She calls her hometown Alpine. It’s where she graduated high school, and it’s the first place she felt settled enough to call home.
Her childhood was difficult, and she moved around a lot growing up. Her birth-father was, to put more politely than he deserves, a piece of work, and it took time before her mom could get her and her sister away from him and raise them on her own.
Her mom was strong, held their family together and did everything she could to take care of them. Education was a part of her life—she still went to school when she stayed long enough in one place—but it was a small part of a life she just hoped to find a stable place to call home.
It was a rough life for a little girl growing up in this world. But it was the only life she knew, and she still has fond memories from those years—summer evenings barefoot on the warm grassy yard of a relative they were staying with that month, catching fireflies, laughing with her mom and sister. All she had was the love between their little family, wherever they were.
They kept moving, just the three of them, until her mom met the kind and loving man she’d marry, as good to her daughters as he was to her. He made their lives a little easier. By the time they settled in Alpine she was in high school, and her little family had grown with three younger siblings she loved just as well.
She loved to learn, was sharp and did well in school. She was curious about the world, developed her own interest outside her small-town school. She loved dancing, particularly to classic French music which she adored. She knew what was important in her life—the only things that mattered to her were her family, her friends, her Christian faith.
She knew college was something her parents couldn’t help her with—they were struggling just to keep their family going, just to pay their debts and put food on the table. They loved her, but they were doing the best they could with what they had, focusing on her younger siblings growing up and needing more in their lives.
They didn’t have money, influence, connections or even the time to help her get to college—there were no advantages they could give their daughter who would have to try to understand this world, what God’s plan for her was in it, the best she could all on her own.
She dreamt about college, the images she had seen in shows or online. She dreamt about what life would be like for a girl going to a big school with her own apartment, her own space, even her own bathroom for the first time, away from the small rental that had been her family home.
She dreamt about a girl who had independence and freedom to grow and learn, go to parties and fall in love.
She dreamt about a girl who could experience life taking a semester to study abroad in France, a girl who could go out and dance in the evenings under the lights of Paris, to the classic French music she had so adored in Alpine.
Those were just dreams though, someone else’s reality, not the life in the unfair world that was her own. She didn’t see college as an option for her then—she didn’t have financial security and she didn’t want to enter the debt she saw her family so burdened with.
College was never a guarantee in the world she knew—nothing was. In the world she knew, she had to be stubborn and strong, had to work hard with the same grace her mom had before.
It was a world where a young girl had to hide all the fears and doubts and worries she had in it. One which she had to hide her dreams for college, her ambitions and loves that she felt just distracted her from what her reality actually was—to find a way to survive the unfairness of the world the best she could, to do her best not to disappoint her family, her faith, and to hold on to the things that just made her difficult life a little easier.
It would be two years after high school before she decided to pursue college and apply to Texas Tech, to pursue nursing like her mom and make her family proud.
Life was still difficult for her—she still lived with her parents, but had to work hard to pay her own bills, her cell phone, her car, a medical debt from an accident she was a passenger in, heightened by her lack of health insurance.
She babysat and took other part-time jobs when she could just to have a little spending money to do the things she enjoyed. She helped take care of her sisters, her friends, volunteered at the church she loved. She took care of everyone—often at the expense of taking care of herself.
But her grace is, you can never tell how difficult or unfair the world is just being with her.
Because she handles what life gives her with joy and sarcasm, by not taking herself too seriously and never fearing breaking a moment in time just to be silly.
When you’re with her, she’ll make you laugh trying on the absurd glittered dress you jokingly picked for her at the thrift store. She’ll break from kissing you just to lick your nose and laugh at the surprised look on your face.
When you’re with her, she’ll beam proudly at you without a care in the world, showing off the pants she loved and bragged about buying from Walmart for less than 10 bucks.
Whatever status, advantage or influence the world said you held didn’t mean a damn thing to the girl from Alpine. You just mattered to her because you cared about her.
She reminded you what was important in life. She made your life a little easier just by spending time with her as long as you did.
She deserves to be in college more than anyone I know.
And when you think of the television stars, the CEOs, the lawyers, the people who abused what wealth they were blessed enough to have in this world to bribe and cheat and scam, it shouldn’t make you angry. When you think of what even a small fraction of that could do for a girl from Alpine, the girl just starting a path to better her life, you should feel sorry for them. You should be grateful to be nowhere close to their world, their reality so separate from her own, so separate from most in this world.
Because they’ll never know what college means to the girl from West Texas. The little girl who struggled growing up without much and still grew up to be strong and loving, like her mother. The young woman still struggling to make her life a little easier, caring for others often over herself, trying her best not to disappoint the people who matter most.
She knows better than anyone college is just a means to support or advance the things that are important in life. And for her all she wants from this world are her friends, family, faith, to one day matter to someone with all their heart— someone who can love her for how silly and stubborn she can be, who feels the same way about the things that are important to her. Someone other than me, who can love her as much as she knew I could.
What they’ll never know and what I'm grateful to understand is, she doesn’t need me. She doesn’t need college. She can make it on her own and be content with whatever she does. She has everything she can ever need with her family, her friends, her faith—wherever they are is the place she calls home.
Everything else can only make her life a little easier.