Clever boy, that Paul McCartney. Very insightful.
Every day she takes a morning bath she wets her hair
Wraps a towel around her as she's heading for the bedroom chair
It's just another day
Slipping into stockings, stepping into shoes
Dipping in the pocket of her raincoat
It's just another day
At the office where the papers grow she takes a break
Drinks another coffee and she finds it hard to stay awake
It's just another day
So sad, so sad
Sometimes she feels so sad
As she posts another letter to the sound of five
People gather 'round her and she finds it hard to stay alive
It's just another day
Du du du du du du, it's just another day
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
In June of 1984, I was learning how to juggle. I was in my 2nd quarter of college, facing finals in my Computer Science, English, World History and Algebra classes. In the midst of that crunch, I had to don the cap and gown and walk down the aisle of my high school graduation formal ceremony. We were in the middle of "storm season" and lots of summer promotions at The Weather Channel, and that place was always buzzing with activity, and they needed every extra hour of my time that I could spare. Of course, I couldn't tell anyone at The Weather Channel that I needed pockets of time here and there for high school graduation practice. That would have been a bit awkward, since they were under the asumption that I had graduated 2 years earlier. I had my 17th birthday somewhere in there, and really, it was just like any other day. No time or energy for a celebration - too much to do.
Oh, yeah, and I had a jealous boyfriend. I knew there was something else in the mix.
The change in him was so gradual that I never really experienced any "ah-HA!" moment of recognition. It was a slow, methodical process that escalated over time. Like a frog on slow boil (you've heard that, right? that a frog placed in a pot of tepid water can't really sense the temperature change as the water is brought to a boil, and will literally boil to death, rather than sense the danger and hop out of the water. Don't try this at home, kids.) I was unaware that the dynamic was changing.
Taking his "fat girl" comments to heart, I vowed to shed the 25 pounds I had picked up. I struggled, endured hunger pangs, skipped meals, and basically starved it off. His reaction was mixed. "God, you look great" comments were followed by "You got a new boyfriend at work, don't you? THAT'S why you've lost the weight! I bet you have some guy at work asking you out, right? Or maybe some rich college boy. Yeah, that's probably it. RIGHT?!"
And in a sick way, the jealousy felt like an extension of love. It's wierd to think about, but I figured that if he didn't care, he wouldn't be jealous. He wasn't jealous when I was heavy, so I wasn't loveable when I gained weight. When I lost weight, I became loveable again, and because he loved me so much, it made him jealous.
I mean, yeah, it was embarassing to walk with him and have him accost some guy walking by us with, "What in the hell are YOU looking at?!" Sometimes it worked in reverse: after we passed some random guy, he would turn to me and say, "Why did you look at him like that? I saw you. Would you rather be with him? WOULD YOU?!" Afterward, he would be apologetic. "If you didn't DRESS that way, I wouldn't get so upset. I'm sorry I got mad, but you shouldn't have been looking his way. You know how I get." Usually I would nod silently in agreement, vowing to appear less conspicuous, to keep my eyes cast down so there would be no suspicion. Placating him was extremely important to me: his disapproval felt like a kick in the stomach, and I so desperately craved his approval, his affection. I felt so safe and protected with him; the panic attacks subsided when I was with him. It was a very, very vicious cycle.
Starting college hadn't helped the anxiety a bit. I had never struggled with schoolwork in my life; I had very nearly slept through high school and walked out with a 3.5 average. College coursework was like a slap in the face. The computer science courses were nearly undecipherable, and the entry-leve math courses were stretching my skills to the limit.
The one class that I was effortlessly passing was English. In a room full of heavy-lidded, bored engineering hopefuls, I was the student that shined. Toward the quarter's end, my professor asked me to come by his office when I had a few minutes to spare. Earlier in the quarter, he had asked me casually if I ever wrote just for pleasure, and I had brought a small notebook of short stories and poetry that I had jotted down. When I left it with him, I warned him that they were just scribblings, and not to expect too much. I figured that he wanted me to come by his office to pick up the notebook. I dropped in after my last class that afternoon to find him at his desk, seemingly drowning in stacks of papers.
"Rita, I wanted to ask you what your career goals are," he said as he handed me back the notebook. I thought about that as I sat in the one chair in the office that wasn't piled with teetering stacks of books. "I am asking because not only have I had a chance to read your class essays, I've reviewed your creative writing pieces, too. I am intrigued about your enrollment here at Southern Tech. Frankly, I think your talents are within the Liberal Arts arena. Now, this college doesn't have that curriculum, and I guess I could get into a little trouble for telling you so, but I would encourage you to transfer to a liberal arts school before you get any deeper into your coursework. I think you were ill-advised to enroll here."
I sat there, somewhat stunned. No one had really ever advised me about WHICH college to go to, just that college was a good idea. My dad had gone to Georgia Tech, and he had always hoped that the boys would have gone, but neither showed the slightest interest. My science curriculum grades were plenty good enough to warrant a technical college, but really, no one had ever asked me what I wanted to be. I had never even asked myself.
"Well, promise me you will at least THINK about it," he said, summing up our little impromptu meeting. "I would be pleased to write a letter of commendation for you to the head of the English department at Kennesaw State University." Of course. KSU. It was only another 15 miles north. Once just a commuter junior college, it had recently been expanded to a full university. Smiling as I rose to leave, I clutched the little book of writings and thanked the professor for taking the time to chat with me.
Later that week, I stood with my high school graduating class. As I surveyed the sea of 250+ kids, it struck me that most of them had been my schoolmates since first grade. They had been my community, and even though I had never really been all that active, I felt like I was a member of this group. At the same time, I was an outsider. The months that had lapsed since my early graduation had proven to be a time of bonding for these kids. Most of them were looking forward to going away to college, living away from home for the first time, and laying the groundwork for their future. They all looked so fresh-faced and hopeful. I smiled for the pictures, but I felt pretty empty inside.
Cars in the parking lot were decorated with streamers and shaving cream. Gowns were ripped off to reveal hawaiian shirts and halter tops. Everyone was leaving for graduation beach trips or cruises, planned carefully the few months prior. A few girls stopped to talk with me, but most were too full of excitement to take much notice as they ran past, on their way to their reward for 12 years of diligent work. Boys that I had known for the better part of my life hesitated to speak with me; he was by my side, arms crossed, looking more like a bodyguard than a boyfriend. I was careful not to call out to any of them, or hug any of them goodbye. It would be too hard to smooth over later. I stood there, watching the last of the cars pull away, and the last of the hands waving enthusiastically out of windows.
There wasn't much time to dwell . . .I had finals the next morning, and I had to be at work at 2:00. Just another day.
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