Background, College years

Freshman year at UW

I graduated from high school, valedictorian and with a lot of scholarships. I worked my tail off applying for literally every single scholarship I could get my hands on. I didn’t win them all, but some of the ones I did were pretty big. My family had less than no money, so if I was going to go to college, it was going to be on me to figure out how to pay for it. In the end, I received almost exclusively grants and work study along with my scholarships, so I earned my Bachelor of Art degree in Psychology with no debt.

Side note- it never occurred to me to even worry or stress about how to pay for college. I just figured that if I was accepted and went, I would figure out a way to pay for it. That is so opposite of the me now: I dwell on money matters entirely too much.

My freshman year of university I lived in a dormitory. Honestly, I didn’t even know how to go about figuring out any other kind of living arrangement, so that was the default. My mom and boyfriend and maybe my boyfriend’s mom (it is so embarrassing that I don’t even remember for sure!) drove me the five hours to school. I had a suitcase, a few boxes of stuff and a computer. After saying the goodbyes I unpacked and walked straight to the student building to find a job. As I opened the glass door to the building, there was a flyer on the door advertising a job, so I followed the information and got my first job in college. Until this point the only job I had held was for the McDonalds in the town I lived. It was an office job working for the testing department. That was where people had to go to test for math and foreign language placement. I actually ended up taking a test for spanish myself later on. I don’t really remember too much, except my boss’ name was Celia and one time I chugged some grape juice for lunch right before starting work and had to run down the hall to throw up. Yep, no more grape juice for me after that!

Halfway through my freshman year, once I had gotten a little more comfortable with being at school, I got a new job. I was studying to be a physical therapist (or so I thought), so I looked for jobs working for one. A sort of internship of sorts. I found a front office position at a physical therapist in Fremont, about a half hour bus ride away. I had to dress a little nicer than jeans and a t-shirt. I answered the phone, scheduled appointments, ran errands and also helped the two physical therapists clean up the exam rooms and exercise equipment. Sarah McLachlan’s song Angel will always remind me of that job. There was always a soft hits station playing in the background there.

I had an awesome roommate that first year. We came from very different backgrounds but she liked me for me and we made many wonderful memories together. I once stole a serving spoon from a restaurant for her.  In our dorm room, it would be mostly U2 playing that year. I am not a big music person, but my roommate was and she loved U2.

The people from our dorm floor, plus a few others, formed a fairly tight-knit group. We would hang out watching TV and movies, putting on karaoke shows, eating, and laughing. The one thing I did not do, though, was go to parties. Alcohol and drugs did not appeal to me. I got enough of that from watching my parents. No matter how much pleading and begging they did, I never went to any parties. Especially not the Halloween costume party- so not for me! I preferred to stay in and do homework. Studying and reading was more of what I enjoyed doing.

Until Frankie moved into the floor. He was the new guy at the winter quarter. “Did you see the new guy? He’s so cute!” someone said to me. “What? There is a new guy?” I asked, incredulous that I could miss such a big piece of news. “Yep, the room right across the hall from us” my roommate said. Very much against my normal nature, I walked right over there and knocked on the door to introduce myself. In many ways I had come a bit more out my shell this year, but being so forward was still not like me.

He was a bit of a partier, not extremely so, but he would use his fake ID to buy alcohol and everyone would congregate in his room to partake. I don’t really remember why, but at one point I had my first drink– in his company.

There were two other kids from my high school graduating class who were also attending UW with me. One had a football scholarship and the other I was distant friends with. We had some classes together and did one activity together, but didn’t really hang out much. But we lived in the same dorm and would run into each other occasionally. One time, I invited him up to our floor and we drank together. He got a big kick out of that because I was always so straight in high school. Freshman year is when everyone goes “wild” right? Well I wasn’t too wild, but I did do some things that I would later regret.

My boyfriend came to visit over Valentines and when he showed up I knew that my feelings for him had shifted a bit. I still loved him, but there was so much new information in my worldview now. Including the cute boy across the hall. By spring break we would be broken up. And of course, I jumped right into the next relationship. Thinking back on this time makes me feel dizzy. Drinking, kissing way too much, sex, failing classes because this boy was all I could think about…. they were definitely my wild days. I still regret how callous I must have seemed to my high school sweetheart. Sometimes I wish I could explain better.

But I was intoxicated with a type of love I had never experienced– and I had had two long term relationships! A month after officially starting to date I would fly with Frankie to Georgia to attend the graduation of many of his friends. I think in a way he wanted to show me off to his friends. When we boarded that plane I got the worst feeling in my gut. I was a bit embarrassed, but I turned to Frankie and said, “I don’t know why, but I feel like something bad is going to happen this weekend.” He just looked at me and said, “Okay, why?” “Just a feeling I have.” I am so sad that feeling was right. Graduation weekend and too much drinking going on. Two of Frankie’s friends were together in  a car when the driver started racing (mixed with intoxication) and they got into an accident. One of them died at the accident and the other had a broken leg. There was a girl in the car too, and she was pretty beat up. One of the saddest things is to be in a hospital waiting room with a bunch of 18-19 year old boys who were all crying.

After school was done in June, Frankie and I moved into an apartment with two of my friends from high school (one of which was the guy with the football scholarship). Two couples in a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment. It was a decent arrangement, but it only lasted a year. We had our first official Thanksgiving dinner in that apartment though. We invited everyone from the dorms to come to our apartment and eat dinner together. Everyone brought something. It was sort of an orphan Thanksgiving but a fun memory.

Frankie and I would end up getting married and we are still together with a beautiful family today. I can’t say that I really regret anything because it all led me here, but perhaps I could have lived a slightly better version of that story. Live and learn.

The Early Years

Chapter 1: the early years

I didn’t want to write my life story chronologically, but I keep feeling this spiritual pull to do that, so here goes. There is no easy way to tell almost 37 years of human experience concisely, so I will just do what I can. I think it’s an interesting story in many ways, but I am still trying to figure out what to learn from it all.

I was born near San Diego, California in the summer of 1980. My mother had turned 17 years old one month before. My father turned 20 a couple months beforehand. I don’t really know the story of my birth and now there is no one left that can or will tell it. I don’t know how labor started, or if it was difficult. I do know that my mother had a local anesthetic, but no epidural. My mother’s mother was there and fainted when she saw the large needle. My father wore his hair halfway down his back as evidenced by the pictures at the time. I wish I had those pictures, but sadly they are all gone, never to be recovered.

family photos_0018
Me, my Mom, my sister. Circa 1984

While I love my mother dearly, it was obvious that she did not make great choices for herself. I know from overhearing a conversation as a kid (maybe 10 or 11 years old) that my mom had at least one abortion before I was born. They did have birth control in the late 70’s, right? Anyway, my mother always told me that my birth was a miracle. I think I somehow filled a void within her, of loving her unconditionally the way that nobody else could. Although my parents were too young and often floundered in the parenting department, they were great parents. I’ve always known that my mom loved me so deeply. And my father too. My mom did not work outside the home until I was older, maybe in middle school. She was always there for me. She read to me constantly. She was my refuge in the storm of life.

I remember being scared of my own Dad and hiding behind my mother’s legs. I was an extremely shy girl who sucked her thumb until age 7 or 8. I slept with my parents until I was in kindergarten at least, and then after that, I remember climbing into bed with them in the mornings.

I remember Kraft mac and cheese and Nestle chocolate milk in a loopy straw. My dad worked really hard to provide for the family, and I’m pretty sure a good chunk of that money went toward eating out. My mom was not that great of a cook until I was much older. My dad always said she could burn water. I think I have inherited some of her cooking skills.

From my perspective as a scared child, life was unpredictable. My dad had many jobs, and although they tried to hide it, I was always aware of the drugs in the house. Pot, cocaine, speed along with the ever present alcohol and… I don’t even know what else. But I always knew to stay away from all the paraphernalia. One time my sister who was two years younger than me, dropped a bag of pot into a hole that had been punched or kicked in a wall. My parents were so mad! I do have a memory of my mom letting me take a drag off a joint. Coughing ensued on my part and laughing on hers. I think she was trying to distract me from a fight my dad and uncle were having.

But also, life was happy and my dad, especially, tried to make it fun. Whenever there was extra money, we would go to the San Diego Zoo or SeaWorld or even Disneyland. I have many memories of beaches and parks, birthday parties and cousins. My dad really wanted to provide a life that was full of fun. I think to him that meant he was succeeding because his life growing up was full of work. But my mother also provided a quiet backdrop. Walks to the library and laundromat, cartoons on TV, books, books, and more books. I guess it was a typical loving mom- fun dad kind of house.

1985 Denita kindergarten
My kindergarten picture.

I attended kindergarten in California. It was a half day afternoon class. (Neither my mother or me could have hacked a morning class with the way she allowed me to stay up until 2 and 3 am!) Halfway through the year, my dad lost his job as a trash man (that’s a story for it’s own post) and we moved into a 10 foot long travel trailer. We parked it at a friend’s house and stayed there until the end of the school year. I remember I sprained my ankle really badly in kindergarten and I have distinct memories of crawling around in their house on my hands and knees because I couldn’t walk. I remember Christmas that year. Our tree was a 12 inch tall potted plant with a few miniature ornaments on it. I got one set of Legos and fiercely loved that gift for a long time, keeping the legos in their separate spaces of the molded plastic the way it came.

I can remember that we would walk to the local school where I would get on a bus that took me to my school further away. I don’t really know the story behind that, but I think the local neighborhood school was full. My parents would always be there to pick me up after I got off the bus to walk a few blocks to where we were staying. One day they weren’t there. I thought I knew the way, so I started walking. As I passed by a larger vehicle parked in someone’s driveway, my dad jumped out and scared the daylights out of me. He said he had been watching me for a while. It was cruel but now it sounds like something I would do to my own kids!

I was a bright student probably because I started reading when I was 4 years old. I remember my parents being very proud of the fact that I was in the highest reading group, “the Bears.” I also remember art in kindergarten and singing 10 Little Indians as we sat in a circle on a carpet in front of my teacher. And I remember the dittos! Plus there were always boys who liked me. This never really stopped until 7th grade when I entered my awkward phase.

Just after kindergarten ended, our family moved to eastern Washington State. My grandparents had retired there, and would help my dad find work. We arrived on the 4th of July, 1986. We left behind my mother’s parents, brother, sister and the cousins that were really more like siblings to me.

I have so many more memories of these California years, but that is the gist of the first few yeas of my life. Perhaps the thing for me to realize is that love conquers all. I may not have had the best parents or the most solid upbringing, but I knew I was loved. Thanks for that Mom and Dad.