I grew up running barefoot down railroad tracks with kids whose feet were equally callous and large. We shared ramen noodle recipes, though my best friend’s sister would always make mine leading me to believe there was a crush there. We sat in parks on weekends anticipating future milestones, picking out cars for our 16th, and in which clubs we’d host our 21st.
My 16th was spent with my friends whose feet grew soft thanks to the Jordan’s their work permits helped them afford, but my 21st was spent without thoughts of them. In fact, thoughts of them disappeared three years prior upon my arrival at my undergraduate institution.
Was it college? And if so, did it turn them or me into a stranger? My last visit home was the most lonely. Fresh off the plane with a carry-on, a few gifts, and my degrees, I headed to my grandmother’s in the “Projects,” the place where it all happened for me. Outside of my grandmother and favorite aunt, I had no one to talk to. This was where I grew up. This was where I snuck into second floor windows while Jessica’s mother was across the yard playing cards. “You’ve changed,” she said on my last visit, accompanied by a strange look on her face, and a change in conversation that ended with “you’re doing so good for yourself. Don’t come back here. Ain’t nothing here but trouble.”
It was me that changed. It became unacceptable to run barefoot down railroad tracks, and the stories weren’t asked for. I became that short necked, hungry giraffe placed in the middle of tall trees. To survive I needed to adapt, not knowing adapting meant blaming unanswered phone calls on my so-called friends back home. They didn’t give a damn what happened when the lights went out on the campus, and why I found it funny when they used a salad fork on their entree, and progressively they began giving less of a damn about the new me. The me that sat in class while they sat in the same parks, discussing more milestones, jobs I now looked down at, and kids they may or may not be carrying. They were the same, and I couldn’t relate.
“What have you been up to,” she asked, scanning my box of fruit snacks, wearing her name tag proudly in an economy where not even the degreed me can find a job. “Nothing,” i respond, knowing if I told the full truth, I’d be too far removed from the life she knew, and the person she remembered me to be. Nothing. I downplay my education to fit into a place I’ve long forgotten. And I am not alone. Many of my circles consist of alums who no longer go home, because they’ve become strangers.
But I’m still advocating for post-secondary education because growth, though it has its consequence, is great. Equally, I believe we are not free until we are righteously and throughly educated.