I was upstairs in the back room, quietly tagging baby clothes donated to the Red Cross store, listening to Lily Allen’s “Not Fair” on the radio when the door at the bottom of the stairs squeaked as it opened and the person responsible yelled my name. “Alison, there’s someone here asking to see you” he yelled. Now, due to my fear of leaving the house over the last two years I don’t really know anyone in the area, so I’m thinking it has to be Kayak Man, and seeing as I just left him less than 40 minutes ago I’m confused and a little shocked that he would call me down from upstairs to see him when I’m going to be home in about three hours. By now my heart is racing as I go down the stairs, wondering what has happened, and to who, and thinking it must be bad news for him to disturb me at work. My heart sinks when I see his face pasted over with worry and sadness. He looks somehow smaller than he usually does and he asks me to come outside with him. My brain is saying “OMG! Somebody died!” and listing my older relatives, preparing to be hit by terrible news.
“I’ve got my results. I passed, but I only got a third.”…..pause while I absorb the information and my brain frantically tries to take a step back from red alert to process what he’s telling me. So nobody died, thank God. No disaster, injury or horrific accident….also great news… I’m slowly backing away from panic. Let me get this straight…he passed. He has a degree now and is admitted to that club of people calling themselves graduates. Shouldn’t he be celebrating going out for dinner, calling his mum? Yet here he is looking like he’s going to cry (he never cries – it’s most unmanly)….yeah, my brain is doing all this and I’m stood like a lemon ’til this little voice pops up; “Ali. Give me a hug.” DUUUUHH! I think my heart just melted and I’m trying to kick my own ass for being so slow on the uptake.
Many hugs and much talking later, I have made some sense of the situation. He’s gutted that his classification of degree is not as good as it should have been. He feels like a failure; like he’s dragged himself through three years of study for nothing. He’s terrified he won’t get a job, but most of all he’s upset for me! Because he wanted to look after me and give me all these things…and…wow. He feels so low he’s even saying he might not bother attending his graduation.
That’s just so very sad, because honestly I don’t know anyone more determined to get a degree than he was. It goes all the way back to 2001 when we met. I was a fresher, just out of high school, super excited at actually living sans the strict boarding school regime for the first time, and yes totally clueless about the fact that it really is wise to chose a degree that might lead to a job at the end of three years….pah, three years seems like forever away, so I wasn’t going to worry. He, on the other hand, had already been to his first freshers week and hoping for third time lucky.
History unfolds like this; he actually got much better results than mine on leaving school in 1999 and enrolled on a law degree, something which he is passionate about and actually to this day I believe he would have been amazing at because he just has vast amounts of room in his head for remembering information, rules and regulations. That, and to be honest, he’s always firm-handed and takes no messing about, but under it all he’s very compassionate and caring. Anyways, the living away from home hit him hard, and despite that during his first year he was scoring decent grades, he was also drinking far too much and becoming isolated. By the time he pulled out for personal non-academic reasons, he was lonely, severely depressed and an alcoholic (the mere mention of which made me quite scared of him when we met). He pulled out and just flat out decided one day that was it – he hasn’t had a drink since. A year later he re-enrolled at a different college to study an English degree.
Unfortunately, due to an admin error, what should have been a BA in English Literature with a minor in psychology turned out to be a Joint Honors English and Psychology degree. The college in question never admitted their error – saying only that he should have noticed the discrepancy on the enrollment forms (the matter of a code being one digit different).
He had to admit defeat this time – the maths involved in psychology was just too much for him and the subject just didn’t hold his interest. When we met he was enrolling for a third time to read pure BA in English Literature. As well as studying full-time, he worked full-time too – pulling in between 30 and 40 hours a week – at a local bakery. It was about two months after we met that he finally had a day off – that’s how much he was working. He always agreed to extra shifts when the short-staffed manager asked, and he never called in sick, ever. In short, he worked himself out of college again. Totally demoralized this time, he left for good in 2002 – or so I thought.
It was always a source of bitter disappointment to him that he didn’t get his degree (any of them), and his parents’ attempts at gentle humor on the matter did nothing to help. Despite his own sadness though, he still made sure that he was there to see me and my classmates don caps and graduate – something which I know he found harder than would ever admit.
In summer 2006 he decided to go back and try again, this time choosing a degree in Software Engineering for reasons I can’t explain except to say that he’s all but married to his PC. He worked through the first year and passed that milestone into the second year – further than he had ever reached before. There was much rejoicing. The second year was almost impossible for him. He was working full-time again – he couldn’t afford not to – this time working nights in a call-centre (which he hated), which left him too tired to attend all the lectures he needed to. It was no surprise at the end of the second year when he had to re-sit half of his classes. When you re-take a failed exam, you can only achieve a passing grade of 40%. It doesn’t matter if you get full marks or just scrape through; everyone who re-takes a failed exam just get’s 40% for it. So his year average for the second year was dragged down. He quit his job there and then.
Now we’ve reached the end of his third and final year, and I know the results are a disappointment for him, and in this credit-crunching time when it seems like the world has everyone else by the balls and is not playing nice, I know he’s scared and to be truthful so am I. Still, regardless of the grade and the fact that his attendance record was less than perfect, the boy done good. He worked his butt off for that piece of paper. He also was supporting and taking care of me as best as I would let him – through illness, refusing to eat and through hormonal tornadoes etc.
It takes determination to keep trying after failure upon failure – it takes balls to go back four times believing that you’re good enough and that you can do it. It’s about knowing what you want and going for it however long it takes you. I could certainly take some lessons away from all this about that.
And after all that, he’s stressed because he’s worried he won’t be able to look after me. Kayak Man, I’m so damned proud of you right now. You totally ROCK and I luv ya.
Now get your ass to that graduation and hold your head up high or ima kick your butt!