Monday, January 01, 2007


The nightmares are back. Every year at Christmas time they return. It is time to go back to college, William & Mary, and I live in a state of perpetual dread…

1980 and I’ll be graduating in the spring of ’81, time to figure out where I’m going to college. I’ve got the grades, the activities, even the legacy advantage, at Stanford anyway. For seventeen years I’ve been brainwashed to believe I was going the Ivy League route. From there, straight to medical school. Now the time has come and there is no where I want to go, can even imagine myself going. Every choice fills me with dread.

The harder my parents have pushed for me to study “abroad”, the more I’ve wanted to remain close to home.

“Home,” don’t know where that is anymore. The minute I graduate from high school, Mom and Jim are selling this house and moving to Carmel, California. They’ll “figure something out” for Mike, who has no intention of moving with them, and frankly, I don’t blame him one little bit.

My best friend from high school, Ruth, has it all figured out. “I’m going to OSU. If you go there too, we can be roommates!” That’s about the best reason to choose a college as any. I’ve always wanted to be close to home, home is moving away from me, but I can re-define “home” to mean “near loved ones.” Ruth is a loved one. Her name, same as my mom’s, is more than a coincidence. For the last few years I have turned to her for advice time and again. She has never steered me wrong. Her nickname, even at fourteen, was “Mom.” Everyone counted on Ruth to be the designated driver, the dispeller of wisdom, the giver of hugs and comfort. She even has a few grey hairs starting in already. She is a mom to me in all ways that matter.

The only college I could choose that would cause more of an uproar would be the University of Washington. My family lives in Eugene, Oregon, home of the Fighting Ducks! The Ducks’ biggest enemy is UW, the Huskies. “Huck the Fuskies” say the bumper stickers and t-shirts. My mild mannered cousin, Julie, has already chosen that for her school. Beat me to the punch. Her parents, both Ducks, try to support her decision, even giving her a bright purple and gold Pendleton wool blanket for Christmas. Never forgotten, at least by her parents, I am given an obnoxious orange and black one. At least one set of “parents” backs me up and loves me unconditionally.

Fall 1981 and my mom and Ruth’s mom drive us up to OSU. We unload the cars together, hug goodbye, and off they go. In that instant I am left to be mothered by an eighteen-year-old.

Summer 1982 I am nineteen and have tasted freedom. I love college. I love the independence, the smoke-free living, the choices, the steady, reliable presence of Ruth, as opposed to the bipolar chain-smoking life with Jim and Mom.

I go to Carmel to visit in the summer. While visiting for the summer, meeting friends, finding a job, Mom tells me she and Jim are moving to Southern Virginia. New job for Jim, who has had several since abruptly quitting his general manager job in Eugene promptly after turning 50.

I return to OSU, making plans to visit Mom and Jim in Virginia at Christmas time.

Christmas 1983 finds me college shopping again. Now that Mom, Jim and Mike are clear across the country, what am I doing alone in Oregon? I visit University of Virginia and the College of William & Mary, picking up applications and making plans in my head to transfer. Being close to home, all I’ve ever wanted.

I finish the year at OSU, and find I’ve been denied at UVA, but accepted at W&M. I know in my heart it is only my Oregonian status that got me in. I’m smart, not brilliant. I know this, soon W&M will too. Not one other kid from Oregon goes to W&M, I’ve checked. They boast “diversity.” I don’t know what is so diverse about Oregon vs. Virginia guess I’ll find out.

Having left me in Oregon with her divorce trophy, the pumpkin colored Volare station wagon, woody sides and all, Mom now flies across the country to help me drive to Virginia, and my new college.

The Volare has no air conditioning and vinyl seats that stick miserably to our legs all 3,000 hot, humid, excruciating miles. It’s just Mom and me in the car, day after day, mile after mile. Long about day three she casually mentions, “Jim and I are moving back to Oregon, Portland this time. New job for Jim. A great one.”

“WHEN?” I ask. Not believing, yet kicking myself for falling for it again, the false security Mom offers.

“Oh, right away, just a few weeks.”

The rest of the drive is in silence.

I cannot believe I am driving “home”, while “home” is simultaneously packing and planning to go in the direction I just came from.
William & Mary is a university for the super smart, grad school bound, East Coast go-getters. I am none of the above. I am a fish out of water there. Nobody even pronounces Oregon right, saying it like Or-ee-gone, instead of “Orygun”, the real way.

Because I am a transfer student, I am put in the transfer student dorm, two miles off campus, conveniently located adjacent to the state hospital. Me and the crazies. Perfect. Perhaps I’m at “home” after all. If there’s one thing I’m familiar with, it’s crazies.

Twice a day I hear the buzzer, loud from my dorm room, telling me the crazies are free to roam the grounds of the hospital. From my dorm there is no sign of college life, only life inside a state hospital.

My roommate would fit better next door, than she does here. She is one crazy chick. We have less than zero in common, and although we have a sink right in our room, I never see her wash her hands, her face, nor brush her teeth the entire time we share the space. Never.

Finally the semester ends. I’ve been trapped in this hell since August, now in December, I finally am on a plane headed to Portland, Oregon. Four weeks away from these crazies, four weeks in close proximity to my own familiar crazies. I can’t wait.

I spend the time off with friends from Oregon State and my cousins, who always have lived in Portland. The family that gave me the orange and black Pendleton blanket, what seems like a lifetime ago.

Eventually the break ends, and I’m back on a plane headed east. My stomach revolts, my head pounds. I may as well be on my way to the gallows. I am so depressed I can’t see straight.

Nothing improves at W&M for me. In fact, having been away, the re-entry is intolerable. I fall into a deep depression, crying all the time, doing poorly in my classes, not caring about anything.

I know my mom will be of no help. I finally get that. So I call mom #2, Ruth, still thriving at OSU, living out Plan A to its fullest.

“What you’re going to do is come back here,” she tells me. You don’t have to finish everything you start. Some things weren’t meant to be finished, only started.”

Knowing in my gut this is the best advice I’ve ever heard in my life, my spirits instantly rise. Grabbing paper and pencil I make a list of all the things I need to un-do before I can get the hell out of here.

Again with the Volare, my mom and I travel east to west, in the bitter winter this time. We saw many sights along the way. I don’t remember a single one.

Arriving in Portland on my 21st birthday, I attend my brother’s high school basketball game that night. No 21-er for me. No parties. No celebrations. I know, though, I’m running the show from now on. I will live where I want to, and with whom. I’m 21 now. An adult, in every sense of the word.


Michelle O'Neil said...

Wow Carrie.

Great work. Great writing!

Keep going!

Love. Love. Love.

Suzy said...

Geez Carrie. Incredible writing and incredible story. Absolutely loved it all, but especially the part about the crazies...
Drop everything and keep writing!!!

jennifer said...

Good work, girlfriend...keep going going going!!!

(HAAATTTEEE being a BB).

jennifer said...

Okay, careful what you advise to that one!!! You're killing me here!

Kim said...

Amazing! I want to keep reading!

Jerri said...

Loved this story. One problem: too short. Want more. Soon.


Prema said...

So great, Carrie. The best is when it's real. Thanks for letting it be real. I just want to know more...

lisajoelle said...

Wonderful story Carrie. I'm proud to say I have a "cousin" as a Beaver. But don't tell my husband I said that. (GO DUCKS!)