*This was originally written for my Senior Seminar class in college, but I think it’s brief and adequate at the same time without giving away too much info on me, unlike my family history paper for Sociology class I’d considered using. So it is incomplete since I have not filled in the subsequent two years.
Things won are done. Joy’s soul lies in the doing.
-William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida
Have you ever read something and wondered what it meant? I had felt a certain bemusement upon first reading the quote above. It had been in a novel whose name I cannot recall, but in context I assumed it was about the danger of ambition. Joy’s soul lies in the doing. Now I realize it has a different significance for me. I have been living and not understanding what things mean. Things won are done. I got through high school, never saw the signs that pointed me in the direction I needed to go. I did the same thing in middle school, in elementary school, and in the backroom at my second job wondering if I would ever again have to worry about the words shrink and loss prevention. This is a chance to examine and find meaning.
I was born to unwed parents, the little sister to their first child. My mother had given birth to Danielle when she was seventeen, to me when she was eighteen. Our close proximity in age made Danielle and me inseparable in early childhood. When she did something, I mimicked it; people often thought we were twins. For a long time, I thought of myself as Danielle’s sister, even after my little sister Desiree was born. My identity formed around that point in my formative years and would affect me in the years to come. I spent most of my young girlhood lamenting over the fact that I was slightly heavier than Danielle, that I wasn’t as outgoing, that I didn’t have as many friends. I grew out of that; eventually I realized that there was no use in wishing to be someone else and thus separated myself from the persona of “Danielle’s sister.”
I was into cartoons like most little children; however, Danielle and I also busied ourselves with movies and learned how to use the VCR. My mother once remarked that Danielle and I had watched Beaches so much that she could sing “Wind Beneath My Wings” in her sleep. I think we all could have.
I also read regularly when I was little. Mama had an abundance of romance novels (needless to say, since we were young, we weren’t to touch them, but being children we couldn’t help taking a peek), but she bought us children’s versions of the classics from work: The Wizard of Oz, David Copperfield, Black Beauty, and Little Women. Little Women was my favorite book for a while—that is, until Danielle had discovered a Sweet Valley High book on Mama’s shelf. Number five in the series, All Night Long, I believe it was. It was reading Francine Pascal that made me start writing around age nine. At first, it had been a way to pass the time until my imagination continued to spin out outrageous scenarios in such startling clarity that I had no other choice to write them down. Even at this time, I had no ambitions for career and high education. I was little old me, and that was too far into the future so it wasn’t important. I now realize that may have been part of my nature to procrastinate.
I attempted all throughout my childhood to fit in. My best friend in early childhood was Danielle, and she was, as a rule, bossy. At eighteen months my senior, I suppose she was entitled. When school began for us, things changed, and I had to seek outward for someone to take her place. I was the girl in the middle of the room, trying to catch whatever everyone was saying. I was a follower, and not a leader; I wanted to be friends with everyone, even the socially inept. I learned eventually that would be impossible for me, for I belonged in that latter category since I was a natural introvert.
I also loved music, just like many people. I had played the clarinet in elementary school and middle school and gave it up before I entered high school. It had been my aim to become a concert clarinetist; it was at this point that I finally formed an image of myself in the future. I changed my mind and had decided that I would become a journalist because I liked to write. For some odd reason, I realized that being a musician may not be what I would be happy doing.
I can’t say if I grew seamlessly into adolescence. Honestly, I hardly noticed. I kept to myself a lot at home and had my writing to keep me company. My storylines meant more to me than my classmates—that is, except for two people, my best friends Ashley and Rachel. They both shared my passion for writing and encouraged me in my quest to be a journalist. Still, during high school, I had that feeling that I should try to fit in with my classmates. In essence, since I was nobody and no one knew who I was, I again tried to be everyone’s friend. That didn’t work. I was too old to be a follower now; by the time I had reached my senior year in high school, I was a loner. Ashley was at another school, and Rachel was in college. I didn’t understand why until one of my classmates commented shrewdly, “Perhaps you weren’t supposed to fit in.” That changed my perspective profoundly.
I started working in my junior year of high school. I had Danielle to thank for getting me the job at Rave, a junior miss clothing store. I saved up for a car and learned how to be responsible as a sixteen-year-old should. Work was a place where I didn’t have to try to fit in; inevitably, working with a handful of people in a small space leads to friendship even if you try to avoid it. Not to mention that it gave me a chance to get out of the house and allowed me to expand my imagination amid shoplifters, guys with gold teeth asking for my number, and crazy co-workers. Sometimes in life, you have to take what you can get.
I graduated high school the second in my class. It’s not a distinction I reveal to many people. It’s not like people knew who I was, and here I don’t think people would care. The second black female salutatorian in my high school’s history didn’t even warrant a picture or a mention on graduation’s two-page spread in the yearbook. But the most unbelievable thing, I think, was that this astute young woman didn’t apply to college until February 2003—three months before she accepted her diploma! The senior guidance counselor called me in personally and basically gave me two choices: Middle Tennessee State University or Tennessee State University. Take your pick.Because TSU offered me a full ride, I came here. It wasn’t my first choice, but I accepted it anyway.
I came to Tennessee State University with an amended plan. I still wanted to be a journalist but I had to settle for being an English major for the moment because TSU didn’t have journalism as a major. I was going to transfer to MTSU and pursue it. I remember making this known to Dr. Maddux on one of our first meetings, and he tried to convince me to stay. I didn’t transfer because it made more sense to attend TSU on a full scholarship than to rely on loans at MTSU. I was still at Rave and making a pittance. I didn’t have any monthly bills with the exception of my car insurance, and I couldn’t imagine myself working full time and attending class full time to pay for school. Adding to all of this was the announcement from my parents that my little brother was on the way. So I stayed.
Do I regret it? Not so much. There is still a small part of me that wonders what could have been. In retrospect, though, I realize that I have been formed in my years here. I wouldn’t be the same person if I had ended up at MTSU. I know it. Of course, the outcome also means that I may lack courage, ambition, and the ability to change. Who wants to think of it that way?
I face the end of my undergraduate career with that same sense of confusion that plagued me four years ago. I have become the person that I am going to be, I think. But where is this person going to end up? That is a question that has kept me up nights.