I’m only forty-five. I’m still young, years left ahead of me. If I live as old as my grandmother did, I still have forty more years to go; that’s more than enough time to do something new with my life. 

At least, this is the concept I keep repeating to myself on my first day of college, years after sending my own son to his first day. 

Somehow I made it to forty-five years without having ever stepped foot on campus. I had planned to go to college during my senior year of high school. I had even applied and been accepted to three different schools. They weren’t Ivy League schools, but they were still good universities. 

Then I met Bobby. 

Ah, Bobby, all six-foot-three, lean muscles, beach-sand hair, and sea-blue eyes of him. Dating him was like dating a Greek God. Perhaps that’s why I tempted fate and didn’t properly prepare myself. If it was God’s will, so be it. 

Well, with that mentality, of course we got pregnant. 

I adjust my backpack that’s heavily pulling on my shoulders as I look around campus. It’s late August and the early morning starts with a taunting cool reprieve that will disappear into late-summer heat by ten o’clock. Tall, brick buildings surround an inner courtyard of crisscrossing sidewalks, manicured lawns, and shady trees. Squirrels dart through the foliage, looking for acorns or stray french fries. Students mill about alone or in groups of twos and threes. The first thing I notice is how young everyone looks. Do they let kids into college these days? The next thing I notice is that I’m apparently overdressed in a nice floral blouse and jeans instead of pajamas. 

Maybe I wasn’t missing out on much if college is just young kids wearing their pajamas to class so if they fell asleep, it would be comfortable. 

I remember Sam’s college years. He stayed in a dorm for the first two and came home on the weekends so he could see us, he’d said, but really it was so he could do his laundry. I didn’t go through his clothes or anything, but I’m certain I don’t remember loads of pajamas. The second two years he’d lived with a bunch of boys in an apartment off-campus. He still came home for holidays but didn’t need our laundry services as much. It helped that he’d gotten a job working in the science lab. 

I tried to imagine Sam walking along these sidewalks, wearing his basketball shorts and chatting happily with his friends. The idea made me smile at his memory, but also cringe that I was now trying to integrate myself into the same atmosphere.

Forty-five is young, I remind myself. Again.

I walk past the buildings, looking for the names on each one. Thankfully, they have large plaques out front so newcomers like me can find the right buildings for class. Despite this, and the fact that I tried to memorize earlier where my classes were, I had to pull out the campus map before I got to the right place. 

As I walk into the classroom, after carefully checking the number outside, I scan the rows of seats, trying to figure out where to sit. I wasn’t super popular in high school or anything but I did know that only losers sat upfront. However, I am worried I won't be able to hear well or see well if I sat in the back. I also know that college is a place of learning and that I’m not there to have a social life, so I compromise and sit in the second row just slightly off to the right from the middle. 

I take out my notebook, pen, and history book to prepare for class while I casually look around at the other students. I can’t believe how young they look. Did I ever look that young?

“Ugh, I hate 8 am classes,” a girl says as she trudges in with another girl. “Why did we sign up for this one again?”

“It was the only one open,” her friend responds as she takes a sip of her too-expensive coffee.

They both are wearing leggings and shirts cut short while loosely falling off their shoulders. One of the girls has a tank top underneath that covers a little more skin. The girl who spoke first has a messy bun toppled to the side of her head while her friend’s hair is down in haphazard waves. Despite the mess, they still manage to be beautiful.

I chew on the side of my mouth and tap my pen on my paper while I wait for the professor, thinking about how 8 am doesn’t seem that early to me. I imagine living in a dorm on campus, rolling out of bed with just enough time to grab a coffee and stumble into class, instead of getting up three hours earlier, meticulously getting ready, and driving in traffic for thirty minutes. 

After having a newborn and raising a child, helping him get to school on time and waking up when he did, being up for an 8 am class is sleeping in, indeed.

The mother in me wants to point this out to the girls but gratefully, I force myself to remain quiet, keep my eyes forward. 

A few seconds after exactly 8 am, the professor strides into class. I am a little relieved to see he is older than I am, but I’m still closer to his age than I am to my student peers. He’s wearing a Hawaiian shirt, of all things, and khaki slacks. I blink a few times as I adjust my mental image of what I had assumed college would be like, again. 

Without preamble, he drops his satchel onto the teaching podium and addresses the class. “Welcome to United States History 101. If that’s not what class you’re supposed to be in, then you’re in the wrong room, but if you leave now, we’ll all know you messed up so you might as well stay and enjoy my lovely lecture.”

A few students chuckle and I give him what I hope to be an amused smile.

He passes out copies of the syllabus and I push down the nerdy glee that comes to me as I accept my first one. I tell myself I will not frame it and put it on display.

“Here’s the syllabus. You all are able to read here so I’m going to assume you’ll read this. If you don’t, I’ll know because you’ll either break some rules or simply not turn in the assignments. Seriously, read the syllabus.”

My eyes scan over the words quickly while he talks, eager to get into the information but not wanting to ignore him while he’s speaking. 

“My name is Dr. Havnard. I’ve been a professor here for more years than most of you have been alive.” He winks at me when he says the last bit and I can’t help but chuckle. “Personally, I like to start class off with a roaring discussion that you will remember the rest of your lives and tell your grandchildren about as you’re lying on your deathbed. Who can tell me about sectionalism?”

I fiddle with my pen as I consider his question. Before I’ve been able to dust off the old tombs of my high school education, the first girl who’d complained about having an 8 am class shot her hand up.

Dr. Havnard nods in her direction and she rattles off an answer that has me staring at her. “Because we are studying United States history, you must be referring to the mentality of having a strong sense of loyalty to a particular state or section of a country instead of the whole country. We see this several times in the United States and it has continued as a tradition even today.”

If Dr. Havnard is impressed with her answer, he doesn’t show it. Instead, he nods curtly. “Thank you. Well put. What do you mean by a tradition we see today?”

Her friend with the coffee cup spoke up. “There are many examples but a poignant one would be how many people in the south feel about the confederate flag and flying it while many others throughout the country see it as a historical symbol of racism.”

I blink at the girls, feeling shame for my first judgments based on their appearances. They clearly have good heads on their shoulders, even this early in the morning. I turn around and place my attention back on the professor who has begun his lecture and slink a little more into my chair. I feel so out of depth. Sure, I know how to get grass stains out of white shirts or soothe a crying baby, but this knowledge isn’t going to help me here.

Starting college this late (no, early!) in life is indeed like getting a second chance to change my life, I think to myself as I also listen to Dr. Havnard. I’ve clearly come to the table with experience, but it’s not the experience I’ll need here. Isn’t that why I’m going to college in the first place?

I sit up a little straighter, grip my pen tightly, and remind myself again that I have many years ahead of me and I will soak up every bit of information I can. I will also, if I can help it, stop judging others based on their messy hair.

August 12, 2020 13:38

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Tessa Takzikab
00:03 Aug 20, 2020

This is a really cool story! I think it perfectly depicts how any person would feel in an environment where they clearly don't think they belong, the age difference only adding to it. It was a bit confusing at first when you kind of glossed over how being a mom made her miss college the first time, but it became clear when she mentioned her other experience. I love how she keeps reminding herself that she is young enough to be going to college despite the fact that she clearly has doubts about it, although I think that she probably ...


Jeni Conrad
13:33 Aug 20, 2020

Thank you for reading! Yes, I felt like I should have put more into the background at first but I didn't want to bog the beginning of the story with too much backstory. I should have done a bit more. I appreciate the feedback!


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Malz Castell
13:47 Nov 13, 2020

I really liked this story. I loved how you handled the age difference and how she feels about it. But I do wish that you had elaborated a little on her background, her experience as a mom and maybe including her son's reaction (encouraging or discouraging). I love how she acknowledges her nerdy side and it's so funny when she tells herself, "I tell myself I will not frame it and put it on display."


Jeni Conrad
09:51 Nov 14, 2020

Thank you for reading! I should have gotten more in-depth, but I was probably being lazy, haha. It's a bit hard with these short stories, but I definitely had more room in this one! Thank you for your input. I love to hear ideas. :)


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Rambling Beth
08:51 Aug 21, 2020

I loved this! Like Tessa said, I would have loved to see more of your protagonist's background but I think you did a wonderful job with the permitted word count. Lovely.


Jeni Conrad
09:15 Aug 21, 2020

Thank you! I usually suck at backstory anyway. It's time to get better at it! Hah..


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