Written for my creative nonfiction class.
Walking through a maze of buildings built more than a hundred years before I even came into existence, the sun playing peek-a-boo behind the clouds, I opened the door to the address listed first on the notes I’d printed to help me navigate my way through my new surroundings. Once inside, I discreetly scanned the plaques outside each door in search of the room number I’d memorized so as not to reveal that I didn’t know where I was going. I found the one I’d been silently repeating to myself, as that’s what I do when I want to remember something, and walked in. Triumph one of what was to become years of tests of my abilities. I took a seat in the middle of an assembly of undersized chairs connected to even smaller writing surfaces. Standing at barely 5’1” and a half without heels on – a rare occurrence – the small space wasn’t a problem for me. It served as a reminder that I hadn’t grown up yet, no matter how many hurdles I’d overcome up to this point.
Later I would become a front-row sitter. But not today. On this day I wanted to blend in. Observe my environment to determine how best to act here. As the room reached closer and closer to full capacity, my stomach turned from nervousness. Or maybe from excitement. I’d never thought I would be here. I didn’t know that it was a place I would belong. But as the professor approached the podium and welcomed the class of would-be 2009 University of Minnesota graduates, I just knew. This was for me. I am a learner.
The time between that day and graduation is a period in my life I remember being the happiest. It could have something to do with the fact that shortly after graduation is when my dad got sick. And shortly after that is when I lost him. But also, it’s a time when I remember being so sure that all the possibility in the world lay in front of me. I could do anything. Change everything. Become important.
As far back as I remember my dad always believed I would accomplish great things, as all dads believe of their children. But I took this very seriously. My dad was one of those people-changers. You became a better person for knowing him. I know my brother and I did. With cowboy boots, kind blue eyes, a horseshoe mustache and a contagious laugh, he was a man of small stature, but of huge heart. More than anything, I always wanted to make him proud. And I did.
“This is my daughter, Casie. My college grad.” He’d say as he introduced me to anyone.
I’d smile, knowing that graduating college isn’t an unusual feat, but something that meant to him that he’d raised me right. “Nice to meet you,” I’d always say, looking over at my dad grinning from ear-to-ear.
“Your dad has told me so much about you over the years. He’s very proud of you.” That’s what they’d all say. His friends and coworkers knew more about me than some of my own, probably.
With a bachelor’s degree on my résumé, it was time to find a profession worthy of that proud smile I’d come to rely on for motivation. As I transitioned into the supposed “real world” that I thought I’d already been part of since I’d worked more than fulltime while in school, I caught myself starting to doubt that I could really do anything or make any real difference. As a student, you have the luxury of looking with hopeful eyes into the future you’re working toward. When studenthood ends you suddenly find that what was once the future is now the present and it’s not what you thought it was going to be. The way I see it, you can either become one of those people who wake up every day wishing they were doing something else – something more – or you can become the person you want to be.
“You have too much good energy, kid, to waste it on things you shouldn’t,” my dad told me as we sat on his patio and I explained through teary eyes my angst about not being where I’d hoped. At that particular time last summer, I didn’t know where I wanted to be or what it was I wanted to do, exactly. But I was very sure that what I was doing was not it.
A year later, I’m not quite there yet. But I think I’ve found a way to get closer. We’re all learning new things every day, but there’s something about being in a classroom that substantiates it. Last Monday, I walked through the door of an unfamiliar building, wandered up a few flights of stairs and down a hallway until I found the room I was supposed to be in, and took a seat in a classroom for the first time in two years. I’m officially a learner again. A learner who wants to become a writer.