“When I was your age, my parents wouldn’t send me to college,” my mother was telling me. “I had to work my way through on my own. I don’t want you to have to stop. I will do everything I can to help you keep going to school. Your education is the most important thing to me.”
We stood in the kitchen, a printed letter lying on the counter between us. It was not good news.
I glanced up at my mother with a strained smile. I knew that if wishes could be cashed at the bank, I’d be writing my admissions essay to an ivy-coated castle. Instead, I was trying to find a way to pay the bill from my last semester of community college in time to register for fall classes. It was already August.
My work at Wal-Mart paid eight-fifty an hour: better than all the other work options for teenagers in the area. My schedule was already as close to full-time as it could be without requiring the company to offer me benefits. My hands were tied: I could take another part-time job, but when would I go to school? It was all I could do to keep our car paid for and insured while my mother handled the rent and utilities. College tuition had slipped between more pressing matters like food and transportation, and dragging it back to current status again would not be easy.
Still, I was grateful to have a mother who dared to disagree with the life track laid out before me. A Catholic turned evangelical, my mother was a radical believer in forging new paths. She had, after all, followed her heart out of her family’s religion when I was still a toddler. Going to college was my chance to discover what God had in store for me as an individual, she thought. I knew already that beliefs like these made my mother an outsider, a liberal and a radical in my church of stay-at-home daughters and unremitting parental supervision. What I did not yet know was how short and how tight the bonds were that held my friends.
“Why don’t you fill out your FAFSA?” my mother suggested. “Maybe you can get grants or student loans. They might offer you more if you apply to a four-year school. Let’s drive around and look for a college where you can transfer your credits.
I loved Rowling College on sight. The sprawling green lawn, ancient shady oaks and dark grey stone of its oldest building washed over me in a wave of color and charm. “It looks like a little Harvard,” I told my mother breathlessly. A more culturally adept young woman might have said it looked like Hogwarts.
The admissions counselor radiated warmth and hope. She beamed at my community college transcripts. No, it didn’t matter that I didn’t have SATs, she said. My grades proved that I could handle introductory classes. I felt a bubble of excitement rising in my throat, and firmly swallowed it. I would assume that this all was beyond my grasp, I decided. If it proved true, I would be pleasantly surprised. If it didn’t, I would not allow myself to feel the disappointment. I can go back to college later, I reasoned. There is a manager position opening at my store.