The Observations Of A College Drop Out

An out of body experience is ‘an experience that typically involves a sensation of floating outside one’s body and, in some cases, perceiving one’s physical body from a place outside one’s body’. I had one of those on Saturday. Kinda.

I went to visit my best friend Ali, along with her brother/my boyfriend Justin, their mother Jackie and other sister Olivia. We all piled into the car and made the two hour drive to East Tennessee State University in Johnson City. It was a beautiful day. As in, the sky was bright blue with fluffy white clouds and the redbuds and dogwoods were blooming and every single farm we passed looked like a picture in a calendar.

When we finally arrived at ETSU, I stared. And kept staring for the next few hours. Because even though I had personally dropped Ali off in this very spot her freshman year, it was still strange and foreign to me. We met Ali at the front of her dorm building, and then got the grand tour of her room. It’s cozy and clean (her half, at least), and so…normal. Then, we decided to take the much larger tour of the campus, and I started having feelings of floating and watching myself wander around in a stupor.

ETSU is a beautiful campus. With old buildings and huge trees everywhere, it could have fit in just fine with all those farms in their calendars. There were squirrels and birds everywhere, frolicking among the greenery, and cute little art projects scattered around, like a little group of houses built entirely of twisted vines. People were everywhere, and Ali was regaling us with her awesome stories and explanations about her different spots on campus. It was all very, very cool. But I started feeling weird just the same.

Unlike Ali, I didn’t go to college. (Okay, technically I went to exactly one semester.) I just never saw the charm of it. Growing up, the idea of planning and decision making and credits made me nauseous, so I always avoided it. I just couldn’t find it within myself to see it as anything but an abyss that I would never get out of. I mean, spending at least four years in an institution studying something you might not even like to get a job that you’ll hate in order to pay your outrageous student debts until you are a parent yourself and paying your child’s college fees as well? Really?

I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t care. Majors and minors and professors and dorms and credits and all of that. I did not care a single bit about any of it. And as far as I can remember, I never have. I didn’t want to be there. I was only there because I had to be. And that semester was only proof of all my worryings. I hated it. I skipped out of classes or conveniently forgot to set my alarm or got horribly sick (cough). The pressure to make choices and life altering decisions was too much. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, and I was literally becoming a skeleton. I was so terribly unhappy. And when final exams rolled around, I came to the realization that I simply would not survive another semester. If my body somehow made it through, my mind would definitely not.

So when my time slot arrived to sign up for new classes… I walked right past the office. I took my very last exam (History, maybe?) and got into my car. I drove away and out through the front gates, and I promised myself I would not step back onto that campus. And I didn’t, and still haven’t.

It was hell, of course. Both of my parents had gone to college and both of them proceeded to try every means necessary to get me to go back. Yelling, fighting, threatening, guilt tripping. I heard all of it and then some, and then even members that were not a part of my immediate family started to give their opinions. When they realized I wasn’t going to go to college, they tried the trade school approach. When that didn’t make it off the ground, they decided they would leave me alone and let me be college free- but at a price. And since my parents and I were beginning to fight more and more, and I was almost never home anyway, and my meager job at Shoe Carnival couldn’t pay their fee even if I worked 24/7…I decided that it was time to get out. So I left home and moved in with Justin. (But that’s another story.)

Anyway, back to visiting Ali. It was SO much fun. Ali is my best friend and she can always make me laugh, and she is always there for me. Always. We are joined at the hip, and we have done everything from sharing a double scoop of ice cream on a single ice cream cone to inventing new words such as YIMES. And while she has been at college, it’s been a little hard. It’s weird only seeing her face in pictures and snapchat stories. But she is happy and I am happy for her, so when we see each other in person it’s a blast.

But walking around ETSU itself was strange, even with Ali. There were people my age everywhere. Wandering around, sitting under trees, hanging out in groups. They were all around my age, but for some reason I didn’t feel like I was one of them. I felt like I was observing animals in a zoo. I am the youngest person in my office by at least 20 years. Justin is the only person I see outside of work, other than my family, and even he is a few years older. So being there, walking around and seeing all these teenagers and young adults just hanging out and acting so normal and like this was all typically untypical, was super weird. I felt old.

Not physically, because I am only 20. I was actually probably younger than a lot of the kids that I saw. But mentally, I felt ancient. All of them were in college in tiny dorms in giant buildings with thousands of other students, with (maybe) a job that pays what? $15,000 a year? I make almost twice that.

While they have tiny dorms to live in, I have a house. I have a significant other that may as well be a husband. I have a 9-5 job that many adults would kill for. I pay bills. I have two dogs that I love more than most parents love their own children. I have a car, fully paid for. I have all of this with one semester of college. And there they were, sitting under a tree on their smartphones and frisbees and hammocks while they studied for their next test. And I got jealous.

I don’t really know why, because I probably have a life any of them would have died for. But in other ways, I have a life that most people would label as boring or even difficult. But it’s beautiful, too, however, so don’t get me wrong. I have a yellow house with a white picket fence, but I also have a tendency to let messes grow until I trip and fall just walking around my room. I have a yard with flowers and trees and grass that grows in wild, jungle like patches. I have two puppies that want nothing more than to play and track mud and fur everywhere. I sit at a desk for 8 hours a day handling contracts and answering phones and making a lot of money. Then I go home and sit in yoga pants and over sized t shirts on my bed with a plate of dinner that sat in the oven for 10 minutes, while Justin and I decide what TV show to watch. And then I am asleep by midnight with two dogs hogging over half the bed, and a cold wet nose stuck in my ear five minutes before my alarm goes off at 7:30 am, and then the whole day starts over again.

I am not ungrateful. I am just contemplative. I have all of these things, these ups and downs and black and whites and grays, and those college kids were living a life that I was expected to have, but skipped out of. I don’t have to worry about majors, minors, credits, professors, tests, tuition fees, or even my roommate. But I could have. I could be with Ali right now, or meeting her at the local college eatery or sitting in a dorm studying my head off before my next test while my roommate blares the TV so loud the walls shake. And it just floors me sometimes.

Now, before any of you pre-college children out there decide, ‘Hey, Stephanie made it without college! Why can’t I?’, you need to stop. Because my choice and the circumstances that I live with are highly theoretical and not a guarantee. When I made that decision to quit college, I didn’t know for sure if it was the right choice. It was a complete blind leap into fate. I couldn’t make long term decisions and see the outcome. It could have turned out very differently. I could have been kicked out of the house and forced to work two jobs and live in a moldy spare room that I rent for $WayTooMuchAMonth. I could have given up the college drop out life and gone back to college. I could have done a million things. However, I was lucky. I had my awesome boyfriend and his connections to help me find a job that could support me, as well as the puppies and the house and our relationship. I had parents that luckily valued me a little more than a college graduation paper. Not everyone is like me. If you quit, you have to be prepared to stick with it and deal with the consequences. There is no redo button in the real world. You can’t run crying home when you fall. There are natural disasters and weather and sick days and leaks and bills piling up and stress and bosses and coworkers and wondering if you’ll make it to your next paycheck before the water gets shut off. It’s not all fun and games.

Would I change my decision if I could? I don’t really know, honestly. Some days it feels like I am just one of the millions of millions of people out there who sit on their butts in front of a computer for 8 hours and then goes home and goes to sleep. Other days it feels like I can do anything because if I survived so far, what is to say I can’t continue and get better and better? And yes, I do get jealous of college kids. But you know what? They’re not me. And heck, maybe they are jealous of me, too. It’s just life. You win some, you lose some. All you can really do is take a deep breath and take that first step, and then have the courage to do it again.

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Jiu Jitsu, Food, Horses & Ghosts

In my house, (and life) every time something happens outside of Justin and I’s routine, it is cause for great excitement. Weekends usually end up being long TV marathons, interrupted by chunks of sleep and maybe a trip to the store or mall where we spend about two hours extra walking around in circles because we are avoiding going home and sitting on the bed all day (though neither of us would ever admit this out loud).

Yesterday’s routine was broken by a text from Justin’s mother, Jackie, about my best friend’s Jiu-Jitsu competition. Ali (the best friend), is very pretty, very smart, and can kick some serious butt.  Unfortunately, due to a certain someone’s stubborn planning skills (**cough cough cough** Justin), we didn’t get there until after her match. But, she did win a pretty awesome silver medal! Standing in that room filled to the brim with people who could seriously knock my skull inwards was rather intimidating, and I am happy to report that I  managed to not piss off a single one of them! Well, except for that guy’s kid I knocked over….sorry about that. I guess that’s what happens when you let your child wander around and cut people off. Oops.

After the competition started to wind down, we all went to a little restaurant in Fountain City called Litton’s. We had 14 people in our entourage, so the wait was considerably long since no one thought to call ahead. The food, however, was worth it.

Litton’s is a little burger joint that has been in Fountain City since 1946, and was originally a small market, but has since become a great little food joint as well. The atmosphere is a little dim and claustrophobic, but it really only makes you feel more cozy and comfortable, like one of those old diners where everybody knew everybody else. Their burgers are amazing, but the real specialty of Litton’s is their desserts. Cake, cake, and more cake, all made right there at Litton’s along with the most delicious cookies and pies you will ever have. For me personally, a slab of their Red Velvet cake is a hunk of heaven.

Finally, we were all shoved into this special ‘large party’ space and could order. Originally I was going to sit by Ali, until a small boy with glasses informed me that he was going to sit there, so I promptly moved over a seat or two extra to give him ample room. (I’m not a kid person, is this obvious yet?) His father sat by me and Justin sat on my right. We all ordered drinks and our burgers (I went with the grilled chicken breast because I was feeling more white meat inclined. Though their red meat is also very, very good.) and proceeded to become one of the loudest bunches of people in Litton’s history, I am sure.

Some of the conversations that flew around the table were about panties, children, horses, crossfit, hockey, the paleo diet, and many others. I mostly stayed quiet and listened, which is what I do best. Ask anyone. Or don’t. I’m so quiet, I tend to go unnoticed, so they probably wouldn’t have much to say. Justin talked around me to the bespectacled kid’s father about hockey, and I sometimes leaned around him to talk about horseback riding with Jackie. Jackie knows everything and everyone around here, and I thought that if anyone knew of a good riding place, she would .I have researched barns and stables and lessons ever since I moved here a few years ago and I have been dying to ride again. But everything seems to formal and…what’s the word, uptight? that I would feel like a time slot, not a student. 

Jackie suggested a stable called Blue Point that she  had heard good things about. Their camps and year-round lessons are very good, and they even have a competitive drive. It has been the first time that I have been getting a good feeling about a barn.  I researched their website while I was listening to the table discuss autocorrect text failures. And you know, I might actually give them a call. Though if I  could find even an extra horse that someone owned that I could take out and exercise for them, I would be totally happy. Returning to the competitive side of horseback riding might also be exciting, too. I have ridden both english and western, and I enjoy speed events just as much as jumping or even just judged classes. So maybe I will give Blue Point a call. It has been way too long since I have ridden last. If anyone out there knows of a good riding place in Knoxville, please let me know.

After we chowed down on food and bought a round of brownie cookies and pies, we all parted ways. Justin so sweetly bought me a slab of Red Velvet, and I have been nibbling on it ever since we got home last night. After we played in the backyard with the dogs for about an hour, we headed inside. Justin took a nap and I watched a few episodes of Game of Thrones (the new season is almost here!!), we flipped to the Travel Channel and watched one of our favorite shows: Ghost Adventures.

Ghost Adventures is about a small team of investigators and their equipment techs who travel around the world in search of haunted locations to document and research. I personally think it is one of the best paranormal television shows out there. I am sorry, but Ghost Hunters kinda dropped the ball with their ‘fake’ evidence. Way to go. Now, GA can be….dramatic. Zak is a bit of a hot head and tends to be easily excitable, I will give you that. But they thoroughly investigate, ask outside opinions and try to debunk everything, so you really cannot argue with the experiences that they have. They have professional scientists, researchers, and people of good report to back up their claims, and the evidence that they collect is really incredible. If you don’t believe in the paranormal, I highly recommend you watch their show and try to argue with the logic that they present. (And if you are still a non-believer, that’s cool. It’s still an entertaining show.)

Last night’s episode was in a Heritage Junction in Santa Clarita, California. It has been one of their more interesting episodes, in my opinion. The current season recently started, and so far the previous episodes have not been as exciting as their previous seasons. This episode, however, was starting to get back into their old swing of things. They collected a lot of evidence such as EVPs (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) and other solid pieces of evidence. After their new episode ended, they played an old re-run of a previous episode that is one of their classics. Season 7, Episode 18, in the King’s Tavern. It is one of their spookiest episodes ever, in my opinion. With plenty of partial possessions and creepy orbs and EVPS, Justin and I were very excited to watch it. It’s been one that we have been wanting to rewatch for a long time. 

After that, Justin went upstairs to play his computer game and I stayed downstairs and watched Game of Thrones. (Trying to immediately fall asleep alone in the dark is not easily done after a ghost show.) I fell asleep around 1 am, and now here I am.

Tonight we are going to see God’s Not Dead in Oak Ridge with Justin’s friend/boss Eric’s church group, and I am thoroughly excited about it. Growing up Mormon, I am always fascinated by other people’s interpretations of religion. I will write about that later tonight, but for now I will leave you all alone and end my chattering. Time to go exercise! Or make myself cry tears of blood. Or both.