I remember the first quarter at UCI. The leaves were changing, and I had just spent the summer trying to push my way into school early by taking a “University Studies” course. I had a 3-hour gap between my first and second Tu-Th courses, so I spent a lot of time sitting outside of HG (Humanities Gateway).
I watched TV shows on my laptop, or listened to audiobooks while waiting for my “Tragedies” class to open. I loved just existing in that space. Now, my mind never stops going back to that loud, scraping metal table with metal chairs bolted to the ground. The overpass of HG prevented any drizzle of the autumn clouds from reaching me. I sat for hours, just taking in the immensity of what I had done — gone to university for the first time at 39.
The idea that I would ever go to college was a joke to me in my early twenties. When I dropped out of high school just after Y2K, the counselors told me that I was ruining my future. Turns out, the future is a very long time. I guess I proved them wrong in the end. While I was there, my mind sort of never quite stopped freaking out that I was at UCI. Now, I’m not sure that I’ve accepted that I’ve graduated either. Somehow, two years seemed so fleeting. The past four months since I graduated have seemed longer than the two years there. I had applied for a graduate program, and I really never thought I wouldn’t get in. When I didn’t, I truly was not prepared to leave UCI. It was the first place I ever felt like I belonged.
I can’t explain the immense value of doing something entirely on your own merit, especially as a woman-type individual. I belonged at UCI because I had earned it, without help or harness. No one could tell me that I didn’t. That realization was HUGE. Every minute I sat to think, I thought of the sublimity of the experience. Sadly, I have a lot of difficulty processing my emotions, so it took a very long time to deal with. By the time I had mostly dealt with it, I was almost done. Now, I have this gaping hole in me where I used to have purpose, and I am back to the lifeless waiting that stretches onto eternity.
While I might have grad school (of one kind or another) in my future, I don’t expect to ever go back to UCI. I was never even ready to leave. My graduation seemed like a thing I did between assignments, there was almost no finality in it. Now, the new year and quarter is in Week 4 and I am sitting here trying to get a copywriting job. I imagined my life beyond school as a immensely fulfilling couple of years completely immersed in writing and the writing life. Being neurodiverse, writing is my hyper-focus, and I am just so obsessed with literature that I actually become unpleasant when I am away from writing and reading for too long. But it is so hard to push myself without deadlines — so I decided I need a job to tide me over. Still, all I want is to go back to school — how weird.
My heart longs every day to sit and watch the leaves fall off the little tree outside of HG. But, more importantly, I want to talk to people who love literature like I do. I want to write and workshop and be pissed off at a bad take or a challenging reading. I want grab that moment and not let it go. I want all the time I can have with it. But, there’s not enough space; maybe I took too long to get here. I certainly do not want to anxiously open emails from grad schools with form rejections because I don’t look as good on paper as someone else. The sheer concept of spending the next 25 years of my existence never feeling that accomplished again, not spending every day writing and talking about writing with people who love it feels like a prison sentence. Every beginning must have an end; I just really hope that this story isn’t over yet. I want to find the next gateway, the next tree to watch change as I listen to audiobooks before class.