Wow, there’s a lot to choose from, but since I was sort of in the mood to talk about living in Rock Hill, I’ll start there. I couldn’t tell you what the date was, but I know now when I had the worst cry I had in that town.
I graduated from Columbia College in 1994 with quite a list of accomplishments – magna cum laude, member of Omicron Delta Kappa (leadership honor society) and Sigma Tau Delta (English major honor society; we didn’t have sororities), editor of the literary magazine junior and senior years, and co-chairperson of my class’ entry in the annual skit contest (which we won two out of the three years). If I sound proud, it’s because I am. You won’t find me blaring these accomplishments from my car as I drive around, but I’ve always been proud of what I did in college, probably because I always felt second best in high school. But here I had lots of friends, and professors praised me and my work, especially when I decided to go to grad school. I felt as if I were on a pedestal. “Carla’s going to grad school.” It was this sing-songy chant, and it went to my head.
A month before graduation, I fell in love with R. (I’m not using the names of people I no longer communicate with.) He was not a college guy. He lived in a small town about an hour away from Columbia. We met at a wedding my roommate was in. (Insert oh-no groan here.) There I was, head over heels with this guy who was just as smitten with me. I was accepted in the English MA program at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, and I still remember a classmate of mine saying, “Wow, Carla, things are really working out for you.”
A year later, everything fell apart.
I got a graduate assistantship, which in order to keep required taking three courses, but the job paid only $340 a month, which was my rent payment. I could have found a roommate, but she (because my mother would not have allowed a he) would have been a stranger. If you’ve read #14 on “More Stuff About Me,” you’d understand my decision to go it alone, so I took a part-time job at Sears at the mall in Pineville, a Charlotte suburb 20 minutes north of Rock Hill. Twenty hours a week at Sears combined with twenty hours a week as a grad assistant combined with three classes made Carla a very stressed girl. Classes were harder than I expected, and while Winthrop professors were supportive, the adulation I enjoyed at Columbia College was gone.
Fortunately and unfortunately, R was 30-45 minutes away; he was my knight in shining armor and my crutch. That relationship was my first serious one, so I wanted to spend every free minute with him. The euphoria wore off quickly. I could tell you several stories about how he was an asshole, about how he infuriated me, about how he made me cry, about how he ultimately broke my heart – but oddly enough, crying over him is not the image I remember.
I remember getting out of bed in the middle of a night when R was staying over, walking over to the back window in the studio apartment and praying that I wasn’t crying loud enough to wake him up. I looked out over the concrete parking lot, across the railroad tracks that hosted a train every morning at 4:30 am and shook the glasses in my cabinet, and above the warehouse right beside the tracks to the pitch black sky dotted with stars. I remember feeling hot tears streaming down my cheeks and cold linoleum freezing my toes. Thoughts kept running through my head: I was out of place and in over my head, and I had no one who understood. I don’t remember how I quit crying. I realize now that the depression was settling in that night. It was making its reservation, holding its place for a later time when I would be even weaker, when my times were not so good.
I ran from Rock Hill, that tiny college town that couldn’t hurt a fly saw the last of me in June 1995, two months after R and I broke up. I packed my stuff and got the hell out of Dodge. I drove out of town, dumped gasoline on the bridge, lit that baby and watched her burn. It was the first time I didn’t finish something. I’m not proud of how I left, but I don’t regret it either.