My dad never wanted me to be an artist. He was very vocal about it. He wanted me to be a chemical engineer, like he is. He grew up very poor, and the Army gave him a way out. He went to school on a ROTC scholarship and studied chemical engineering. And he got out. He got the middle class life (I assume) he wanted.
I always wanted to be an artist. Always. It's the shining through line of my life. The one thing that never changes. When I was a kid, I just knew I would grow up and be an artist. I knew it, like I knew my name. It was engraved on my heart.
We fought about it, constantly. I wanted to go to a magnet school and do art in high school. He wanted me to go to a different school and study math and science. He thought I was too smart to throw my life away on a stupid dream that probably would never happen. He was afraid I would starve to death.
I went to the math and science school. It didn't have any art classes.
When it was time to apply for college, I applied to 14 schools, mostly to appease him. I said I wanted to study journalism or graphic design or anything else. To appease him. To stop the near constant fighting.
When you're a teenager, you have almost no control over your life. Maybe that's not as big of a deal for some people. Maybe that power differential isn't exploited with ruthlessness by other people's parents.
When you're a teenager, you can be forced to obey. You don't have the choices we take for granted as adults.
I applied to go to the NYU for fine arts. It was a long shot. They don't take many people. I hadn't done well with my portfolio at Boston University or the fine arts AP exam. But New York and NYU stood out in my mind like a fantasy. If I could just get into this school, I could get away. I could begin to live my dream. I could leave Alabama behind, shake off the humiliations and imagine a new self. I could be a new person.
Of course, when I got in, I was ecstatic. Which lasted all of about an hour, until my dad flatly stated that there was no way in hell that he would allow me to go.
He wouldn't pay for it. He wouldn't allow it. If I went to art school for college against his wishes, I could pay for it myself. He threatened to disown me. Told me not to think about ever coming home again.
And I didn't go. I was afraid of how much it cost. I couldn't imagine getting together the tuition, much less enough money to live on. I backed down. I went to Mississippi instead.
Based on the situation, I probably made the right decision. I can't imagine having that amount of debt. I would never have crawled out from under it. I also met people at Ole Miss who are important parts of my life. People who are my family now.
It broke my heart. It was the first time in my life that my heart was well and truly broken. When I found myself in love with a boy who didn't love me back some year later, the pain of that compared to not going to NYU.
I hardly ever think about that boy now. But I do think about how I didn't go to NYU. I think about it on a somewhat regular basis. I wonder about it. I still have a distant throb of pain when I do.
The path not taken. The one that got away.
To me, going to NYU represented the opportunity to be the best in the country at something I have loved my whole life. To have to say no to that... I can't explain the hurt. It's certainly something my blood family has never understood.
I couldn't understand it. He took me to NYU, and we met the art department. How could he do that and then refuse to help me? To even care?
This is a privileged position to be in. The position of life's Greatest Tragedy to be that I didn't get to go to the art school I wanted.
Maybe it wouldn't have been that great. Maybe it wouldn't have changed my life. Maybe it wouldn't have given me opportunities to fully work as an artist. Maybe studying at NYU isn't even that big of deal or that exclusive. Maybe it would have been an expensive waste of time. Maybe it's a stupid thing.
Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.