This is part two of a three-part series... (here is part-one)
Right before the beginning of my Freshman year of college, my sister Mandy was diagnosed with metastatic Melanoma; skin-cancer that has entered the blood-stream. My entire Freshman year was when she was getting the majority of her first wave of bio-chemo treatments. We would talk all the time on the phone about how she was feeling, and things that we should do when she got better. Near the end of my freshman year, I really really needed a job. I had run out of money, and I needed to start building more savings so I could get a place to live off campus and pay my tuition. One night when we were talking on the phone, my sister came up with the brilliant idea to get a job in San Francisco. “You would get paid way better, and you can just stay with me while you’re down here,” she said.
So, I started going to San Francisco every weekend. I would wallpaper every local establishment with my resumé filled with little to no experience in hopes of finding a job. It wasn’t long before I got hired on referral at an esteemed retail chain. This was the beginning of the duality between academia and my social life.
You see, Rohnert Park was an entirely new place. I had maybe one or two people that I knew before college, and the rest of the place was filled with complete strangers. San Francisco, on the other hand, was filled with people that I grew up with. It’s sort of a mecca for suburban kids of the east bay area of northern California, so moving to San Francisco meant that I would all of a sudden have friends again. Not to say that I didn’t have any friends, just not many. Even so, I wasn’t prepared to just pick everything up and move to San Francisco for a job. No, in fact, I told myself that it would be easy to commute back and forth from Sonoma State and San Francisco. Actually, it was fairly easy. I always drove out in the middle of the night, and I never had to go to San Francisco and back in the same night. I structured it so I only had to work on the weekends, and school only happened during the week. It wasn’t a bad system, except I now had something to do every day of the week.
I like to think that a regular person would crack under the pressure of not having a weekend, but I wasn’t that kind of person. I mean, The Shining should have been warning enough: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy;” but my motto seemed to be, “All work and no play is a perfectly fine way for Jack to live, and he’s going to do it indefinitely,” and I would have. I’m an incredibly stubborn person. I know this, and I only hope that people can still love me despite it. I for some reason hate to admit when I’m in over my head, hate to look weak, and most of all hate feeling like I made the wrong decision. It isn’t until something terrible happens that I’m able to go easy on myself and re-evaluate my situation.
I continued in my ultra-stressful lifestyle for the better part of a year. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Everything got really routine, and I swear to god I averaged 3 hours of sleep a night at best. I began to get really restless. I would look for excuses to stay up late. I would pass out on the couch pretty much every night, just so I could be in the same room as my roommates, and perhaps catch them when they left in the morning for class (which I had effectively stopped going to, for the most part). I had completely checked out. I was leading a life of necessity, doing exactly what it took to get a passing grade, working just the right amount of hours to make rent. At this point in time, a large ball of stress and depression started to snowball in my stomach, but I never felt it because I never had the time to sit back and relax. I was devastated with depression over my sister’s continually deteriorating health, over-tired, unsexed, and distant. The worst part is that I had stopped creating completely. Yet, that stubborn part of my persona kept telling me everything was fine. That I could survive, that I needed to survive, that there was no other way.
Finally, all of my concealed emotion started to manifest itself in the form of anger. Yes, I know, a completely unheard of phenomenon. Suddenly, I started to feel growing militance toward the education that I had chosen for myself. I can vividly recall one night where I had become completely fed up with my school. I don’t really remember what it was that set me off, but I remember talking with my sister about wanting a better chance at an education. That night we formulated the idea that this would be my last semester at Sonoma, after this we were going to get an apartment together in Berkeley. I would spend a couple of semesters at a community college, but it would be worth it because after that I would attend UC Berkeley, one of the most esteemed universities on the west coast.
My sister died a little over a month later. I remember how hard it got for her to breathe. That night, she looked at me and said, “I think I need to go to the hospital,” but immediately retracted the statement, “no, I think I’m okay. I just need to sleep it off,” she said. Next thing I knew, she was standing over my bed at 4:00 in the morning. “I need to go to the hospital, right now,” she said. She and I knew at that exact moment that it was the beginning of the end. I carried my sister down seven flights of stairs, and stuck her in the back seat of her car. Ten minutes later I stormed through the front door of the emergency room, clutching my barely breathing sister in my arms. You know how in the movies it always seems to be raining when something dramatic is happening? I can’t remember if it was really raining that night, but in my memory it’s coming down hard.
I was the last person to see my sister in a coherent state. The next four days, they had her so drugged up she could only speak nonsense. Over those next couple of days,my family and I watched as one of the strongest people we knew lost an 18 month battle. There are a lot of people that I hate in this world, but I never ever ever EVER wish that feeling on anyone. The feeling that no matter what you do, or who you are, there could always be some random event that changes everything. Some horrible catastrophe that sets into motion a chain of insanely fucked up aftershocks that eventually ends with your untimely death. It could happen at any moment.
So, it wasn’t lack of motivation that pushed me from school, hell, it wasn’t even bad grades or lack of funds. The only reason I left school to begin with was because I didn’t much feel like going back after enduring such an event. Now that I think back on it though, I didn’t feel like going back because there was nothing there for me. Like I said, I had made no friends, and I had spread myself way too thin; and for what? A crappy education from a college in a boring town that smells like manure during the summer? No. No no no no no.
It was depression that took me out, but it was self-discovery that has kept me out for this long. I don’t like the idea that education is a necessity because it is. That’s not a good enough reason. There has to be a compelling reason for me to get my education, or I’m not going to do it. Besides, I’ve learned plenty being out of school. In fact, I’d venture to say that I’ve learned more in this past year about myself than I have my entire Freshman and Sophomore year of college.
This is the second installment of a three-part series. Check out part-one here and tune in tomorrow for part-three.