I recently wrote a short story in my Creative Writing Class about my husband’s life and his ordeal of how he went from high school to the army. I thought it was a pretty well written short nonfiction story, and I wanted to share it with you. I hope you enjoy it!
“There is no way you can graduate high school early.” Ms. Jones, my school guidance counselor said to me. Aren’t guidance counselors supposed to be positive and root kids on? Clearly not this lady; she was the opposite of positive!
I was going to graduate early. That was my new plan for high school, regardless what anyone said, I was going to do it. And the one person that was NOT going to hold me back was my guidance counselor!
I hated high school. Such a promising beginning and then I pissed off the wrong people and it was all downhill from there. Not only was life at home unpleasant but then I had to spend the entire other half of my day trying to stay out of trouble, what kind of a life was that really? Someone once told me that I was the only person who could change my life. When they first said it, I dismissed their advice because yeah right, obviously my closest thing to family, my parents, who were divorced since I was 5, were there ruining my life one day at a time by being totally absent. Then my teachers who were out to get me. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, my girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend and my ex-girlfriend were trying to get me expelled. Life was not good and I needed to fix it, but how?
When I found out about graduating high school early it was like a ray of sunshine had finally came through the clouds just for me. I started to make my plan. It was the end of my freshman year and I needed a serious plan so I would be able to leave high school in three years with the credits needed for me to be able to get into a college. Who was I even supposed to speak to about this? I felt like I had incriminating evidence and there was no one I could tell.
I was daydreaming thinking about what life was going to look like when she interrupted my thoughts. “You might want to start with taking this gym class in the summer to replace the ‘F’ on your report card” said Ms. Jones. Now I fully believed she has lost her mind. There was no way I would take a summer class. Then she continued, “This summer you will need to sign up for gym and US government classes since you technically would not be here in your senior year to take it. Next summer you will have to complete another gym class as well as an English class. During the year you will take an extra English class and when you go to college, the last English class will be a college level class. Now this is all a big IF in case you decide to fail any other classes over the next two years.” Everything she said spun through my mind. It was as if she had been speaking another language and I could only understand bits and pieces of the message. It’s like she already knew the fate of my future and I was a lost cause.
From leaving that office, I knew I could not turn back now. If I did, I would be just another teenage boy attempting to change my life, failing, and then going back to doing what I was doing before. I knew I had to go and if I didn’t, something bad would happen, maybe drugs, maybe jail, maybe expulsion. Who knows. But that was not a chance I wanted to take,
I went home to talk to my mom about what I had found out and my future life plan. Of course she wasn’t there. She was probably drunk at the bar with her friends. Maybe I would catch her late into the night when she stumbled in drunk or maybe I would have to go pick her up from the bar if she remembered not to drive or if she had just lost her keys. Unfortunately, this was normal. I have lived through many of her different boyfriends living at our house and us living at theirs, some good, some bad. Ultimately, my mom and I leaving to go somewhere else. We have never stayed in any one place for more than two years.
This has been hard on my life as a student. I just recently moved to a new high school as a freshman. It was close to my old school, but all different kids I did not know. The move has not been a good one for me. It is in a poor area and the neighbors are not nice at all. Many do not like me and I have been involved in multiple fights and altercations. However, my mom only thinks about herself and since this is close to the bar, it was perfect for her.
Call my dad? Wish I could have but his number didn’t work anymore and he never bothered to give me an updated one. He would most likely be too drunk to even know what I was talking about or just blame me for something that he hates himself for. He has not been around for years, but decided that it’s okay to talk to me when he feels like it. The man has no clue how to be a father, he treats me more like one of his buddies that drinks with him than his child. I could only imagine the advice he would give me on what to do. Why was it so hard to find an adult that could actually give me advice on this? I needed someone right then to tell me what I should do or not. But, like always there was no one.
So, I decided to drive into town. That is the cool thing to do in Pennsylvania when you are in high school and have a car. Everyone meets in town and hangs out after school ends pretty much every day. I have my group of friends and we’ve been friends forever. However, I was not sure I wanted to bring up my new life plan to them, because it definitely was not theirs. My friends were the type of people that you could leave a place for 10 years and come back and these few people would still be there, doing exactly the same thing that you were doing ten years ago.
Pulling up to my spot, I see my friend Mike. At this point, I need to tell someone. Mike seemed like the perfect guinea pig to test out my idea on before I started talking to the rest of the crew. As I get into Mike’s car, he is already high. Great, I think to myself, hopefully he will forget what I tell him tomorrow but also give me advice at the same time.
“Why the hell would you do that Tom?” Mike asked me in a nonchalant way. I explained to him how I needed a change; I did not have to explain why and what my life was like, he already knew that part. “What about the crew?” he wanted to know. I hesitated. Honestly, I had not even thought about my friends during this whole time of making the decision. I don’t know if that really does make me selfish or not but decided to make up a lie for this answer because it would be too hard to explain to Mike what I was really feeling. “I wouldn’t be leaving leaving, you know, just taking a break and coming back to hang with everyone.” He bought it.
I had no intentions of ever coming back to live or even hang out, maybe just to visit here and there. But Mike would never understand this because he would never leave this town, ever. Mike’s family loved him and every generation of his family lives in this town so the chances of him ever moving away are so slim.
How do you explain to someone who would never leave their comfort zone that you want to see what the world is offering and travel as many places as possible to experience new things? You can’t; they will not understand. At the end, I got nothing out of the conversation with Mike, but I was finally able to tell someone my story and it felt good! I was going places!
I decided that I was not going to tell my parents about my life plan because I did not want anyone to deliberately stand in my way of what I wanted to do. Throughout my life, my family has constantly tried to stand in my way of doing things for my life; no one in my family has ever graduated high school, let alone had a successful life. It was important for me to be able to leave this town so I did not end up like that. Over the next year, I worked extremely hard between summer school and regular school. On top of school, I would work after school at the mall to make extra money to save for my college application process. I also played sports on the weekends in order to help get some sort of a scholarship. The more and more my mom kept up with her pace of drinking, the more motivated I was to get the hell out.
Finally, it was my junior year. I worked through two summers of classes that I needed to graduate. I walked into my counselor’s room and gave her all my grades and asked her to run my transcript. Needless to say that she was floored.
“I can’t believe you pulled this off’ she said. Now I am annoyed and I ask her why that is. She goes on to tell me that she has seen a lot of students in her years and no one, literally no one has ever worked so hard to get their grades up and finish classes so that they could go to college! At last the compliments start rolling in and they were well deserved.
After taking my SATs three times, I finally received an acceptable score that would help me to be placed in a higher level school. Applying to colleges felt like such a rush, same with waiting by the mail box to see if I was going to a school in the area or totally far away.
The acceptance letters started coming.
So did the rejection letters.
There were a few that I even forgot that I had applied to. How do you handle rejection letters from your number one two and three colleges? The feeling of disgrace and defeat after ripping open the letter and reading it. Then the wave of disappointment rolled over me like a bulldozer where I stayed there, flattened, for the next few days. I finally started to show my mom what was going on since she lived in that house too and eventually one day would beat me to the mail and then I would have to explain then. It just seemed like the most logical thing to do at the time.
I started visiting colleges by myself or with friends as I could get them to go. Boston College, Pace University, Penn State, Hunter College, Marist, and more. Each time begging all of my friends to get at least one person to come with me so I could have a second opinion. After falling in love with Penn State’s campus and the wonderful, fuzzy, at home feeling that came over me when I walked around the campus, I knew that was where I wanted to go to college. It was high hopes and dreams but I had been working really hard and believed I had a chance.
The letter finally came. I opened the mail box and ran inside to open it. I had been accepted into Penn State. How did that even happen?! I was way underqualified. But I had made it! Three years of hard work and it had finally paid off. I celebrated by making myself dinner, driving through town and thinking about how I could not wait for the day to never have to call this my home again.
The next day I brought the letter into my counselor and showed her. She as well was in shock. However, she congratulated me on my success and we started to set up a plan for the classes that I needed to take next year as a freshman in college to complete my senior year of high school. She got on the phone and called the college to find out exactly what I needed and everything was rolling.
I did not have a graduation. I did not have a prom. But I didn’t care. It was that time in my life to move on and I had grasped it by the hands and taken it. I always wonder what my life would have amounted to if I had just waited one more year before I left my hometown. Would I have made it? Would I have graduated high school with the high honors that I made? Would I have stayed alive? All of these question will never be answered but there is always that “what if” feeling you get about a choice that you made in your life in the past. The best move I have made so far in my life is deciding to change my life. It was one of the hardest decisions I had ever made but it was worth it.