As many of you know, I dropped out of college in my second semester.
I was raised to believe that I would go to college and get my diploma, no questions asked. That’s just what you did. And I loved college. I loved my classes and the long sidewalks and the shaded lawns and that smell of pencil shavings and linoleum. Even after Alex started following me home, his footprints gaining on mine in the snow, I loved school. It didn’t even occur to me that I could leave. In the evenings I huddled in bed wearing one of Jason’s shirts, a cup of herbal tea cooling on the table, my books open in front of me. Taking notes.
Eventually, Jason convinced me to drop my classes, my safety was more important than school and all that. And he was right, of course. I proceeded to email my professors with requests for further reading lists and sped through 13, 17, 20 books a month. I read and thought and read some more. A few years later, my old classmates graduated. I congratulated them and wanted to cry. I was convinced that I was stupid, truly beyond saving, because I didn’t and might never have that piece of paper. I looked at my husband and felt that I didn’t deserve him because he went to Washington University and I couldn’t even finish my freshman year at a state college.
When it comes to Alex, I’m nothing if not fond of revisionist history. I’m extraordinarily good at pretending he never existed. In my mind, I didn’t drop out of college because it gave my rapist access to me. I dropped out of college because…what? A big blank. Oh, because I’m so stupid! That’s it. Of course. How could I forget?
Time has passed.
I have had two children and read a few hundred books and taught myself to can. I’ve gone to therapy and learned the most efficient method of painting a room and written a good chunk of a novel. I am not stupid.
Every autumn I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. One of my favorite scenes is when Francie, who has not even been to high school, looks at her college application and writes “self-educated” in the blanks where schools should be.
I’ll take it.