WHY I DIDN’T GO TO COLLEGE.
A few days ago during a Q+A on instagram, someone asked me why I didn’t go to college. I’ve never kept it a secret, in fact, I’ve been pretty transparent about my story over the last few years, however, I realized I’ve never really had this specific conversation. It’s funny timing actually because with my sister’s surgery this week, it brought a lot of those feelings I’ve buried to the surface. Rather than answer her question with a few vague sentences, I decided to take a few days to really think about my response – and even more so, why I wanted to share it.
For starters, I thought I knew what I wanted to do. Growing up, my siblings and I were very close to my grandparents. My grandmother in-particular, on my mom’s side, was extremely prevalent in our lives. We had dinner at their house every Monday night, saw them often throughout our weekends, and on the occasion – I got to spend a sick day out of school with her. My grandmother, Vivian, was a hairstylist and ran a ‘beauty shop’, as they used to call it back then, out of their home. These were the days when women came in once a week to wash and ‘set’ their hair and I was absolutely enthralled with it all. Not only did I love to watch her run her own show, stopping mid-day to cook lunch for my grandfather, but I grew up watching her pour love onto these women. She caught up with what was happening in their lives that week, made them feel so good about themselves, and made work look fun. It was like one big social club that I occasionally got to be a part of and I loved it. From the smell of hairspray in the air to the endless laughs I heard while peering-in from the next room, I remember thinking “I cannot wait to do this one day”.
Luckily for me, the education I needed to do so could be completed by high school graduation and I couldn’t sign up fast enough. In order to get my Cosmetology license, I had to not only had to be educated on hair, but also nails and esthetics. For two years, I studied and worked overtime to be in the top of my class. Even as a senior when I could’ve gone home early, or out to lunch with my girlfriends, I chose that instead knowing it would get me where I wanted to go. In 2007 when I graduated high school, I was not only handed my diploma, but also my Cosmetology license. All of my friends were choosing colleges, picking roommates, and packing up their childhood rooms, but I never felt left out for a second. I was so set on what I wanted to do and even more so, proud to do it. My grandmother passed while I was in elementary school, but those memories of her humble, little beauty shop never left me. It was as if I was carrying on her spirit in some way. Over the Summer and into the Fall, I started working at a salon in downtown Greenville and quickly assumed – this is what I’ll do forever.
2008 came in like a wrecking ball. I was 19 years old with more feelings + anxiety than most adults. January + February consisted of one punch in the gut after the other. Most days, I felt like someone knocked the breath out of me. I was defeated, but God knew what I needed when I needed it and the only good thing to come from those months – I met the most compassionate, beautiful man who came alongside me for the ride – John Runion. I’ve alluded to some of this in previous posts, but not only did this year of my life change everything, it also shaped who I would become. My parents went through a very nasty, very public separation and it was crushing. Come to find out, becoming an adult means that your eyes are suddenly opened to see people you’ve idolized for years for who they really are. Not always, but oftentimes, it’s disappointing. And heartbreaking. I was still living at home with my mom and little brother at the time and I took it so hard. We all did. I questioned everything I’d ever known and through that, felt like the chapter of my adolescence was slamming on breaks and coming to a screeching halt. Ready or not.
A couple of months later, I reluctantly found a lump in my neck that I quickly found out was thyroid cancer. I remember coming home from work that day, so tired, and going up to my room to lay down for a bit. My phone rang and it was my doctor’s office with the results of my biopsy. They told a 19 year old girl she had thyroid cancer over the phone and concluded with “do you have any questions?”. I didn’t know what to do. What to say or what to ask. Looking back, I’m not even sure I comprehended it. My mom, who never left my side for a second through everything, went with me to my surgery consultation and we decided I would have a thyroidectomy that July, followed by radiation a couple of weeks later. Throughout those few months, I felt like I couldn’t function. Between leaving work for doctor appointments, feeling like I couldn’t get out of the bed most days, and being so sick, it was debilitating. Scans, ultrasounds, shots, bloodwork, and medication filled my days rather than the new-found love I had for starting my career. One of the memories that’s been unburied throughout the course of this week: I remember one of my friends calling to check on me shortly after my surgery. I had to be isolated for 72 hours after the radiation treatment and I answered the phone so anxious for normal interaction. I could barely hear her over the noise of the party happening in her dorm room and from what I could tell, she wouldn’t remember our conversation. I laid in bed that night with tears pouring down my cheeks, so unsure of how we got here.
In November of that same year, I was over the worst of it and starting to feel like myself again. Throughout everything that knocked me off my feet those few months, J barely knew me, but never left me. I questioned everything I knew about love and with each situation, day after day, he just showed up in every sense of the phrase. When I was in the hospital, I remember my mom telling him he didn’t have to stay, and he very politely told her he wasn’t leaving. When most people would’ve ran away, he opened his arms. Everything suddenly felt different – I was different. I knew in my soul I had to leave the past in the past in order to move forward. The misconceptions + trauma that blurred the lines of the word ‘family’, the job I thought I would be happy in forever, and the child-like mindset that was catapulted into adulthood. John and I knew if we could get through those 8 months, we could get through anything life had to throw at us. On November 8th, 2008 – J asked me to be his wife. Even at such a young age, I’d never been more sure of anything. All of our friends were in college and no where near settling down, but we didn’t care. Once again, I never felt left out for a second. We were scared, had nothing handed to us, and in a lot of ways, were blissfully unaware, but in 2009 at 20 and 21, we started our lives together.
That was 10 years ago.
I say all of that to say this – everyone’s story is so different. One isn’t better than the other and there’s no room for comparison. Do I wish I had a college degree some days? Sure. Do I let that stop me from chasing what I want? Never. Most weeks it never even crosses my mind and when asked, I usually use Phoebe’s line and say I was a Thigh Mega Tampon. What I do know – I wouldn’t change one second of our life together. Not even for a piece of paper and especially not for inevitable debt. That year of my life that I could’ve been a freshman in college encapsulated the hardest, but best things that have ever happened to me. I’m positive that God chose life lessons over a textbook for my path. I read a quote the other day that said ‘the wound probably isn’t your fault, but the healing is your responsibility’ and it’s been on replay in my mind. Sometimes we don’t choose our paths and it’s not always fair. However, those long, tough, off-the-beaten paths usually make us who we are and for that, we’re forever grateful.
I’m a 30 year old who loves hard, degrees-less, but somehow figured out how to live out her dream job every day, wife of the best man I’ve ever met, woman. And that, is why I didn’t go to college – to get to her.