Mark reached into the mailbox with trembling hands. Same as every day for the last two weeks. There was only one article nestled beside the shiny flyer extolling the virtues of satellite TV. A full heavy envelope bearing the logo of a college. He carried the precious document into the kitchen and collapsed onto a chair. The object of his nightmares laying on the table.

    After several deep breaths, he knew he could not put off the inevitable. With his callused hands, he opened and unfolded the letter. Mark avoided looking at the typed message until he steeled his nerves.

    Congratulations, Mark Adams, we are pleased to welcome you with a position in our incoming freshman class….

    He closed his eyes as relief seeped through his body and mind. Step two of his mother’s dream for him was now accomplished. Forty-five years late but it was still a beginning. Mark looked around the kitchen at the comfortable pieces of his life. He realized he needed to get prepared and organized to embark in life as a student again.

    After his father’s death, he joined the workforce to help his mother support his siblings. Life, marriage and his own family took the next years. Education in his family was always revered, a fact driven into them all. An opportunity to pursue at all costs.

    Attempting to complete his mother’s dream of all of her children graduating from college was only part of his stress. Mark knew how to work hard, he had done it all of his life, and it served him well. But that was using his back. Now he must rely on his mind and the prospect was terrifying.

    Mark was expecting a bell to ring. It was one of his memories from high school so many years ago. Funny, he never thought to ask his children questions about college. As he sat in the auditorium, his heart pounded in his ears. Waiting in the hallway for the previous class to end, he needed to make two trips to the bathroom. Of course, arriving forty minutes early after a sixty-five-minute commute to campus was only a partial factor.

    When the instructor walked in, Mark almost groaned aloud. The students who filled the room looked younger than his grandchildren. Now the teacher appeared to be barely older than them. He knew his gray hair and flannel shirt identified him as an alien teleported in to observe the local wildlife.

    Scrambling to take notes, he survived the psychology lecture. Even enjoyed some of the insights she used to warm up the audience at the beginning of her talk. Puffing from the hustle between buildings to arrive at his English class…excuse me, Freshman Seminar, he paused in the doorway. Seats were positioned around several tables pushed together, a smaller group. Despite several sidelong looks from the other students, Mark was excited about the semester’s topic, Shakespeare. He enjoyed helping his kids with their homework and ran lines with his daughter when she was in a play.

    Driving to the city three times a week was grating on his nerves though the campus parking pass he purchased reduced some of the stress. His third class was supposed to be an easy choice since he advanced to work in business and personnel management. When he paged through the book after it arrived, it killed his hope of an easy grade. The formulas and chapter headings appeared to be a foreign language.

    After the second week, with a nodding acquaintance with a few classmates, Mark approached several to ask about joining or forming a study group. In each case, they laughed and walked away snickering about the clueless old man. His resolve strengthened, Mark spent hours reading, writing and doing homework.

    By the end of the third week, he realized he attended nine days of classes and had turned in three papers. While his grades on the writing appeared to be basic B’s, he was proud of holding his own. The problem was the classes with only a couple of tests to set the grade. While he worked up the nerve to speak in business management class, it was because the example the professor was discussing was so obvious. He didn’t know what to expect on a prelim.

    The week of his two tests, his daughter Cathy was over for Sunday lunch. After she chatted with one of the neighbors before the meal, she spent time grilling him.

    “Frieda says you are out on the road a lot these days.” Cathy was setting the kitchen table and attempting to be the subtle interrogator her late mother was. “Are you doing some part time work for the company again?”

    He carried the casserole over to the table and gave her a look. “I told you I wasn’t going to keep working for them since they hired the new manager.”

    “Well, what are you doing, Dad?” She sat down and watched him expectantly while he pulled out a chair across from her. They said grace and then she continued probing.

    Finally, Mark gave her an answer. “I have a new group I am volunteering with. I needed to do some training to prepare for it.”

    “Is it interesting? Are you helping people?” Now that she had a direction, she was going to continue with more questions.

    “I am spending quite a bit of time with young people,” Mark said while mentally crossing his fingers. Then he mentioned a few facts and points from his psychology class. He managed to allay her fears for his mental health and reassure her he was not sinking into a depression or spending all of his time at the cemetery. If I survive my semester, maybe I will tell my family what I am doing, he thought.    

    After finishing his exams, he waited in fear for the results. He recalled the frustration his kids would share when he called and asked how they did after an exam. I filled in my answers and I hope they’re right, but Dad, I really don’t know.

    Now, Mark felt the same trepidation. Hoping for a good result but not knowing. Since so much time elapsed since his last test experience, it was hard to relate those nerves to the giant hand squeezing his guts. He felt like a worn-out rag in the garage, limp and well used.

    On his way out of psychology class, his ‘teenage’ instructor stopped him. Smiling, she asked, “Are you Mark Adams?”

    “Yes,” he said looking uncomfortable as most of the students continued to file past. He stood shuffling his feet wondering why she wanted to speak to him. With over two hundred students, he couldn’t imagine what he had done.

    “I just wanted to tell you that you had the highest score on the prelim.” She smiled again, “Keep up the good work.”

    “Thanks, I’ll try.” He pushed out the door with the last three students and headed off to his next class. When he received his business class grade later in the day, he began to think he might survive this new life chapter.

    Two days later as Mark reported to class, two students approached him about joining their study group. He accepted and then settled in for the lecture. I hope Mom is proud, he thought.    

August 14, 2020 23:26

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RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

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