Thursday, August 28, 2014
I Am Afraid
Up until today it was a bit like pretending. I was back on a college campus, once again living in a dormitory, once again surrounded by undergraduates, young men and women at the peak of their physical beauty and for the most part wholly oblivious to that fact. The feeling of being out of time was inescapable; I didn't belong here with these children, carefree and unaware that their world was so small, sheltered and buoyant and so very, very young.
Yet here I was. If they couldn't tell that I wasn't one of them, maybe it was time for me to forget, too. This afternoon that illusion was shattered.
I entered the classroom for my first graduate-level course and was greeted by an assembly of faces that were almost all older than mine. The professor thanked us for our time, thanked us for our attention, and said he understood the strain some of us must have been feeling from working during the day.
That's why all of the graduate classes are in the evening, I realized suddenly. It's because these people work.
The gulf between their world and mine was enormous, but I realized that in one moment it had been irrevocably bridged. I did not operate under the stresses these people did, but we were now, all of us, firmly in the realm of adulthood. No longer were we initiates--our professor spoke of "our industry" and "our careers" in a way that made the burden we were there to assume unmistakably clear. This wasn't schooling. It was vocational training.
That training will proceed more quickly than I might be comfortable with, and all of us will be obliged this fall to participate in a practicum, on-site observations of local high schools in which we will appear as "educational professionals."
This brought up an immediate host of worries: what am I to wear? How am I to act? What if the students don't take me seriously? And how can I possibly stand at the head of a classroom and pretend to be an authority when so much of my own life is unresolved? I thought I would have become more secure by now. I never imagined how unsure and lost I'd actually be at twenty-six.
And there it is: I am twenty-six.
One of the hardest things I've had to come to terms with during this process is the fact that I'm not young anymore. Don't laugh. It's true. Sure, I'm young, but I'm not a kid, not a late adolescent whose audacious dreams are still within the realm of possibility.
As a boy of twenty-one I did absurd things, things like aspiring to a recording career and, what's more, achieving measurable success in pursuit of that goal. That sort of fantasy is, of course, closed to me now.
"You shouldn't say that, BB," Anne said. "Some famous musicians didn't get their big break until they were in middle age."
"That's true," I countered. "But it wouldn't be now what it would have been then."
"No," she said. "You had that whole Justin Bieber thing going on."
At twenty-one and twenty-two I was dewy and bright, a golden-voiced young boy who looked about sixteen. I was surrounded by numberless friends and built a vibrant social world whose center I occupied with undisguised relish. It was such a change from the years before, when illness had isolated me, that I felt like some sort of superhero. Invincible. Eternal. Beautiful. And a moment like that simply cannot last. A more durable happiness can be achieved, and hopefully will be, but it will take me years to do it, and in the meantime I'm left moving forward from a past that makes me feel so degraded.
Even this institution conspires to align itself with that perception. It is smaller than Major University; its food is less varied and less nutritional; its buildings are older; its students, born and bred in this poor mountain community, are less attractive; its professors are less regarded. It is a seismic step down that has at moments left me stunned.
Where are all the people? I wondered time and again on my first day. There were more students in our food court than there are on this entire campus.
It's hard for me to rid myself of the notion that everything is less than what it was. That I am less than I was. The weight gain that followed my suicide attempt has only amplified these thoughts: I do not look significantly different now than I did then, but I am still substantially less attractive. In decline. Decayed.
That decay, physical and social and moral, is something I am working desperately to reverse. I'm losing weight. I'm befriending anyone I can. I have, most importantly, a career path in mind and am adamant in my refusal to veer from it.
Here's the thing: I can handle taking a detour in order to accomplish bigger professional goals, but I cannot handle settling into a life I don't really want. I have no particular desire to teach high school. But because I need to pay my bills while I'm seeking the bachelor's and master's degrees in history that will allow me to become a university professor, I am willing to do it. On the sole condition that I immediately begin pursuing my history education once I commence secondary teaching. That's the only way it would be bearable.
And I am so terrified I'll fail. That the dream of a professorship will be the fairytale I use to lull myself to sleep at night, until one day in middle age I wake up and realize it's an ambition I'll never achieve.
If it is at all within my power to reach the benchmarks I've set for myself, I will do it. I will exert all of my energies towards that end.
And in the meantime I'll try to figure out who I am and what kind of fulfillment I can find as grown-up BB. I'm so horribly lonely sometimes. And I'm so scared of growing into a lonely, sad adult. All of it is new and frightening. I can only hope it will end well.