Wednesday, June 29, 2005

5 Year Retrospect

5 years ago on this very day, I sat in a cafeteria draped with countless tartans. Bag pipes sang their screeching songs. It was so hot that I worried I might sweat through my cap and gown.

I graduated high school 5 years ago, and it's hard not to remember the date without some introspection, such as: what the hell have I done with my life?

The first 3 years after high school are easy to measure. I immediately left home and moved in with my boyfriend. My mother had no interest in the decisions I faced, so I chose my post-secondary education, my future home, and which scholarships to accept on my own. But despite my burning tendency toward procrastination, everything was arranged in time for the fall session of my first year of University.

My first choice school was Waterloo, because clocking in at 7-8 hours away from home, it was an attractive choice. I also applied to Guelph (6 hours away), and Queens (under 2 hours away, which I felt left the possibility for afternoon visits, eep), and Ottawa (1 hour away, so it wasn't much of a choice at fact, I laughingly called it my "safety" school).

I was accepted into all of them of course, with generous scholarships being offered by all 4 schools. And so of course I picked Ottawa, my last choice, the choice that was barely even a choice. I picked Ottawa because my boyfriend at the time felt we would drift apart if we were any further apart than that (such confidence he had in our relationship!). And so I can proudly say I picked the University of Ottawa for all the wrong reasons (namely, a boy), and it turned out to be great.

My mother and my boyfriend escorted me up to the campus, where they insisted there was no way I would fit all of my crap into such a small living space. They were both so overcome by their sentiments that they forgot what a hard head I have. It all fit, dammit. And then my mother pinched my cheek and cried, and left me all alone.

It was great. It was better than great. The University of Ottawa is a beautiful campus in downtown Ottawa. I lived in an apartment in Sandy Hill, just a block or two away from campus. I instantly made all sorts of great friends. We went on pub crawls, got lost on the bus system that was new to all us, and got into more trouble that I ever dreamed possible. I think I may have gone to a few classes here and there also, but my memories of this are a little hazy. On the second day of my new life, my boyfriend made the trek back up to Ottawa and was shocked to find me not at home. I was already out and about, socializing my ass off. I think this made him a bit worried, because within a month he reestablished his life up in Ottawa to be with me.

Tabaret Hall

University was just as easy for me as high school had been. I wrote exams and 30 page research papers with one hand tied behind my back. I took classes for interest, played around in the lab, and loved the tiny discussion classes that had fewer than a dozen students, where I could discuss politics, religion, or Dickens, and actually be understood by my peer group for the first time in my life. It was exhilarating, and I couldn't get enough. Full-time studies mean 4 classes per semester; some people take 5, I took 6 or 7. I majored in psychology which was never dull, not for one moment, but I took classes in many faculties to broaden the scope of knowledge.

I worked the whole time I was in school. I started out landing a great job for the University itself. I created programs for staff learning and development. It was challenging to work the behind the scenes at the same time, and since the school is bilingual, I was able to keep up in both languages that I was born into.

My boyfriend proposed to me, and became my fiance before my first year of university was complete. Everyone found it their business to tell me I was too young and that it was too quick, except for a select few who knew that Jamie knows what she wants, and gets it.

At school I had a lab rat named Sniffy, and I adored work in the sleep lab. My favourite days were spent in counseling, where I paved the way for a future career.

Later, I worked for the government. I worked right in the centre block of the Parliament buildings, underneath the Peace Tower.

Centre Block, Parliament Building of Canada

I brushed shoulders with the biggest and brightest of Canada's political system, Senators and Members of Parliament alike. I also met delegates and political figures from around the world. Joe Clark held a door for me; Colin Mochrie shook my hand and told me my uniform was "cute"; Jean Chretien bought me a drink; I gave John Ashcroft the pen with which he signed his name on the accord after 9-11. I met tourists from around the world. I saw presentations from around my own country. It's funny how quickly the marble floors and the gothic architecture of Canada's most famous symbol becomes "work". Every morning during the summer months, I walked through the changing of the guard.

Every few days, a major protest took place on Parliament grounds. I often had to elbow my way through throngs of people telling me that my uterus was not for sale just to get to "work". On other days, young men with rippling muscles would throw frisbees on the hill. On the weekends we were often interrupted by wedding pictures, and a couple of times, even the weddings themselves. Christmas was the most beautiful time to work at Parliament because of the Lights Across Canada display. Not just the hill, but the whole city and indeed cities across Canada, are lit up brilliantly.

Rotunda, Centre Block

And this is to say nothing of the tulip festival in April, and winterlude in February. I had the most amazing opportunities, and after about the first week of walking around in an impressed daze, I took them all for granted. But it was a great experience, and I made many good friends. It's a strange thing to say that our office parties consisted of Parliamentary Balls, but there it is. Good times. Through it all, I went to school and earned brilliant grades, and planned a wedding that turned out spectacularly.

Jason and I moved around a fair bit; packing and unpacking boxes became habit. We didn't both get home from work until 10pm on a week night, and then we would lie in bed exhausted going over my neurobiology units. I volunteered in spare time: in the mental health field, with the elderly, with the homeless, and with the developmentally challenged. These were busy, but good days.

Within 3 short years, because of my accelerated academics, I earned my degree. Convocation took place at the National Arts Centre, which was heady stuff. Walking across the stage I thought about all the greatest talent the world has to offer standing in the very same place. I accepted my diploma and couldn't help but think that at the age of 21 I had a degree, a home, a husband. A few days later Jason and I celebrated our first anniversary, and I was officially caught up in the wide berth of possibility in front of me.

I took a summer off during which I read for pleasure, and celebrated life with my friends. In the fall I found a job that meant a lot to me; it gave me the opportunity to use my degree, and help my community. All I had to do was complete my CPR training, and it would be mine.

And then my life derailed, and the path I was on was no more. I got sick, suffered through a month of misdiagnosis before reaching another few months of surgeries. It was tough to watch my dream job slip between my fingers.

Months followed filled with setbacks, frustrating rehab, and another move, a demoting move back to Cornwall. I clawed desperately for the life I once knew. I rarely saw my friends since I was not overly mobile. I also lost the waist I once had thanks to months of limited movement. I had low moments that were exacerbated by a family that didn't act like a family.

And so I found myself at 23 with nothing..or that's how it felt. I was in Cornwall, where a university degree counts for nothing. I was not employable unless I wanted to work at Walmart, which I did not. But I turned a new leaf, and then another.

It started on a sleepless night, when I got it into my head that I might like to try cake decorating. From there, it flourished and soon enough I was selling my concoctions to hungry patrons.

When the Christmas rush died down, I looked around and thought to myself, what next? And so I turned to my first love, writing, which I had pursued passionately from the age of 8-18, but had kept only on the back burner since University and more pragmatic thinking took over. But these days I have little to lose. I promised myself a whole year to pursue writing, and see where it takes me. It's been a fun ride so far.

But I look around me, and I wonder really how far I've come. I don't have a "career", and in fact I have not ever used the diploma that meant so much to me to earn. It remains buried somewhere that I don't have to happen upon often because I fear the disappointment may overwhelm me. But I am in a good place, I am proud of the words I write, and have managed to remain fairly upbeat and optimistic through it all.

All I can say for sure is that I am not where I imagined myself to be when I was sitting in my cap and gown on that night 5 years ago. According to my year book, I have failed miserably:

Ambition: Join the circus, have 17 acrobatic carnie children, make lotsa money & be exceedingly happy
Probable Destination: To get a sugar daddy, 2 dozen credit cards, and too many shoes to count.

Well, okay, I am happy, and I do have lots of shoes.

And to my fellow graduates of the class of 2000, how have you fared?

, your ambition: to be somewhere tropical & to have more than 1 tattoo.

Sarah: being a software engineer with my own company.

Kelly: To become the highest paid real estate appraiser with a house in every corner of the globe.

And so my dears, are we any closer to achieving our goals?

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