Rachel S. Heslin
Thoughts, insights, and mindless blather

The Price of Higher Education
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Since my husband and I met through the UCLA Science Fiction/ Fantasy/ Horror/ Geek Club, most people don't seem to know that he didn't go to UCLA. None of his generation in his family went to college, and he was informed that his parents weren't going to pay for his further education. The expectations of those you love really are crucial when learning how to dream, and when everyone around you expects you to not go to college, it's really difficult to break through that negativity.

He was working his way through school when I met him. Oddly enough, it was the Northridge quake that provided the impetus, since he suddenly found himself eligible for the work-study program at the local community college. The instability of his finances was emotionally draining, however, since he was only approved for three months at a time, and they'd always wait until the last minute to let him know whether or not he still had a job. He said he'd feel like he was working for the Dread Pirate Roberts, and the "Tomorrow, I'll probably kill you," really started to wear on him.

Then, in the space of a few months, he was laid off (stupid budget cuts), his dad went into the hospital for emergency surgery for multiple aneurysms (two of which were on his heart itself), his mom went in for surgery, and my grandpa went into the hospital with serious heart problems. Since Shawn wasn't working at the time, he was the one who was shuttling people to and from the hospital and doctors' appointments, sitting in the waiting rooms, going grocery shopping, and listening to loved ones' fears.

My husband cares. He cares deeply and sincerely and without reservation, and when people he loves are in pain, it tears him up inside. Needless to say, school wasn't a high priority at this point.

We all survived the rest of that year, and he got a full-time job doing QA at a tech firm. He started making decent money, but he was never home, and there was literally no time for him to go to school. Time passed, things happened, and he got a new job up in Big Bear so we could buy our house.

It was paying bills, and he could deal with the 14 hour days w/o overtime pay, no paid holidays and no paid sick leave, but the atmosphere was poisonous, operating on assumptions that everyone was lazy and stupid and untrustworthy and Out To Get You. Then they started bouncing his paychecks. I'd found a more or less local job that paid well, so he gave notice and quit before they completely destroyed his soul.

We live in a resort community. In case no one's noticed, the economy sucks at the moment, and people haven't been traveling as much as they used to. Add to that a couple of years of drought that have resulted in a grievously lowered lake level and practically non-existent ski seasons, and you end up with no jobs. Shawn was looking for work from Orange County to Barstow and coming up empty.

It's not like he doesn't have skills -- he's one of the most multi-talented people I know. But we haven't been able to figure out how to get these skills on his resume (eg he's been building and upgrading computers from scratch for 15 years, but for personal use), and he was up against numerous other candidates who did have the work experience -- and the degree.

I think, like the Northridge quake, it was a disruption in our lives that brought about his return to school. My cousin Jessica, who was 19 at the time and had a little boy who was almost 2, came from Illinois to live with us (actually, Shawn drove out to Illinois in 1 1/2 days to get her and deserves a medal for allowing her to live on the ride back, but that's a journal entry unto itself). She seemed determined to get her high school diploma, having dropped out to have Jonathan, and I think it got Shawn thinking about his own life. We filled out the FAFSA, checked out schools, ordered transcripts for classes already taken, and he re-enrolled.

In December, Shawn earned his Associate's Degree. He's currently taking a few more classes at the local community college to finish up his lower division requirements, and he's hoping to transfer to UC Riverside (where my parents met, BTW) to complete his Bachelor's.

I am very proud of my husband. He's doing very well, making the Dean's List last semester and being asked to help tutor fellow classmates. He's discovered a surprising knack for biology, and he seems a bit bemused by his popularity with teachers and students alike.

The downside is that there are no colleges, community or otherwise, in Big Bear.

Shawn has been living at my grandma's house in Riverside for the last 6+ months. His schedule last semester was M-Th; this semester, it was supposed to be T/Th but classes were cancelled, and the replacement courses now have him down the hill M-F.

This sucks.

I miss my husband. The cats miss him. He misses us. Since I work for a school district, we were lucky enough to both have off the same 3 weeks over Christmas, and we spent a lot of time together. It was wonderful. (Okay, Christmas with his family was traumatic -- not entirely in a bad way, but traumatic -- but that, again, is a separate entry.) Then we found out that he has one week off for Spring Break and I have 2 weeks off, but my two weeks start after his week ends. He had Valentine's Day off, so I took off work and we went to Laughlin with my parents for an extended weekend and soaked up as many snuggles as possible in just under 5 days.

Sometimes he'll drive home in the middle of the week, and I'm grinning for days. I can't get enough of him. When he's home, even if we're doing different things in different rooms, I can still feel his presence, and I can't help smiling.

I love him. I miss him. I'm glad I have so many minutes on my cell phone plan.

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