I was always supposed to be able to afford school and attend school. It was never a question of if I would go, but where would I? I had no problem with this idea. I loved school and learning the world around me. I loved the opportunities it gave me to do bigger and better things within a community that wanted you to achieve. Because your achievement within a school community, is an achievement for the school. Your success is their success.
But when I told the University of Pittsburgh I would attend in the Fall 2014, I was wrong.
After attending orientation, picking out my classes, and falling in love with their community. I suddenly had lost it all to a simple number that lay theoretical and on a sheet of paper.
“You’ll just take out the loans you need.” She said.
It’s been four years, and I couldn’t tell you if those were my mother’s exact words. That’s what it came down to although. I would pay for the University of Pittsburgh by myself. The most expensive public school in the nation. Roughly $50,000. And I had been notified of this toll one month before school was supposed to start.
The error had been in my mother’s planning. I had begged with her for years to include me in our family’s financial matters ever since I had started working at 15 and even more so after my grandfather death my junior year had left us financial screwed. Yet, I was too young and it was none of my business, which I whole heartily disagreed with when I was more or less on my own when it came to paying for things. So when I asked for a year just who my mom planned to pay for college, she said to me time and time again: don’t worry you just get in to school and we’ll figure it out. And I wish so desperately for that to be the whole truth.
We sat on the ground floor of the Cathedral of Learning, the huge tower in the middle of University of Pittsburg, at a large wooden table. It was something from Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter. The massive room was dark, and the feeling of cold stone was felt throughout the air. It was a movie set picture moment of my let down and disappointment. We had gone to the Air Force ROTC recruiter and talked to him. We had talked to financial aid. We looked at all the programs. Yet there was no solid guarantee way to pay. There was plans like maybe I’ll go this year, and try to get on ROTC scholarship next year, but that was a maybe. There was plans about my mom being my co-signer on a private loan though it became aware that she did not even qualify for that.
So I left. I left Pittsburgh. My mom asked me to stay hopefully and that maybe there was a way, but I knew as we left orientation there was no way.
Red Hot Anger
I have never been so mad. I was mad everything. The whole god damned world. But most of all I was mad at my mother for making me think things would be okay.
There was no way I was going to hang around in our house instead of attending school. No way I was going to be in the same place as the family that let me down. So I started to plan.
I looked at attending another school I’d been accepted to, but had turned down: George Mason, James Madison, etc. But there was no point in even reaching out to them to take me back when I couldn’t even afford them. So I turned to community college.
Up and Out
I had just started dating a guy who was going to school at the University of Virginia (UVA). It was two hours south of my hometown in Charlottesville. It was my “out”. My connection to somewhere else. If I had any extended family, I would have gone with them. Yet all I had in my life was my mom, brother, grandma, and aunt – all of who lived under the same roof as I. I have no cousins, no second uncles. I had no one who hadn’t burned me.
I started looked at the off campus UVA housing and found a place. I didn’t even look at it in person before sending her my signed copy of the lease. I had enrolled in Piedmont Virginia Community College and planned to start August 2014. I was going to take money I had made working over the summer as a pool manager and the money I got from federal loans to pay for school, rent, and whatever else. That was all the plan I had.
I am lucky, because it worked out. I was able to pay for everything with the help of my close family friend supplement financial needs here and there.
But by 18 years old, I was totally on my own.
Swim, Don’t Stink
It was crazy to think looking back that I did that. I lived all on my own for a year as a freshmen. This is a time where most young adults my age go off to college and are so homesick they come home every weekend. Or a time where people are not even going to college, because they can’t for a thousands reasons.
There I was. On my own. At college. Living all by myself… Okay, I had a roommate who hated me.
I took 18 credits in the fall, 19 credits in the spring. I achieved a 4.0 GPA. Something else incredibly hard to accomplish all on it’s own.
I look back and thing “wow that’s me”, because it’s hard to believe I actually did it. It wasn’t a conscious choice. It was something I just had to do. It was my surviving. To not go to school and achieve that goal was failure. It meant a piece of me would die. Dramatic, but hey. It’s how I feel.
It’s this drive I am trying to remember in my last few weeks of college, because I’m drown in self doubt. I have no direction. Although, I am taking comfort in the fact that history repeats itself and I’ve been here before. Lost, unsure, without direction. And though I don’t feel it, I just need to keep telling myself I can do this. I have gotten through this kinda mess before.
We are always stronger then we believe. If only we can let ourselves believe it.