During senior year of undergrad: I was selected to represent my university as a fellow at the Center for the Presidency and Congress (CSPC). It was an honor and responsibility. I felt an immense sense of pressure. Some of it internal and quite a bit external. Well meaning people often wanted to know what I wanted to do with my life post undergraduate degree and when I told them they would give unsolicited advice about the next steps on my journey.
My personality meant that I would nod and smile politely thanking them. Inside I was screaming: I am just learning to grow up and I have CP, which makes this whole process more difficult. I don’t want or need your advice. After the first fellowship conference and studying hard to finish the semester well: I was fried and more than ready for holiday break.
While on break I went to Walmart with mama one Saturday right before Christmas. I ran into another of these well meaning individuals. As the conversation went on: I felt myself getting ready to lose it. I wished the person a Merry Christmas and ducked into the McDonald’s inside the store. I sat at the table in the furthest back corner and grabbed my cell out of my pocket. My hand was shaking as I pushed speed dial praying he’d pick up.
After a couple of rings I heard: “Hey Stace.” Relief coursed though me. Hey is this a bad time? Cause if it is I can call back. “No, I’m just hanging out at the laundry mat reading while I wait for my clothes to wash. You know I always have time for you. What’s up? You don’t sound great.” That’s my brother/journey partner. He’s always been able to read me like a book…even 3000 miles away.
I sighed. I don’t even know where to start. “This is me. Just talk to me, okay?” He couldn’t see my nod. Okay. You sure you’re not busy? Maybe this is a bad idea. I’ll call you later. He stopped my nervous rambling and stalling. “Stace, it’s okay… more than. Breathe and talk to me. It’s gonna be fine.” My eyes started to sting with tears and he heard me sigh, again. “It’s my fellowship and everything. “I’m going to need more words.” I know. It’s a lot of pressure being a fellow. “You’re doing great.” Thanks, but it doesn’t feel that way. “Why?” Almost everywhere I go people have opinions about what I should do with my life after graduation…including today. “Where are you?” McDonald’s inside Walmart.
It’s too much. I can’t be polite anymore. I can’t nod and smile. I can’t. Then I started to cry. He sat on the other end of the line soothing me with his silent support. After a few minutes he said: “It’s okay. Let it all out. I’m right here.” Once I calmed down a little he said, “How long has that been bottled up?” A while. “Yeah. Everybody forgot one thing. Nobody has asked you what you want, I bet.” No. “What do you want?” I don’t know. That’s part of the problem. I chocked up, again.
“You’re the most driven person I know. Take a breath and answer me forgetting everybody else for a minute.” Then he used my full name asking the question again. Graduate school. I want to go to grad school. “How’s that feel saying it out loud?” Heavy, but good. “Well then let’s get started making a plan to make grad school happen…together.” I love that word. “Me too.” Thanks for calming me down and listening. Before he could respond I said a lady is staring at me.
“Put me on speaker.” I pushed the speaker button. “Ma’am, she’s brilliant she just needs to believe in herself the way everybody who loves her does. She’ll be fine. Enjoy the rest of your lunch. I’ll take care of Stacey. I’ve got her. I promise. ” Laughter threatened to bubble up in me. “Take me off speaker, please, Stace.” I did and the lady turned away embarrassed. Thanks for that, too. “Always.” You do realize I just had a meltdown staring at Ronald McDonald’s smiling face, right? We both cracked up. “Feel better? Need to eat?” I do feel better. I want a coffee. “Go get it, but keep talking to me.” Okay, but tell me how you are.
After that conversation I was able to better deal with the pressure. That’s what my chosen family does for me and vice versa: lighten the load of life. I’m so blessed to have them and love each of them. They make me better and more myself. I know not everybody has a group that does such for them. It makes me more grateful that I do. Thriving would be impossible without them .