Thinking About An MFA

When I first graduated college after a senior year from hell, I immediately wanted to get my masters. I think part of this was because I was afraid.

To provide some context, I had, at that time in my life, always been dependent on someone. I first lived with my parents, then I left them for my boyfriend (later husband) who begged me not to work because he wanted to provide for me. I proposed that I would go to school and become a teacher so that I could support him when he went to school, a plan to which he agreed.

Later, I found out that my husband had cheated on me when I was visiting California for my brother’s graduation and on top of that had burned through all the money in our bank account (which he then proceeded to blame on me), then attempted to steal my scholarship money after I told him he couldn’t borrow any when he asked. Furthermore, he was leaving me home alone for days at a time while he disappeared god knows where with our only car.

During this trying time, I was going to summer school, which was a three mile bike ride in over one hundred degree heat because my husband insisted on taking the car to his work which was two blocks away from where we were living. During one of these bike rides, my back wheel was clipped by a car who was turning left. It flipped my bike. I think I blacked out for a few seconds because I don’t remember the fall, only waking up flat on my back, scared and panicked.Thankfully, I didn’t have books in my backpack but rather a change of clothes because I wasn’t going to class–I was going to group therapy. I climbed to my feet, left my bike behind in the road, and started screaming at the lady who had hit me. She was getting out of her car, and was apologizing profusely. In retrospect, she seemed just as scared as I was, and also looking back, I know now that I was having a panic attack (I got them regularly in those days)–which doesn’t excuse my behavior, and I wish I had reacted differently in that situation. About thirty seconds after I started screaming at her, I realized my bike was still on the road so I went and got it and biked to group even though I should have gone back home because I was in no condition to be driving anything.

Later when I got home, my husband pretended to be concerned as he was touching my face so gently, so tenderly, like he actually cared, and then he told me I should have sued her for money–and oh the anger, the resentment when I heard those words because we had already agreed to divorce after I confronted him about what an asshole he was being and how I knew he was cheating on me.

So that senior year I took out the scholarship largest loan I was allowed because I had no money and no source of income–I lived on less than 20k for that year. I had no method of transportation because we didn’t have buses and the car was in my husband’s name because he bought it without me, even though he used my money as part of the down payment. I comforted myself with the knowledge I wouldn’t be able to make the payments on it anyway and that I didn’t care he still had the car (news flash: I still care lmao). While I was in summer school, my husband had found me a very tiny studio apartment closer to the school so at least that helped.

That senior year was easily the most difficult year of my whole life, and I honestly don’t know how I survived it. I did have help because our neighbors, the boyfriend of whom used to be my husband’s best friend, invited me over until I moved away, and even then, she still let me use her washer and dryer even though she lived out of town on a farm, and on the way back, we did my grocery shopping for the week. I helped her with her school work too. They were on my side when it came down to what had happened with me and my husband, but it got awkward when her boyfriend was more interested in me as a girlfriend–which I was not interested in, at all, and I think she knew that so it didn’t cause tension like it could have.

But even so, I was so depressed. I couldn’t find a job not even at the college. I wasn’t able to clean my apartment because I was just focused on graduating, which I did, eventually, with a 4.0 gpa. I don’t think that people at school knew how poorly I was doing because if you just looked at my academic performance, I was excelling and everything looked fine.

I have always excelled in school, but not so well in real life. So when I graduated and found myself moving back in with my mom (which turned into another disaster that did nothing for my mental health) and then again with my dad, I found myself failing–again. I was having another hard time finding a job, and I was so reliant on my dad for everything and I was so afraid all the time.

So I thought–I need to get my master’s because I am good at school, I can succeed at school. I asked my favorite professors for help, and they helped me. But–I wasn’t able to write the statement of purpose. I had no idea what I wanted to do other than I wanted out of my current situation. My brain was in constant flight mode and I couldn’t think beyond that. Even the notion of taking the GRE overwhelmed me because, even though I’m good at school, I am lousy at standardized tests, even the written section.

Eventually, I became so stressed and depressed and afraid that I was unable to keep working on it. Communication became extremely distant between me and my professors until it stopped entirely.

Going to grad school became an alternate reality that could have been my reality if I had been able to get it together. Instead, I was a cashier/usher at an AMC theatre, and I had a Big Anxiety problem. I would feel nothing for a long time, and then I would feel an intense rush of negative emotions that could be triggered by anything. I would hit myself across the head. I would have anxiety attacks. I was Not Well.

But then I found a better job. I had financial assistance from my dad and uncle and moved back to SoCal. My car broke down six weeks later and I found myself biking over ten miles in 100 degree heat again, but at least this time I had a job. This time I had my own apartment. This time, I wasn’t so completely separated from my family. I had help. I wasn’t doing this alone any more.

But I didn’t see that at the time. Everything felt so hard. Even though I wasn’t alone, I felt alone. I still had anxiety attacks. I was afraid that I would get fired and I was afraid, constantly. I was still hurting myself. I was drinking copiously every weekend and one day in a moment of clarity, I realized that this could not continue. Even now, I try to keep my drinking very limited.

Eventually I moved back in with my brother when my Grandma gave me her car, which allowed me to commute to work. Moving in with my brother helped me so much because I was no longer living alone, and I was no longer living pay check to pay check. Even though he charged rent, it was not as much at the complex I was living, and I didn’t have to pay for utilities. Moving in with my brother allowed me to become friends with his girlfriend (now his wife!) when she worked out in the garage. Moving in with my brother allowed me to reconnect to him after a long time of just…not talking to each other.

And, for the first time, in a long time, I was financially dependent. To this day, I know that the only reason I am where I am is because of the help I received from my dad and my uncle and my grandma and my brother. I think I paid my brother back for when he helped me buy my mike, but to be honest most of what happened during this time is blurred and far away. Still, I doubt I will ever be able to pay back those who have helped me, and that is something I still struggle with.

Other things were changing too. For one thing, I was excelling at my job, something I didn’t think was possible. My bosses liked me, and eventually when they wanted to set up an office in Utah, I was the one chosen to go. A year later, the political dynamics at work turned into a mind game fuck all that I eventually quit when I found a better job with lower pay that would still pay my bills.

Since I took that job, my stress levels have gone down. I have paid off my student debt. I’ve started writing and reading again. I’ve slowly come to the realization that I am not afraid any more. The last time I had a panic attack was nearly a year ago, and the one before that I don’t remember. I still get depressed, I’m still having trouble making connections with people outside of work, but I feel, in my heart and in my bones, that I am getting better.

Which is why I think I’m finally ready for grad school–because now I want to go to build something, not run away from something.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to ask my professors for anything besides a letter of recommendation after flaking out on them so badly before–but we’ll see what will happen there. It’ll be awkward, considering it’s been six years since I’ve spoken to them, but I will still try.

I would prefer to go to a school in Utah because I like it here, and I want to stay here, but I won’t be paying to go to school. I’m not going in debt for school again. If I can’t find a program that will waive my tuition fees or give me a fellowship, then I won’t go, but I think I’ll be able to as I do plan on applying to at least three schools in addition to Utah.

I don’t plan on going this year or even next year. I’ll take the GRE in 2017, and start applying in late 2017, but I don’t see myself going until 2018 at the earliest, 2019 at the latest. And in the interim while I am preparing for the GRE, I intend to start reading more rigorously. I intend to keep writing flash pieces and short fiction and submitting them for publication. I intend to keep self publishing–which is something that has sort of fizzled, but I do want to get back on that ball again.

But I also want to get my MFA, and even if it doesn’t work out, it’s not my only hope for the future.



2 thoughts on “Thinking About An MFA

  1. Sonja, you’ve come such a long way and I’m so glad you’re doing better. I wish you nothing but the best in your continued journeys and if there’s anything at all I can help you with, don’t hesitate to let me know. ❤️ Good luck!


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