64: A Place in the Class

64: A Place in the Class

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Possible

A Place in the Class

“How does one become a butterfly?” she asked pensively. “You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.”

~Trina Paulus

“All these classes are filled,” the girl on the other side of the registration counter tells me. I’d anxiously awaited as she, most likely a student herself, ran my course selections through the computer, the course selections I’d spent days working out and had approved by an administrator of the Returning Adult Program.

Now, I stare at her in disbelief. All the classes filled? How can that be? When I’d seen the announcement in the newspaper that the university was offering a special program designed to assist women wishing to return to college I’d wasted no time satisfying all the enrollment requirements. I’d provided all the required documentation and now I was submitting my course schedule well ahead of the published deadline.

“Are you sure?” I mumble. The girl only looks at me. Piteously, I think. I envy her. I envy her confidence. I envy the competent way she uses the computer. I envy the fact that she will likely never stand in a class registration line and be told she can’t take the classes she wants to take.

She merely shrugs and nods.

I glance at all the other students milling about. Their nonchalance, their confidence, and their easy familiarity with one another make me feel more out of place than I already am. Why did I ever think I could do this? I want to argue with the girl. But I know she is only doing her job. She signals the next in line and a male student steps forward, unintentionally squeezing me out of line. I stand there a moment, dazed. Then I turn and whirl out of the building.

Once inside my car, I sit in a daze of befuddlement, disappointment mounting, unable to logically connect one thought to another. For more than an hour I stay that way as I watch swirls of dirt, pushed by gusts of intermittent wind, dance down the breezeway separating the parking garage from an adjacent building. I see all my dreams of continuing my education dance away with them.

I think of all the years I’d longed to return to school but couldn’t because I worked swing shift in a dirty hot-in-summer, cold-in-winter factory to raise my sons. I think of all my dreams of one day getting a job I was passionate about, proud of, one from which I did not drag home tired to the bone from standing at the end of an assembly line all day. What a fool I’d been to think I could ever be brave enough to accomplish such a thing.

I’d always been a coward when it came to getting out of my comfort zone, trying new things. I let fear of the unknown keep me from doing things I wanted or needed to do in order to better my life. A constant flow of criticism from a mother who probably meant well but was influenced by her own less than nurturing upbringing may have caused those fears. I internalized her remarks as gospel, proclaimed them to be true. I learned a subtle self-censorship. I grew up afraid. I recall standing in front of my high school English class. The English teacher required that students not only write a term paper, but read it aloud in front of the class; our oral presentation would be part of our grade. When my turn came, I froze; as a result, for a term paper that would have earned me an A, I received a B. Years later, I fell into a bad marriage and stayed there longer than I should have because I wasn’t brave enough to leave. Only when my husband tired of me and our sons and left of his own accord did I file for divorce.

And now, here I am, recently unemployed (the factory where I worked had closed its doors) and in my early forties. I’d read that there is no such thing as failure. You cannot fail; you can only produce results. What results had I achieved by attempting to return to school?

Another hour passes. As I continue my brooding, I watch processions of students troop out of the registration building. I find myself wishing I could go and be with them in their world, share, if only vicariously, in their times, but in the same instant I know that I never will.

Suddenly, something sparks inside me. If the education I had always longed for, had always dreamed about, was going to wash away, I would go down with the decks awash and the guns blazing.

I grab my schedule and march back to the registration building. There is a hallway just beyond the registration counter. I walk down it, not having a clue as to what I’m looking for. When I come to a door with “Registration Assistance” written on it, however, I gather my courage and knock. From behind the door a woman’s voice hollers me in.

When I enter, the woman behind the desk raises an eyebrow. She looks slightly perturbed, but asks politely if she can help me. I straighten my shoulders. My little act of bravery might not be momentous to others — unlike a fireman I wasn’t about to run into a burning building — but it’s momentous for me.

I hand her my schedule and blurt out how I’d been told that all the classes I wish to take are filled. She looks at my schedule, then peers at me over the rim of her glasses. She holds still as a camera for a second, then, rising from her chair, says, “Come with me.” I follow her back down the hall to the registration room where she walks brusquely to the head of the line. In a low motherly tone she explains to the girl something about a returning adult program… priority is to be given… She instructs the girl to adjust my schedule, beams a smile at her (and me), and disappears. The girl taps on her computer keys a moment, hands back my schedule, and tells me I’m all set.

I start to exit the building, then stop. There is one more thing I must do. I find my way back down the hallway to the Registration Assistance room and knock again. When, a woman’s voice beckons me in, I open the door slightly and stick my head inside. “Thank you,” I say.

And then I leave, in order to go and be with the others.

~Barbara Weddle

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