The past few years have been ones of redemption. I used to look backwards and feel ashamed. For leaving college, for underachieving, for choosing a different life than I (was) expected to. I sometimes feel like I did everything backwards. I started off without a lot of direction. I never really knew what I wanted in life, I did a lot of wandering and getting mixed up and turned around. I felt bad about it. Guilty. You’re supposed to know. But I didn’t. I never knew what I wanted my life to be until my life found me and I started living it. I’m not trying to romanticize things, though, and even in my happiness in my marriage and motherhood, I felt the weight of my past failures rest heavy on my shoulders. It’s hard to stand up tall when you’re still carrying around your old burdens.
Something I’ve always loved about Josh is that he has always given me a clean slate. He never makes me re-live the mistakes, the missteps, he doesn’t drudge up the past. In all the ways I’ve felt like a disappointment, he’s seen a human person with imperfections like anyone else, never using my shortcomings as a measure of my worth. He believes in me in a limitless kind of way I’ve never been able to. He’s the first person to defend me, often from myself. That’s the kind of person you need behind you when you’re getting ready to begin your redemption arch, is what I’m saying.
After Rowan was born, I decided to go back to school. I was 24. Do you know what it’s like to go back to school at 24? If not, I’ll tell you. You start off at a community college. Most of your classes are composed of kids that just graduated high school. They usually think you’re their age, and upon finding out you’re a married mother of two, they treat you like you’re their parents age. Once, a classmate called me “Ma’am.” The rest of the students are adults returning to school. You often feel more comfortable talking to people in their fifties than anyone under 20. It can be demoralizing, seeing these younger people and thinking “Where have been? What have I done? What am I doing?” And, leaving your kids is hard. So much so that sometimes you cry in the car while trying to psych yourself up enough to go inside. You take 8 am classes because you leave when it’s dark and no one’s awake, because it would break your heart too much if they cried for you as you left, and you’d never be able to go. You take night classes and cry in the bathroom when you know you’re missing bedtime.
On the flip side, you kick ass. If you’re going to be away from your kids, you say, you’re going to make it count. You get a 4.0 your first semester. And the next, and the next. You keep getting a 4.0 until you’re ready to transfer to a university. But no matter how many A’s you bring home, there’s still that nagging fear: that you’ve tried so hard but it will be for nothing. That you messed up too much early on and not even the least selective state schools will take you. But you say “to hell with it” and apply to your top choice anyway, because you’re done. Done apologizing, done trying to atone for mistakes you made so long ago it feels nearly like it was someone else altogether. And when the application asks you to write a personal note explaining any part of your application, you leave it all there. You write about your life and you’re not apologizing anymore because you’re not sorry. You’re damn proud. You unload your burdens and send them away with that application, because you did everything you could do and it’s no longer in your hands. You did your part.
I got the email that I’d been accepted to my first choice school in April. I cried, partly from happiness, partly from gratitude, but mostly from relief. That I’d closed a near decade-long chapter of feeling unworthy. I’m sure there are lots of ways people make peace with their past, maybe I didn’t need to do it this way, but it’s the path I took nevertheless. I don’t know if I’m writing this for myself, a farewell to my own baggage, or to someone else, someone carrying their own weights they need parting with. But if you’re out there, still being shackled by shame or pain or regret or fear or some other unnamed burden, I can’t tell you what to do to set yourself free, but I can tell you for certain: it’s worth it.