In 2010 I graduated from the University of New Orleans with a BA in English. I’d worked about seven years, through one rape, one destroyed city, one baby and baby loss, being in-patient again and somehow finished the damn thing. I’d dropped classes more than I’d like to admit. I missed many classes that I didn’t drop, though professors could have dropped me and been in the right. There are cases where I wonder if I passed because they liked me. Despite the various hardships, I graduated college.
The last semester of school I started to develop an idea for being active in the city outside of UNO. I was able to get a job at my internship location. It wasn’t full-time, but it was a job in my field. On the weekends I was showing my paintings at small art markets. I even sold a few.
My friend Tina took pictures of me so I could send out announcements. My mother and I were not speaking at the time. I don’t remember if I sent her an announcement or not. I do remember going over it and over it with Kimberley over several weeks. I worried she would try and attend. I wasn’t done working out my feels around my mother. I loved her, yes. I didn’t know if I wanted her in my life. It was peaceful in isolation.
My brother was scheduled to fly down, in addition to my sister, aunt, and grandma. My grandpa no longer traveled well. My Louisiana family would be present, but my more distant aunts would stay distant. All of my friends were excited to be on hand to meet my family.
I talked with my brother on the phone a few weeks before his visit.
I was extremely fortunate to have the resources to heal at such a young age. At eighteen I had therapy forty hours a week. My brother had a different childhood than I did. He has different resources and different coping skills. His coping skills involved heavy self-medication.
My view of drugs had not evolved very far since high school. I saw pills from doctors as acceptable, alcohol as understandable, and everything else as deadly and the reason America couldn’t have nice things. My brother did “real drugs” according to my sister, which meant more than pot. I considered both my siblings to be obscene drug users who smoked pot daily. I was a judgy bitch about it to anyone who would listen.
However, my brother was far gone at the time I graduated college. He scared me. I didn’t know what I’d do if he freaked out. His bigger fights with Mom over the years had gotten physical. I knew that drugs could make people do things that don’t mean, things they regret later.
Over the phone, I told him not to come out. He was angry. I cried. He yelled. It was ugly. He didn’t come to my graduation.
It was new for me to set boundaries with my siblings. I’d done great work at finding myself, but my relationships with my brother and sister had taken a backseat. I assigned them feelings without discussion. I divined that they felt angry at me, resentful of the ways I’d failed to protect us as children. I don’t know if my siblings ever actually felt that way. I know that I tried to express it, poorly, and while drunk, to my sister a handful of times. It was something that I discussed often in therapy and worked at rarely in my life.
My graduation was themed internally with the mantra “I deserve to bask in this victory”. I threw myself two parties, one out in the city I love and one in my grandparent’s house. The “Yay Brittany” party was the new bar for feeling embarrassed about being the positive center of attention. I had a much easier time taking in the joy and praise for graduation. Kimberley gave me a journal with a beautiful note inside. The quote on the journal was the same one that my grandma had given me years earlier as a magnet. “Go confidently in the directions of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined,” said Thoreau from a white background.
I was living, which was not what I’d imagined, so the quote was still a goal rather than a relatable notion. Nonetheless, I was fulfilling some dreams. I was writing, and being paid to do so. I was an artist. I was living by my values and standing up for myself, even to the people I loved most. I was spending my time and money being trained in how to take care of myself as a person. I was always tired and took too many pills. It wasn’t perfect, but it was easily the right direction. And I didn’t have to be done yet.