Who Exactly Would I Be?

When I was eighteen turning nineteen, I spent an entire summer driving across the United States with a friend. We drove my 1982 Toyota Corolla station wagon some 7,500 miles, essentially creating a large rectangle as we ticked across most of the perimeter states. Looking back, this was easily my first real independent experience as a young adult. For those three months it was just us deciding the day's destination. Even though both of us worked, I'm pretty sure it was the first extended time either of us truly had to ensure our essentials were covered . We budgeted, we shopped for food, and we cooked our food using our camping gear. When we were in between destinations, we mainly camped. It was such a great experience for two young girls wanting a little more than the norm.

We met people all along the way and for me, I now consider this trip to be the pre-curser to my travels outside of the states. I realized that I could do kind of scary, kind of intimidating pursuits like this and be okay. I also realized that I did not have to stay in Olympia if I didn't want to. This was a big awareness for me. Many of my high school friends automatically went from high school into college. I was on that path too. I even had a dorm and a roommate all set up for the university I wanted to go to.

My deposit was due for the upcoming fall quarter when my mom kind of sat me down to make sure I understood there was no money for me to attend. This wasn't a completely new concept. It's not like I was holding onto some ridiculous notion that somehow, someone was going to miraculously pop into my life and pay for my education. But I got caught up. It had been exciting visiting the far away towns to scope out the colleges with my friends. It was even more exciting to plan for the room I was going to share with my girlfriend. The difficulty, which my mom simply reviewed with me during this conversation, was that I would have to pay all this money back. The loans that I was accepted for would conveniently cover the costs of everything...until I had to pay it back. My mom wanted to make sure I understood how difficult that could be, and that there were other options like working for a bit, going to a community college, etc.

I remember reacting with bitterness, probably saying something like, "okay, I just won't go". I was bummed. Actually, I was pissed. To me it wasn't fair that I couldn't go and have the same experiences as all of my high school friends. Pockets of them were staying together, going to the same schools and I felt completely left out. I was jealous. I was jealous that they were able to go and move forward with their lives. I was jealous, mostly, that they somehow had the money side of it all figured out. It was bull-shit. I remember thinking  how I had already been working for two years and I kind of calculated what I had earned to this point. I compared that money earned to the fees for a single year at the college I was planning to attend. For me, it was an insurmountable situation.

And so, I didn't go. Instead, I decided to take the year off from school and just work. I had two jobs and it was fine I guess. I missed my friends. I made visits to their campuses, but I kind of felt like shit when I did, like my life was going nowhere. There lives seemed so different, like they were having so much fun...like they were growing up. I have often compared Olympia to a stagnant pond, but I can see now that it happened to be that for me, because of where I was in my life for much of my time there. I wasn't   completely happy.

I began community college that winter. It didn't feel right just working. Lifeguarding and working at a department store were jobs that I did not see myself doing forever. Working and going to school became a challenge. Sometimes I couldn't go to school because I didn't have the money. Sometimes my schedule was absolutely crazy because of work and trying to fit in the classes I needed. But, I stuck with it and slowly carved away at the requirements for an Associates.

Looking back on that time in my life, as well as when my parents decided to move from Philadelphia to Washington, I often consider the bigger picture. I imagine all these little pathways connecting and diverging. I wonder where I would be if different routes were taken--not because of regret, just to see what would change and what would be the same. Sometimes I wonder how much of me would be me if I had just stayed in Philadelphia, or did just accept the loans. Who exactly would I be? It's weird to think about...how different branches of life might not have brought me such wonderful friendships, or such a great husband, or allowed me to entertain some of the crazy and wonderful experiences that I have encountered.



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