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I’m all about duty. To my country, my best buddy and now my little boy.
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STARING AT THE framed posters lining the wall, I felt a deep sense of nostalgia for a memory too fresh in my mind. The most recent addition to the wall of Dr. Harris’ office was from our rendition of Rent, a dream role I’d studied weeks for. The smile on my face in the poster brought back the happy times from rehearsals. It was my largest role to date, one I’d dreamed of since enrolling at William Peace University.
Now, it felt so much longer than a few weeks had passed since I was on the stage, under the lights I believed were made for me. Knowing it would be a very long time before I ever got back on stage, if ever, was heartbreaking. Everything appeared to be moving in slow motion, a nightmare playing out in real life.
“Ashley? This is important.” Dr. Harris’ voice called me back to reality.
Sitting in her black leather chair, I could see the stress and disappointment in the lines beneath her dark eyes. She had been the one to walk me through orientation three years prior, and now she would be the one to walk me out.
“I’m listening,” I lied. It was too hard to focus when everything in my life was falling apart.
I pushed my shoulders back, bracing myself for the reality I’d been avoiding. For months, I’d been struggling to juggle an unpredictable waitressing schedule with occasional babysitting gigs to try to make ends meet. While I’d been able to scrape together enough to pay my rent, food and other necessities, I hadn’t been as successful with covering my tuition.
Every day, I dreaded going to class, constantly fearing the day Dr. Harris would pull me out of class as she had just an hour earlier. I was at my wits’ end. A tiny bit of gratitude bloomed in my chest knowing the juggling routine was over.
“Ashley, is there any way you can clear your outstanding balance?” Dr. Harris asked, though I could see in her perfectly arched eyebrows she already knew the truth.
She had heard my entire story the day I contemplated enrolling. After my father’s passing, he left me an inheritance with the hope that I finally follow my dreams of acting. As one of the best liberal arts schools in North Carolina, I was ecstatic to enroll at William Peace University.
Whenever I walked through the beautiful campus, I imagined my father smiling down on me, happy I had made good on the head start he left me. Dr. Harris knew there was no one else in my corner. I’d been on my own since my father’s passing, having never had a relationship with my mother and being an only child.
“No, Dr. Harris, there isn’t,” I mumbled, unable to look into her eyes. I was letting her down, after she had done so much to help me throughout my short-lived collegiate career. Many recent afternoons were spent in her office, unsure of how I could possibly manage all that was on my plate. Dr. Harris had gone above and beyond the duties as my advisor, rebuilding my confidence every time I felt myself beginning to crumble.
“I thought so,” she said regretfully before tapping on her keyboard, her attention focused on the computer monitor sitting on the desk that separated us.
A long pause gave me more time to contemplate how things had gone awry. Just six months ago, everything was going well. Happily enrolled in college, I was ecstatic when my then-boyfriend Nathan decided he too wanted a degree. After a bad car accident, he was awaiting an insurance payout that would more than pay for his college education.
It seemed like a no-brainer to lend him the money so that he wouldn’t miss the enrollment period, but time would tell that he was never serious about following in my footsteps. After constant delays he couldn’t explain, I decided to pay a visit to the university myself. My stomach dropped as I learned that not only was he not a student, he had never paid a dollar of enrollment.
Even worse, when I confronted Nathan, he laughed in my face, refusing to grant me the false explanation I wanted so badly. It was too awful to admit the truth, even when it stared me in my face. He had taken advantage of my kindness with no remorse. The relationship depleted as quickly as my bank account, as Nathan had taken all I had to give.
“I think the best course of action from here is an indefinite break,” Dr. Harris continued after one last click. The hum of her printer served as the background music as our eyes finally met.
There wasn’t disappointment, but sadness in her eyes. She was as hurt as I was that I would be leaving William Peace. I could feel it deep in my gut. My last cheerleader at the school, I would forever be grateful for all Dr. Harris had done for me throughout my years in college. As she slid the withdrawal slip onto her desk, I realized there was no reason to feel shame in front of her. Dr. Harris wanted only the best for me, and understood that graduation would always be a goal for me.