Finishing

Tomorrow I will load up my backpack with sharpened number #2 pencils and brand new textbooks and head off, once again, to begin yet another semester of university learning.  It will be the 8th semester, remarkably, in a row, that I have made this trek without interruption. Fall, Winter, Summer. Rinse. Cry. Repeat.

The thing about going to college at the unimpressive age of 36 is that the process changes very little. The backpack feels a little heavier (or is that the beginning of osteoporosis?), the professors seem a little younger (but then again, most of them are my age now), but in general,”going to college” now, in 2015, is much like it was when most people my age were supposed to attend, back in the late 90s.

I should know.  I went to college then too.

In total, my journey of higher education has spanned an impressive 18 years.  18 years of work for one Bachelor’s Degree. How is that even possible?  I wouldn’t have thought it could be either.

Trust me, though.  It is.

I laugh when I share this feat with new friends, offering my usual homage to the scene below from the movie Tommy Boy.

Truthfully, it’s been a struggle to keep going all this time. For almost all of my twenties, I peppered classes in between babies. Studying away among c-sections and plugged ducts, reading Yeats after I read the children Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, writing annotated bibliographies while my (ex) husband played Call of Duty in the next room. One class here, three classes there.  Another kid.  Back at it again. It was a cumbersome process and I had very little in terms of long term plans.

When I got divorced, three years ago, I had an unimpressive 30 credit completed.

But as I look down the barrel of Winter 2015, I have only 6 classes left. You would think I feel a sense of momentum that would propel me into this first week, knowing that I am a (very large) handful of classes away from graduating.

But mostly I just feel like quitting.

The wanting to quit could be just exhaustion.  It’s been the same thing, year after year, for so long, it’s just getting old.  Or I’m getting old. And tired.

Tired of wondering where I fit in, not quite a stay at home mom.  Not really a working mom. There are worse things, I know.  But I am weary of balancing everything and not having enough for anyone —and for what?

Of course, I hear my exhusband’s voice coming in waves, shoreless echoes as I consider another semester of going. Or not going. “You quit everything.”  Angry words from someone angry with me, with everyone–but stinging words because from somewhere organic, they ring true.  I did quit.

I quit playing the piano.  I quit going to the gym.

I quit loving him.

And now, I consider quitting again, in the way he probably still expects me to do.

I sit at my desk in the morning today and make lists of Pros and Cons with the monogrammed ink pen my mother gave me for my 36th birthday.  “Writer’s need beautiful things to write with.”  She wrote in the attached card. The faith in her sentence is breathtaking, it should be enough to drown out the cacophony of angry words.

But it’s not.

I register for classes.  Replace them, switch them.  My schedule doesn’t ever seem quite right, never manageable enough to make going seem finally palatable.  I add and subtract credit hours, figuring out requirements and ‘must takes’. As my index fingers hovers over the “drop” button and I think about all the beautiful ways I would spend the hours between when the kids get on the school bus in the morning and when they come tromping in at 3:45.  Writing. Cleaning the house, grocery shopping in peace. These are hardly big luxuries, but I’ve become used to juggling them with the studying for tests and the group projects with students young enough to be my children.  To do “mom” type things, to write for myself, without the term paper looming—seems heavenly.

You have no idea what it’s like to work for a living.” I see those words floating in the air around my desk, repeat them back out loud in my own voice, now.  These children, that house we lived inside.  The things he asked of me, while he went to work and went to school himself–a Bachelor’s Degree, a Master’s.  Was I not working beside him?  The studying in miniature chairs in a school front office, waiting for an IEP for a disabled son, the nights I feel asleep over a volume of Shakespeare. That was not work? “You never finish anything.”

And now, here at the desk, those words are why I still don’t click “drop”.  It would be so much easier to quit now.

I close the laptop screen and sit back in my creaking chair. I stare at the list of Pros and Cons, inked with my “Writers Pen”, in the penmanship of the messy child I have always been, written with the hand of the woman I have become.

You’ll never finish.” he spat out angrily, as I plodded through the years.

I want to laugh out loud at my desk now, the sheer absurdity of it all. He didn’t know it then, but all those years, with those words, he was teaching me something about following through.

Wait, be quiet, if you must, but go on. Even if the time wears at your bones and makes you question the process, go on. Turn around and look at where you once were.  See how far you have come, how different you are now?  The end is surely more near than the beginning.

Let people think they know you. Be whoever the fuck you want to be and just go on.

This is what I eventually started to hear, in between the words he said to me.

And so this is what I did when I learned how to leave that man for good. I learned to be brave, but quietly. I kept going, figuring out who I really wanted to be, for myself. I stayed too long, but I kept going.  I was someone else for a long time before I finally showed him. “I don’t want to do this anymore.” I said to him, one Spring morning.”I’m finished.” And I think we were both surprised that I could say those words.

But once I said them, I couldn’t forget how wonderful they tasted.

I can quit any time I want to, I have nothing to prove to him anymore.

But I’ve stayed so long, I’ve been going so long. It’s why I’m tired, but also why I have to keep going. The end is nearer than the beginning, now.

I want to see my name in embossed letters on thick cardstock.  I want to walk across the stage, turn my tassel, throw my hat.

I want to say, “I’m finished” again and again, louder and louder until his words drown in the liquid pool of my own voice.

So I want to quit, because quitting is easier. It’s what he expects me to do.  What I half-expect myself to do.

But instead, without thinking it over further, without listening, or questioning the reasons why

I just go on.

 

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12 Comments

  1. Oh, Nicole. I want to fly to wherever it is that you live and throw my arms around you. I, too, left a man who spoke the harshest version of myself to me (“you’ll never be happy”), and I know exactly what you mean about having become my new self long before the leaving actually happened, and while he wasn’t paying attention. I, too, started college when I was “supposed to”, back in to 1990s. I dropped out, got married, had babies. Started again in the 2000s. Stopped again. Raised kids, and grew up, myself. Left that man. Grew up some more.

    Fell head-over-heels for a man who is head-over-heels for me. I catch him trying to sneak a look at my butt when I’m changing, and I hear your words in my head, about your hubby trying to sneak a look at your rack while you’re getting in the shower.

    And I, too, am back in school, now a 38-year-old mom and step-mom with a full-time job and a new marriage. There is a long, hard slog ahead of me – I still only have 63 credits to my name, but damnit, they’re mine. and you know what? I’m happy. Proud of myself. Tired, overwhelmed, and too old to be sitting in a community college classroom. But then I think about how badly I want to put on that silly square hat and hear them say my name. To tell the story of how it took me 20+ years to get through college, but that I did it.

    Last night while my sick husband, sick 12-year-old, angsty 11-year-old, and I were piled on the couch together watching TV, a commercial for some non-traditional university came on. They were talking about how apx 1/3 of students who enroll in college X actually graduate, while 70% of students who enroll at college Y graduate. My 12-year-old daughter slipped her hand in mine and said, “YOU’RE going to graduate, Mom.” Damn right, girl. Damn right.

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  2. Loved this Nicole, and I applaud you for the courage, and the strength and ‘the going on’.
    Last January, I (very bravely) returned to work after 20 years at home raising my family. With two sons in University, it was definitely time for a second paycheque in our household. I took a job on an organic farm! Whereas before children I had only ever worked in an office. It is physically challenging, and exhausting and I am so far out of my element. I came home every night total exhausted and cried.
    Fortunately for me, I have a very supportive and loving husband, who let me cry, and moan, while nursing my myriad of cuts, bruises and sore muscles. I have spent many days in the past year fighting the desperate urge to just quit and return to looking after my family.
    Yet, here I am almost a full year later, still rising at 5:30 am, still strapping on my work boots … mustering my courage, and my strength .. and still ‘going on’.
    Thank you for this, always so grateful that I found your voice – here’s my big hug, and a large glass of wine – Cheers to you brave girl, you’ve got this! ♥ ♥

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  3. Been there and done that….hang in there and finish what you started! We are different due to the fact that I have been married for 32 years. However, I have been in school, in and out, during our marriage — with small children and wanted to quit many times. I kept reaching
    for my goals and you can too! Love your posts and look forward to reading them at every chance!

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  4. You are stringer than you know, more important than he made you feel and well worth fighting for. You CAN do it….you already have been, you just need to remember.

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  5. I got the degrees before I had the 4 kids, right then when I was “supposed” to. Thank God. Everything would be so much harder now. Your degree will be worth a hundred of mine. Keep going, don’t quit, you are awesome.

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  6. I, too, took YEARS to complete my bachelor degree. Started as a young, ambitious 18 year old in 1995. Graduated as a less young, much less ambitious, but much more focused 31 year old in 2008. I also just applied to graduate school over the holiday break and I’m now in the weird place of waiting for admissions. Part of me really wants to get in and get started and part of me secretly hopes they say no.

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  7. Nicole I don’t know you but I am so proud of you. The words from my husband of 30 years last week, ” I should take you off my life ins. so when I die you will have to scrape and beg and work, so you will finally understand the concept of money” Was I not working every day caring for our 3 sons and managing our household right beside him, while he never once took an interest? You were so brave to leave, so strong to take that first step and keep going. Here you are almost at the finish line now, you can do this! I finally finished school 2 years ago, and I am 47. You are my hero, and I love your writing!

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  8. Oh Nicole, we are kindred spirits!
    I happened upon your blog today, searching for some answers to being a Single Mom of 3, a son on the spectrum, deadbeat Ex, & a student@36-it will have been 18yrs off & on in college this semester but I’m done,as well.
    I was feeling alone quite alone today. Your prose made me realize I’m not alone. There are other beautiful badass women like me doing it.
    So, Thank You.
    I’ll be reading your blog often!
    Bridget

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    • Bridget! You are SO SO SOOOOOOOO not alone! I have goosebumps reading your comment! We are kindred spirits and OH MY WORD—you did it! You survived and are headed to the other side of it as we speak. Finishing school is such an amazing accomplishment, I KNOW how difficult it is to balance it with the day to day realities of living. I bet your little ones are going to be cheering the loudest when you turn your tassel! Congrats, friend.

      Reply

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