed to graduate finally walk. There was no pomp and circumstance, no real ceremony. Just posed pictures in gowns in front of the Bell that our school had kept from our football rivalry. The other kid who graduated with me had six people there for him. I had one. I could feel myself about to cry as I realized that this whole thing had come about because of my laziness, but “grandma” Mary got me through it and was there. She came to my graduation. In a huge auditorium, among hundreds of empty chairs, sat one excited, hopeful, loving old lady who carried all the faith in the world for me. We left that day and back at home Babs gave me a hug congratulating me for passing high school. For some reason, I didn’t like hearing it. I didn’t feel I had passed anything, realistically I had barely passed by the skin of my teeth. Then I asked myself something, apparently, almost all the other high school students asked themselves a long time ago: what next? I had made a friend right around then, who would later become one of my closest friends, and he was asking that same question. I had seen Independence Community College recruitment stands at our school before and I suggested that we apply. We put out a Facebook post asking if anyone knew of any houses for rent. Within 2 days, we had a reply. One of my friend’s relatives needed some roommates, and would help us get jobs where he worked. While we were considering whether or not we should move, that same day we also got a letter saying that we had been accepted at ICC. The odds were astronomical! We quickly decided that we would move into an apartment in Independence, and start working towards a degree. Once again, I packed my things and headed out towards a new destination. Except this time, I was going to work hard, and really make something better for myself.