Ten Years into Certain Failure

My ten year high school reunion is coming next month and aside from the usual panic about how maybe I need to start buying eye cream and whatever (see, because now I’m an old), I keep thinking about how different my life is from what I had expected it to be in high school. First I want to make it clear: I wasn’t regularly bullied in school, which sets me apart from many stutterers. For the most part I kept my head down and got along just fine with my classmates- (pro tip: you can’t make enemies when you never talk to anyone!) But it’s gotten me remembering one of the defining moments in my life (italics for extra drama). Ahem:

Picture this: 2003, everyone getting ready to send in their college applications or tuning in and dropping out or whatever young people do. We’re all trying to get Where is the Love? out of our heads and wearing Avril Lavigne inspired lady-ties. I remember standing in the guidance counselor’s (Ms. X) office reading through the giant index of universities (OLD) and noting the options that were sufficiently close to a beach. When I brought up my dream school UCLA (I even had an awesome bucket hat from my last visit to campus) Ms. X gave me one of those awful tight-lipped smiles and told me I wasn’t really “UC…material”. and that if I really felt like I could handle a four-year institution, a state school would be my best option but really…college isn’t for everyone. Instead of doing the spit take this warranted, I glummed out, like “well yah…I guess you’re right.” I might as well have eaten thistles for lunch that day. That bucket hat became the saddest thing in the world. Sadder than the fact that I used to wear bucket hats.

Three years earlier I had been discouraged from taking French because “well, you know it’s very difficult.” The year before I had been refused her signature on a permission slip for taking classes at the local junior college. See, I had an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan, duh) because of my stuttering which translated in her mind into “Dummy von Dumbington, dumbest citizen of Dumbhaven!” Which is helpful in a guidance counselor. But it’s not all her fault- each time she was just confirming all of my suspicious that I wasn’t cut out for that kind of success.

I had been interested in culinary school earlier…well, not interested, but rather saw it as a way to get around the kinds of classes where you had to read aloud or present a convincing argument. But a grease fire at culinary camp and the realization that I hate to cook squashed that avoidance technique dream. So the applications halfheartedly went out to two state schools and the letters came back, offering me a spot in the class of 2007. I really had no interest in these fine schools and at that point it seemed like a big fat waste of money to start something I wouldn’t even be able to finish anyway. I knew that at some point over the four years my stuttering would keep me from passing a class, keep me from graduating, and it would all have been for nothing and who would give me a job, anyway? The local junior college, on the other hand, was free, which meant at the time of my certain failure I wouldn’t have wasted my or my parents’ money and I could at least claim to have given it a shot.

But! Taking it one day at a time (ommm), and not without strategic moves including (but not limited to) taking ASL as my foreign language, I made it through. I graduated with honors and transferred to UCLA, where I graduated in the class of 2008. There wasn’t one moment where I looked at myself in the mirror and thought “you’re brilliant! Look at you, with your abilities and your potential!”, but with each tiny success I got closer and closer to some approximation of confidence.

I don’t really know how to wrap this up because I’m not sitting here like “oh check out how awesome I realized I am!” Some days are better than others and I obviously still think about this when considering things like law school and other life milestones. But who knows…I’ve made it further than I ever though I would so…ok, what I’m really trying to say here is that I really wish bucket hats would make a comeback.


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