That August, the wind carried away the post-rain steam, leaving the morning cooler. But no such luck today. This feeble breeze barely has grace enough to rustle the leaves hanging onto the old oak. Existence feels soupy. I seldom stand still enough to be present in a moment like this one, always marinating, instead, in uncertainty. That is where I am most comfortable.
Back then, though, the artifice of control was a prop I gripped with both hands. I did not recognize quite how uncertain things could be. All I knew was the fragile illusions of boundaries I held and the impact sexual assault had on them; I knew the cost of earning a decent living in a job that diminished me further; and I knew I could only walk away from some of that. No longer content to give all I had for the sake of a paycheck, I believed I might have some value besides the strength of my back, that the determination that brought me some achievement in retail might help me overcome what I knew to be intellectual inadequacies.
And so I embraced a new path: a new first day with a new backpack and binder, pencils and pens, and a new marriage that precipitated this new wanting. I enrolled in a community college, and August 25, 2010 was the first day of a new uncertainty. I knew I wasn’t smart, but I knew I would work hard even though I wasn’t sure where my work in this newness would take me.
On campus, I was old enough to have birthed most of my classmates. In class, I always took a seat in the back corner of the room—the one aligned with the door, so I could see a way out. I felt too aware of how old I was, starting out so close to the beginning, and I was not sure I could see it through to the end.
I won’t tell you all it cost to get there—that I spent high school in remedial English and no one was engaged enough in my education to know it. I won’t linger on my first attempt at college, or describe in great detail the burnt out husk of myself that took the first job it could walk to, or the many years spent feeling like I was dying there. And I will not tell you much about the first college-level composition class that changed everything, or the Introduction to Poetry class that changed it more. Instead, I will tell you that these last two things saved my life.
In the years that followed, malignant cells cancered away the hope I had for a family of my own. But also in those years, I found my voice; I earned one degree and then another. I found a new career that still nourishes me.
I now prepare for the next uncertainty. My first steps after earning a Master’s degree are tenuous. This endeavor was never a part of any plan because the only thing I felt certain about was that it was something I could never do. But today, I understand the truer nature of uncertainty— that it can bring as much good as not. So I will take these steps without being so concerned with seeing a way out. \
I think back to those first steps into that newness as I stitch patches over that old backpack; I finger the frayed shoulder straps, and I remember all they helped me to carry. Ten years later, and I am I helping other people find their way through uncertainty. I help them figure out how to carry what they must. And in knowing what to carry, we understand what it is we need to leave behind.
It is warmer now—one degree for each year. In this morning’s sticky haze, the wind blows from a different direction. It does not gust as it did back then, but there is less for it to carry.
Bernadette Karpa, author of And She Does Shine, Heirlooming, and Chocolate Brown Satin Hot Pants and Other Artifacts, is a poet and a printmaker. Born and raised in Philadelphia, she currently resides in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. She works in the Academic Success Center in Bucks County Community College as the Writing Specialist and is dedicated to helping students find and honor their voice, as so many have helped her.
She would like for you to check out the Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA) of Bucks County, PA.