Let me tell you something. You stick around me, you're gonna see miracles. Why just last year, I got stabbed in the heart and here I am today. Alive and kicking, and telling the story.
It was last summer. I walked into the kitchen--mailpile in one hand, antique letter opener in the other. I made it to the stove, and then the pain came. Like someone was trying to use chest spreaders on me while I was awake. No. It was more like someone drove a corkscrew through my skin and into my breast meat, right next to the mole I need to get looked at.
My breath sounded like I had a tracheotomy--gaspy, rattley. I turned around. No one. I backtracked in my mind. What was I doing when the pain came?
I looked at the mailpile, now on the floor. Oh. Yeah.
"Come to this college!" And, "Have we got a university for you!"
The tears came out of nowhere. My baby. My firstborn. She'll only be with us one more year.
I pulled a chair out and let my knees bend. It wasn't Anthrax, but it made me sick, just the same.
On December 1, you came into the kitchen where I was making your dad's lunch. You sighed noisily 'til I turned around and faced you.
You grinned. "All my college applications are done!"
In the middle of February, you and Daddy wrastled FAFSA, that monstrous, financial, how-much-we-gonna-give-you beasty, to the ground. He raised his hand at the dinner table. You laughed and slapped it.
March arrived and I considered taking up nailbiting again. The end is near.
The third week of April came and went. On the days I beat you to the mailbox, you'd find me. "Did I get mail today?"
And then, there they were. Yeses. Nos. Waitlist notifications. Only thing was, you didn't want the yeses. Not the ones you got.
I scowled at the sheet of fancy schmancy college letterhead. "What do you mean, 'no?' Do you know how smart, beautiful, and special she is? 'Cause if you did, you wouldn't have said, 'We regret to--'"
Your dad stood in our ruby red foyer and shook a college letter. "Are you crazy? You'll only give her $10,000 a year when tuition is fifty grand a year? You can take your financial aid and--"
The letter fluttered to the floor.
I nibbled my lower my lip. This isn't the way we thought it would be. They're all supposed to want her. They're all supposed to give her full rides. Because she deserved it. Her grades and test scores were amazing. She was president of this club, historian of that one. She had extracurricular activities and service hours out the wazoo.
I couldn't find you after supper that one night. 'Til I peeked in your room. Picked my way through the piles of dropped jeans and open AP textbooks. Followed the sounds of sobs and sniffles. Did you know I was there? I heard you tell your pillow, "I worked so hard. For nothing. No one wants me."
I backed out of the room on tiptoe. Went to the bathroom. Blew my nose. Wiped my eyes. I looked up. I have no idea what you're doing, God. But please. Fix this!
I tried to sound casual at dinner the next night. "What about that one school?" I said. "The small liberal arts school in Virginia--Washington and Lee. They accepted you. We just haven't gotten the financial aid packet."
You stopped chewing. "So?'
"We should take a look. Since it's--"
Your eyes narrowed. "My only hope?"
I winced. "I was going to say--'"
"So how did you like Washington and Lee?" my Facebook friend, Becky, wrote on my wall. "I know a gal in admissions. Want me to put in a good word?"
"It was gorgeous," I typed. "All brick buildings with big, white columns. We saw the stable where Robert E. Lee's horse, Traveller, lived. Can you please ask your friend when we'll get the financial aid offer?"
Two hours later you got an email. "There's a problem. We never got your parents' tax info from last year. There's no financial aid money left. If you accept, be prepared to pay full tuition and board. All four years."
I put my hand over my mouth. One year is a brand new car--a really nice car. I wiped the sheen of sweat off my upper lip. I guess I could get a job. Not be home for the other two.
I snapped my fingers. Think. Think. Who can help? I looked up. "Help. Please?"
Then I remembered. Bob. Bob can help. Bob was my high school buddy. We'd been in choir and Latin together. He graduated from Washington and Lee. Alums have influence, don't they? And he did. He called the admissions department and said nice things about you. Then he called me with a plan A and a plan B. Plan A was good, but Plan B was great.
My heart felt like it was going pitty pat as I walked through the house looking for you.
"What would you say to a gap year?" I said. "If you take a gap year, you can re-apply for financial aid, both meritorious and need-based, for the following year."
Your mouth fell open. Your tired-from-crying eyes brightened. You started to smile, then I saw you stop yourself.
"I've always wanted to do a gap year, but Daddy said no kid of his would ever--"
I put my pointer finger on your full, cherry-colored lips. "Hush. You leave Daddy to me."
And then the oddest thing happened. Before I even practiced the conversation in my mind, your dad came up to me as I was typing away on the computer that night.
"I was just thinking," he said. "As I did the dishes. What if she joined the Peace Corps for a year?"
I stopped typing and turned to face him. "That's a gap year."
"No, it's not. Travelling around the world partying, that's a gap year."
"They both are, silly rabbit."
Bob said the gap year had to be worthwhile. "No working at McDonald's," he said. "Have her do something like Americorps Vista or Habitat for Humanity."
"Or a mission trip," you said, when I got off the phone. "Can I? Can I? Hunh? Hunh?"
And then the next week our pastor told Daddy, "I know this guy. He has a ranch for disabled kids in Honduras--"
I shook my head. "No way."
Your dad grinned and nodded. "Way."
I watched you when Daddy told you the news. I could tell your heart was probably going pitty pat inside your chest.
You spoke so quietly, I could barely hear you. "It was so awful. So very awful. And now it's great. Really great."
Daddy's chest puffed out. "I told you two all along this would work out. I had faith."
I stuck my bottom lip out. "I trusted God too," I said. "I just wasn't sure what he had in mind."
You looked at me, and it felt like your gaze might burn a hole in my cheek.
"He answered your prayer," you said.
I tilted my head. "He what?"
"Remember that night we went to church? And you prayed for me? You said, 'Lord, please shut all the wrong doors and open the right one.'"
I squinted my eyes to remember, then I smiled. "I did pray that, didn't I?"
You nodded. "Yep."
I cupped your cheek with my hand. "It wasn't that those schools didn't want you, baby. It's that God didn't want you at those schools."
You put both your hands over your heart. "It's a miracle," you said. "My very own miracle."
I lifted my chin and held up my pointer finger. "Oh, there will be more," I said. "Trust me. You stick around me, you're gonna see more."