My teen years and early 20s were pretty messy. I ran pretty wild, and even though I never got into any serious or legal trouble, I managed to cause some turmoil in my familial unit and my immediate surroundings. However, I got lucky. A few friends were able to get hold of me and help straighten me out, and I’ve been able to go forward on a much different and happier life path.
Part of that straightening-out process involved going back and attempting to make it right with persons I’d been especially awful to or establishments that I’d stolen from. Like after being an absent and disinterested sister for most of his life, I became involved with my brother and his family’s life. I live well so that my mom and dad, who spent my early years praying and worrying about me, have peace of mind knowing their daughter is happy and safe. I’ve also been able to pay back institutions I stole from – nothing that exciting – just stuff like a few hundred dollars for CDs I took from a now-defunct record store. No Madoff stuff here. It turns out that knowing I am square with the universe is a really good feeling. A feeling I didn’t even know I was missing out on until I got it.
Even beyond all that, I’ve been able go back and have, in a sense, a do-over. One of the things I never thought I’d be able to fix was my academic record. My parents started a college fund for me when I was born, so that when I turned 18 years old, I’d have enough money to attend pretty much any college for four years. Well, the money was there, but I sure wasn’t. I got off to a fast start, and I tested in the 99th percentile to be accepted into a prestigious all-girls academy for high school, but, well, as noted above, I got a little sidetracked, and my grades quickly fell. I ended up at a local college (it’s a fine institution – just not where I was supposed to go given my promising start) and spent the bulk of my college fund on doctors and hospitals.
My college grades were all over the place depending on how I was doing emotionally and physically during my troublesome years. My transcript read like two different people were attending school: As and Bs one semester, and then D, F, and medical withdrawal the next. I always wondered what “could have been” if I’d been able to fully apply myself. And, despite all my good fortune since turning things around, I always wished I could fix that. Fortunately or unfortunately, I got a pretty good job out of college, and it was just never feasible for me to return to school to get a graduate degree. Until 2010.
By chance, I checked the California State University Northridge (CSUN) website and they had just started a new graduate program in humanities. It was the perfect program: brief (19 months); work schedule friendly; and the classes were on topics I loved and would have studied in my free time anyway. So after 19 years (!), I went back to school. Just so you know, I wrote my undergrad thesis on a fucking typewriter. Anyway, I started school, nervous as all hell and curious too. Was I…??? Turns out yes, I’m smart. In 2011, I graduated with honors from CSUN with my M.A. in Humanities and a perfect 4.0 GPA. Twenty fucking years later, I got my do-over.
But I’m not the only one in my family who got to go back and fix things. My husband and I have similar stories, as well as similar paths to redemption, and just this month he was able to correct an event in his life where he wished he’d done better. There was a recent national story about the SAE (Sigma Alpha Epsilon) chapter at the University of Oklahoma wherein some of the fraternity members were caught on video singing a racist song. Shortly after, more stories about racist SAE practices came out (it is, after all, the only fraternity founded in the antebellum south), and one BuzzFeed reporter tweeted out her story about how the racist song caught on video was actually a chant learned secretly in the fraternity. I tweeted at the reporter that my husband had been a CSUN SAE pledge in the late ‘80s and that the chant wasn’t the only secret racist activity at SAE, and she asked if she could interview my husband.
While there were some minorities in the fraternity at that chapter, my husband witnessed his best friend get asked to join a secret sub-group. For whites only. He also saw them talk shit to a black pledge, as well as talk brazenly about crimes against women. He felt terrible for not leaving the frat right then and there. Instead, he was asked to leave the fraternity – and he has regretted his silence ever since.
Husband had some trepidation about speaking to the reporter as he felt badly about not having done anything then and knew he wouldn’t look good, being as he didn’t stand up to the frat or report them or even leave. I told him that he was a drunk 20-year old in the ‘80s, and that more importantly, he could make it right now. He spoke with the reporter and was quoted in the article. He still felt weird about it even though he knew it was the right thing to do. Shortly after I saw that a black man tweeted the same reporter and said he was also a member of SAE CSUN and saw her article about the “whites only sect.” I’m not sure what that led to, but that would be awesome if Husband coming forward helps lead to the investigation and termination of racist practices at SAE CSUN.
Sometimes it’s not possible to fix a wrong in the past, but I can alter the course of the present and future by my actions today. And you never know…It’s been my experience that when you’re living right and open to what’s next, you might be provided with opportunities you could never imagine. 20-year old Husband couldn’t muster doing the right thing back then, but 48-year old Husband could. And by the way, that isn’t the biggest do-over Husband got to make. See, we “dated” briefly in our 20s, and he was kind of a jerk. Eight years later, he got his second chance, and he’s been making good on it ever since. It’s never too late.