[I’m currently taking a writing class that in all honesty has been pretty disappointing. Yet I liked what I wrote for one of the assignments, so at least I got something out of it.]
My high school guidance counselor was a big-city tough woman who, after four decades in Philadelphia, fled the chaos of urban life for the chaos of small-town living. She had broad shoulders, thick arms that looked like they could crush you if she wished (and given her temper, this often did seem to be her wish), and a voice gravelled from cigarette smoke. She did not suffer lack of effort gladly, and would call you out if you didn’t perform up to her standards. Yet for all her brusqueness, students at our school knew she had our best interests in mind, and would fight anyone on our behalf. Which is why none of us ever reported her for using the f-word in class.
I was one of a handful of students who got along well with her, so when my time came to discuss college applications during the fall of my senior year, I actually looked forward to our meeting. At that time, I wanted to attend one of the small liberal arts colleges my father and I had visited over the past month, each of them far removed from my hometown in rural Maine, but no more than a day’s drive away from my family. A good, but comfortable distance.
As I entered her office that afternoon, she was leafing through papers on her desk. Without looking up, she commanded me — “Sit.” I obeyed. “Where are you applying?” I gave her the names of three colleges in New Hampshire.
For the first time that afternoon, she looked up at me. “No,” she said. “Not good enough.”
She leaned back in her chair, and pulled a college guide from the shelf, a book thick enough to cause blunt trauma should it be used as a weapon. She tossed the book onto her desk, and glared across the table at me. “Major.” I stared back at her blankly, and she replied by barking my last name, and asking “What are you going to study?” When she called you by your last name, she was done joking with you.
“J — journalism.” I swallowed. “I want to be a journalist.”
She pursed her lips, evaluating my career choice. She then nodded, and as she opened the college guide, I exhaled.
She leafed through several pages, until finally stopping. “North Carolina. Good journalism school.” She looked up, and pointed a gnarled, nicotine-stained finger at me. “You’re applying there.” She returned her attention to the guide, and was about to turn the page when her eyes found another entry. “Northwestern. I don’t know if you have the grades to get in, but that’s your reach school.”
I raised my eyebrows upon hearing, for the first time, the name of the university which would be at the center of my life for the next two decades. My initial reaction was to the distance. “You really think I want to go to Seattle?”
She looked at me as if I’d asked her if I could apply for college on Mars. “It’s in Chicago, for Christ’s sake. My God, we gotta get you out of this damn town.”