My Sober Life, Chapter 5

In which I am told I will make choices for myself to only have them made for me, thus perpetuating the growing mistrust in myself and my instinct

(Disclaimer: This post details an enormous amount of privilege I had. I am fully aware of it and do not take it for granted. While there were people who had much more than me, there were many more who had far less, both in opportunities and in life in general. I understand this; I appreciate this; I have learned from this, and try to do better and speak louder to use my privilege for good now.)


Like my siblings before me, I wanted to attend my neighborhood public high school. My friends from recreational soccer were going there. The cute neighbor boy from two doors down on whom I’d had a crush for a decade would go there. My parents were open to the idea. They said ultimately, it was my choice, but they wanted to show me all of my options. So they insisted I take the entrance exams to two of the local, private Catholic high schools.

I agreed because I knew it didn’t matter what happened next; I was going to the public school. The last few years of grade school were rough, and I was more myself with my summer best friend than I felt I could be at that school. I wanted to go to school with her and see if I would meet people who were more like us. There was no question in my mind, so I took the tests. I purposefully tried to fail. I missed easy questions and skipped others. 

I was either a better test taker than I thought, or I really didn’t know the answers and guessed the correct ones by accident. I passed both exams. The one school was quite far, and my parents weren’t that into it, so we declined moving to the interview phase with them, but we did with the other. I say “we” but understand, it was “they”.

We toured the school. I hated it. It was small and smelled funny. The buildings were scattered all over the place. For all the money it cost to go there, I could not see what was so special about it. The gym ceiling was covered in something that I was told by other students was asbestos. Yum.

Not long after, I shadowed with a girl who graduated from my grade school. I don’t remember much from that day other than I felt like I had tried to keep an open mind. But I didn’t want to go there. It seemed fine. Just not for me.

Interview day finally arrived, and my mom went with me. The woman conducting it was a frightening creature. Her nails were excessively long, elongating her fingers. She reminded me of a witch, and even had a bit of a trembling cackle in her voice.

Throughout the interview, I was the epitome of a sullen girl. Slouching in the chair, I barely spoke, only answering in monosyllabic grunts. I had nothing to lose. I wasn’t going to matriculate here, so what did it matter if I was borderline rude. The question I recall clearly answering was, “Why do you want to go to [private Catholic school]?”

“I don’t,” I said with a smile, straightening in my seat. “I want to go to [public school]. I’m here because my parents made me do this.”

She blinked. “Oh, I see.” My mother embarrassingly turned her eyes toward her purse.

I thought, that ought to do it. I won’t get in.
I did.

The day I read the acceptance letter is clear as crystal in my mind. It was a Saturday. I was eating breakfast at the table with my dad. My mom set a plate of eggs and toast in front of me, along with the envelope. It had already been opened. Everything in my memory slows down from there. I see the school emblem in the left hand corner of the envelope, and I already know what is happening. I pull the letter out, unfold it, and see the words, “We are pleased to inform you…” I look up, and go for the last ditch effort.

“Oh, that’s nice. But I still want to go to [public school],” I say as nonchalantly as I can as the tears start to well behind my eyes.

My parents exchange a look. Shit. My dad starts going into the explanation as to why this school is the better choice for me because this is good for me and that is good for me. And this is what I hear:

You don’t know what is good for you. We don’t care this isn’t what you want. This is what we want for you, and that is final. You’re going.

I can’t hold back the tears any longer. They stream down my face. I have every intention of keeping my 14-year-old cool, but I explode. 

“YOU SAID IT WAS MY DECISION. I WENT THROUGH THE WHOLE SONG AND DANCE, AND YOU SAID IT WAS MY CHOICE. YOU LIED TO ME!”

No response. It was done. My dream was dead. I stormed up to my bedroom without eating. I didn’t talk to my parents for a week.

(Quick aside here to my fellow high school alumni who make up at least 75% of my readership: Very few regrets about not getting my way. I met some amazing humans and made life-long friends during those four years. We’re good. We Are [private Catholic school].)

Let’s jump ahead a few years to that super fun time of applying to colleges. I wanted to be a marine biologist. That meant I needed to go to school by an ocean. San Diego was my first choice, but I wasn’t picky. There were several out-of-state schools that piqued my interest. I knew I wanted to leave the state at bare minimum. I’d been stuffing my square self into a round hole for almost two decades. I needed to spread my wings.

After meeting with the counselor talking through my options (shoe-ins, safe bets, hail marys), I started pulling together all of the brochures and applications. I spread them all over the dining room table, and one afternoon, my dad came in to take a look. 

“There sure are a lot of out-of-state schools here,” he said.

“Yes, I know!” I said excitedly. “I really like some of these smaller schools on the west coast.” I showed him a few brochures. He asked if I was planning on applying to any local colleges. Of course, I said, but they were more shoe-in options. He said the following:

“I will only pay up to the highest in-state tuition. You will have to come up with the rest. But you can’t get a job while you’re in college. School is your job. So, keep that in mind when you’re applying to all these schools.”

Suddenly, my wide open future narrowed to a pin hole. The highest in-state tuition would barely get me through a semester at some of these out-of-state schools. I knew how lucky I was to have parents who would pay for my education, so why should I jeopardize that? And this way, I wouldn’t have to take the SAT to meet some of these application requirements. I could just go with my ACT and be done with it. Disappointing, yes. But easier. Less scary.

It never once occurred to me I could circumvent this system. I didn’t know there was an entire book of scholarships just waiting for me. Grants and financial aid were foreign to me. I feared a future where I couldn’t afford my school(s) of choice and would have to come back with my tail between my legs after a semester. Not worth it.

I applied to three schools. One out-of-state just to see if I could get in (I did – Go Ducks), and two in-state. None of them were small.

When I received my acceptance letters from the three schools, my dad apologized for giving me the school ultimatum. He said I should go where I want to; the money shouldn’t hold me back. 

It was too late. The deadlines had come and gone. I was too unmotivated to see what could be done to change the outcome. I was too afraid of challenging my father because clearly, everyone else knew what was best for me.

I didn’t trust my inner voice. And that is a regret I still live with to this day. 

Cheers (with office coffee). 

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