As I sat down to write this memoir, my mind flipped through all the topics I could discuss. I debated what I was comfortable writing about, what I could write about without worrying my professor would have to report it to someone, or what I could write about that was less depressing, as I have very few positive things in my past to write about. As I discussed with Dr. Armiento the problems concerning this assignment, she jokingly commented that writers would kill to have my life because of what is in my past; it would be a lifetime full of topics to write on. I am sure even Hemingway would be appreciative of the topics he could pull from my past. However, writing on something unique to yourself and your past is difficult when your past is complicated, full of obstacles, and with very few positive things to think about. But my mind visited one scene over and over as I thought about how I got to where I am today.
In 2012, I began working at a small hotel in Clear Spring, Maryland, where nothing was nearby except for a ski resort in Pennsylvania that was open during the winter. The hotel was a Sleep Inn that opened in 2008 and was located off I-70 towards Hagerstown. I worked at the front desk; I not only checked guests in and out of the hotel, but also cleaned around the hotel and did laundry when necessary.
I had begun working at the hotel in late June, and my life depressed me. I was 20 years old and raising my little brother Cody and taking care of my mentally disabled uncle Junior. My brother was still in high school, and that in itself was a huge job. I had no friends to speak outside the hotel, and my life was a simple routine of just going to work and coming home. My mother died in November 2010, and her death forced me to transfer out of Frostburg State University, where I was a freshman, to take on the role of mother and caregiver to my brother and uncle.
My aunt, who was head of housekeeping, got me the job at the hotel. She was my stepfather’s cousin, but my brother and I considered her our aunt. She told the manager how talented I was with computers, and she knew it would give me the opportunity to make extra money as well as actually getting dressed to leave the house. Within moments of her calling me about the job offer, I was dressed and out the door for an interview with the manager, but the job turned out not all I expected.
Since the hotel was still relatively new and located in such a small town, there was not a lot of business coming through the door. Ski season remained its only busy season, and on some nights outside ski season, I could go into work and leave without seeing a guest walk through the front door. The enormous amount of free time did give me an opportunity to do what I liked to do best, such as drawing, writing, or simply reading. It also gave me a chance to chat with our sales representative, Brandy. She left at 5:00 pm so we would spend the two hours our shifts overlay to chat and get to know each other. She quickly turned from a simple coworker to a best friend and sister.
However, the job also gave me too much time to get lost inside my head and to think about where my life currently was. One evening I was in the laundry room folding pillowcases. It had been a busy the night before, and I had laundry I needed to done by the end of my shift. The room smelled of bleach, and my hands were dried and itchy from touching the wet, bleached laundry. Two baskets full of clean laundry needed to folded, and the red, dirty basket was half-full of sheets waiting to go into the washers. By 5:00 pm that evening the laundry room was quiet as I stood at the counter folding the pillowcases. I was lost inside my head, not thinking about what I was doing. I could not stop thinking about my life and where it was going. I kept thinking, am I really going to be stuck in this hotel for the rest of my life? Is this what I am going to be doing for the rest of my life? It was a depressing thought. A very depressing thought.
Brandy’s time at the hotel was over, and she grabbed her purse and headed out the door for her house. She walked through the break room and into the laundry room to tell me goodbye before leaving through the side door to her car. As I heard the side door click, telling me she had truly left for the day and I was completely alone, I felt a tear roll down my cheek.
I was in pain. Not the physical kind, but the kind that makes your heart ache for something you want and something you do not want. I wanted my life to work out, to go back to college and earn my degree, and to get a job that could help me no longer worry about the bills or food on the table. What I did not want was to be stuck at the hotel like most of the people who worked there, forced to do so much work for such little pay. I was not even paid health insurance. The management of the company constantly put me down and the drama at the hotel was simply enough to drive someone insane; they told me I could not accomplish my dreams, reaching out for an education was senseless, and I thought I was better by everyone else by reaching out for an education. It was a toxic place to work 40 hours a week. I did not want to be stuck there for the rest of my life. It was in that pivotal moment that I decided I needed to make a change with my life. I needed to act, not simply think about what I wanted in life or what I wanted to do with my life. I needed to act.
As soon as I decided to do something about my situation, I knew what I needed to do first. I needed to get back into college and work on earning my degree. I had one semester under my belt, and I needed to keep going. I applied back to Frostburg State University as a history major because if I was going to earn my degree in history because it was going to be in something I enjoy. I also quickly contacted the university’s counseling and psychology department to make an appointment as soon as I could get in after being accepted to the university. I knew that my decision to return to college was imperative toward getting my life on track, but I also knew how important my mental health was. Since I age 15, I have fought depression and anxiety, including multiple suicide attempts. I needed a support group that would support me; I could not necessarily get that from some of my family who criticized me for going back to college. I needed someone outside my family to lean on.
Going back to school was an easy decision to make, but actually making it work was difficult. As soon as she heard I was coming back to school, Dr. Armiento quickly became the immediate person in my support group. She was the first person I went to after my died. The day after, I sat in Dr. Armiento’s office crying as we discussed what I was going to do about college. That day showed me just how much she cared when she cried with me, although she will not admit it today. That moment stuck with me, so as soon as I returned to Frostburg State University, I visited her office on the first floor, and she immediately got down to business, helping me figure everything out.
While I returned to college, I continued to work full time as well as take care of my brother. In summer 2012, I ended up losing custody of my uncle to another uncle who lived in my home state, Missouri. Losing him hurt me, but it opened up my daytime to do classes on campus. I took Tuesdays and Thursdays off at the hotel in order to fit in classes on those two days. I would commute from Hancock to Frostburg, a roughly 45-minute drive, in a Jeep that broke down once a semester, always around finals time each semester. I would shove my classes into those two days and spend the rest of my week working the 3 to 11pm evening shift at the hotel, where I would do my homework while working.
It was a difficult transition for me, learning how to juggle homework, work, and classes each week. During one of my first semesters back at college, I took one of Dr. Armiento’s English literature classes that gave me credits toward my major. I had not been able to finish my reading for her class, getting only halfway through the short story we were supposed to read. It was ski season at the hotel, and work was very busy. I had to choose between doing my homework at work and losing even more sleep at home trying to finish it. Not getting sleep was dangerous, as much as I was working and as much driving as I was doing. The next day in class, Dr. Armiento scolded a small group of us because we had not read for the day; she warned us the next time we did not read, we would be asked to leave the class for good. I fought the tears back in that class because I knew how hard I worked at home to juggle everything, but it was obviously not working.
Moments like that, feeling disappointed in myself after the scolding from my favorite professor, that reminded me how much work I had to do, but it was also those small, positive moments that reminded me how badly I needed to graduate. My mind always went back to that evening in the laundry room where I made the decision to change my life. Every time I remember that moment the overwhelming fear and depression I felt washes over me and feeds my desire to keep going on.
On December 19, 2015, I walked across the stage to receive my diploma. Brandy and my brother sat in the bleachers watching me walk across the stage, while trying not to lose my cap, and accepting my diploma. Dr. Armiento, who stayed at my side for 6 years, sat on the stage to watch as I passed. I graduated with my first bachelor’s degree in history with a minor in English. It took a lot of work and sleepless nights to get there. It took a lot of work finding myself and pushing myself to walk across that stage. I spent countless hours in therapy trying to regain control of my mental health, learning how to cope with bipolar depression, anxiety attacks, and trauma from the past. I spent countless hours talking with Dr. Armiento about school and personal issues. I spent many nights texting Brandy, worried that I would never be good enough in school or that I was missing out in life. Moreover, I spent almost every night between that moment in the laundry room until that graduation day debating with myself whether if I could accomplish my dreams, always playing devil’s advocate with myself.
It is 2016 now when I write this memoir. I am back in college to get a bachelor’s degree in English, as I keep my writing skills sharp. I am filling out graduate school applications to programs that will help me accomplish my dream: to be a classical historian and someday teach college. I stepped out of my comfort zone and became highly active in History Club and Phi Alpha Theta while also being a tutor in the past and a writer for The Bottom Line on campus. I made friends in places I did not think I would and I accepted a part of myself that for years was hard to accept, my sexuality. I moved to Frostburg and got a job at a wonderful place that did good in the world by helping the Deaf make phone calls. I have time to do the things I love now that I am not commuting everywhere or working odd hours, and I have time for friends I do not see often. In four years since starting the simple front desk job at the small Sleep Inn, my life changed into something entirely different than I ever expected or could have hoped.
Some people go to college without ever thinking about why they are there or what they want to do with their lives. Some were forced by their parents to go, while others went for the parties. To me, that pivotal moment in the laundry room was my reason to go to college and to accomplish what I have accomplished so far. That moment reminds me every day of what I do not want to become and focus me to think about what I can become. Those feelings that still feel real every time I think about that moment remain my motivation in becoming a better person and achieving the goals I want to achieve. You never know where folding pillowcases will take you.