Tina already saw red. The weight of her backpack dug deep; she shifted feet as scouring the common area. A swamp of faces overfilling the ample space. Variety of sizes, many ranges of skin tones and many much younger than her. No recognizable faces among them. Tina looked down at the paper; her hands dampened and wrinkled the sheet. The red ink smeared from tears. Her first graded assignment, and she had failed it. 

Tina tugged her phone awkwardly from her back pocket of her jeans, trying her best not to stumble as the force of the backpack shifted once more. She had about an hour until her next class. An hour to reflect and think in the presence of the student population. She pinched her lips together, trying desperately to fight back that tears that pulsing at the corners of her eyes. Get a hold of yourself, Tina. It is not the time nor the place to display your problems to the world she thought to herself. 

Her eyes fluttered around the room. She was hoping that a seat would be made available. Some classes should be starting soon. So she had an excellent chance to find a place as students race to avoid being late. The room echoed and vibrated as students collected their belongings and exited the area. In the back corner, out the curious eyes of others, she found the perfect spot. Zigzagging against the flow of students, she made her way to where she saw a young blonde cradling her items in one arm as her fingers worked fierce tapping at her phone. Tina stood at a distance as the distracted girl swayed away from her seat. She swooped in as soon it was polite to do so. Thud went the backpack to the floor, and her phone whacked the wood table as she dropped it down. Plunking herself heavily on the when cushioned seat, trying every so much to sink away as deep as possible.  

Vibration zipped through through the table and up her right leg that leaned against it. Tina did not even have to look at her phone to know exactly who it was, and it was no one she had any desire to speak to. The mear idea of talking to him made her palms sweat and her heart rage and not in a good way. Leaning forward, she verified that she was correct. It would be the eighth time today that her husband had tried to call or text her today. Her husband that she had separated six months ago.

Out of poor judgement, she had answered the first phone call. She thought that there was a problem with the children. On the contrary, he was just merely calling to tell her how awful of a mother she was to give up her job. How selfish she was to go back to school. That he would not provide her with any financial help because of her stupidity, his text and phone messages continued with similar rants throwout the day. Each one was more abusive than the last. A breeze swept through as a nearby door opened, making her marked red assignment wave.

Maybe she was stupid to think that she could go back to school after fifteen years. After all, she had two beautiful souls that depended on her. It was looking like her husband was going to fight every step of the way not to give any support. After getting pregnant at only nineteen, she had wanted this for so long. She was putting her wants and needs aside, so her husband to progress in his career. Leaving her with only the skills of a salesgirl at a local store. Tina wanted to do so much more with her life. Besides, how the hell was she going to support two children with a part-time minimum wage job? 

Analyzing her English paper, she did not know quite where she had gone wrong. Memories of grade school floated to the forefront of her mind. English had always been difficult for her. With dyslexia, she was still flipping words and letters around; when sounding out unfamiliar words, the sounds were supposed to make just did not make sense. She had barely managed to pull through high school. Why would she think that after so many years had passed, that she could make it through college?

“Tina! There you are, my friend! We have been looking all over the college for you.” Juliana’s Spanish voice vibrated across the room. Tina sank deeper into her seat as the stunning curvy blonde danced and jumped across the room. Her smile did not fade as she plopped herself down onto the seat next to Tina. Tina and Juliana were approximately the same age, but Juliana did not act like it. Tina often wondered where she managed to find so much energy and positivity. Especially after hearing her story of becoming a refugee from Columbia while pregnant with her child. Maybe it gave her a new reflection on life. It made Tina feel guilty of ever thinking that her troubles were even comparable. 

Fatima gracefully floated behind Juliana. Her blue-flowered hijab complimented her piercing blue eyes. Fatima’s smile warmed Tina as she sat across from her. Fatima was one of the kindest souls that she had ever met. She did not have a mean bone in her body. Incredibly intelligent, and was able to speak four languages. Before she had left her country of Afghanistan, she had been studying to become a doctor. It seemed so sad that all her hard work was not recognized when she became a refugee here, and she had to restart from scratch. Tina admired her for her quiet strength. 

“Oh my dear, it is so good to see you,” Fatima’s voice was a soothing whisper. “How are your children?”

Fatima was always asking about her kids. Tina thought it was incredibly sweet. She believes she must have said a hundred prayers for them and herself. It was something she could use right now. The first night her husband had left was the hardest. Her daughter and son have snuck into my bed every night since. It has been an adjustment for all of them as they are tossed about like rag dolls between two parents. It was the tears and the random acts of rage from her kids that she found the most difficult. She was at a loss on how to approach it. She wiped away the tears as best she could. Hugged them a little tighter when they allowed her to. 

“They are good,” Tina managed a smile.

“So we were hoping that we can talk to you about the assignment,” Juliana’s eyes widened with excitement, “We have a few ideas!”

“I suppose we have a bit of time before next class,” Tina quietly tried to go unnoticed as she tucked her assignment into her backpack. It was the last thing she wanted them to see. She did not want them thinking that they may have to carry her through the class. Juliana sputtered on. Tina was having a difficult time keeping up with every word that pounded her way. Tina’s head was in a dangerous spin. She did not know if she could keep this up. 

“Something is not right with you today?” Juliana slowed down with concern. Tina shrugged. She did not want to bother either of them with any of her troubles. Juliana peered down to the paper that was peeking out of Tina’s backpack. Before she could protest, she grabbed it. “What is this?”

“It’s just an assignment.”

“No wonder you are a little down, my friend. It will be ok. It’s just one,” Juliana pointed to the mark, “I have done worse.”

“I don’t know. It’s kind of making me question if this was the best choice for me right now,” Tina forced herself to look at the caring eyes of her uniquely different study group. 

“Oh, my dear,” Fatima folded her hands into her lap, “You must not let this one little assignment keep you from achieving great things.”

“It’s not only the assignment.” as if by cue, Tina’s phone once again vibrated with text after text. Juliana was swift as she grabbed for Tina’s phone and scrolled down through the messages. 

“Please, give me my phone back. It is just some stuff I am dealing with right now.” Tina, in despair, reached out for her phone. Juliana, ignoring her pleads as her finger walked through the messages. 

“Has he always treated you this way? What a nasty person! In my country, we would never let a man treat us like this,” Juliana’s arms waved around in a furry. 

“You know, Tina,” Fatima took a bit of care to form her words, “I know we have not known each other for very long, but I believe Allah has put us together for a reason. To support one another. To hear one another.”

“I appreciate it, Fatima, but I don’t think it’s fair to put all my problems on the two of you.”

The vibrated once again, but this time Juliana’s quick hands answered the incoming call. Both women sprang up in unison with Juliana using her free hand to block Tina’s reach.  

“Hola, This is Tina’s husband? Who do you think you...” Juliana walked off with her phone. Leaving her powerless as Juliana took her husband down with a few choice Spanish words, she could only imagine she would have to pay for later.

“I think I need to quit. I can’t do this with everything going on.”

“Sometimes, when the sun does not shine quite as bright. All you need to do is light a candle to see what is in front of you, but it is YOU who needs to put in the effort to light that candle.”

“I see what you are saying. I just don’t know if I have the strength to deal with school, kids, and a divorce,” she pressed her thumbs into her palms to relieve some pressure she was feeling throughout her body. 

“Adiós,” Juliana clicked away at the phone in an attempt to hang up on Tina’s husband a few times before she passed the phone back to Tina, “It is just not the same! Hanging up on a cell phone! Just doesn’t have the same statement as a good phone slam. I just don’t like it.”

The phone shook in her hand as one after another text messages flooded the screen.

Who in the bloody hell was that! Are those the kind of people you are hanging out with now! You need to rethink your priorities!

You better not expose our children to that mess of a woman. This is what happens when you decide to think of yourself! Exposing yourself to crazies!

By the way, your son thinks you have abandoned him. Is that the way you want to raise our children? I told him, Yes; Mommy doesn’t care. 

Tina’s new friends gave her kind smiles. These two women have such strength in their unique way. One had such a passion and fire to her that she was willing to take on anything: the other cool and consistent like water. Both Tina felt that she could learn a great deal from these two lovely women and wanted to “expose” herself more to their style of crazy. 

“Come,” Juliana extended her arm around Tina’s shoulder, giving it a little rub. “Let’s get to class. I don’t like being late.”

We managed through the congested halls, uptight, suffocating stairwells until we landed at our destination just on time. The room had filled quickly with the worried faces of our college peers. With the anticipation of what the teacher had in store for us next. We managed to find seats close to each other. Fatima and I sat together while Juliana opted to sit directly in front of us in the front row so she could see the board. A stern frowned face man sat at the front of the room as he watched the tick of the second hand on the clock. He wore a pair of thin-rimmed glasses that sat at the tip of his nose. He wore a suit, unlike his colleagues, stating that it was essential to present your best. He was all business, and out of all our teachers, he scared Tina the most. 

“Good Afternoon class, I hope you were able to complete the homework assignment. We will be going over the details of this period. As you organize yourself, I will be handing out your test from last week,” he bellowed as soon as the clock clicked 1:30.

Before the disappointment this morning of my failing grade. Tina took extra time with this class. Knowing full well of the rumours of this particular professor, he was demanding. The prior week I studied well into the night, making sure she had every precise detail memorized. Writing fact, after the fact, as she wrote definitions and dates over and over. After this morning of seeing that red failing grade. She didn't even know why she was also here, why she should even continue to try. 

The professor continued to bark off names, and students obediently stood to receive their paper. Juliana sprung when she heard her name. She gave a smile that would make anyone would naturally reciprocate. He nodded with his scowled expression as he handed the test back. She smiled, clearly happy with the results. Fatima followed soon after with results that made her smile. The teacher continued with his routine, choosing to make minimum eye contact with each of his students.  

“Tina, Tina Philips?” the teacher waved the teacher through the air. Tina rose, grasping at the arms of the chair to steady herself. Her mouth dry, she bit her at her tongue to jolt her body to move forward. The teacher flipped the paper up and down as he called out the next name. She scurried towards him as she senses the impatience, tugging the paper from his grasp. He held on tight, turning his gaze toward her, giving her what she believed a smirk of approval before letting go. The paper slid into her waiting hands; she saw red. The crimson ink that the professor use made the A bounce off the page. 

Time eroded, and before Tina knew it, two years had passed. She stood there looking upon the smiling faces of her children as they wiggled and squirmed in their seats. Her parents beamed as they struggled with dripping noses and small limp bodies. 

Her head swirled around explored the nervous smiling faces of her peers. She found the two remarkable women that help her to find the courage that she didn’t know she had. Fatima with all her kind words and wisdom. Juliana, her feisty passion and perseverance. Tina hoped that they would find a way to stay in touch. She owed so much to them. 

Tina had almost given up that day. She was amazed and thankful for that first failure. It made her realize that the stumbles you endure; prepares you for more significant falls. Falls that you will then be able to manage and pull yourself up. Tina reached out and accepted her diploma, and she saw red; her diploma was bond tight with a stunning scarlet bow.  

August 14, 2020 13:16

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Lynn Penny
14:28 Aug 14, 2020

This was awesome! The way you write Tina was relatable and the conflict created with her ex husband made me sympathize with her.


Bookmark Here
14:42 Aug 14, 2020

Thanks, Lynn! :) I appreciate the feedback.


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