Finding My Way

Finding My Way

From Chicken Soup for the College Soul

Finding My Way

I started college when I was sixteen years old. It was a big, scary place, and I was young. I remember standing in line for registration with the hordes of other people. I felt so insecure and inadequate next to those who were my supposed peers. How would I ever measure up to these people who seemed so confident and sure of what they wanted?

I didn’t have any specific direction. I didn’t have a clue as to what I wanted to do or be. College was just the next logical step. I felt very much out of place. To me, these people around me embodied my picture of the consummate college student. They stood there laughing with their friends, a cup of coffee in one hand, the schedule of classes in the other, discussing their options for the upcoming semester. Me, I had a list of classes on a piece of paper that I had painstakingly worked out with my big brother the night before. If I didn’t get those particular classes, I was sunk. The idea of having a backup plan never even occurred to me. What would I do? I would just die. I knew that crying wasn’t an option—I was in college for heaven’s sake! Maybe throwing up would be a more socially acceptable reaction. I was alone, nervous and feeling like a cartoon in a museum of priceless paintings.

When the first week of classes started, I had the daunting task of trying to figure out where my classes were in this city they called a school. I was already exhausted by the overwhelming task of trying to park my car. Feeling awkward, out of place and in a world of logistical nightmares, studying and getting an education were the last things on my mind. But I put one foot in front of the other and prayed I would find some solace somewhere. And I did.

He walked into my life and into the huge auditorium that looked more like a movie theater than a classroom. But instead of taking a seat in the large lecture hall, he continued toward the front of the room to teach the class. He was smart and funny. I started to find any excuse to visit his office. This strange new world started to hold new meaning for me, and I began to explore it with more bravado. That was the good news. The bad news was that I had a crush on a man who was twice my age, married and had a family. But I felt helpless among all these new feelings and experiences I was having. Was this what becoming an adult meant? It all seemed too confusing.

I excelled in his class. One day he asked me if I wanted to help him grade papers, file and do some office work—a teacher’s aide of sorts. There was no need to ask me twice. As the weeks passed, we shared lots of time together. I learned how to drink coffee over long philosophical conversations. We became friends.

Much to my surprise, out of the blue, he asked me if I would consider doing some baby-sitting for him. I was getting an invitation to become part of his private world. I was given directions to his house and told to come by that Thursday.

I arrived at his house promptly at six. He greeted me at the door. “Thank you so much for doing this. It’s very important to me.” He explained that his wife was taking care of her ailing mother and had taken their eight-month-old baby with her. Lily, their six-year-old, needed special care, and he was hoping to find someone who would click with her.

“Lily has cystic fibrosis and spends too much of her little life in bed.” My heart just broke as I saw the love he had in his eyes for his little girl.

He took me into her room and, in the middle of a princess bed, sat this fair-haired little angel. She had some sort of breathing apparatus next to her bed that looked strangely out of place. What happened next was something I wasn’t prepared for.

“This is the girl I told you about, Sweetie,” he signed to his daughter. It turned out that Lily was deaf as well. I panicked. How would I communicate with her? What if there was an emergency?

“Her oral skills are good enough that you will be able to understand her, and you’ll probably pick up some sign language. I’ll only be gone a couple of hours.” He left me with emergency numbers and pertinent information, and then he was gone.

I sat down on the bed with Lily, and her little fingers started flying. I shrugged my shoulders to let her know that I was lost. She smiled sweetly and then started to use her voice. She explained how it was easier to breathe when she let her fingers do her talking. That night I had my first lesson in sign language.

Over the next couple of months, I spent a lot of time with Lily. As I got to know Lily’s dad as a father and as a husband, the crush changed. Now I was falling in love with his daughter. She taught me so much: not only how to sign, but also how to appreciate each moment in my life and how worrying over needless things was just stupid. We laughed together when she taught me the sign for stupid, where you take the closed fist of your right hand and knock on the side of your forehead—as if you’re knocking to try to get in. She laughed as I made believe that I was hurting myself by knocking on my head too hard. And she would sign, “You hurt yourself just as much when you really do worry.” She was wise beyond her years. Besides giving me her love, Lily also gave me direction. I went on to get a bachelor’s degree in special education with an emphasis in deaf education.

I remained friends with Lily and her whole family throughout my college years and beyond. The crush I had on my college professor served me very well. I learned a great deal about life at the hands of a young child.

Some years later, I was asked to sign the Lord’s Prayer at Lily’s funeral. Everyone there told stories about how this one small life made such a big difference to so many. And, as Lily taught me when she showed me the sign for I love you, “Make sure when you use this sign that you really mean it.”

Zan Gaudioso

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