Right to Write: Self as Character II

The exercise asks you to look at yourself as a character, and to celebrate making a “wrong” choice that was right for you.

That is the easiest one to pick out ever.

Diana made a lot of unpopular choices in her life. Her rigid upbringing left her constantly sticking with doing the “right” thing – what teacher said to do, what her parents insisted was true – and it came at a significant social cost. While the kids around her were busy being kids, she was strangely adult, often going along with what her mother said on faith that there would turn out to be wisdom in it.

Then Diana went away to college. When she tried to communicate the problems she was having to her parents, Alice dismissed them out of hand. “Oh, colleges haven’t changed since I went!” the woman would say. This was despite having no experience with administration specifically screwing with her, and despite a massive technological and information gap swatching the period when she last got real education – the late 1960s, and Diana’s time in school during the mid 1990s. It slowly occurred to Diana that her mother was willfully ignoring screaming differences for her own purposes, and that there was no wisdom behind the woman’s actions. She was directing all her anger at Diana, and the one summer Diana spent back in  the woman’s house was enough for her to know that the future she had spent her childhood working for was in danger if she stayed.

The application to Ball State, her parents’ alma mater, wasn’t a feint. Diana really considered it, but also read up about it in magazines, and found its academic ratings declining, along with its job placement rate. When she raised this simple, verifiable fact to her parents, the denial that they responded with (declaring such sources as Kiplinger’s bullshit) she realized that, despite promises to “help her finish school,” they had no intention whatsoever of helping her at all. Diana was still unhappy with having to resort to publicly humiliating Alice to get a payment in for another semester of tuition, and really disgusted at their refusal to let her get a car, once again based on their own experience with college life in the 1960s while ignoring that it was thirty years later and costs were 30 times more expensive. Stray comments and strange demands here and there led her to conclude that her grandparents were also up to no good.

So that October, when she got invited to a Weird Al Yankovitch concert, she was already casting around for other choices. If she stayed in Wisconsin, she might have to drop out for a year. If she moved to Indiana, she would return to the indentured servitude that defined her childhood while paying even more for the “privilege” of her family’s relentless abuse. She was also very nervous about her love life: her mother and sister had started an offensive “You should have baaaaaaaaaabies!” assault upon her in response to the academic honors she’d received her freshman year of college. The idea she might actually be a contributing member of society made both of them want her knocked up and out of the game; her health, happiness, and personal goals were in no way relevant to either of them.

The boys in the car were all from Mankato State, a school in Minnesota. Two looked like hippies, the other like an iron worker. Diana found herself quite enjoying her interaction with the straight-haired hippy, with his green eyes and his goofy wit. She willfully ignored the T-shirt he wore that said “Painfully Single.”

The weekend was wonderful, and a relief from the grind of the small college’s political bullshit. Diana had exchanged phone numbers with the green eyed hippie man. She also went ahead and sent away for information about his college.

While she and the boy had a flash-in-the-pan romance that she still considers one of the most painful experiences of her youth, he was also the gateway that led her away from the people that wanted to prevent her from any chance of success in life.

As it turned out, even for out of state students, the fees cost less than half of what it would for schooling in Indiana. It also had financial aid options for a person of Diana’s academic ability that prevented any further dependence on her parents for funding. While she had minimized the cost to her parents with scholarships, loans, and her own money, the idea of no money from them appealed to her.

She got her acceptance letter by that December. When she told her father about it as they drove back from some fast food restaurant, he screamed at her and told her he forbade it. Diana told him flatly that she was over 18, and it wasn’t his to forbid, but hers to decide. She was deeply disturbed at the authoritarian attitude assumed towards her.

Tantrums and bullying followed from both her mother and her sister, with both of them demanding “explanations” for why she was moving so far away. It never occurred to them that what Diana was doing was actually normal, nor did they recognize that they were behaving like an abusive cult. Alice had made plans for Diana without consulting her, without her consent, without any conversation about Alice’s expectations of her – and Alice never got over her sense of entitlement. Even though Alice had no rights over another human being, she persuaded herself she did.

It took work, and magic, and maneuvering, especially with the ex-boyfriend freely breaking promises made about helping her move because she insisted on finishing off the year at the school in Wisconsin. But she found someone to help her move out there, and she got there. It was a hard summer, and Minnesota culture is very hard on its outsiders. Things with the green-eyed boy did not work out.

But it confirmed what Diana long suspected: something was very much amiss in her family, in that they were trying to tell her what she was and was not to do with her life.  Good people don’t make plans for other people’s futures, not when they demonstrate as much independence and capability as Diana had. Good people would recognize Diana’s GPA, her hard work and that she busted her ass to finance her own education. Instead, they thought only about how her absence forced them all to do their own chores.

Life in Mankato was hard, but it was her life, and her choice. It was the best decision Diana ever made.

Filed under: The Right to Write