The cursor hovered over the word “submit” for a moment, one that seemed to drag on forever. Heart thumping so loudly there was a fear that other people across the room could hear it. Fingertips cold and tingly, like after accidentally cutting off circulation. Vision blurred with small stars blotting out details of the room. A bland, dry taste on the tongue. The smell of dust from the computer monitor suddenly so prominent it was overwhelming. “Click.” The sound echoed off the walls of the library computer room, even though other chairs were occupied with people clacking away at the keyboards. It was a mild and sunny winter day- highly damn optimistic of the weather to be on such a terrifying day. An arm touched my shoulder and rubbed my back. Moms are always so supportive, but she had no idea what this was doing to me on the inside.
“You did it, my girl! Now we just wait and see.”
Words would not come out.
“What the hell did I just do!?” I thought.
Awfully dramatic and melancholy of someone who just applied for college. But to me, this moment marked the beginning of a journey out into the cold and threatening unknown world. An abyss not yet explored by anyone close to me because no one in my immediate family had trekked in this territory before.
It was terrifying to think I was the first one to wander out into the world of academic education. Everyone is supposed to have a plan, some sort of goal in mind of what they want to be when they grow up. You are told from day one that you have to choose something to aspire for. Some dream to chase.
It is pounded into our little brains from our first day of kindergarten and only builds with immensity as we move through the next twelve years of education. We hit high school and it is as though we are in a boot camp. We have electives and so many options for where we want to funnel our knowledge and interests until we become perfectly structured for the job we must attain after graduation. The education conveyor belt. Hop on at the beginning and commence the process of being built into the perfect individual for our meticulously structured society. Getting off at the end, jammed into the world’s mould of what we ought to be.
I loved school, unlike many children my age. I adored learning; my brain was like a sponge absorbing everything that surrounded me. My mom began reading to me the moment she found out she was pregnant. She devoured book after book, chasing spots of sunlight through the windows of our home during one of the harshest winters she could remember. She has encouraged me to read since I was running around in diapers.
Her favorite memory of me is on my first day of kindergarten, “Mommy get up. I have school today and I need to get ready.” I squeaked at 6:00 am that morning…Three hours before I had to walk through the school doors.
I don’t know why I had this addiction to books. But it only got more intense. School was my haven, reading was my escape, and writing was my strongest passion which come out through short stories, poems, and essays. When I was in the second grade, my teacher suggested that I be bumped up a grade level. I was bored and I wasn’t being challenged enough. My mom declined because she didn’t want me to grow up too fast. I continued to excel like this for many years.
Then it happened. A crack in my life, happening so fast and suddenly to me it felt like lightning. In my eleventh year of life, my parents separated and my mom, brother and I moved from northern British Colombia back home to the Yukon. The next five years were chaotic, scary and confusing. Like the thunder that followed that blinding flash that changed my whole world forever.
For the first couple of years after my parents separated, I poured my mind, heart and soul into school. By the time grade eight rolled around I was a thirteen-year-old reading at a college level and “exceeding expectations”. I was devouring whole series of books in a matter of a couple months. I was creative and studious, and I took my education very seriously for someone so young. An old soul my family teased. Life was mundane but considering the situation, my family and I were happy- for a little while, this was the calm before the storm.
Then things began to fall apart in my family, in my education and in my mind. My life became the result of a crazy jumbled equation of bad friends, hormones, a broken family and a forever turbulent household. My life had plunged into chaos, like an endless spin cycle on a washing machine. I was falling into a deep dark hole of depression, feeding it with alcohol and marijuana. I stopped taking school seriously and I was never in class. In my grade ten year I missed something like forty-five classes out of a fifty- or sixty-day semester. I wanted to fail and I had grown to hate school.
For me to go from being the perfect student, getting straight A’s and throwing my hand up first in class to this angsty, foul-mouthed, punk was a scary transformation. My teachers constantly had to ask me to leave class and I had in-class suspensions at least once a day. My parents were at a loss.
“Do you want me to show up at your school and hold your hand and walk you to class every day!?” yelled my mom after one nasty argument about my grades.
I was barreling towards rock bottom at a frightening speed. I had given up on any dream I once had of being a successful writer. I was drowning. I was lost. I was a wreck. And there was no stopping me on that self-destructive path. Then at fifteen years old, I hit the bottom and was left with no choice but to pick myself up and carry on.
After a dark mishap between my mom and me, mostly about my fragile mental state we decided I needed professional help. And so, once a week I spent an hour with a counsellor for the next three or four months. She helped me fight my way out of the mess I had created. She helped me learn to express my anger and anxiety in healthy ways. She helped me rebuild my life after I had fought so aggressively to destroy it. Things weren’t perfect at the time; it would take until I was 18 for my life to really get back together. But I was handling the situation and slowly but surely, I started gravitating back to my one true love. I began to write again.
I began to journal out my inner turmoil, my successes, my anger, my fears. I poured myself out onto the pages of empty books, in a desperate attempt to find my way back to some sort of meaningful path. We all know how difficult it is making that transformation from being a child to becoming a young adult. Everyone has their stories, their trials, their victories. I don’t know anyone who loved high school though. It can be a tough time for everyone.
But once I began grade eleven, I was sixteen years old now and in a much healthier place. I had made my way back to that straight A’s student, someone who read Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrewfor fun and finished the assigned essay months before the deadline. I was back to taking school and my life seriously. One exact year after my life fell apart and I was still figuring out who I was and wanted to be as a person.
I watched my peers go through the same process. Some dropped out and were never heard of again. Some fell victim to drug and alcohol abuse. Some had children and left to start their lives early. Others were by my side right up until graduation. We were all trying to figure out this thing called life and what we wanted out of it. The only thing was that I wasn’t thinking very far into the future.
Walking the halls of my school, I constantly heard the buzz of my peers talking about where they wanted to go to college and registering for the proper courses to prepare them. Some were going to Ontario, some to Alberta, some even out of the country. I watched everyone around me walk sure-footedly with purpose, knowing their exact path after high school. I found myself lost again, not even knowing where to start. A year later, I finished grade twelve a semester early in January 2014. I was ecstatic. The graduation ceremony wasn’t until June, so I had five months of nothing but freedom.
But my mom pressured me to do my research and figure out where I was going to go to college. She laid down the pressure by telling me, “No child of mine is not going to college!”
I was panicking and I could feel that drowning feeling in my chest again caused by immense anxiety. I spent hours in front of a computer screen combing through the (stupid) amounts of writing programs offered across Canada. Then I discovered this word journalism, something to do with writing! I read more into it until I had three options to choose from: Carleton University, Okanagan College and the University of Regina. Okanagan College was located in this picturesque city I had never heard of in BC, a mere 2,500 Km away from my hometown.
It was February when I was applying for college and it was one of the coldest times of the year in the Yukon. The beautiful pictures of the beaches and sunny skies in Kelowna seemed like a paradise to me especially considering that I was simply not built to withstand the cold winters of the North.
So, I gathered all the papers, documents, signatures, deadlines and information for my application. I asked my mom for help because I had no clue what I was doing. But my dear mom didn’t know either. But does any parent? Does any young person have a clue about what they are signing themselves up for when they fill out those application forms? Nothing can truly prepare you for that colossal step, the only way to find out is to just push yourself over that edge and hope for a relatively soft landing. My mom had no idea where I was headed with my education, all she knew was that she felt this huge desire to follow me wherever this dream took me.
Graduation was excruciating, exhilarating and emotional and jumbled together in one frenzied day. July 2014 rolled up quickly and so mom and I packed our 1990’s-something Chevy Malibu car with only a few boxes and suitcases, the rest of our belongings went into storage. We pulled out of our family’s hometown early in the morning, eyes red and swollen with tears from the goodbyes. The Alaska highway never seemed so long and foreboding, even though we had driven up and down it many times in my childhood. We looked at each other, exhaled two shaky breaths, wiped our eyes, and set forth on this journey together.
Arriving in an unknown city is highly intimidating and taxing. With no home or work lined up, that could very well be the breaking point for many. But mother and daughter found their ways and settled into a nice two-bedroom apartment nestled in a quaint and friendly neighbourhood, at the foot of a beautiful city park. Work and school soon became the topic of conversation around the small dinner table. Summer turned to fall and fall to winter and so on for two years.
Those two years were far from easy. Loneliness crept up and took hold, resulting in break downs and panic attacks. Stress from school and work caused arguments. Family visits over the holidays included twenty-two people packed into a small two-bedroom apartment for Christmas dinner. Those visits were held dear in the heart but never seemed to last long enough.
After the stress of registering me for college, leaving our lives behind and moving to Kelowna, and creating new lives, my mom and I learned just how strong we were. We had to reach deep into ourselves to find this untouched reservoir of strength and courage to make it through that challenging time. The connection between us had been put to the test many times, but each time we picked one another up and carried on. My mother’s favorite saying was born: Onward and upward.
Remembering where we had come from, it seemed so far away. Starting off as two scared women leaving their home, family, friends and lives behind to pursue an education. It was a bittersweet metamorphosis. But the time came for a mother to leave her little bird behind. To let her leave the nest. Mom left back to the Yukon in May of 2016, to repeat the process all over again with her son Hunter. She left me to be completely on my own for the first time to finish up my last semester of college that fall.
I didn’t know if I was ready or not, but we both felt it was time. “I’ve done all I can my girl. I think you’re gonna be okay. I’m only a phone call away,” whimpered my mom with tears in her eyes. I watched her pull away to make the long drive back home to the North. Not knowing if my legs would hold me up, or if I was going to chase after her, or if I was truly ready to do this on my own, but I just knew it had to happen.
Three years later, looking back on what has happened since my mom left that day in spring, I know she did a damn good job and that everything turned out okay. At the time and too many times in between, I felt that empty feeling I felt when I was fifteen. I’ve lost my way more than once. But I graduated college in 2017 and I moved again in August 2018, totally on my own, to another unknown city (Kamloops BC).
And in the fall of 2019, I am in my final year of university. My mother and brother are only a two-hour drive away. And I am on the home stretch to achieving that dream I had as a little girl of becoming a writer. It’s remarkable to think about how much you change as a person over, say, ten years.
If you play your memories like a VHS tape, hitting rewind and pause when the most influential moments fill up the back of your eyes, watching where the twists and turns have taken you, thinking about your triumphs and learning to appreciate your failures. As the memories flash across the imaginary screen in your mind, you can’t help but reminisce on the lessons and mistakes.
Thinking about all the what-ifs, and those unfinished pathways through life. Remembering the laughs, the smiles, the heartaches and the pain.
When I replay the memories of the past ten years of my life, I’m grateful that my family and I made it through all our hardships. We have experienced some of the worst horrors life can bring, disguised as addictions and mental health issues. But we also experienced some of the happiest and proudest moments, like high school and college graduations. I am thankful that after a really rough decade, we were able to come together and celebrate those accomplishments.
Those two ceremonies were a set of symbolic steppingstones for us all. They represented a bright future and marked an end to a dark era. My life has not been easy, but it made me into the woman I am today. It took me a long time to come to terms with the deck of cards I was dealt. But there has always been something there when nothing else relieved the pain I was living with.
Writing has helped guide me through some really disturbing and chaotic times, but it also taught me to record the happiness and peace as well so I can look back and be appreciative. My anatomical voice fails me almost every time, but my typographical voice never does. Writing has become my outlet, escape, haven and passion. Without it, I would be nothing but a lost soul floating aimlessly through life.
Peace & Love