“What,” I resisted. “I just told you what happened to my mom. She’s dead and that’s that.”
“I know you better than that, Sydney Winters. You were the star of Azure Coast University 15 years after your mom died. You loved your life, and you really loved the nightlife. Losing your mom when you were three years old did not turn you into…” she motioned at me with her hands, fumbling for the right words to describe the mess of me. I’d thought I’d help out a bit.
“What? A jerk? A smartass? An insensitive prick who thinks everyone around her is a –?
She retaliates, “A person who absolutely is dealing with depression, a mental illness which affects literally a billion people.”
“What the hell are you saying?” I feel this powerful surge of anger. I can acknowledge that I’m an asshole. I can get behind the fact that I’m mean to people and deserve to be treated likewise. But depression, that’s the thing that put my mom in the ground, and I wasn’t about to let that girl start flinging around words like depression and mental illness. I am not weak. I am better than that.
Wow. Actually, I’m surprised how quickly my temper flared up. I force myself to calm down and count to ten before putting her on blast. The logical part of my brain – the one that knows about statistics and history, and has watched people I thought I respected fall so fast, can’t help but acknowledge she may be right.
“I’m a nurse practitioner, Sydney,” Millie says after waiting for me to get ahold of myself. “That’s basically the same thing as a doctor, and I’m at the top of my class. I’ve been studying this a long time. You know what else? I get class credit volunteering at the VA helping patients, many with self-inflicted injuries. I know what unreconciled mental issues look like, and let’s face it, I seriously don’t think you are like this just because you moved to Iowa and got homesick.” That girl is a better person than me, and damn perceptive. Perhaps I underestimated you, Millie.
“You’re sure you’re not a psychiatrist?” I quip.
“I’m a nurse. That makes me an everything.”
“Okay, fine,” I say as I begrudgingly continue my entire life history. There’s no getting out of it now, I suppose. “It’s really hard for me to talk about this.”
ACU was a medium-sized college, and it’s not quite big enough to have sorority houses unless you wanted to pay out the nose. And even if it was affordable, I’m not sure how I feel about living with a bunch of preppy, overdramatic girls 24-7. Pair that with the fact that I lived literally five minutes from campus, plus I had by all rights a whole house all to myself most of the time, and you bet I wasn’t moving out.
During college Dad spent tons of time at work working on some big research project, and when he didn’t he was usually in his study room at let me do whatever I wanted. It was basically just like high school, except Dad was making himself increasingly scarce. He always looked like he had something on his mind, differentiating him from the happy-go-lucky pollyanna type of the high school days. But it’s not like it was night and day, and I just assumed this is what happens to all father-daughter relationships in their twenties. As I became an adult with responsibilities and bills and junk, hero worship diminished and he became just an adult as well, or so I thought.
The times we hung out became more infrequent; a bowling trip here, a dinner date there. Much of our bonding time actually came in the form of long holiday road-trips to North Carolina, where pretty much the rest of our family lives. It’s where he went to high school, met my mom, fell in love, and even got his Ph. D. We only moved to Florida when Dad started his career with Azure Coast University and mom got a job as a financial advisor. Those road-trips never seemed to last as long as indicated by the arrival time on the GPS, because we always loved to talk.
My last Christmas at home, we spent the entire return trip from NC discussing where I should get my Master’s degree. Continuing my education was pretty much a given at this point. I was about to graduate, and four universities had offered me full tuition waivers, a stipend, and a research assistant position. Round and round the decision-making roller coaster would go. It have to the point where it would have just been easier to throw a dart. New Country. Transylvania. Newton Grove. Pelle. Each university had their pros and cons. Pelle was a classy institution which might give me the best urban career prospects. Transy was this super-cool hipster college where I’d probably fit right in. Newton Grove was close enough to my extended family where I could probably see any one of my aunts, uncles, and grandparents (some who I actually liked) anytime I wanted to.
And New Country… I don’t know. At the time it just felt like the right decision, and Dad was making some subtle indications that it was his favorite. On the surface the staff seemed nice and the program seemed reputable. And it offered the chance to get away from it all and experience something different. I felt like it gave me an opportunity for a fresh start amongst the cornfields.
“Shows what I get for acting on a feeling. I should have gone to Transy…”
I remember by the end of that trip I had settled on New Country, because I am human, and humans only want what’s bad for them.
A new section is released every Monday! Next week we’ll be continuing Chapter 3: “Metal Conducts Electricity.” As always I welcome your feedback in the comments. 🙂