I have never been much of an academic enthusiast. Sure, I enjoyed the luxurious social lifestyle my student years’ afforded me, and the idea of learning about new things as a season in life. I am a creative and somewhat rational and reasonable student –creative being the part that got me an B+ on an eight page paper that was supposed to be twenty, rational being the film student that thought having a scene with roman candles and homemade gunpowder was at the very least, a cautionary venture; however precision and logic have never been my strongest qualities. Fabric softener and fabric soap were all the same to me my entire first year of college, the only difference in my mind being that my clothes were somehow slimier at school then when I washed them at home. I simply thought it was the water. This lack of precision and logic also proved to be a challenge rooming with a mechanical engineer. One particularly defining challenge was defending my right to pursue higher education after examining a confusing cartoon depicting the earth’s rotation in preparation for a science exam and asking her if ‘we’ revolved around the sun or if the sun revolved around us. As soon as it slid out of my mouth, I knew it would elicit eternal damnation from her. My time in academics has not been illustrious, although extremely insightful and if at the least, is something I can point to and say I stuck something out for around 17 years which is both an alarming and comforting thought. I feel pressure to confess, as if it were some mystery, that although I was a likable and hardworking student I was not the sharpest -even though that was never truly my aim.
As a creative student of sorts, college was always about my shape as a soul. What was I doing that mattered? Was I isolating myself being only immersed in academia? How could I take all of these little experiences and piece them together to mean something big? So much of it all just happened, I felt either robbed or a like a lotto winner at any given circumstance and before I could piece any of it together something else came along. Do you ever feel that way? That you don’t have enough time to make sense of any of it, that life just is always in complete chaos? That you’re wishing to catch just one ice cube from your cup, tapping gingerly, only to have its entire contents in your face? Most of the time I feel my life’s face is continually in the company of ice. Very few have the luxury of time to reminiscence and piece together these things however, I was afforded such luxury as I bought a new car last month.
The car came with some sort of recent college graduate rebate if I provided documentation of my graduation. Of course my diploma was delivered a couple years ago in the rain which left it ruined. My quickest option was to provide them with an unofficial transcript the university emailed me just moments before driving to the car dealership. The car salesman was winded from the heat and left me in his cubical to go “find the finance guy” which took an unusually long time. I took the time as an opportunity to skim over my transcript. It amused me, though not startling, how little numbers and scores played into my time at college. Just glancing at my transcript, I laughed out loud that I had been on the dean’s list for a year and never knew it. I skimmed the class list and associated professor’s name with them and a particular memory with each. I glanced at the numbers and letters associated with each semester, mildly disinterested. But then I noticed something that shook my attention. There was within those numbers, a pattern which was cryptic, but easily solvable.
The first year, particularly the first semester I was scared out of my mind being far from home amongst strangers, only knowing two people from home there. I applied myself, I focused on the work and not the whole balancing act that takes some college students longer than others to figure out. That balance between self preservation and scholarship lists and family ties and new friends and diet and scheduling and rest and your life back home and exercise and personal beliefs. I focused almost completely on academia to medicate my first broken heart and the general transition from independent living -and it paid off only in the way I applied myself. The numbers were great.
By my sophomore year I began to learn that life is complicated and unexplainable, which is hard for a curious, naive 19 year old to accept. The ‘broken heart’ was nothing but a paper cut compared to the cancer that whisked away two dear friends and my closest friend who was almost completely surrendered to an seriously destructive bout of depression; I too, slowly became engulfed with specific hurts like anxiety attacks, extreme low self esteem, and other uncomfortable things I really just want to quaintly call my little black rain cloud. I didn’t really know what to focus on and so I floated from class to dorm room to phone call to melt down to therapy and back to class. And the numbers were all over the place that year, mainly in the low place.
That following summer was magical and if you know me well, you know what I’m talking about. Summer of 2009 was a time of healing and laughter and understanding more fully how to love God in and through the constant chaos. There were no summer numbers to prove that on my transcript but there was that fall. It seemed, according to the data, I had finally struggled through to understanding that balancing act and things all around were going well until I met That Guy. By the next semester my numbers were down again -but in all the good ways (sorry parents for admitting that). He was such a distraction and I adored him and I flourished with him. But as complicated life would have it, we graciously parted ways leaving me truly heartbroken but ambitious entering my senior to finish strong. And I did, although a few class grades exposed a dullness and tiredness a season veteran of the academic world would be hard pressed to avoid. I had learned to pick my battles it seemed, though imperfect. I remember graduating feeling like my brain had just finished being on “Survivor” for four years and wondering at the same time how it could have all gone by so quickly. I was amazed at how much these GPA’s year to year, semester to semester, revealed and how little it had to do with my I.Q.
I stared, locked in at that transcript, its pattern unveiled, barely able to breathe.
“Ms. Suitt?” The car salesman clicked his way towards his cubical where I sat. “I need all your documentation now.”
The pain and comfort of nostalgia overwhelmed me, unaccustomed to the impromptu opportunity to see a bigger picture of a piece of my life. I actually was hesitant for a moment to hand it over to the salesman, afraid he too would look closely and see the small fermata of me. I forced a smile as I shuffled it in the pile and handed it off. It was brief and sweeping. And for the first time that I can really think of, I noticed that numbers too can tell their own precise stories with or without my permission, even if I’m their only audience.