Last week, I got accepted into an actual university. It isn’t a community college or trade school but an actual four-year university with a football team and obnoxious mascots. I bet if I asked around I could even find underground hazing rituals. Ever since I applied I’ve been anticipating its arrival like a Golden Ticket. I only applied a few months ago but I feel like I had been waiting for that Charlie and The Chocolate Factory moment since the day I graduated high school two years ago.
Back then the plan had been to go to a community college, get my basics done and then transfer to a university, but I have always wondered if I made the right decision. As stupid as it may seem, seeing the college adventures of former classmates on Facebook drives a sword of regret piercing through my heart, twisting each time someone posts an obscure collegiate music event. Maybe I made the wrong choice and I convinced myself that I was making the smart decision when in reality I was just scared of the future. Scared of the unknown and yet to be discovered. Even now the thought of it still makes my heart race and my breathing become labored and strenuous because the worse that letter could say was “no” and that “no” would seemingly seal my future in this cesspool of a town.
That “No” would tell me that “No, those two years of waiting and working with everything you had weren’t enough and we don’t feel like you are the right type of person for the real world. No, watching all your friends grow and experience while you imploded into a black hole of the vacuum-like solitude of your own mind turned out just to be for shits and giggles.”
When I graduated high school there was a period, which there is every year around that time, of people getting acceptance letters. The T.V. plays that stupid commercial showing optimistic students tearing open envelopes. I never got that moment where family envelops you and you all celebrate that miraculous moment where you know that the last twelve years meant something. It shouldn’t bother me so much but somehow it managed to fight all efforts to purge it from my thoughts.. It made me feel inadequate in a way that I couldn’t begin to understand. Clearly it wasn’t a big deal but in my mind it rotted and ate away at my heart like an Olsen twin on the spirit of a child.
No longer was I the Artax of my Never Ending Story, sinking into the muck of the swamp. I was now Sebastian in that scene where he rides Falkor across the sky and the entire world knows that he has life by the balls and that he is a strong independent woman.
That lasted exactly forty-seven minutes and fifty-two seconds.
I had answered a phone call from my grandfather who had been told the news by my mother. Anyone could have asked this question. It wasn’t even like I hadn’t been asked it before. It was suddenly real now. It was valid and it was staring me right in the face like a smug Sphinx ready to devour me because I still did not know the answer.
What do you want to do?
I had to choose a major now. I had to make decisions now that will ripple across my future and impact my children, their children, and maybe even their children’s children. Thinking about it now I’m starting to hyperventilate, but at that moment I was at once frozen, a porcelain doll in an antique shop, breakable by a single touch. That single touch was Congratulations. I shattered into a thousand pieces and as I said my I love you’s and goodbye’s I felt it starting.
I felt the serpent of anxiety wind into my rib cage and wrap around my lungs, constricting its prey. The bird of my heart pounded against the walls of my chest to escape, fearing it could be next on the snake’s menu, but I could not save it. My lungs seized in my chest as the vice tightened their grip. The pressure inside my stomach made bile rise in my throat and I put my hand over my mouth. The acid burned my throat and put a foul taste in my mouth. I walked to the restroom and locked the door.
I caught my reflection in the mirror.
I was a wild, sickly thing. My hair was straw and stuck out on end from nervously rubbing my head. Curls and waves were interwoven in a mane of entanglement and matched my face in tune. I was too pale. Normally I was pale, but now I was nearing translucent. It was like all my blood had been drained from my body, leaving an empty bottle of a person. My eyes were glossy and red with tears balanced on the precipice of my lashes, toying with the idea of falling but not quite sure yet. They were too wide and matched my contorted mouth, which was currently struggling with the task of sucking enough oxygen into my body to convince the rest of me that I wasn’t dying. Yet.
What could I do? What am I good at? Who would want me to work for them? Who do I want to work for? What do I want to work for? Where do I want to live? Who am I going to marry? What if I don’t marry? What if I can’t have kids? What if I don’t make enough money doing what I like? What if I make a lot of money but am unhappy? What if the job market for what I’m studying for crashes? What if I’m homeless? What if I
I felt the bile rising again. I put my head over the toilet and held my hair away from my face. I took a deep breath and then expelled the contents of my stomach. I stood there for what felt like hours and let myself get rid of everything until my abdomen convulsed and heaved without results. I flushed and stood back over the sink, grabbing paper towels and turning on the sink. I wet the towels and cleaned my face, gently wiping the evidence of sweat and vomit from my appearance. Making a cup with my hands I brought water to my lips and washed my mouth out and then washed my hands. Luckily, it was time for me to leave work and I gathered my things into my backpack at my desk.
As I picked up my packet of gum, I grabbed a piece of the blue foil and shoved the rest into a pocket. As I unwrapped it I looked at my hands. They both trembled as if in a cold only known by that particular part of my body and undetectable by my consciousness. I dabbed at the corner of my eyes and left the office with out a word to anyone else.
I spent the rest of that day in my room focusing on the breath going in and out of my lungs.
I usually just told people I was going into education and at one point that felt like a decent idea. Now I felt jaded and unsure of it. People always gave me that look. The look that unveils their inward eye-roll and the silent comment about pay. When I had first come up with the notion of teaching I had been naïve to the concepts of common core and just how many teachers are being laid off due to budget cuts. At first I could ignore everyone telling me to choose another path, but now I found myself questioning if they were right which brings a whole new set a of issues. If they are right then what do I do and where do I go? Countless career tests give me different results with every try.
Where do I belong?
I forced myself to calm down over and over again as I dangled my feet off the edge of my mattress, distracting myself with the motions. As I turned my head towards my window I noticed the sun had begun set. It was time to put my ducks up.
Now, the tale of how I came to be the mother of five ducks is another story for another time but for now lets just say that they are the wind beneath my wings and I cannot imagine life without them. During the day they roam the yard, patrolling against falling leaves and the odd snail and at night I herd them to their coop and lock the door so that no predators can hurt its precious cargo. Normally they walk in on their own at sundown and I just shut the door for them.
On this night, something was not normal. As I stepped out into the yard I noticed the ducks were each pressed up to the house, hiding as best they could in the grass, snapping at mosquitoes. I looked around and couldn’t see any source of fear and step further into the yard. As soon as they saw me they waddled towards me in formation and a large black object caught my eye high in the trees.
I looked up, assuming it was just a harmless buzzard and two large eyes stared back at me as if they contained an inner light. They were hypnotic in their shape. Perfectly round and seemingly flat. They were also enormous and they were on the face of an even bigger shape shrouded in the expanding shadows. I had never seen anything like it. I took a step towards the duck house and the shape opened up. Two colossal wings caught in the light and it hopped onto a branch to get closer, coming into the fleeting light of the ending day.
It was a massive Great Horned Owl. I had never seen one before in person but I recognized its telltale horns on the top of the head that leered at me and leaned towards me. The owl was still there, unmoving, watching me with every breath I took. He was close enough that I could see his talons gripping onto the branch, scratching the bark of the tree. Did Owls eat ducks? This one certainly could and mine are definitely well fed. Mona had a bum leg and she would be an easy target.
I remembered something that happened a few years ago.
On my parent’s anniversary when we had been going to a very expensive dinner. We were at my grandmother’s house, picking her up, and she was telling us about the Red Tailed Hawk that she had been feeding for quite some time. It would come up to the porch and demand food and she would throw fish or scraps for it to chew on. My dad, being himself, didn’t believe such a story and decided to go out into the yard with a strip of raw bacon for the hawk. He was strutting around the yard as we all watched from the living room. He smiled and did a little dance, swinging the bacon above his head as we all watched in horror as the hawk, out of no where, swoops at his head, misses, and flies off. Miraculously he didn’t see that and continued to dance and swing his bacon as we all frantically bang on the glass and point at the sky. Like Icarus and the Sun, my father’s confidence that nothing bad could happen would lead to his demise.
The Hawk comes back for seconds and this time he doesn’t miss. He sinks his claws into my dad’s head and lifts, decided that he wants the 6’6 man as well as the bacon just to spite him for my dad’s insolence. That hawk tore my father several “new ones” that day.
This owl was bigger than that hawk and I’m not nearly as tall as my dad. I didn’t even have any weapons. If this owl decided to fly at me and my babies, I was going to have to punch it out of the sky in a bare-knuckle brawl.
I’ve never believed in any kind of ghost or spirit nonsense but at a certain point I decided to look into the eyes of the owl. A weird feeling came over me. It was calming and cool, like a cold front through my body. It was like a gentle wind had dusted my thoughts away. The ducks pecked at the mosquito bites and freckles on my legs. I had to get them inside their house. I slowly tiptoed towards the pen, maintaining eye-contact with the feathered monstrosity.
The owl swiveled its head and puffed his feathers, expanding even larger, eyes still locked on my ducks and I. He leapt and spread his great wings. His wingspan had to be near five and a half feet easily. He glided to a branch on the birch tree directly above us. It bowed with his weight and he hunched over to sneer at us from above like a mad demon.
We were only a few feet from the pen now and I took slow but wide steps towards it. The ducks scurried inside and I watched the owl flinch as I slammed the door shut and shut the latch. I sprinted towards the porch and from behind me I heard four whooshing sounds . With my hand on the doorknob I turned to watch the owl fly off into the trees.
As I walked into my living room and collapsed on the couch, I wondered if this was some strange and cosmic metaphor. Maybe it was the universe telling me that if I focus on the task at hand and not fear of failure or what may go wrong, then I’ll have nothing to worry about. Then again, maybe it was just a peckish owl.