In college, both my sociology and philosophy classes left me spinning.  No matter how I tried to grope and grasp, reading and re-reading the text before me, when it came to the multiple choice questions presented on the tests, I simply stared until the type face began to bleed into a pool on the staunch white paper.

I ingested the information and even liked it, cared about it and thought about it—Kant’s thought patterns on the complexities of people and Puritanical work ethic.  I understood the concepts and could even re-weave the notions to extend my own thinking on the topics.  But when it came to those tests, the questions seemed to be in varying shades of gray.  All the answers had an element of right, but the latter half of the sentence would convey a slightly varying level of intensity.  Did Kant REALLY believe this for ALL men, or did he sort of believe this for SOME men?  Or did he really believe this for SOME men? 

I always got it just a hair off the mark but some how that equated a wrong answer entirely.  I dreaded test days and felt ill on the days we were scheduled to have the exams returned.  How could it be I could maintain a conversation with my professors on the topic or write and essay, but the minute some one else attempted to paraphrase it felt as though they were stating the question in German or Spanish?

It seemed so unfair, but still, I loved the rest—and when I graduated later that year, my intention was to go to graduate school.  I had always wanted to teach high school or college English, and though I might have majored in education, a favorite teacher from high school suggested I major in just English—otherwise, I would have to learn bits and pieces of anything I might POTENTENTIALLY end up teaching—from Kindergarten to high school math.  Instead I would go on to grad school and do education at that point.

The problem was, of course, I got side tracked and didn’t go to grad school right away.  Instead, I added a French major to my under grad course work and lived in France for a year.  That hadn’t really been part of the plan, but I liked it and that fit, so I went with it.  Coming back to the states for my senior year, I felt desperate to get back to Paris and arranged to return as a nanny for a family I’d met while I was abroad.  However, when the family divorced and the mother became more interested in dating and going to discotheques than helping me get my visa, I decided to sell my car and move to New York.

And I did.  I got a job and an apartment on the upper Eastside with a friend I’d studied with in Paris and life moved forward and I swam a long with it—for the most part.  For two years I found jobs when one became unbearable or I was fired—and though it hurt to fail at something, it was just like my ethics and philosophy courses—I ALMOST grasped it and got the secret to maintain these boring jobs, to mirror the coworkers that were permitted to stay on in dull submission; but then at the last minute I was standout-ish—remarkably unable to pick up what those around me seemed to pull in effortlessly.  Spreadsheets in excel done the way my bosses wanted them, editorial calendars and filing systems—gentle reminders began to make my ears ring until at last I grew waspishly frustrated and sarcastic—something so outside my typical communication style it left me reeling.  It was those tricky courses all over again—I could almost do it, almost hack it, but in the end, there was no extra credit to pull me up, and no office hours to give me shot at humanizing myself.

After nearly three years of working, I schedule an appointment for the GRE and began to spend weekends studying at the New York Public Library, ready for the schooling I’d put off.  And then I met my boyfriend and decided it would be more fun to move across the country and indulge in the amnesia of love and forget why I’d started the plight for school and instead attempt to do the same troubled work routine in a different city.

In a relationship, your schedule is not always your own and free time is very seldom truly free.  It’s hard to study, to take a GRE, to seek sources to write recommendations letters and fill out applications.  It’s not easy to work eight hours a day and mail application materials on your lunch break.  But I did.

When I got my acceptance letter, the entire endeavor blew up in my face.  In my carefully arranged puzzle of work, love, life and working to apply to school, I had done so well working in the outer parameters of our relationship, my boyfriend stared at me and said, “it can’t be that important to you, if I never even knew much about it.”

And in a recent trip to New York, to evaluate the school and the city, see my old friends and enjoy the bustle and after thoughts of parks crammed into the only open spaces in the area, I watched Moses grip a park bench so tightly his knuckles went white.  “I’ll move here,” he told me, “but I won’t like it and I won’t be happy.”

That was my “win.”

I had the misfortune, once, of making friends with a sort of “universally” beautiful girl.  By the end I was exhausted and bitter and she was frustrated and without much to talk about.  She was beautiful, I suppose.  I won’t dispute that, but anybody could happen upon being beautiful— I didn’t admire her for her Elizabeth Taylor a la National Velvet resemblance, but for her self-reliance and the way she could groom a horse or swim in a dirty pond like it was a swimming pool.  She could drive a truck when she was 12 and eat more ice cream than a grown man and knew all the words to Oklahoma!  She was funny and sweet and could play pretend with abandon or put on eyeliner to play spin the bottle.  We were 13.

And then she became “the pretty one” and everyone ruined it, because soon we were plucking our eyebrows, bleaching mustaches and wondering whether people was going to notice just how pretty she was.  I wondered because I dreaded being the friend of the pretty one, and I think she just became programmed to wonder.  People say something enough; you wonder when exactly they’ll say it.  If they don’t, you wonder why and if they do you wonder when they’ll say it, and how and why it matters.  It’s distracting, to say the least.

Even my own family couldn’t stop themselves from bringing it up, and in turn, I looked like the “sour grape,” my mother said I was when I covered my ears and said “stop saying how pretty she is!” 

After a while I couldn’t say a nice thing about her because I knew other people would.  And when I asked people to stop talking to me about my beautiful friend, they all shook their heads and called me jealous.  I’m not ruling that out.  I’d like to be pretty as much as the next girl.  Maybe more—it’s certainly helpful.  But nobody would ever completely understand what they did to that girl.  They ruined her entirely.  She became nothing but pretty—all those other things got lost because we couldn’t get past her face.  The analysis of beauty trumped any other conversation piece we could come up with.

Even now, I look back on old photos, and I can’t even feel whether it hurts or not that I don’t know her.  I just stare at her eyes and her hair and find myself stuck in that same stupid maze, trying to dissect her face and find out where the “pretty” is, exactly, trying to divide her face into symmetrical pieces and wondering if she’ll age well.