I tried community college when I was 19. I only took three classes, passed U.S. History, failed the other two. I wasn't terribly concerned about my performance because I was arrested right after finals were over. Hard to care about grades when you're standing in front of the judge with jail-time and a couple thousand dollars in fines staring at you.
Fast-forward eleven months and I had just finished writing my final paper on the War in Afghanistan for my English 101 course at that same college. I had paid off my court fees and had also paid for school in full. My buddy Davey called me after emailing my paper to my English instructor, said he had a bottle of vodka. I'm always down to party, so I said yes. That was probably ten o'clock at night when he called. By 1 a.m., I was sitting in a holding cell waiting to be processed into county jail.
The charges I accrued that night amounted to years of jail time and probation, in addition to about five-thousand dollars in fines, rehab, and lawyer fees. I didn't show up for finals that semester because I was sharing a cell with a meth-addict named Chance. "No shows" for finals equaled automatic "F" grades for all twelve credits I had almost completed.
For the next two years, all I worried about was where how would I survive, and who was out to get me. Higher education was as distant as my release date, and after a while, I forgot what it was like to not be owned by the State.
I crashed at my best friend's grandma's house when I got out. I caught a night freight crew gig at the local grocery store, and this turned me into a vampire for the next year. I would go weeks without seeing the sun directly, and I think it did something to me mentally. I lost fifteen pounds and would feel utterly worthless when I was awake. If I wasn't working, I would collapse on the couch and write down all the things I liked or was good at and then cross them out until I had two options remaining. I told myself that if I ever went back to college, I would choose a major that involved these skills or interests. I didn't think I was going back, but it was fun to imagine.
I didn't get in trouble again, but I spent many hopeless nights intoxicated in the back seat of my friends busted Jeep while he and his brother shot up Oxycontin diluted with oily truck-stop rainwater. I never touched it, but I remember drunkenly watching them dope up from the backseat and wondering if that was where I was really supposed to be.
I started seeing the sunlight again when I got offered a produce department position that was scheduled during the day, thank Christ. I worked closely with Bobby: 42, childish sense of humor, motivated. He was working on the side with his own carpet cleaning business. He was working the same produce job as me, but he exuded higher aspirations and it was contagious. After a year of working produce, I told him I was thinking about going back to college. He grinned and said "Oh f*ck yeah, buddy! Gonna get you some college girls!" I didn't need any more confirmation that applying for school one last time was the right decision.
Surprisingly, most of my co-workers seemed nervous when I told them I wanted to go back to school. "What will you do with an English degree, though?" was pretty common. Even worse was the "Oh...alright," the way you would respond to a child telling you they were going to become president someday, ultimately a condescending "good luck with that..." I didn't mind. After several years of screwing up, I learned that your actions mirror those you associate with. They did not share my vision of success, so I did not give them my time or energy.
Doubting co-workers aside, prospects didn't look good. BSU generally doesn't accept ACT scores below 21, nor do they look kindly upon those who barely passed high school or those with criminal records. I didn't care. The way I saw it, fifty bucks wasted on an application fee was only half a days work and, if I was denied enrollment, I would have had plenty of time to make that loss of cash up.
I think I waited about two months for a reply. That could be wrong. It was a lifetime ago. But the card came in the mail, that beautiful electric blue acceptance card. I remember walking out to my small mail slot in the building opposite my apartment. U cracked the lock and saw that letter from the Boise State admissions office. I saw it lying there and braced myself for rejection. Aim high and expect low had been the lesson of the past years. But I opened it halfway across the parking lot walking back. I opened the card and a violent-orange "B" popped out. Below it said "Congratulations!"