I have been struggling for the last couple of weeks about whether or not I should write this post. I've bared my soul in a number of ways in past blog posts. I've shared my feelings about various subjects and told you about happy things, horrible things, and all sorts of stuff in between. When I open up about things, whether it's catching a fit of giggles over something or sharing something unpleasant from my past, I potentially open myself up to judgement and criticism. A reader might look at something I have written and decide that I am unkind or silly or even a big crybaby. That's why it's been hard to decide to write this piece. But perhaps writing about something that causes me shame will help me make peace with the feelings I experienced.
A few weeks ago, we were having Sunday dinner with our friends Marie and Thayne. Marie is going back to school in an attempt to get the Bachelor's degree she didn't get when she was younger. We began talking about her schooling, not in depth, but more about how it makes her feel good to be doing something she wished she had done years ago. The conversation took a turn to things we wished we had done differently when we were younger. Of course, it's always very easy to look back with the knowledge we have gained with years and experience and say that we should have done x or y or z. The old saying about hindsight being twenty-twenty exists for a reason - it's true.
Marie expressed that she wished she had gone away to school instead of taking courses at a local college. She also regretted her ignorance, in those days, about the availability of scholarship programs. Before any of my younger readers scoff at this, I'd like to remind you that in those days, we didn't have computers on which to look up all of this wonderful information. I think many of us learned about scholarships and such from the adults around us, whether parents or other relatives, or teachers and counselors at school.
I agreed that I had also been quite ignorant about scholarships myself. I knew that scholarships were out there, but I was naive enough to think that if you were one of the top few students in your school, scholarships were offered to you. Seeing that in black and white is almost laughable, but I had no way of knowing any better.
Before I knew it, I was very angry about what had happened in my life in the High School and post-High School years. I shared with the others that I had been fortunate enough to score in the top two percent nationwide of the PSAT/NMSQT, along with only one other person from my school. I took the test because it was supposed to be good practice for the SAT/ACT testing that was to happen later. I knew that the first set of letters meant Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test, but it wasn't until another student mentioned it that I learned that it was also the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.
I didn't tell the others about how the other student and I found out about our achievement. We were in our normal classes when someone was sent from the Principal's office with a pass requiring us to go there. I was petrified. Mr. Rhoda was a former football player with so many muscles that his arms and neck were like tree trunks. When Liz was in High School, he was the Dean of Boys. He once broke up a fight in the cafeteria by picking up the two boys in question by their shirt collars and carrying them out of the cafeteria! We two girls were petrified. We were given certificates or something and Mr. Rhoda told us how proud he was of our achievement. We were mostly relieved that we were not in any trouble with this (gentle) giant!
Anyway, as a result of my score on this test, I received a great number of solicitations from colleges and universities across the country. I am not exaggerating when I say that I received several each week. There were glossy brochures and descriptions of programs and campuses from across the United States. Some were small private schools, and some were larger Universities. One thing that they all had in common, though, was that they were all institutions that it would have been an honor and a privilege to attend. They all had excellent programs and provided the best in education.
Each time I received one of these thick envelopes I would show it to Gram and say that I had gotten a letter from such-and-such school. It was made pretty clear to me that I would not be going to any of these schools, so it made no sense for me to waste my time looking at them. Most of the names of the schools have faded from my memory, but one remains crystal-clear. One of the schools that wanted me to consider them was Johns Hopkins. Yes, you read that correctly. Johns Hopkins University asked me to consider choosing them for my continuing education. I don't know if Bill and Alice would have been able to afford to send me to one of these hallowed halls of higher learning, but part of me suspects they might have been able to do so.
Here's where my anger kicked in during the conversation. As I said, I didn't share with the others most of the details I have shared with you now. I simply told them that I had been contacted by numerous quality schools including Johns Hopkins. I would never have been supported in any desire to go to one of these schools because they were away. I had been raised in an environment in which I couldn't even sleep over at my own cousin's house because only tramps didn't sleep in their own bed at night. Going to a non-local school was not open to discussion.
And I now know that I couldn't have gotten a scholarship if I tried. Whether it was intentional or not, Alice had made sure of that. I was not allowed to be involved in any extracurricular activities whatsoever. After all, if I joined the choir, for example, they would sometimes take overnight trips. And that made them a bunch of tramps. No extracurricular activities = no scholarships, guaranteed. I am glad that I was too dumb to know that at the time because it would have made me even more miserable than simply knowing that Alice didn't want me going to school anywhere that I wouldn't be able to return home to go to bed.
As I sat and spoke about this, I grew more and more angry. I was upset and embarrassed at my anger, but I couldn't stop the flow of my feelings. I had poured myself a large, steaming-hot cup of bitterness. Whether I liked the taste or not, I was compelled to drink every drop. I mentioned that I couldn't even join the choir without being considered a tramp. Trent, bless him, tried to lighten the atmosphere by mentioning in a jolly tone that he had been a Boy Scout, and they went on lots of overnight trips. Then he must have been a really big tramp by their standards, I told him.
I felt like I was being a foul and spiteful whiner. The cup of bitterness had been drained and I pushed it away. I said that I was sorry that I was being bitter and strove to change the subject. The truth is, I was not just embarrassed at my strong emotions, I was surprised by them. All of those years had gone by without me consciously realizing how much all of this had hurt me. The whole world, which should have been wide open to me, was like a closed book in a section of banned titles. All of the opportunities that had been kept from me had boiled up into a cup of bitterness tea. I drank it and wallowed in it with great shame. I hope very much not to do it again.