I drive past my alma mater almost every day. It’s a little surreal, seeing how much the campus has changed while remaining the same in so many ways. I feel like I did most of my ‘growing up’ in the place where I completed my bachelor’s degree; so that campus holds a special place in my heart and in my life.
It’s winter break, and the campus is almost empty. There are a few cars in the apartment parking lots; students who live in the on-campus apartments can stay through the break, while those in the dorms cannot. Students that have decided to stay through most of the break either do so because home is too far away, or they have a local job, or there is no other place to go besides campus housing.
Driving past this time of year, during the winter break, I’m reminded of another winter break a lifetime ago…
Once upon a time, there lived a girl in the heart of the Pine Barrens. We’ll call her C. She dreamed of working for MTV. Just 21 years old, C had her entire life ahead of her. She was a broadcast journalism major, and spent much of her non-class time at the student-run TV station on campus. C was determined to have a career in television, and everything she did worked towards that goal. She had completed exactly half of her degree at the end of the fall semester in 1992.
C returned to her parents’ home for winter break, as most college students do, with the promise of employment at the family store. If she worked in the store, it would give her dad some much-needed time off and provide her with the remainder of the money she needed for spring classes. C therefore declined a guaranteed on-campus job, and returned to her hometown. Arriving home, she was greeted with the information that she was NOT needed at the family store, and she would be without employment for the month. Panicked because she needed tuition money, C began scrambling for any available job opportunity. She filled in as a banquet server for holiday parties, she picked up waitressing shifts here and there, and tried to find other short-term employment to get her through until she returned to school and her library job.
It’s important to know that C’s relationship with her parents was rocky. Her mother was and still is a functional alcoholic. Her father, for all his good qualities, was and still is an enabler. C’s father was known to side with his wife during any conflict, even ignoring the fact that his wife drove drunk with the children in the car. C learned early in life that her father would seldom intervene. He spent long hours at work, and usually missed the alcohol-induced abuses that happened at home. C’s mother was against her children attending college, and often pointed out that she had done ‘just fine’ without higher education. In a surprising show of defiance, C’s father insisted that both his daughters obtain at least a bachelor’s degree.
C’s mother grew angrier each time C left the house for work during the break. She and her mother were never close, and what was left of that relationship deteriorated while C was in college. C’s mother went so far as to try and prevent her daughter from working by ‘accidentally’ blocking her car in, or picking fights as she was about to walk out the door. The tension came to a head one evening as C returned home from work.
Two other people bore witness to the argument between C and her mother that evening: her father and her sister. To this day, they maintain they do not remember the events of that night.
Drunk and angry, C’s mother pounced as soon as C walked in the door. The crux of the argument was some paperwork C’s mother found while going through C’s room.
C refused to argue with her mother, and even offered to stay elsewhere for the night so issues could be calmly discussed the next day. This was unacceptable, and the mother told her daughter to get out and never come back. C appealed to her father with a single plea: “Daddy???”
Her father’s response was to hide further behind his newspaper and utter the oft-repeated phrase C had grown to dread: “You know your mother…”
That phrase meant he would not interfere, and would once again not stand up for his children to their mother.
As C packed her belongings, she began making calls to try and find a place to stay. School didn’t start for another week, and she could not return to her dorm room until then. No one she spoke to was able to help her. Broke, upset, and her car in iffy condition, C made one last call to an acquaintance who had remained on campus over the break. He was the friend of a friend and C didn’t know him that well, but she was desperate. He unhesitatingly told her to come down, and he and his roommates would let her stay in their apartment until the dorms opened back up for the spring semester.
As she drove down to campus that night, she was in shock. She knew she and her mother never had the greatest relationship, but she never expected her own mother to kick her out, and her father to stand by and do nothing. She reminded herself she was 21 years old and a legal adult…so really, had she been kicked out? Her brain shifted into overdrive as she wondered how she would pay her tuition. And if she couldn’t pay the full tuition, how many classes could she drop and still maintain the number of credits required to keep her in the dorms for the semester? She thought about the cost of books for her classes, and how she was going to afford those. And her car…it desperately needed repairs, so she had to figure out how to afford that as well. Things were not looking good…but at least she had a place to stay until the dorms opened up for the spring.
Little did she know that her decision to take her acquaintance up on his offer would have repercussions that would echo through her life more than 20 years later…