Coming of Age



Disclaimer: Although several people in this story are loosely based upon people I know, the story and characters should be considered fiction.  Like what you see?  Send fan mail to

 My mom hated Jameston College.  She didnıt like what she heard about it and its party reputation.  She met one of the English teachers somewhere some years ago, and I guess she wasnıt impressed with him, because ever since, sheıd tell me what a lousy education James would give me.  I guess what she saw on her way to pick me up didnıt impress her either - people milling around the doors to the dorm, smoking and yelling out cusses or degrading sexual remarks.

 But I went to Jameston anyway.  I wanted to.  They offered me a full scholarship, except for room and board.  Mom paid that off, saying she wanted me to work on my grades first before I started working.  She hated knowing her daughter was a student at James, but I loved knowing I was doing something she didnıt want me to do.  Iıd take the subway to her office once in a while for lunch, and watch her face cringe as I bragged about everything I was doing at James.

 It was all a lie, though.  I hated my life.  I hated James.  I hated the people at James.  I hated the world at large, but I wasnıt going to do a single thing about it.  My mom would see that I could do whatever I wanted to do, and she couldnıt do a damn thing about it, nor did her opinion matter.

 That all hit the fan halfway through the semester.  Wild with independence, I started sleeping through the entire day.  Fuck my classes, I had better things to do, like watch my soap operas, or go looking for a date for the weekend.  In a way, this offered me a kind of relief.  I graduated third in my senior class, and Iıd been piled chin high with awards.  It was time to succeed in a different way than the way mommy and daddy wanted me to, or so I thought.

Yeah right.  Letıs see the list of my achievements this semester: Iıd lost my virginity.  Seth had been sweet, but Iıd never meant to lose it, and I certainly didnıt care for him - at least not in that way - and the immorality of it had been gnawing at me ever since.   I hadnıt been in my classes for the last three weeks, so I was effectively failing.  Iıd been offered an internship in New York City at some small art gallery, but that was dependent on the semesterıs GPA, so I might as well have said good bye to that.  The cafeteria food was so bad that I only ate two or three times a week and I was sure my tight jeans had gotten a whole lot looser recently.  But worst of all, itıd been 2 months, and I still didnıt know anyone on campus.  I knew people, but I didnıt know anybody.  Iıd wake up at 3 in the afternoon, get on my computer and chat with faraway people in Australia or the Bronx until midnight, take a shower, walk around the dorm purposefully, pretending I had better things to do than hang out with the people chatting in the halls, listen to music or watch Party of Five reruns until 5 am, and fall asleep crying.

College sucked.

 Mom came to pick me up from school Friday afternoon.  Just a weekend at home to satisfy nagging parents who missed their oldest kid.  By the time she finally rolled up to the curb, Iıd been waiting for half an hour, glancing at my watch, looking at the people around me, and trying to act like I knew what I was doing.  Once in a while, someone I knew from one of my classes would walk by, and Iıd try to talk to them, make it look like I actually knew people on campus.  But the conversation, once past the weather and stress from homework, faded quickly and we exchanged awkward smiles and I was left standing there, shifting my weight from foot to foot and glancing at my watch.  So I was actually happy to see Mom when she came - but of course I couldnıt show that.

I couldnıt help it, though, on the way home when I started crying.  The van still smelled new from when we bought it the week after my graduation, and just the feeling of being in a soft seat next to my mother took everything that was Jameston away from me.  I could breathe again, and I started crying.  I looked out the window, and stifled my sobs so she couldnıt hear.

 Useless.  When we got home an hour later, she parked, but locked the doors so we couldnıt get out.

 ³Rachel.²  She brought her hand up under my chin and forced me to look at her. ³Whatıs wrong, honey?²

 ³Nothing,² it came out like a mutter, and I sounded more like a resentful toddler than a collegiate freshman.  She didnıt say anything, and just waited.  She has this way of staring at you patiently yet drilling holes in your head with her eyes until you just crumble.  And crumble I did.  ³I hate my life!²  I could feel my face wrinkle and drown in the deluge of tears - before I knew it, my momıs arms were around me, stroking my back.  And it all came out.  But not quite the way I meant to.  ³I hate my life!  Nobody likes me, I donıt like nobody.  Iım failing all my classes, I canıt eat, I canıt do anything.  Iım worthless at James!²

 We were silent for a long time.  Her hand on my back lulled me.  But when I finally stopped crying and looked up at her, she didnıt have the look of a concerned mom in her face.  It was strange, not seeing something you expect in your momıs face.  She was smiling.  ³RachelŠ you need to come home.  Go to community college.  Get your grades up, decide what you want to do.²

 At the moment, it sounded like paradise.  Somewhere where I was Rachel, not some dumb freshman trying to be bad and cut class and get drunk on the weekends.  And I could eat again.   I wouldnıt be broke again.  I would have things to do.  So of course I said yes, and the next week, we moved my stuff out of the dorm and I came home.

 At first, I was excited.  I finally had my bathroom again, not the communal ones full of concrete and other peopleıs pubic hair.  I had pillowcases washed with real detergent, and no one screamed in the halls at five in the morning or left a puddle of vomit in the elevator.  I was home.

 Big fat hairy difference.  Since I had two more months until the semester started again at community college and I had nothing to do, my routine stayed the same.  I kept my appointments with Australia and even the Bronx, even though he was starting to ask for naked pictures.  I had nothing to do, so my sleeping habits stayed the same.  But the food - oh, the glorious food.  I started creating gourmet masterpieces, or so I thought.  Bored at 4 in the afternoon?  No problem.  Omelets wrapped in tortillas topped with brown sugar and chocolate chips took 10 minutes to make and 10 to eat; presto - twenty minutes out of my day taken care of.

 I didnıt leave the house for three weeks straight.  What for?  No showers necessary, and saved a lot of laundry effort.  Then one day my mom wasnıt feeling too wonderful, so she asked me to go take the movies back to the video store and get some gas.  Sure thing.  My brownies with salsa topping could wait to be savored at midnight when boredom came to call.  Dressed in sweats and a tee with my greasy hair pulled back, I went out.

 That hurt.  It was bright outside and I didnıt own sunglasses, so the sunlight hurt my eyes and bored into the back of my skull relentlessly.  But it felt nice to be driving again.  I didnıt realize how much Iıd missed being out, just out.  People were out too.  I forgot about them existing, I guess.  It was a shock to see people walking around, milling in front of stores, laughing.

 I rushed into the video store, and saw some new Gwyneth flick, so I thought Iıd get it while I was there.  While I was digging through my wallet for my card, I heard a familiar high, grating voice and looked up in shock.  Candy McGrath!

 Candy was the stereotyical airhead of my senior class.  She was the kind who walked around smiling at everybody, saying hi, asking about weekend plans and oozing enthusiasm, hoping to be invited along.  But she was always alone - no one liked her, and the moron couldnıt seem to figure out why.  With her designer clothes and her tight nose, she used to walk around halls, automatically gravitating towards the largest group of good-looking boys, seeking ways to ingratiate herself.  If anyone approached her, sheıd shyly look down and lose her flair for conversation all of a sudden.  It was a sort of paradox - she wanted to be Miss It, but when the chance offered itself, she just couldnıt deliver.

 That didnıt seem to be the case now.  Next to her - perhaps too close -  was Charlie Booth, homecoming king, star wrestler, and the guy who beat me for Salutatorian.  He was also my prom date.    He didnıt seem to care, though - he was staring off at the magazine rack with an occupied expression.  Nice way to greet his former homecoming queen.

 She blinked her wide eyes at me and oozed, ³Oh Rach!  Where are you now? Long time no see!  Are you sick?  I heard there was some mono thing going on around here.  Is that why youıre home?²  She paused, looked up at Charlie, who was flipping through a Rolling Stone, and without letting me answer, kept going.  ³Me nı Charlie, weıve been together for Š oh Iıd say more than four months now.  Guess it was kind of automatic, seeing how everybody else from our school left this godforsaken place for some far away college.  Weıre the only ones who went to State, you know.  Well anyway, hope you feel better soon, and get back into the partying thang!  Charlieıs pledging one of the biggest fraternities and oh man, the parties are just the best!  I met my two new best friends there and theyıre doing a damn good job keeping me busy!  Man, College is so much fun ainıt it?²  She stopped, but again, she didnıt wait for me to interject.  ³Well anyway, it was nice seeing you hon, me and Charlie got to go.  Feel better soon - you look just awful.  Bye!²

 She left.  I didnıt see where she went.  Nor did I care.  I dropped the movie I had on the counter and left too.  I felt sick to my stomach and ran outside, preparing to heave.

 I donıt remember driving home.  I must have been on auto-pilot, because the next thing I knew, I was back in my kitchen, standing over my salsa brownies, and crying again.  I couldnıt have told you then what was wrong with me.  I think I can tell you now, but I wonıt.  Should be easy enough to see.

 After I saw Candy, someone Iıd always thought was a loser with no hope, disgustingly happy, I stopped eating.  I stopped smiling.  I stopped caring.  I just stopped.  I stayed in my room day in, day out, just sleeping.  When I wasnıt sleeping, I was crying.  Why had this happened to me?  I couldnıt figure it out.

 College sucked.  I was supposed to be having the time of my life, going towards a degree that would eventually earn me six digits a year, partying all the time, meeting people Iıd love for the rest of my life.  Yeah right.  Thinking about it just made me want to go back to sleep.  And sleep I would.

Iıd dream all sorts of things.  Most of them were my usual childhood dreams, where I was a gold medalist in gymnastics or figure skating, or I played Madonna in Material Girl, with handsome rich men clustered around me.

Then I had it.  I had the dream.  Iım telling you; everyone whoıs been a bum in their life should have this dream.  It snapped my head back farther than humanly possible and changed my life forever, or at least, I just like to say that.

I dreamt I was back at Jameston University.  I was wearing one of the more prominent sororityıs jerseys, and I had a stack of books under my arm.  A paper peeking out of one of them had a big fat A drawn on it. I was striding across campus confidently, legs lean and tanned, hair pulled back and bouncy, and strangest of all, white teeth shining out of a smile.  I couldnıt remember the last time I smiled before that.  Damn, it felt good.  Hadnıt felt that way since graduation.   But then it went nuts.  A crowd of people started gathering around me, and believe me, they werenıt smiling.  They just stood around me, staring at me.  At first it was like some Twilight Zone thing - none of them had any faces.  I didnıt recognize any of them.  Then one by one, they all started laughing.  They wouldnıt stop laughing, no matter how much I asked them why they were laughing or to stop.  I woke up in a cold sweat, if youıll excuse the cliché.

It was two in the morning when I woke up, but I didnıt care.  I was scared shitless.  No, strike that.  I was disgusted.  I hated my life.  I was wearing the same shirt Iıd been wearing for the last 4 days, damn it.  I wasnıt doing anything with myself.  School at community college was starting in two weeks, but I had no intention of going there and becoming a hometown Candy moron.  Time to reclaim Rachel.  I crawled into my motherıs room, tears streaming down my cheeks.  I nearly suffocated myself trying not to let my sobs wake up my daddy.  My momıs hand was dangling over the edge, and I tugged on it.  She woke up with a start, but when she saw me in the dim light flooding in from the hallway, she started cooing softly, ³whatıs wrong, baby of mine?  Do you want to talk in the living room?²   I didnıt give her an answer, just got off my knees and didnıt let go of her hand until we got out there.

³Mom,² I said, ³I want to go back to James.²

She nearly choked on air.  ³What?!²

³You heard me, mom.  Iım going back.  Iım not going to give up.  Iım not going to be lazy, Iım going to be what Iım supposed to be, and Iım going to do it the best I can.²

She was quiet for a minute, and her face hardened.  Finally, she spoke.  ³Whoıs going to babysit your little brother or sister?²

³Rehire the girl you had before I came home.  Simple.²

³ButŠ I thought you hated it there.²

³Maybe, but Mom, I hate it here too.  I donıt think itıs where I was - itıs me.  Iım gonna change me.²

She was starting to breathe heavily, but I couldnıt, for the life of me, figure out why I was encountering any resistance.  I thought sheıd be happy Iıd decided to go back to a University instead of moping around like Iıd been.

³But what about me?²  She finally spoke again.


³What about your classes?  I mean, you hated it there, you will hate it again.  Youıll miss me wonıt you?  I meanŠ oh my Š² She faded off into the night.  It was like she couldnıt believe this was happening.  I couldnıt believe she was reacting this way either.  This wasnıt going the way I wanted to, but Iıd already made up my mind.  We sat there for another long moment, and then finally she opened her mouth again to say:



³You heard me. No.²

³What do you mean, no?²  This was definitely not what Iıd planned.

³Iım not letting you go back.²

³You canıt do that!²

³Oh yes, I can.  Itıs my money and I can do what I want.  Youıre not going back until you show me some responsibility.  That means staying at the community college with a GPA above 3.5 for two consecutive semesters, cleaning your room, going to bed every night at 10, being nice to me, helping out around the house, and being cheerful instead of the mopey bum youıve been.²  She shut up and took a little intake of breath that seemed to say, ³I have spoken - so let it be!²

My head was swirling - my thoughts were racing, and they were empty thoughts, or at least I couldnıt read them.  I didnıt know what to say, but I wanted to hurl venomous words at her.  My mouth gaped open and shut like a goldfish out of water, and I was only able to utter a high moan.  Violently, I shook my head in a panic.

³YES!² She said in answer, like sheıd understood all the unspoken arguments Iıd just given her.  ³I paid thousands of dollars for that first semester and you just went and wasted it, even though I told you not to go in the first place, and you begged me to let you.  Thatıs final.  Youıre going to community college, and youıre going to learn your lesson.²

³But thatıs a whole year out of my collegiate life!  Youıve been saying how I should try to have fun!  How can I do that here?!²  I finally regained my speech abilities.

 ³That.  Was.  Cruel.² She squinted at me malevolently.  ³You seemed all too eager to come home.  And if you wanted to be there, I guess you should have thought of that before you flunked out of college.  Thatıs it.  Good night.²  She left me sitting there on the couch, tears streaming down once again.

I stayed there for the longest time.  I woke up there, my hands still clasped together from wringing each other out the night before.

The day was bright and beautiful, and cold.  It didnıt seem like that to me, though.  I felt as if it should be foggy, rainy, freezing.  A few dark clouds and thunderstorms here and there would have made it perfect for my mood.  The realization of a year, maybe more starting all over again at a community college that I would leave behind for James - where I would once again start all over - began to dawn on me.  My triumphant goal of recapturing the girl who was once Rachel was defeated.  I slept in my room all day again.

That night, I had the dream again, only this time they stoned me to death.  As I was lying on the ground, ready to take my last breath, I looked up, and saw my mother wearing an identical sorority jersey.  Her head was tilted back, her eyes closed, and she was laughing, almost orgasmically.

It served my purpose again, almost like I had a guardian angel determined to make sure I won myself back, and if I wasnıt going to pay attention to her, she was going to put the notion in my head, and that was that.  Effective, my dear angel.

The next morning, I parked my butt down in front of the phone and spent three hours playing phone tag with people in the financial aid office at James.  My plan was to get some scholarships based on my high school awards and other crap Iıd done, and if it didnıt cover everything, take out a loan.  I could always pay it back after college.  It was a disappointment - they needed tax information from my parents.  I wasnıt about to ask them for it.  But no matter how I haggled with the people in financial aid, there was no haggling with policy.  So there I was again, stranded at home being this disgusting bum.

I slept again for the rest of the day and night.  No dream this time.  Guess my angel left me.  But the feeling of determination sure didnıt.  I was talking to Australia between naps when Seth came online.  You remember - heıs the sweet guy who I ³accidentally² ended up in bed with.  Weıd ended up friendly, which was actually a relief.  It was nice to talk to someone whose face I actually knew in a buddy-buddy kind of way.  Itıd been a long time since I had that.

Anyway, we got to talking, and he said he missed me.  Yeah right.  I didnıt even know him.  I doubt he knew so much as my favorite color.  So either he was just being the usual nice him, or he was being a typical guy and hoping for another romp between the sheets.  But anyway, he found out about my situation, and all of a sudden, he was like, stay online, I will be right back.  Iım thinking, whatever.

My bad.  He comes back on, gives me a name and a number, and tells me to call this woman whoıs the director of admissions at James.  Says she helped him out when he was in ³sorta the same thing, ya know.²

Again, Iım thinking, whatever.  But I had nothing to lose, so I called her.  She was real sweet.  Like a favorite aunt type.  Even though I only talked to her over the phone, I knew Iıd like her right away.  She offered me a job working for her after talking to me for only 15 minutes (obviously, I got a chance to brag about myself), and gave me some more information about another job I could get, which, combined, could cover all the costs.  Man, she was so nice.  By the time I hung up with her, I was getting really excited at the prospect of being able to do this.  Boy, was mom going to be pissed!

I was tired again - I guess my sleeping habits were getting the better of me, so I went down for another nap.  Big mistake.  I started my walk across campus again, Greek letters emblazoned across my chest, big confident smile on my face.  The people started gathering again, faceless.

But this time, it took a weirder twist.  Each one of them started forming an individual face.  And every single face was smiling back at me.  Not a single one laughed.  Wary, I just stood there in the middle of everyone, not knowing what to do.  They didnıt make a threatening move; a slight buzz began to roar in my ears as they started conversations among themselves, and one or two came up to me and introduced themselves.  The concept of conversation with another human being was so foreign to me, it took me a while to respond, and even then, I was slow.

Then I heard it.  A laugh.  A cold, cruel, heartless laugh.  I turned around slowly, expecting something to jump out at me like in a horror movie.  My mother stood behind me, looking like me, with identical clothes and hairstyle.  She stood akimbo, laughing.  She had stones in her hand.  The crowd was silent, and so was I.  Then I noticed her face.  She wasnıt old.  The wrinkles were gone, and her face was tighter, like mine.  She was my age.  I found it so funny I started giggling.  Soon, I started laughing too.  Then the two girls Iıd been talking to laughed along.  It turned into a laughfest, and pretty soon, it was just me laughing myself awake.

So thatıs how it happened.  I woke up one morning, packed my bags, and left.  I worked my ass off, but then next semester, I earned a scholarship and was able to slack off.  I joined a sorority, and started dating someone Seth had introduced me to.  I can't remember the last time I've cried.

 Okay, I'm lying.  I cried two weeks after I came back to James to start anew.  My mom called.  We didn't talk long. She just said, "Rachel, I miss you.  Are you okay? I wish you'd said goodbye."

 I was still mad that she hadn't understood, so I just muttered "um-humm." And hung up.

 It got easier to talk to her, though, and she took me out to dinner for my birthday.  She still tries to tell me what to do once in a while, but I guess it's hard not to do that when your daughter's not living with you.  Things are okay.  I don't cry anymore - seriously.  That isn't a lie.  Seriously.

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