I left college at 19 to pursue different avenues of life, like working full-time at Blockbuster video, rolling blunts, and doing keg stands. The latter were skills I’m sure college would have taught me eventually, but I didn’t think I needed the pesky class time to get in the way. Plus, how else could I get movie rentals for free? I didn’t go back again until I was 26, recently married, and unexpectedly pregnant. It’s when I finally decided to take my education seriously. Lead by example, I suppose. Read: I wasn’t good at keg stands.
So there I was, eight months pregnant, sitting in an astronomy class when our old, bow tie-clad professor showed us a video that totally and utterly fucked me up. My stomach was so large at this point, that I was unable to sit in a normal auditorium seat. The class was in a big hall with those small seats that had the small writing surface that flipped up from the side of the seat. So there was no way I could take notes using it (college desks aren’t made for women who are very pregnant, lest that be a warning ladies), but there was a long table with two chairs in the back of the hall for people with disabilities, or for larger people who couldn’t fit in the seats below.
So every Monday night I’d race my chubby legs up to the third floor to get a seat at that table. And every Monday night it was in fact, a race. I was racing two very large dudes to the two empty seats at the table. Looking back I should have just let them have it, they were uncomfortably big for the seats below, but again, I literally could not get the flip desk over my pregnant belly. There’s no moving parts around to fit better at that point. It’s just there.
On this particular night I was running a bit late, and I ran into my 85-year-old professor politely standing at the VERY slow elevator. He caught my eye and waved me over. He really liked me for some reason, and would always ask me to ride up with him if he caught me. I obliged and was chatting at the elevator with him, when I saw the two big dudes enter the hall. They eyed me, and I eyed them, and I swear to you they took off running up the stairs. Running. Full speed. Yeah, they beat me to the table. (Now that I think about it, that was pretty fucked up of them. Then again maybe I should have just asked someone to bring a third chair up, I dunno.) Jesus, I’m off topic.
So the night that we watched this video that fucked me up, I missed my chance at the “fat kid table.” (I say this lovingly, as both a fat kid and because that’s legit what those dudes called it) and had to sit in a seat and use my notebook as my desk. I was pissy, and defeated, and just starting to try to routinely will my baby out of me. I was done, y’all. But he still had another month of cooking to do. So there I was. Alone. Pregnant. Annoyed. And slightly in awe of the path my life was taking when my 105-year-old professor showed us the video.
The video started out with a person standing on a street in Paris. I knew it was Paris because as the camera panned up and out, you could see the Eiffel Tower. Then it kept panning. Up, up, up. Out of Paris, out of France. Out of Europe. Out of whichever hemisphere that is. Shoot me, who cares. Up, up, up, way up into space (this was an astronomy class). Up through Earth’s atmosphere, up past the International Space Station, through the stars, out of the Milky Way, way up, past everything, into pure nothingness. I was so engrossed in the film that my notebook slid off my lap, and still I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. The camera went way up. Then it just ended.
We all sat silent for a long time. My 110-year-old professor flipped the lights on with a flick of a switch on his podium down below. People shifted nervously in their seats. No one said a word. It was all too much. I wanted to cry. I didn’t know why. Hormones I guessed. I looked behind me. Up to the big dudes. They sat silent, stony faced in their large, comfy chairs. My 113-year-old professor said something like, “It’s just like that, isn’t it? The stars. The universe. This life.”
I looked down at my notebook, half-heartedly kicked it with my foot. Then down at my expanding belly. It occurred to me that it is like that. This small, insignificant life. The comfy chairs, the notebook on the floor, the elevator ride. My annoyances, my desires, my stupid, stupid mistakes. My baby. It’s all like that.
Then my 119-year-old professor went on with his lecture.
A girl behind me quietly got up, picked up my notebook, and handed it to me. I managed a smile, but by now the big, fat tears were rolling down my face. She nodded in a knowing way, even though she had no way of knowing. This was it. Only one way out from here. For all of us. Into the nothingness.
A month later my very healthy son was born. I dropped my classes the next semester. Decided maybe I’d made my mistakes and college wasn’t for me. That instead I’d focus on this child. This bright star, and his future. Then I remembered that he wouldn’t know how to shine, if I didn’t teach him.
A couple years later I graduated with my toddler waving and screaming “Mommy” as I walked across the stage. I graduated a second time with my third-grader waving and screaming “Mommy” as I walked across the stage. And who knows, maybe I’ll graduate a third time, and maybe my teenager will be screaming and waving “Mommy” while I walk across the stage.
And sure, in the end, it all fades to black. We all go back to the nothingness that we came from, but at least we get to look back down for a bit. Down, down, down. All the way down to those few blazing moments.
Shine bright, little ones.