A Life Sentence

I sit on this cold hard bench holding the unopened envelope in my hand, thinking about the year I have been through. Confusion, stress and chaos come to mind. I recall a few good times but many more days best forgotten. There is a sense of accomplishment as far as having the nerve to return to a university after 30 years away, yet there is that uneasy feeling which encompasses me; one of being lost, alone and isolated. The inquisitive, chubby brown squirrel who stares sideways at me is surely thinking about how out of place I look. “What are you doing here?” he wonders. I wonder that myself. I really don’t belong. This campus is filled with youthful broods of adolescent prodigy’s and computer wizards. They swarm and buzz around me while I stare at my phone struggling to open a Yahoo message from my 15 year old niece. The seasons, the semesters, even the students are in transition. I am in transition as well. They pass from spring into summer, while I single-handedly face what is most certainly a brutal winter ahead. . I am pleased with the perfect 4.0 grade point average that I have maintained for two semesters but I am saddened also by the realization that I cannot afford to return for classes in the fall.
The stillness of the campus on this fine spring day is delightful. Such a beautiful place when all of the brassy youngsters are in their classrooms, learning about the things that I, myself, have already lived through. Again I wonder why I am here. Do I have something to prove, and to whom? I’d spent years locked away with my soul buried inside of a 250 pound security blanket which nearly stole my life as it tiptoed in and systematically embezzled my days, weeks and years. A decade had disappeared before I was forced to wake up and take notice. The morning that I mounted my doctors freight scale to discover that I had become a member of the one percent of the world population to exceed the 500 pound mark, had felt like the worst day of my life; little did I know that it was only the beginning of a horrendous nightmare. The nurse nervously avoided eye contact and my heart sank as she wrote the staggering number on her clipboard. . It felt like a prison sentence had been handed to me…a life sentence in fact. Much of the next year I’d spent hidden away in my apartment, feeling helpless and alone while relentlessly and tenaciously, eating myself to death.
Losing the weight had honestly been a fierce battle for my life. Counseling, Weight Watchers, and a frightful fear of my own mortality had carried me through the three year battle to lose the massive poundage that I’d carried so doggedly on my back. The little miracles and milestones I’d conquered along the journey, such as walking, camping and fitting into a movie theatre seat led me to crave more functional freedom which in turn brought me joy again for the first time in years. I had forgotten how to smile, just as I had forgotten how to live. Getting back in school had been the carrot at the end of a very long stick. It became my goal, my prize….my future and even more importantly my freedom. When the funds ran out so did my optimism and motivation. On a whim one day, I applied for a scholarship in the Creative Writing department. The youngster at the financial aid desk who’d handed me the stack of paperwork, smiled and said “Well, don’t put all your eggs in this basket….after all only one percent of the kids…err.. I mean, people who apply actually get accepted.” Stopping in my tracks, I turned around and looked at her stating curtly, “One percent huh? Well little one, It won’t be my first struggle with that statistic.” With that I turned and walked out into the hallway, hiding my dismay at her dismal prognosis.
Weeks had passed since I’d turned in my scholarship application and in all honesty, I’d given up on even hearing back from them. One percent is in fact, a very daunting number. But here today, I hold in my hand a very thin envelope from the University Financial Aid office. Breathing in the crisp morning air, I realize subconsciously, that I am saying goodbye. I rationalize with myself, that this was but a single dream plucked from oh so many others, still waiting to be accomplished. The eternal list that I’d compiled could in fact, keep me diligently occupied for a lifetime; so why fret over this one setback? As I began to tear open the envelope, I still wondered…why, why indeed, when suddenly, the truth hit me. I was a success, a winner a remarkable student. I had always known that there was so much to learn, but in going back to school I’d come to realize that I had even more to teach! Perhaps I had found my calling…my justification for suffering, for hurting all of these miserable years, but more importantly my reason for being. My heart pounded as I slipped the letter out of the envelope.
Congratulations it read and without even reading another word, I knew. I clutched the letter to my chest, realizing that in that single significant moment, I was releasing my past and embracing my future. I had arrived but even more than that…I had survived.

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