One day when we were sitting in the kitchen of his mother’s house, B handed me a bag of his mother’s rings. “You should try these on. See if any of them fit. My mom doesn’t want them anymore.”
I went through the bag one by one, trying different things on. There was one, an old leather ring with a peace sign engraved on the top, that I fell in love with. “I like this one.” I slipped it on my finger with ease. He told me to keep it.
I didn’t take it off until he replaced it a little over a week later with a diamond engagement ring. When I had planned for the time I’d get married, I imagined it would be forever. I didn’t know how wrong, how stupid, I was.
I live my life best when I have plans.
My favorite thing at the moment are the syllabi I have for my courses this semester; they are like miniature datebooks by which I can plan my entire life. They are broken down by class period, with the required readings and various other course assignments under their certain days. For instance, I know that I have two papers coming due. I also know that I have to write discussion questions every Tuesday for two of my classes, and that I have meetings on Mondays and Tuesdays for the magazine. Because these things are certain, I can plan for them. They are always the same.
It freaks me out when I can’t plan for things. While I approve wholeheartedly of opportunities to incorporate new experiences into my person, I also feel the need to run from them because they are new. Because they are unknown. Because I cannot plan.
I clutched my phone in my hand, reading the email that had been forwarded to me: Maybe you’re thinking that Sara saying she wants to go back to school/college is a sign of progress? Sara has “said” she was going back to school at least three other times, and this makes the fourth. She is terrified of going back to school because she is afraid of “failing.”
College acceptance. Email. College acceptance. Email.
I chose to listen to the acceptance letter. I didn’t feel like my ex OR his mother deserved to have any power over me, but I didn’t know if I could be a person without him.
I went to campus the week before my classes started so that I could find all the rooms. I made a map in my head so that I could get easily from class to class on time. And then I started college—and I didn’t fail.
The first big paper that I wrote was a paper on Beowulf. The day I got it back, I was terrified I had failed. I couldn’t look up as the professor walked the room passing things back; I focused my gaze on the sneakers of the person across the circle from me. D slowly made her way around the classroom, handing back the first paper she had assigned, graded and commented upon. My dissection of Beowulf for this assignment had been a struggle; professors in my other classes had never cared this much about papers. I could see the F now every time I closed my eyes. Big, bold, and red. Something brushed my elbow and I looked down. My paper.
I had gotten a 92.
My face must have portrayed my shock, because D began to laugh. “You have the best facial expressions,” she cracked. “But seriously though, you’re awesome. And this is good. You just need to be more confident. Believe in yourself.”
That was the moment where I first realized I was better than him.
In self-defense class, they teach you to aim for the crotch or the eyes when you are grabbed from behind. But all the training in the world can’t prepare you for a knife against your throat. I was the top of my class, but when it happened I still felt woefully unprepared.
I froze. I hadn’t planned for this experience. Stupid.
After, I made lists. Lists for my day; lists that told me the times I would complete all of the activities that I needed to get done. I hadn’t planned for the before, but I could plan for the after. I could protect myself.
You’ve been accepted to read your Creative non-fiction work at the Sigma Tau Delta International Convention. Please respond by the 21st as to whether or not you are available and what piece(s) you will be reading.
I read the email once. Twice. I thought about declining yet again. But I didn’t. I said yes. Another new experience.
I can’t plan for this. What if there’s a stranger who sits next to me that reminds me of him? What if there’s a topic I don’t like and I can’t find an exit from the room? What if I get lost? What if something happens? What if I fail? Does that mean I’m not good enough? Does it mean that I’m that same person he thought I was? That same stupid girl who got herself hurt?
What if, really, I’m always her? That horrible girl who fails?
“You are not horrible, and you know this, sometimes. So hang onto that for your presentation.” I focused on those words. Not horrible. Not a failure. Words mean something to me, and I’ve heard a lot of them this week. I absorb them. I absorb the belief that others have in me. I let it change me.
I make plans. Connections. A safety. And then lists.
I’m not stupid. I won’t fail.