Monday, January 30, 2012

Ohio, As Seen Through Rear View Mirror

By Kathleen Bradean

You could say I'm jaded by now, but even trying to look at my life through more innocent eyes, there isn't much there that qualifies as wild. This really dismays me. I seem like the kind of person who would have done some really stupid, crazy shit over the years, but I didn't. What the hell was I thinking? Why didn't I have the foresight to plan my life out so that it would be fodder for a bestselling memoir? But no. I always had to think about the consequences. What a putz.

Once in high school, I was pulled over by a cop after visiting a drive-thru known for selling beer to minors. I'd bought a six pack of 7Up. The cop was apologetic after he searched the entire car and found nothing. I had a stress attack and couldn't stop shaking enough to drive for another twenty minutes. Clearly, I wasn't cut out for life on the edge.

Every morning during home room at my Ohio high school, they announced the names of every kid who had to report to the principal's office. The usual suspects got no reaction, but if it was someone unusual, everyone hooted as they did the walk of shame out of the room. My senior year, a group of parents sued the school board for discrimination. From then on, the kids of those parents, including me, were regularly summoned to the principal's office. We'd gather in the school office and wait through most of our first class until the secretary released us. We never saw the principal. It was pure harassment. Even though I knew I hadn't done anything wrong, the humiliation was crushing. Finally it got to the point where my name was called so often that no one in my home room made a sound when I shuffled out of the class, books clutched to my chest like protective armor. But did I make the most of that bad girl reputation I'd earned? No. Again, what was I thinking? I should have sashayed my ass down the aisle between desks like a saucy minx. I should have paused at the door and winked at someone, someone like one of the real delinquents. I totally had cred and didn't use it. What a waste!

It wasn't until after my eighteen birthday that I decided to do something mildly wild. College was a nightmare. My parents forced me to leave a small college I liked to go to Ohio State. I was not a good fit for that place. Back then, schools didn't have to report crimes on campus, but we knew about a rape a week in those huge parks in the center of the campus. This was way back in the dawn of PCs, so I had to go to the computer center to do my programming homework. Since I was a lowly sophomore, the only time block I could schedule was from eleven PM to one in the morning. Then I'd have to walk across both those parks, in the dark, alone, to my dorm. Campus police refused to escort, and the only group of guys willing to help out wouldn't escort girls who weren't in sororities. So I was on my own. I walked with my keys clutched through my fingers in one hand and a massive Ronson cigarette lighter with the flame turned up eight inches in the other. As you can imagine, this constant state of siege did a number on me.

I knew that I couldn't continue in the college major my parents had picked for me, and I knew if I changed majors, they'd quit paying my tuition. I also didn't think I could get a loan to pay for my tuition. So at that point, I figured college was over for me. (I eventually returned and got my degree, graduating at with honors) SO I started planning my escape. Every week, I'd pack a box with things that I felt I had to keep and mail them to my boy friend in California.

The last day of school, I drove home and spent a week hanging out with the family. In my father's eyes, that was six and a half days too long to not be gainfully employed -something he reminded me of every morning at about 6AM when he told me to get my lazy ass out of bed and go look for a job. In the entire five years I lived in Ohio, I never once saw a help wanted sign. It seemed every factory in town was shuttered. A Red Lobster opened up and had 700 applicants for jobs. I cleaned houses back in Columbus for spending money, but I couldn't find a local housekeeping firm that needed another maid. My parents were oblivious to this reality. On day eight, I told my parents that I'd found a job. I just neglected to tell them that it was in California.

After breakfast, I hugged the dog goodbye, tossed my suitcase into the trunk of my car, filled my gas tank, got on the highway, and drove west. Maybe I should have been scared, because I knew my parents would be furious when they found out I'd dropped out of college and left without asking for permission, but I knew they couldn't drag me back because I was eighteen and no longer their property. Besides, I didn't foresee talking to them again any time soon. They'd said plenty to me over the years and I'd had enough.

Perfectly calm - okay, a bit exhilarated - I rolled down my window, let my hand ride the heated thermals rushing past, and cranked up the radio as I passed over the border into Indiana.

Even now, Ohio looks best in a rear view mirror. I keep my eyes on the road ahead.


  1. Hi Kathleen!

    Youth is so wasted on the young isn't it?!!? Thanks for taking the time to write.

    If I got another chance with what I have acquired in knowledge I know it would look nothing like it does now. I think you are a wonderful woman and we need to keep taking hold of life in all it's offerings.

  2. Serafina - thank you!

    I think thouhg, if I had to do it over again, I wouldn't change much. Besides, we wore hiking boots and big flannel shirts in high school. Not exactly a sashaying outfit.

  3. A great escape story, Kathleen. & if I'm not mistaken, you're still with the same man in California after all these years!

  4. Kathleen -

    I'm incredibly impressed that you had the moxie to do this. I'm not sure I'd categorize it as wild - seems like it was the only sensible thing to do, in your circumstances. However, it was certainly brave.

  5. Wow! Good for young you. I can't even imagine how much courage that must have taken.

  6. Actually I think striking out on your own from strict parents definately qualifies as something wild. And it may be one of the most important things you did.

    I think about this these days, your story connects to me because my kid is at that age and he's in a local college. I don;t push him that hard, but I'm always wondering if maybe I'm supposed to, if you don;t push your kids you;re not being a good dad or something.


  7. Actually, other than Indiana, Ohio is the most boring state to drive through, so it always looks good in the rear view mirror! (SIL lives in Dayton. Nuff said.)

    And good for you, for leaving to follow your bliss, even though you didn't realize that was what you were doing.

    My theory is that we are all born with a certain amount of what I call "ya-yas" in us (not to be confused with that southern author's idea of "sisterhood".) By that I mean that some of us have "crazies" we'd be better off getting out of our system while we are young and no one is getting hurt...rather than playing nice while young, and suddenly running off to be crazy while married with kids, when lots of folks will be harmed. (A friend of a friend left her husband and 3 kids behind to run off to be a dealer in a casino...something she really should have done BEFORE getting married and pregnant!)

    I was a VERY different person way back when, before I met my husband. I've often told him I'm glad I met him when I did, when I was ready to meet him. We've been together for 30 years, and he's long since over caring about my past-life. He once told me that everything I've ever done made me the person that he loves, so as long as I don't tell him too many details, he's alright with that. Words to live by.

  8. Fiona - I agree, which is why I tell my daughters not to be a such a rush to settle down. I tell them "Travel, go have fun, go take a picture of every pet grooming shop in San Francisco - whatever - but do it now while you've got nothing to lose."


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