I Failed College
I had no idea how to get in college and it’s always been embarrassing for me. While my friends had parents who would make phone calls and file papers for them, I for some reason was on my own for this one. And because I didn’t know what I was doing, I would follow my friends. They were going to community colleges to transfer to state colleges so I was like okay, me too. They were all majoring in Psychology so I was like okay, me too. They went to Berkeley Community College when they could’ve gone to Chabot or Laney, so I was like okay, me too. I wasn’t ready for college. High School had been so fun and a lot of it was because I wasn’t there. My dad drove me down the road in the most embarrassing car in our neighborhood to get me to school. I hopped out and told him goodbye with a typical teenage brattiness. Then, I would proceed to walk up the exact hill he drove me down to sit at home and be on Twitter all day.
‘Alex, you need to start going to class.’ I had the perfect guidance counselor. She had thick black hair that was fibrous and moved every time she would shake her head or even smile. Pocahontas hair imagined, Pocahontas skin too. On her desk were taped photos and knick knacks. Things that removed her from the rest of the boring people that worked there. She was the type of adult that teenagers trusted because there was still some youth that lived in her. I didn’t feel like I was talking to a zombie adult. I felt like I was talking to an adult that knew at least some of the songs I knew. And that maybe, she would even wear some of the things I’d wear. She was perfect because I could tell she saw the talent in every kid that walked in. She was perfect because she would try in the sweetest and dearest ways to get us to see it ourselves. I saw it in myself, I just didn’t see the point of going to class. It was my senior year and my third different high school. Going to three different high schools in three different states means you didn’t go to any.
‘This is your new schedule. Look, all you have to do is pass is at least two of these classes and you’ll be fine’. I leaned up from my slouched position to look at her computer screen. I was always nice to her. We usually laughed. I knew she liked me. I knew she didn’t think I was dumb. I focused my eyes and read over this new schedule. I skimmed right over ENG, ALGB and SCI and stopped when I saw ART and GOV. ‘So, I only need to pass two of these classes?’ ‘Yes!’ her enthusiasm never wilted. She celebrated any inch I made towards progress, even if she knew that I was reaching for the bare minimum. She printed up the new schedule and sent me on my way. I was sure she thought she had talked me into going to all my classes but I had my plan. I was only going to show up to two and then go home. Boom. I get a high school diploma while avoiding high school all wrapped in one. Genius.
And so that year it was me and my iPod in art class. I sat at my own table towards the front of the room and had my back face the rest of the students. I couldn’t tell you who was in that class if my life depended on it. The only thing in my line of view was my sensitive, red-headed teacher and the window. She taught us about Banksy and contour drawing. She pulled me aside and asked if I ever considered going to an art school. I said no but I meant yes. I left that year proud of a sketched portrait of me and my mother that I drew while listening to The Blueprint 3. The only other class I bothered to show up in was Government. I got hooked when I my teacher said that the definition of 'government' was ‘a system in which men organize themselves’. It was there that I met my first self-proclaimed Regan lover, which to my native New York self, was petrifying. I don’t think I said a word in that class but I soaked up everything like a quiet sponge. It was the first time I felt the experience of loving and hating my country at the same time. It’s an exhilarating feeling, a high I still get a rush from today.
I got the stupid fucking paper and it was time for college now, I guess. One of my friends that I forgot to mention, was also graduating with me. And it must've been under the whim of some miracle—because she came to school even less than I did. It was time for us to take the ‘placing test’. The local community college required us to take these to see if we need ‘remedial classes’. At the time, I had no idea what a placing test was or what a remedial class was either. Academic jargon terrified me. Especially because every time I would ask what they meant, people would roar at me for not knowing. I never understood how everyone expected me to know all these things. The friend taking this test with me wasn’t like this though. She was a special friend. One whom I loved, but a friend I knew wouldn’t go far. It wasn’t that she couldn’t. She was just so distracted by the need for love, she couldn’t focus on anything else, and I knew she wouldn’t. I knew she would let her whole life pass by until she found it. Even if it had to come drip by drip, laced in toxicity and only on nights that her excuse of a lover would choose her.
I wasn’t intimidated by this test. My report card was always doused in A’s and F’s and not much else. If I tried, I succeeded. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t. That’s how I worked. But, as for my friend, I knew she wasn’t academically there and would probably need remedial classes. I wasn’t worried. I mean, I was a little bit nervous about passing the math section, but I figured I would be okay. All I remember about the test was the room being gray, the computer being gray and everything being ugly. We waited in the waiting room. Tossing back and forth the usual ‘how’d you do?’ chatter and finally we received our results.
Turns out I’m a fucking idiot. Not only did I not pass the English section but I barley passed the math section. Actually, no. I did pretty well for the math section, but what happened is my friend got her results and she passed both of them! She wouldn’t need any remedial classes. But me? My paper had extra blocks forcefully wedged between my already two-year long schedule at this hell hole. Extra blocks that represented extra time in these remedial classes. Extra time I would have to spend, to get a paper that my parents promised would get people to respect me.
I don’t remember if I had a tantrum right then and there or if I waited to get home. All I knew was that if this was life, I couldn’t handle it. I didn’t know it at the time but what I was experiencing was my first swallowing of a big wad of failure. Not a middle school failure, not a high school failure but a failure that went beyond that. A failure in the real world. A failure in the wide open space of being an adult where parents don’t heal wounds. In fact parents are meaner now then they ever were before, and they’ve been that way the past few years actually. And so this failure was more lonely—more real and it tormented me like a demon. The paper was green, or maybe pink, I don’t know. I do know that it was a color and I do know that it was devastating me. I was uncomfortable with the fact that for some reason, these numbers that got crunched and printed on this cheap piece of paper had so much fucking power.
What I did next is scary, even to me, but this is what hormonally charged teenagers do. This paper was now my enemy. Even it just existing was jolting me into distortion. Interrupting my innocent child-like stride into a choppy, zombie-like adult stomp. I could feel my juvenile visions of success shriveling right before my eyes. I made it. I was here. I was in the land where dreams die. The land where the adults stop saying to go after your dreams and start telling you to flip burgers if you have to. The land where you realize, maybe you won’t be the ballerina or the artist you dreamt about being in first grade. Maybe you will be a fucking loser. Before I knew it I was in the backyard with a pack of matches and tears in my eyes. I brought a flame to the tip of the document of failure and it couldn’t burn fast enough. I even thought about ripping it as the flame was spreading. I needed this thing to disappear—fast. It needed to be dust. It had sucked part of my soul out and I was afraid if I kept it around, it might eat the whole thing. Then, most of the paper was gone and I stomped the fire out on the floor. Only the other tip of the paper remained, with soft, burnt brown edges on it's side.
Embarrassed, I looked around to see if anyone was watching. My dad would kill me if he saw me playing with matches. He'd give me a lecture every time I turned on my flat iron. Little did both of us know that so much of my life was going to be about playing with fire. A relief was managed to be obtained. The tears stopped. The failure wasn’t yelling anymore. It had tucked itself away, figuring that that was enough for today.
It was time to numb myself with TV or internet. It was time to forget that I was at the age where I had to start planning my life like—for real. It was time to forget that I failed college before I even got to college. It was time to distract myself—at least for a little while—from the fact that I am person who doesn’t do well with rules, and I live in a world filled with them. I don’t know how, but that September, I enrolled in two classes. African-American studies and Sociology. I showed up for the lectures and never did the homework. I got an email from my professor. ’Alex, I was looking over your grades and you have a C! That’s a shame. You’re amazing in this class. You should be getting an A. Why don’t you turn in your homework?’ I stopped going to class that week and one month later, I dropped out.