Browsing Tag

higher education


existence and subsistence

On a hot Friday afternoon in September, I walked out of the academy where I was student teaching. I sat in my car, watching shadows play over the hood and flicker through the windshield onto my dashboard, and I tried to cry. The sodden heat soaked through my hair, and my skin, and sank into my bones. I held my hands up in the light, turning my palms toward me, then away, then toward me, then, away, watching the patterns shadows drew on my skin. My heart was overflowing with emotions I couldn’t put a name to– my mind was stuffed, bursting with thoughts I couldn’t process. There was a numb sort of haze that hung over that afternoon.

A few hours later I was sitting in the university’s one restaurant, watching John* eat a brownie. I knew what he had brought me here to say– had known for almost a month. No, I knew I hadn’t been submissive, yes, I knew that you needed a wife you could count on . . . Yes, yes I understand perfectly. I’ll wait to tell my parents that the engagement is over– it seems like the right thing to do for you to tell them.

For three days I existed in that dead space, going to bed every night with pictures of us staring down at me, knowing I couldn’t take them down because people would ask questions– questions I couldn’t answer. For three days I tried to feel something– relief, horror, grief, anything. Nothing came.

He told them Sunday afternoon. I walked to my room, my sister trying to ask what had happened, completely unable to answer her questions. I got back to my room and called the only friend I had left– the only friend he hadn’t ripped away from me. Please come, I begged her, I need your help. She took down all the pictures, the notes, the champagne glasses from his proposal, packed them away in a box, and I watched her do it.


As I watched her put the past three years of my life into a box, I felt that I was watching my future go into a different box. My entire life had been about the date I had set two months from now. I was supposed to graduate and get married, then start a new life with him. I was supposed to be his helpmeet, support him as he finished his degree, then head out and be a missionary like he wanted. I had always mocked those girls who had their own dreams, removed from being a wife. What happens when you find someone to marry, and halfway into your marriage he is called to be a missionary, or a pastor? Your goals, your vision, should always be your husband’s vision, I would tell them– I would tell myself.

I had no dreams.

I had nowhere to go, nothing to do.

My future was supposed to be him, and that was gone.

For a solid month I subsisted.

I managed to get out of bed, go to the academy, put in the 110 hours of work every week, and I somehow fell into an exhausted sleep periodically. The only reason why I ate at all was that I was required to sit in the cafeteria every day for an hour. The few times I ventured into the dining hall on campus, he was there, and by the third time I ended up in hysterics, I decided eating in public was a bad idea.

Toward the end of my student teaching, my administrator asked me to meet with her. “What’s going on, Samantha?” She asked me, her voice hard, clipped. “Your advisers are telling me that you’ve lost focus. That you don’t seem to care about this internship.”

I choked back what I knew was about to be a maniacal, bitter laugh. I don’t care about this internship? I thought. I can’t care about anythingI shrugged instead.

“Giving your entire effort to this is important, Samantha. You can’t afford to slack off. Do you know what you’ll do after this?”

Another shrug.

“Would you consider staying on for grad school here?”

Hell no. Grad school, here, in this nightmare? What would I do in grad school, anyway? There’s nothing I want to do. I shook my head.

“Oh, why not? We have some excellent programs, I’m sure we could find a good fit for you.”

Good programs? That’s hysterical. You don’t even have faculty with terminal degrees in any field except Bible.

“You could do music or English education, have you thought about that?”

God, no. “No, I can’t stay here.”

“Why not? You’ve never had a problem here– that’s a good indicator. No disciplinary action, good academics . . .” she flipped through a chart like some weird perversion of a psychiatrist.

“Because I hate it here, hate everything about this school, disagree with your cookie-cutter approach to education, your Nazi-level control over your students, your insistence on banning any idea that disagrees with yours, the fact that you fire faculty for no good reason, and that you kick people out because they know their friend is gay but refuse to turn them in for it. You pick one.”

Oh . . . God, did I just say that out loud?

She continued mumbling to herself, no reaction. Thank heavens I didn’t actually say that. 

But, suddenly I knew I had to leave. As soon as possible. I had to get away from this educational black hole.

And, I started thinking about grad school for the first time in two years.

Graduate school. Huh.

And what Mrs. B had told me– to never give up on my brain– filtered through a lot of the bullshit I’d been telling myself. I wasn’t trapped at this school, I wasn’t even trapped in my secondary education major. I could do something else.

I could be something else.

Photo by Vincepal

not just in Pakistan: Christians don’t believe in educating women

Like most kids, “what I wanted to be when I grew up” changed . . . oh, every six months, maybe? My interests ran the gamut– I wanted to be a vulcanologist. Then a large-animal veterinarian. A marine biologist– no, a marine botanist; algae is so cool! I wanted to be a medical researcher. Wait, a nutritionist. Oh, wow– quantum physics is fascinating.

Then, something interesting happened. And, by “interesting,” I mean “awful.” I loved, loved math until I hit higher mathematics in high school. In truth, I loved everything about school. There was a period in middle school when I got insanely bored, so my mom’s solution was to skip a grade. I skipped sixth grade completely, and I skipped sixth and seventh grade in math. Why? Because I was good at it.

And then I had a conversation with my friend, the pastor’s daughter. I was enthusiastic about geometry and algebra, and I was having a one-sided, yet still quite animated discussion, about the Greek philosophers. She rolled her eyes at me, made a dismissive motion with her hand, and told me that the Greek philosophers were a bunch of pagans who could never really understand the world because they didn’t “have God,” and didn’t I know that girls were supposed to hate math?

Why no . . . no, I didn’t.

I told my Sunday school teacher I wanted to be an astrophysicist– and he asked me how I expected to have a job and be a mother at the same time? Well, maybe I could just do it before I had kids. Then I could stay at home.

“So, you’re going to spend all of that money going to college and then never use it?”

I . . . guess not. That does seem kinda silly, a woman, going to college, ha-ha.

When I did, eventually, go to my radically conservative fundamentalist college, I was a music major.

Because “math” became useless to me. Because I was good at playing the piano, and why didn’t I just do that? Then you could go to college, if you really wanted to do that, I don’t understand why you just don’t stay home, but at least, this way, you could be a stay-at-home-mom and teach piano. Wouldn’t even have to leave the house, even. Children could come to you.

I started off as a piano performance major. When they introduced the piano pedagogy major, nearly everyone I knew pressured me toward that degree track. Because it was designed to create piano teachers– and piano performance is really only trying to get you to be a concert pianist, and why would you need that? You’d have to leave home.

At the end of every year in the music program, you are evaluated based on your progress. If they think you can’t hack it as a piano performance major, you’re told to go into another track– church music, piano pedagogy, music education, or choral conducting. My freshman evaluation was coming up, and I knew I was going to fail it. I wasn’t a spectacularly good pianist, and I knew it. So, I had to consider my options. Enter piano pedagogy, like everyone wanted?

I chose music education.

I explained this to my mother as a “calling,” an explanation that turned out to be frustrating later when I decided I definitely hated the very idea of teaching music to a room full of 13-year-olds holding things capable of making hideous noises. But, it was convenient at the time. I even had a neat little story of how I was vacuuming my room one day and I just knew, like a voice from heaven, that I was supposed to be in music education. It was just so clear.

It had nothing to do with the fact that the thought of caving to all those people in my life and choosing to be a good little stay-at-home-piano-teacher was absolutely repugnant. Nothing at all.

By my junior year, during one of those rare occasions when I consented to going to church with my parents, I ran into Mrs. B. She was an aeronautical engineer that had worked at NASA during the 70s. She had also been the woman to tell me one morning when we were both “keeping nursery,” in no uncertain terms, that I was smart, and that I needed to go to college.

She asked me how college was going, and I told her that I had changed majors, that I was considering graduate school.

She was thrilled.

She was the only person that had ever become happy when I told them I wanted to pursue higher education. She told me that I could be anything that I wanted to be, and to “never give up on my brain,” as she put it.

Mrs. B doesn’t know it, but her encouragement probably saved my life two years later.