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.