These Are Your Stories To Tell

February 23
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My senior year of high school I started to hear the buzz about college. As in, I should consider going to one. My grades were strong, I had some extra points for honors classes and dual enrollment and my list of extra curriculars was two pages long (double spaced). Yet somehow I had missed the memo on preparing for and applying to colleges until the second half of my senior year. Friends were celebrating being accepted to the college of their choice and making plans for dorms and summer semesters. These terms were like a foreign tongue to my ears.

I made an appointment with my school advisor who quickly added me to the list for upcoming talks with recruiters. I attended the two talks and it was clear I must go to one of those schools: Flagler or Rollins. My parents saw the cost of private college and put the kibash on that before it ever began. So that was that. I would not go to college. If I couldn’t go where my heart desired, then I was out. I was 18 going on 12. Here’s the kicker: I had no Plan B. I was headed to work at a summer camp in June and I would figure out the details of my future once I was finished with that.

Towards the end of summer, my friend asked me to drive back to Tampa with her to register for classes at community college. I was all, “Nah. What’s ‘the man’ gonna do for me? I have my job at Hallmark after summer is over.” My friend very lovingly and gently encouraged me to at least be her travel buddy that day and maybe – just maybe – I would reconsider once I was on the campus. She was right. I decided to register on the spot. After my time at community college, I went on to study at two different state universities.

When I answer the question about where I went to college, I always leave out my two years at community college. I used to tell myself this was because no one had heard of that school and it was insignificant. I was not only lying to others, I was lying to myself. The fact that I was omitting this chunk of information from my story was intentional. It reflected my belief that this experience did not fit into the identity of myself I wanted to project. So, I pretended like it wasn’t a part of my story. Being “a person who went to community college” was something I believed made me look less than, it was like a scar I hid under layers of makeup. I was so fearful of being judged by this experience that I never gave people an opportunity to know the truth.

To a degree, I think everyone leaves out part(s) of their life story that they think have no place being there. The poor decisions, the shameful impulses. The pieces of life that portray us in a way we don’t want to be seen…even though we lived those pieces. We need all the pieces – even the ones that make us cringe – because if one piece is missing, we are not whole. Our story would not be complete.

I catch myself editing my story from time to time to make it more appealing. It’s a habit I learned young, when I saw how adults responded when I told them I wanted to be a gypsy. It feels good for a moment, but it feels sad longer. Our authentic selves die a little each time we rewrite our stories, which is why when we go in search of authenticity it can cheat us. In Writing Down The Bones, Natalie Goldberg says:

“Daily life is very seductive. Weeks go by and we forget who we are.”

Don’t forget who you are. Remember. Remember as hard as you can.
As much as it hurts or makes you laugh or brings you to your knees.
Remember your life and remember it’s truths.
These are your stories to tell.

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