Monday, March 31, 2008

Opportunity

Well, the second performance of the play is done. The first day, I was nervous, as were the rest of the women, so we ran our lines as we got dressed and made up. The second day, we chattered about the first day as we got dressed. After that, I spoke with my 'husband' James as he sat silent on the dark stage looking solemn. That is his way of preparing. The cast congratulated me on my impromptu speech the previous night during the tea. It was eloquent and impassioned, and it struck them all as something that would have burst out of the real Lucretia Mott. "Five minutes to curtain', the stage man whispered. And we took our places. And suddenly it occurred to me that I did not know my lines. Any of them. Everyone else was still whispering, and I sat frozen, trying to remember those lines. And couldn't. Not a one. I nearly had a heart attack. 'I can't remember my lines,' I hissed. And one of the other women said, "You'll be fine..." and patted my hand. "Geesh. Your hands are freezing." Panicked, I said, "I'm not kidding. I can't remember my lines. And the darn curtain went up. And the first line came. And suddenly, my line was in my mind. The dialogue went on through act one, and my lines flowed into my head clearly and effortlessly, and so the play was done.
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By the time that it was over, and we took our last curtain call, it was a little sad to be leaving the group. We'd been practicing together, and had gotten to know each other. The first woman lead is a seasoned professional, and she was wonderfully patient and wise, a mentor to all of us. 'There were no divas,' she kept saying with wonder. No wonder. The second female lead was too scared to be a butt. The others, just too darn nice. It was hard to just hang up the costume and leave, but I couldn't stick around. I had to come home and help my sister fill out her application for financial aid. I've helped the kids with theirs. She's never done it before. My sister is going to college.
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My play was all about a group of women who were moved by the plight of poor women in 1848. Their frustration led to the formation of the first American Women's Rights Convention. My sister would be one of those women that my charactor would have striven to assist. She's had a hard life. She is a year younger than I am, but is regularly mistaken for my mother. She cannot work because she is legally blind. Poor medical care, chronic health problems, abusive men, and, I am convinced, a sense of futility and defeat, have aged her drastically. I've convinced her to color her hair.
It was completely white.
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This is probably the most stable life my sister has ever had. She lives in a small but nice apartment in a subsidized housing. Her medical conditions are pretty well in check. She does not have to worry about making ends meet. She's figured out that men are not the solution to her problems. I am relieved for my sister. We are getting to know each other for what is, really, the first time. We both moved away when we graduated from high school. And now she has been given the chance to attend college on a full scholarship.
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I help her fill out her paperwork. I would never say it aloud, because truly, I am glad for my sister. I want her to succeed just as desperately as I want it for my own children. But I will tell you a secret. I've never attended college. I wanted to, badly. At 18, I thought that you had to have the money in hand to go to college. That's what my parents told me. No teacher ever told me otherwise. My parents made it clear that it was a waste of money for a woman to go to college, that I would surely marry and stay home with my children. This was not uncommon in 1975 in our rural area. I went to work, and began to save money. For two years I saved, and each year, I checked the prices of college, to see if I had saved enough.
I never had enough money.
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Eventually, I did marry. I did have children, and although I was able to stay home with them for a little while, I was also working and putting my husband through graduate school. I was supposed to have my chance when my youngest child started first grade. One week after she hit first grade, our apocalypse took place. I worked like I've never worked in my life. The thing is, I couldn't stop. And then the children began to go to college, and now, here I am. I'll be 51 in May, and I never got the chance for my own college education. People tell me it is not too late. I know this. But I cannot bring myself to say that my own needs are more important that the needs of my children. It is time for their educations.
Tim and I feel that it is our duty.
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I'm a lucky person. I have a good job. I got it because of my military training. I got my part of the education coordinator's job, because our education coordinator took a teaching job at a local college. We could not afford to hire a replacement. I am smart. I am driven. I do the very best that I can. My boss knows this, and she gave me a great opportunity, one that I will be grateful for all of my life. So I've been lucky. I've been given great chances in my own life.
I count my many blessings.
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I am so ashamed to admit it, but it niggles at my mind:
So why am I jealous of my sister?

4 comments:

Bush Babe (of Granite Glen) said...

Ahhh, I'd say you are HUMAN. You are lucky, in many ways, and you have also been terribly unlucky in your eventful, real, hard-working life. You have given much and received marvellous friendships and good relationships along the way. Nothing, and nobody, is perfect.

Of course you deserve to go to college. And you will. I look forward to reading all about it over the next ten years or so (how long do doctorates take these days?)...

And your sister deserves it too. Don't worry about envying her her chance. Just use it as a spur for yourself.

*jingle jingle*

Hugs

jeanie said...

Oh Deb - you do have a Ph D in the college of life, but I really believe you are the sort of woman who learns insatiably, so the moment a smart college comes along and works out what a gem they would have in you, your free education will be a cinch.

It is great that you are forming a relationship with your sister. They can be great people.

Hugs from me too!

debby said...

Sisters ARE great people. I know two of them that are pretty neat folk!

I am very glad for my sister, and I know how very glad she is for her opportunity, and I begrudge her none of it. I feel very badly about my sometimes shitty attitude.

Pencil Writer said...

I was thinking just as Bush Babe put it. You're HUMAN! Growth is painful, but opportunities are there for us to meet.

I'd also love to have a college education--more than my two sporadic years of classes. I LOVE LEARNING! I'd even be happy to just sit in classes to soak up the info, if I could do it w/o having to fork over the tuition. I'm 59. But Like Jeanie said, you're still learning--always will be! Just keep on keepin' on. I was 47 the last time I was in college. Maybe I'll even go back and get a degree someday--IF I can REMEMBER half of what I need to! (Smiles.)