Do You Remember How You Got to College?

*This essay was written by a student from the UMKC Creative Writing program. If you have interesting experiences and would like to see your story featured contact Editor-in-Chief Brett Baker bjbyrd@mail.umkc.edu*

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was jarred awake by my restless mind well before my alarm clock was supposed to wake me. I flipped over in bed and looked at my phone. It read 5:26 a.m. I knew I woke up early, but not that early. Normally, I would curse the heavens, or my sister, or nonconscious motivations, or whatever had tossed me from sleep, but not today.

My eyes danced through the darkness of my room with ease. My arms and legs were full of life. I was ready! I lifted myself into a sitting position on the edge of my frameless mattress and sprung from the bed, landing softly on my toes.

I didn’t want to wake her. My sister that is. This was a big day for her too but she was too young to know it. She would be getting her own room. Her bed sat 5 feet from mine. Autumn’s bed consisted of a dirty mattress that lay on the ground surrounded by a moat of art supplies and mutilated action figures and dolls. Walking around barefoot was not an option in our bedroom. Stepping on one of her toys will bring you down faster than a baby joke at a fertility clinic. I already had everything I was taking with me in the living room. I threw on my slip on pair of Vans, my jogging pants, and a blue pullover sweater that said “UMKC” in gold letters. I tiptoed my way through the cluttered floor space in our room into the living room and sat on my couch and waited.

***

About 30 minutes passed. My sitting position had probably shifted 100 times. I moved from slightly slouched, to my midsection being fully concave, to a squatted position on my toes on the couch. So much was rushing through my mind. Finally, my mom came marching out of her room.

“You ready?”

“Yeah,” I said emphatically.

As much as I tried to force confidence. My stomach tossed and turned at the endless possibilities that I would be walking into blind that day.

“Alright,” my mom said.

Both my mom’s eyes and mine turned to the pile of possessions that needed to be transported from our small apartment in south city St. Louis to Kansas City. There were 3 hefty garbage bags filled with clothes, a large black suitcase with rolling wheels, an olive polyester bag about the size of a dachshund, my gym bag (roughly the same size), a book bag, and a bike. We looked at each other. My mother grabbed 2 garbage bags and the polyester bag. I put my book bag on finessing my arms through its loops and then tightened the straps until it hugged my shoulder blades. I threw my gym bag on over my neck. I balanced the wheeled suitcase on my blue and silver mongoose bicycle and then picked up the final garbage bag. My mother and I gave each other nods of confirmation and my mother held the door for me as I walked out into the apartments main hallway. I returned the favor for her at the main entrance as we left out the front door and set out down Pestalozzi street towards our first destination, the ‘11’ bus that headed for the St. Louis Amtrak station

***

We must have looked like some damn vagabonds or homeless people walking down the street at 6:00 A.M. with our garbage bags in hand, me stumbling down the street trying to balance that suitcase on the bike. It may not have not been the easiest way to manage carrying all of that, but everything always seems clearer in hindsight I suppose. After about 3 blocks of walking we were sweating like steel mill workers. It had to have already been about 80 degrees, but we both had vibrant smiles on our faces. There’s a point when you’re so excited about something you could be picking cotton or flipping burgers in front of a grease fryer and you’d still look like what my grandma use to call a ‘grinnin’ fool.’

Us two grinnin’ fools sat at the bus stop at Jefferson and Pestalozzi huffin’ and puffin’ trying to catch our breath for about two or three minutes until we looked down the street to our left to see the ‘11’ moseying down Jefferson. It stopped right in front of us and the doors folded inwards and welcomed us in. I had to run to the front of the bus to put my bike in the bike rack on the front of the bus. I returned, trash bag and suitcase in hand. The suitcase must have weighed 50 pounds. It had everything from clothes, a quesadilla maker, my antiquated laptop, bathing supplies, and so on in it. I dragged it up the bus stairs to which every stair was met by the loud clunk of my suit case smacking the edge of the stairs as I ascended them. I fumbled around anxiously for my money to pay the bus driver who appeared to be already fed up with my shit. I didn’t mind though. This wasn’t the first time a bus driver would impatiently grill me in front of a loaded bus of people and it probably wouldn’t be the last. I finally pulled out my money and I made my payment of 2.00 dollars for my one-way trip downtown and then stammered over to the seat next to my mother. There was a seat in between us where we stacked my trash bags of clothes and belonging.

We sat for maybe a minute before curiosity overtook an elderly woman who sat across from us. Maybe it was our sweat-drenched faces or the sheer amount of room we were taking up, or perhaps it was our optimism despite our situation. The women asked, “Where y’all headin’ to?”

My mother and I looked at each other and then I saw a rare sight. Tears filled the corners of my mom’s eyes. She fought back a smirk so wide her molars were showing. She started to talk but her voice cracked.

She cleared her throat, wiped the corner of her eyes and loudly announced, “My baby’s going to college!”

Something even crazier followed. The bus passengers started applauding and hoopin’ and hollerin’ like it was the climax of a Benny Hinn sermon. One man shouted, “Go on brotha!” from the back of the bus, and his shout was accompanied by congratulations and questions flying from every which direction. It was like they were with me and mom through all of our struggles and knew what I had overcome to get to that point.

The bus teetered and tottered down Jefferson and filled to capacity quickly. The exuberance on the bus died out as it quickly became uncomfortable to speak because of the close proximities. I was staring directly into the backside of a middle-aged man whose laptop carrying case swung backwards occasionally causing me to weave like a boxer. Both of my hands were occupied by my belongings. The bus screeched and came to a halt at the Amtrak Station. I exited the bus, arms full with belongings and unfastened my bike from the front of the bus, sitting my trash bags and suitcase on the ground. My mom stayed on the bus to double check and make sure we had everything. The dingy off-white-and-grey Amtrak building that was so mundane previously, now seemed to be lit gold with opportunity. It felt like I was in the underworld on the banks of the river of Styx and my boat was finally coming to pull me from the underworld back to Earth.

***

The train ride was filled with reminiscent stories of struggles and overcoming shared between my mother and I, some more waterworks from us both, and disclosed hopes for the future. When the train came to a stop my mother and I had already been standing with all of our items collected and ready to be transported. My bike sat near the front of the train car with my suitcase resting against it. I grabbed the suitcase in my left hand and the middle frame of my bike with the other. My feet met the train platform. I was here. I was in Kansas City; the place where I would spend the next 4 years of my life. Studying what? I didn’t care at the time. Working where? No clue. Hanging out with who? I didn’t know a soul. It was a completely new adventure.

My mother and I walked up at least 40 stairs to a platform that snaked around the outside of the building and into Union Station. The building’s ceiling was so high I couldn’t make out the Sistine Chapel-like designs at the top. The main area reminded me of monolithic catholic church’s sanctuary. We marveled only for a few minutes at the wonderful piece of architecture.

We had someplace to be. Check in was at 2:00 p.m. and it was 12:45. Lo and behold a car would’ve gotten us there in 10 minutes or less but we didn’t have that luxury now did we? We walked across the street to the bus stop where we saw a man laying down on the bench with a big black trash bag dangling lackadaisically from his hand. My mom turned to me.

“See it’s cool in Kansas City to carry around trash bags,” she whispered.

I smirked and turned my head unamused to see if the bus was coming. It was starting to sink in how embarrassed I would feel walking through campus wearing a shiny red sign that says “LOOK RIGHT HERE! BROKE BLACK BOY FROM ST.LOUIS INNER CITY COULDN’T GET A CAR FOR MOVE IN DAY.” My face was turning red and my body felt warm. The bus materialized into visibility and in a moment was opening it’s doors do that we could make the final leg of the trip. Mom and I did the same dog and pony act of putting the bike on the front of the bus and then loading the bus with the pile of my possessions. The bus was much nicer than anything I’d seen in St. Louis. The seats had bluish soft material that formed an aesthetic pattern.

“These are nicer huh?” my mom said.

“Yeah and it doesn’t smell like piss,” I replied

“Watch your mouth.”

About 20 minutes passed of taking in the new sites of Kansas City before we reached Troost and 51st street, the place where my mom’s phone GPS told us to get off the bus. We unloaded everything in the same fashion we had already done twice earlier that day. We were pros now. I balanced my suitcase on my bike and grabbed my two trash bags with the other hand. I looked at mom. “You ready?” With sweat starting to formulate on her forehead she nodded and we took off walking once again. We followed the GPS down 51st past Rockhill, past the Miller Nichols Library, past Swinney Recreation Center, past the Student Union, down what we called jokingly “the stairs of death,” and made a right on Cherry St.

As we approached our final destination, the Herman and Dorothy H. Johnson Residence Halls, there was a long line of cars that backed up into the street. All of the doors and trunks were ajar surrounded by anxious parents, residents, resident assistants, and “Roo-haul” members helping the new occupants of the hall move in. My nervousness oddly had subsided and was replaced with excitement.

I guess I figured by this time “I’ve done all this work to get here, I’m bout to own these trash bags and these baggy sweats.”

That’s what we did too. My mother and I walked right on up to the front desk. A blond haired blue-eyed gentlemen no older than 21 wearing a fitted shirt and Levi-Strauss jeans asked for my name.

“My name is Khalil.”

“Sweet man! I’m your RA! my name is Josh! Let me show you to your room!”

“Sure thing,” I replied.

“Now you’re going to be right next to my room, in room 1033! Is that alright with you?”

My mother and I shot each other a quick look showing we were slightly impatient.

“Sounds good, We just want to sit down.”

He opened the door for us and handed me the key and before I could turn around to thank him he was down the hall.

***

We tossed the three garbage bags, the black suitcase, the olive bag, my gym bag, and my book bag into a pile in the corner. I sat down and immediately melted onto the naked university provided bunk bed and my mom collapsed into the chair we had in the room. We sat in the room in silence for a what seemed like forever. It was only 1:54 in the afternoon but mom and I had already had a full day. I looked over at my mom and grinned. She smiled back even wider.

My mom asked, “What are you gonna say when your kids ask you how you got to college?”

“Look, I need to focus on finishing college first,” I replied. We laughed hard and then the room was silent once more. But not that awkward kind of silence.

The silence of ‘I can’t believe we did it. We made it to college.”

 

kkennedy@unews.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *