Part Five: Worlds Colliding
Rhiannon was in free fall. A citizen of a half dozen different realms and realities, her worlds were about to collide. It was hard to hear the “still small voice” (see Part Two) at the center of her existence which she’d come to rely on, above the explosive bursting of bubbles all around her. The nurturing, safe haven of Patapsco High School and Center for the Performing Arts, which had been her salvation and given her the freedom to be utterly herself, was now pushing Rhiannon out of the nest. As graduation approached, she would soon have to say goodbye to close friends, great teachers, and caring mentors. There’d been no such safe haven at home. Ever. No home at all, in fact. Still homeless, Rhiannon and her disabled mother currently live with a friend of her mother in a small apartment, miles from the school. Rhiannon admits to being jealous of her friends whose parents pick them up from school after drama practice. Though late at night, Rhiannon must settle for waiting at the MTA stop and taking the bus home by herself. It is little things like that that are a constant reminder of her predicament. When asked who she trusts, she is quick to mention her Patapsco drama coaches, Mr. and Mrs. Carlson. She also mentions her older sister, Tuesday, who has always been there for her (see Part Two). She does not mention her parents. That is not to say, she does not love them. She does. And like most of us, she can paint a picture of family life that is a “jumble of good times and bad, love and betrayal, and familial role reversals” (see Part Two). She laughs when she shares the advice her parents have given her to explain their situation.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” they tell her. “This builds character.” And most importantly, “Don’t mention to anyone at school that the electricity has been turned off due to an unpaid bill or they’ll come and take you away.”
One could perhaps see the humor in some of it. If this were a sit-com. But it is not. This is Rhiannon’s life. And one can’t help but wonder if some of the “advice” isn’t just another way to avoid responsibility. Rhiannon, in fact, did mention the power outage to a counselor who did report it to the authorities. As was her job. Nevertheless, as a result, Rhiannon does not trust counselors. Her mother, after all is still her mother and a source of comfort to Rhiannon. It’s complicated.
Her drama teachers, the Carlsons, have always been straight with Rhiannon. And they have given her a lot of leeway, overlooking the occasional diva behavior and putting up with a temper tantrum or two. They have stood by her through four years of high school, which has given Rhiannon a great sense of security, indeed.
“When I’m here (in the drama club or in a play), I feel at home,” Rhiannon confided.
The Carlsons have also helped Rhiannon face the strengths and limitations of her talent. “I prefer being on stage,” Rhiannon explained and she sulks over not getting the lead in the latest school play. “But the truth is,” she admitted, “I’m better at directing.” The Carlsons instinctively knew this and asked Rhiannon to direct the senior project, a play called “I Bet Your Life.” It does not surprise the interviewer at all that Rhiannon is a natural at directing. She is a detail oriented, take-charge kind of person. It is also not surprising that while she may prefer to be on stage, she has somehow come to terms with her strengths and weaknesses. Which is why, perhaps, she has chosen a college course of study that does not involve the theatre, but does involve a great deal of attention to detail (see Part Four). Rhiannon is no dummy, knows herself better than she realizes, and is pretty good at (eventually) facing reality. Which makes the loose ends about college financing all the more perplexing.
Rhiannon had been accepted to Temple University in Philadelphia, her first choice. She had also been offered a generous scholarship. It seemed she was well on her way to achieving her dreams. Still, there was the small matter of a $400 deposit that was past due (see Part Four), and the larger matter of $15,000 a year extra that would not be covered by the scholarship and which Rhiannon would have to come up with herself. This is when the stark reality of her young age and her family situation was most evident. Let us pause here to remember just how much hand-holding, safety netting, and overwhelming support most of us had at that age. If Rhiannon is a little uncertain about how to proceed as one reality ends and another begins, she can be forgiven.
Enter Kyle Beliczky, her Community Support Specialist at New Pathways. When he heard that Rhiannon was late with the deposit that would ensure her a place at Temple, he became concerned. Not that “college advisor” is in his job description. It isn’t. And Kyle has already stepped up in ways that have had a profoundly positive effect on Rhiannon and her mother, including getting Rhiannon the job at PCS phone (see Part Three), working to keep their housing stable, and connecting them to critical county services. Still, he stepped in to help in whatever way he could. He and Rhiannon met at school and, together, called Temple to discuss the deposit. As a result of that intervention, Rhiannon was granted an extension on the deposit, which has since been handed in. Kyle also went over FAFSA applications (the federal student aid plan) with Rhiannon and suggested she speak with her school advisors and family about the possibility of applying for student loans. Kyle’s intervention does not insure that Rhiannon is 100% certain to go to Temple next year. That is beyond his power. But it did buy Rhiannon some much needed time. Not to put too fine a point on it, but most of us forget just how much support we had growing up and just how much we took that support for granted. It is nice to know there are people out there who will go the extra mile to help someone who has less than the traditional support.
With graduation just two weeks away, Rhiannon’s future is far from certain. She has done her part. Worked hard. Gotten good grades. Made friends. Had a full and rewarding life at high school. And been accepted at university. But, as it turns out, there is a world of difference between getting in and going. One thing is certain, however. Rhiannon has a lot to offer the world. She deserves a chance to fulfill her dreams and follow her curiosity. Tune in to our sixth and final chapter of The Life and Journey of Rhiannon to find out where she ends up in September.