11 years, 8 months, 22 days.
It began August 25, 2003, but my first real memory of college took place shortly before that. A group of us standing outside a busy Student Union Building on the SUNY New Paltz campus, long past dark. Throwing a Frisbee around. People coming in and out of the circle. Some of those people would be just brief acquaintances. Some would become long-lasting friends, especially a tall kid with short hair and a penchant for black clothing, and another kid, this one shorter than I, but mentored me in the fine arts of Dance Dance Revolution. Or another, who was my partner in gaming, and couldn't pass up a chance to see me get drunk. Or another still, who insisted the quacks were ducking. And yet another, a shy girl whom I met while working at McD's, with a love of writing, whom I met because I thought her Notebook of Total Randomness was, in all honesty, where employees wrote their requests for time off. I didn't know it yet, but I'd gain my dearest friend there.
Jump to August 2004. Now I'm at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, having been forced to find a college in MA after my parents decided to move to Cape Cod, and thus, making my staying at New Paltz unaffordable. It was my worst semester: academically, emotionally, financially. My R.A., a guy with an almost unhealthy obsession with anime and video games, did his best to try to help me through not only personal struggles, but also roommate struggles. Our friendship was cemented the day my roommate left college for good, and he blared “Happy Happy Joy Joy” for all the world to hear. He couldn't officially show it, but he despised my roommate as well. It was also the day I had to leave college, my financial luck had run out. And there my stepdad was, who looked at me and said the words that felt like a dagger: I told you so. I was resolute: I'd return to college and finish, almost out of pure spite.
My fondest memory of my very brief stay there, though, was coming back from working evening shift at the McD's nearby. The Red Sox were in the playoffs. Game 5 of the ALCS. The Sox had fought off elimination in dramatic fashion the night before, and I was racing home on my bike to catch the end of this game on TV (we had a radio set up in the McD kitchen). As I was biking up the hill back to Berkshire Towers, I heard the entire campus roar. Never in my life had I heard such an area united as one. And when the Sox completed such a historic comeback and swept that year's World Series...I told my dearest friend, now my girlfriend, that I had to get off the phone to go riot. For a night, I didn't have to think about money, school, or what was lurking back home.
For the next 5 years, I was determined to go back to college, but in the meantime, I moved out of my parents' house, finally free. My girlfriend graduated from college. It was on that joyous day that I felt the first pains of Crohn's disease. The Universe, for some reason, loves using me as a punching bag. When I was diagnosed, I gave her a choice: she didn't have to share my burden. She was 21, I was 20. She had her entire life ahead of her. I was diagnosed with a disease that I'd have for the rest of my life. I would've been sad, but completely understood if she decided to walk.
You know how she decided.
And so we began to build a life together, her and I. I won't go into the details, since if any of you have followed me on LiveJournal (ah, those halcyon days where we actually had to write blurbs like this instead of the real-time social media frenzy we've now...) and eventually Facebook, you know how life's gone.
In 2008, it finally reached the point where I was old enough where the federal government would consider me financially independent. Fucking FAFSA. It also reached the point where my girlfriend—now my fiancee—and I were in a position where I could give it another go at college. My first day back in a college classroom was January 20, 2009: the day Barack Obama was inaugurated as President. Finally, I'd picked up where I left off, but with a change of major. I initially wanted to be an English/Creative Writing major. Along the way, though, I found much more enjoyment in photography. Something about 35mm film and developing it fascinated me. But I'd only taken my general education requirements while in New Paltz and MCLA, so I basically could go wherever. So, a Fine Arts major it was. I was doing part-time school and holding down a full-time job at the Lottery, which meant really long days, but I was able to handle it.
Until the fall of 2010. All that stress accelerated the progression of Crohn's, leading to minor surgery, and I was forced to take what amounted to a 2-year medical leave. I tried going back for a couple of semesters, but I could no longer work full-time and go to school part-time. It was during this time that I seriously considered the idea of giving up. Now it wasn't just financial reasons keeping me from college, but now my own body was rebelling against me. I had to finish, though: I didn't want to have racked up all that debt with nothing to show for it, I wanted to prove to my stepdad that he was the idiot and moron who refused to give me a second thought regarding education, and I enjoyed academia. My fiancee—now my wife—and I came to the conclusion that I'd have to just go for it: leave my job and go to school full-time. We were in a lucky enough financial position to pull it off, even though it'd be tight. There was one stipulation that we agreed upon: if I had to withdraw again, then that'd be it. We'd both put our lives on hold for my education long enough, and I understood that.
I went back to Sage in the fall of 2012. All the while, my disease was worsening. My immune system developed antibodies to a drug that had been working beautifully for a year and a half. Other powerful medications were getting shrugged off like they were nothing. I'd been putting off surgery because a) we hadn't exhausted all my medical options yet, and b) I was worried that this could finally derail me from ever getting a Bachelor's. At the end of the fall 2014 semester, I could put it off no longer. I just hoped that the winter break would be enough time to recover at least enough to go back for the final semester.
I haven't felt this good in years.
And now it comes to a close. This is a chapter in my life that has gone on for far, far too long. At the same time, though, it was during this chapter that I grew into my own. And I have all of you to thank. All your advice, all your company, all your encouragement, all the times you let me rant, all of it, even from considerable distances away. Thank you, all.
And to my April, my love, my dearest friend...you are the absolute embodiment of Samwise Gamgee. You have carried me so many times, through so many ups and downs, joys and sorrows. It is you whom I offer my deepest gratitude, my deepest love. There may be nothing I can do to ever fully repay the work you've done to keep our house in order, keep yourself in order, and keep me in order. Words cannot express how overjoyed I am that you can share in probably one of the greatest achievements I've ever accomplished. I owe you so many puppies.
I started this LiveJournal on September 11, 2003, nearly 3 weeks after I started college. I feel it only fitting to make this the last entry in it. In the last few years, it's fallen into disuse, and I think it time to close it. It has seen and recorded some of my best moments as well as some of my worsts, and for a while, was an important way for me to keep people in the loop. Now, with social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, it is no longer needed. I'll still keep it to check up on the few friends who still use it, but this piece of Internet has served its purpose, and will not see any more entries from me. It's been one hell of a ride.
On to the next chapter.