I was never a very ballsy girl. I liked my life to be easy. I liked to make decisions that would not put me on the road less traveled; the worn out old familiar path seemed suitable enough to me. Even though I envied my friends who went halfway across the country for college or for a job, I knew that I would never have the moxie to do it.
Thus, it was not a shock that I did not like going to university on a campus four hours from my home. It was not a shock that when I really began to enjoy school was when I was living in the comfort of my parents’ house and commuting to college. It was not a shock that I never bought an interview suit or went on an interview after I got my degree. Working for my parents, living at home– these steady, familiar patterns allowed me to work and live in a safe haven I created for myself.
Yet, as much as I yearned for routine, I wanted more. As I got older, I felt like I was short-changing myself and not challenging myself to grow. Thus, in March of 1997, I was ripe and ready to face an obstacle and try something new. I knew it was time to switch career paths, continue my education, and become a teacher.
I went to lunch with my friend Kitty on a Wednesday. Within in two hours of talking with Kitty, I knew that I needed to do what she did. I needed to call John Carroll and figure out how to get myself in the Masters of Education program. Her inspirational stories were stories I wanted to have. I was envious of her excitement over being in the classroom and engaging students. I coveted her self-worth.
On Thursday, I made phone calls and found out what I needed to do. I needed to take the GRE entrance exam; I needed to have my transcripts from Baldwin-Wallace faxed over; I needed to fill out an application, and I needed to secure a $30,000 loan to cover tuition and expenses for the year. As daunting as all of this sounded, I needed to make sure that the people in my life stood behind me– specifically, my boyfriend Tom.
I decided I would tell Tom over drinks. You see, we had only been dating since the previous August, but it was only a matter of time before we were going to get engaged and get married. If we were going to plan a life together, I needed him to know that we would be starting this life in debt.
That Friday, I worked the morning through dinner shift at my parents’ restaurant. All day, I thought about what I was going to say to Tom. I imagined his reaction was going to be supportive, but when it comes to money, one never really knows what to expect. Before the dinner rush, I called Tom and we decided to meet at a little bar in Cleveland Heights called Parnell’s about 9:00 pm. He had just gotten off work for the weekend, and he was planning on showering and grabbing a bite to eat before our date.
“Hey, I have something we need to talk about,” I told him on the phone.
“What?” he asked.
“It’s too complicated and I need to get to work. We’ll talk later,” I said.
“Cryptic. Okay, we’ll talk later. I love you,” he said.
“You too.” I hung up. For three hours, I had a reprieve from my thoughts while I waited on customers and dealt with the dinner rush.
Around 8:30, I got off work and I headed out to meet Tom. The whole way there, I wondered if what I was contemplating was ludicrous. The masters program was an intensive year-long program. During the school year, I would student teach at a high school every day and then attend classes at the university Monday through Thursday evenings. I would have no time to have any type of job where I would make money. I knew I would drain my savings and probably have to borrow money as well. It wasn’t like I was miserable working for my parents. On the contrary, restaurant management was a very social job; certain days I even felt like I was getting paid to go out. However, it was not mentally taxing, and my brain was starving for intellectual stimulation. I wanted to utilize the vocabulary in my brain. I wanted to think and analyze and influence others to do the same. Yes, I needed to step off the cliff and jump into the unknown.
When I arrived at Parnell’s, it was crowded, which wasn’t saying much. At capacity, the bar could probably only hold forty people; it was so tiny. I walked in and saw Tom sitting at the bar talking with a gentleman I didn’t know. He was still in his work attire, which made me question whether he ever made it home for dinner and a shower.
I walked up to him and tapped him on the shoulder.
“Hhhhooooonnnnneeeeyyyy,” he bellowed. He wrapped his arms around me and gave me a very sloppy kiss on the cheek. Definitely, he did not make it home yet, and by the looks of him, he had not eaten yet, either.
“This is……. I’m sorry, what’s your name?”
The man sitting next to him put out his hand. “Bill, I’m Bill. Tom and I just met,” he said shaking my hand.
“Just met over a couple of Jagers,” Tom jumped in laughing. I rolled my eyes. As much as this kind of thing was normal for us, to meet strangers in restaurants and bars and strike up conversations, I wasn’t in the mood at the moment. I felt burdened by my thoughts, and until I discussed what I wanted to discuss with Tom, I wasn’t going to be any good at banal chit-chat.
“It’s nice to meet you Bill,” I said. Bill sensed my agitation. He probably thought I was angry that Tom was slightly drunk. Bill excused himself and went to the restroom.
“Bill’s nice,” Tom said. His eyes were glassy, and for a split second, I contemplated not having my very serious conversation with him. Yet, it was weighing heavy on my mind, and I felt like I needed to make a decision. I felt nervous. The bartender was helping someone else, but I needed to settle my nerves. Tom’s beer was almost full, so I grabbed it and drank about half of it.
Handing him back his bottle I said, “I need to talk to you about something serious.” For the first time since I arrived, he focused on me. I was not smiling, although I wasn’t mad. I was not waving money at the bartender. I was standing in front of him soberly and somberly. He sat up straight, and it appeared that he suddenly lost his buzz.
“Are you breaking up with me?” he asked. His eyes were penetrating. Not two days earlier, we had talked about “when we’re married.” Could he really think I suddenly had a change of heart that big?
“No, I’m not breaking up with you.”
“Then, what is it? You didn’t say ‘I love you’ on the phone earlier. You said, ‘You, too.’ Are you sure you are not breaking up with me?” He looked concerned.
I took a deep breath and exhaled. Man, I wanted my own beer. “No. I want to quit my job and take out a $30,000 student loan and go back to school to get a masters of education so I can be a high school English teacher.” It was one long sentence and one long breath.
“So you’re not breaking up with me?” he repeated.
He smiled wide. “Well all right. I don’t give a shit what you do, just don’t break up with me,” he said. I couldn’t help but laugh.
“You realize a $30,000 loan is significant. If we really do get married, my debt will be your debt.” I wanted to make sure he understood the severity of what I was proposing.
“Okay. If being a teacher will make you happy, then do it. The money thing will work itself out.”
Just then, Tom’s new friend Bill returned to his bar stool; Tom’s buzz magically kicked back in. “Bill, you wanna do another Jager? We are celebrating that Cheryl is not only not breaking up with me, but she is going to go back to school and get a master’s degree.”
Bill smiled perplexed. “Congratulations.” He nodded at each of us individually. “A masters in what?”
“Education,” I said.
“I’ll drink to that,” he said.
And so, we drank a shot to my future. I knew I was going to go through with it. I wasn’t going to back down no matter how scary the change seemed to me. I had Tom’s support and that made me feel like I could accomplish anything. His love and support at this difficult juncture in my life when I doubted myself, solidified to me yet again that I truly had found my soul mate.