It was all very well to cast aside my beanie and avoid social functions, but some requirements could not be dismissed, as without them, I could not graduate.
One was that I had to pass a swimming test. I don’t know if this is a standard college requirement. If so, it’s obviously a good idea. However, this didn’t help me to enjoy those November early-morning appointments in the cold pool.
I had learned to swim, more or less, in Cambodia, by finding myself one day out of my depth with nothing to grab hold of. Survival is the best motivator. I had learned to keep my head above water, and I could, in some fashion, get from one side of the pool to the other, but it certainly didn’t look pretty.
Adelphi required slightly more finesse and I was not convinced I should ever achieve their standard. My early morning efforts in the pool were followed by a bedraggled sprint across campus to my biology class where I sat shivering and squeezing drips from my hair.
Winters seemed particularly cold back then.
The Powers that Be, or Were, at Adelphi, advised me of another requirement. Although I my hoped-for graduation was apparently not dependent on it.
To my disgust, I was advised that I had a speech defect and I must therefore attend Speech Therapy. I was affronted to be told I had a lisp. I wondered who had decided this. There was no credit to be gained and no test to be passed, so as far as I was concerned it was a waste of time. After a second semester of compliance, I tested the system and stopped going. Apparently I was not missed.
Meanwhile I was having issues with transportation. My old Fairlane was huge and, without power steering, I often had problems in the parking lot if someone parked too close. My shoulders got a regular work-out.
At least, I thought, I will be safe if I am ever in an accident.
It was a surprise, therefore, when someone drove through a stop sign, into my “tank” and knocked it clear off the road. The offending vehicle was something small, maybe even a Volkswagen.
The bigger surprise, though, was the attitude of the driver, who emerged from her car shouting abuse at me. The front of her car had hit me midships and I had been driving in the far lane of a main road, so this puzzled me. But by the time I was in my teens, my mind had been programmed to believe that everything was always my fault.
“Look what you did to my car!” she exclaimed, and in return I meekly offered “what about what you’ve done to mine!”
We exchanged information and I protested, feebly, that I was not at fault, but in my mind I was already packing my bags and preparing for a deportation order. That was how conditioned I had become! I am sure I must have realized things could not be quite so drastic, but I seriously worried about possibly losing my license.
I had done nothing wrong. Why would I so readily accept blame?
It was the first time in my life I was actually reduced to a nervous wreck. I had been on my way to school, so I continued on, trembling all over. I knew I had to call the Insurance Company and even though the accident was not my fault, the rates would go up. I was on my uncle’s policy and he was going to be furious.
Furthermore, even though the accident was not my fault, Liberty Mutual placed a flag against my name and a few years later, when I had to get my own insurance, they refused to cover me.
Not many days later, I received a summons to go to court, which was another wonderful new experience. My uncle arranged for a lawyer to go with me, but I was very intimidated. I seemed to have turned into a mouse.
In retrospect, I don’t know what the woman was thinking, by taking me to court over an accident that was so clearly her own fault. Nor why I was so bullied into wondering if I could have contributed in any way.
It was over in a matter of minutes. We each related our version of the event. The judge looked at my accuser and said “Well, Mrs Dolan, those left turns are very tricky.” And that was that. Someone had finally listened to, and believed me!