Chapter 5: What Should Have Been My College Years
I had planned to move on to my next boyfriend chapter, but as I began writing it, I realized that I had some other things I needed to explain first. So let's look at what happened to me after high school graduation.
I fully expected that I would go to college after I graduated high school. I must've had a strong desire to get out of Long Beach because the only in-state school I applied to was Ole Miss, the one that was the very furthest away from the coast where I lived. And my mom talked me into applying to Centenary College, a private liberal arts school in Shreveport.
If I have any one regret in my life, it is surely that I didn't apply to Tulane. I must've had a really shitty counselor department at my high school that none of them ever said, "You're a good writer. Why not be a communications major at Tulane?" I was a strong A-B student. I could've got in. My mom lived in Louisiana so it would've been in-state tuition. I feel like that was the single biggest missed opportunity in my life.
My sister had graduated from the boarding school and was attending college at BYU in Utah. My brother had left New Hampshire and was living with Mom in Louisiana. In high school, I would ride a Greyhound bus to Shreveport to see them over Christmas holidays. I would sit in the back of the bus and smoke cigarettes and listen to Journey cassette tapes on my Walkman.
In the spring of my senior year, I went to a high school visitation weekend at Centenary (at Mother's insistence, I'm sure). We stayed in the dorms and I tried out for the college choir. My parents did not have college money saved for us, but I got a music scholarship that was large enough to cover everything else if I lived at home (at Mom's, that is). I was also accepted at Ole Miss.
I'm not sure why I selected Louisiana. I guess maybe there was a part of me that wanted to repair my relationship with my Mom. But I also think that she can be pretty...uhh...persuasive when she wants to be, bordering on manipulative, even. So I'm unsure how much of the decision ultimately ended up being this 17-year-old's. She and my brother came down for my graduation and I loaded up the car and left with her the next morning. Looking back on it, it feels incredibly dismissive and unappreciative of my dad.
I went to work that summer at the country club where my mom was the club manager's administrative assistant. Back in the analog days, club members signed paper slips to charge food, drinks and greens fees to their accounts. I worked an afternoon/evening shift entering those tickets into a computer that ran MS dos.
Claim to Fame side note: Terry Bradshaw was a member of this club. When I came upon my first ticket that he'd signed for his greens fees, I asked my mom if I could swipe it? She said absolutely not, so I made a xerox copy of it.
Around this same time, my brother moved back to Long Beach with my dad. And my sister came to live with Mom and go to school at LSU Shreveport. That put me, mom, my sister, and mom's new husband in her tiny little 2-bedroom, 1-bath rental home.
If you don't come from a divorced home, this sort of bouncing around might seem odd to you, but to us I guess it just felt like having options.
Halfway through the summer, Shelley came up to visit. There was a misunderstanding between all these women trying to live in this tiny house. The way I remember it, my sister overhead Shelley telling me about some problems with her step-sister and my sister thought it was me, talking about her, and she got really upset and told Mom. Mom took her side and there was a pretty big blowup. Shelley was all, Why are you even here? And I was all, Yeah, why am I? And the two of us got on a Greyhound back to Mississippi and I forfeited my college scholarship.
My mother would always and forever blame Shelley for that, but the whole arrangement was never going to work. I didn't get along with her husband at all. He would tattle on me to Mom when he thought I'd been drinking - even though I was of drinking age in Louisiana.
[OG side note: Back in the 80s, the Federal government battled drunk driving by taking away highway funding from states that didn't raise their drinking age to 21. Louisiana was the very last state to comply. So at the time, the drinking age in Mississippi was 18 for beer and wine, and 21 for liquor. In Louisiana, it was still 18 for everything.]
The idea that my mom and I were going to get along for four years under the same roof is completely laughable. I imagine I probably had a lot of pent-up anger toward her. And maybe I just wasn't even mature enough to do college yet.
So I came back home. My brother had taken over my room at Dad's and I guess he probably had a lease or something because there was no place there for me. So I moved in at Shelley's. Or, maybe I should say, Shelley's parents kindly and generously took me in.
Remember from Mexico that Shelley was a year younger than me, so she was a high school senior that year. Her mom replaced Shelley's twin bed with bunk beds for the two of us. I got a job at a beachside taco stand and worked there 30 hours a week or so at minimum wage. Shelley's parents housed and fed me and never asked me to pay any rent or other expenses. Not all heroes wear capes.
Shelley and I spent evenings and weekends cruising Long Beach. To some of you, this probably sounds as anachronistic as my mom saying she went to sock hops. But this was a very small town in Mississippi. We had a main street; ours was called Jeff Davis Ave. (I know!) and it ran perpendicular between the beach and the railroad tracks. Cruising Jeff Davis was what we did to entertain ourselves. It wasn't about just driving around in the car; it was where we went to find and hang out with our friends.
It was during this year that Shelley and I started experimenting with weed. We loved the creativity that getting high inspired in us. And within it, we discovered the Rude Boy culture. We had developed a thing for the bad boys. Giggly Mississippi girls were in training to be Ole Miss sorority girls and were definitely not into smoking pot. We thought it differentiated us and made us way more cool.
So that's how I spent what should have been my freshman year of college: Hustling tacos, getting high, hanging out with bad boys. A little more Fast Times at Ridgemont High; a little less Sixteen Candles.
After Shelley graduated in May 1985, she made plans to attend Southern Miss. I applied to the junior college on the coast (also named for Jefferson Davis, coincidentally). My dad moved into a three-bedroom apartment in a different complex so that my brother and I could both live with him.
That first semester, Shelley and I traveled back and forth between Hattiesburg and the coast quite a bit. Shelley is so artistic and creative; she was kind of out there for Southern Miss and never really fit there. She came home after one semester.
By then I was on my way north with a new boy.