Chelle Summer


A Look Back, A Look Forward

Michelle Rusk

It's hard not to think about college this time of year. Whenever I hit August, I am reminded of my "anniversary" of moving to Albuquerque in 1994. But this year it's also a little different. As I'm writing this, Greg's nephew Dean will be flying to Albuquerque tomorrow night and I'll be helping him to move into his dorm room on Wednesday so he can start school as an undergraduate next week here at the University of New Mexico. 

It's brought up a lot of reminders for me not just about when I moved to Albuquerque, but also my years at Ball State University in Indiana where I have my undergraduate degree from.

I didn't start at Ball State– from high school I entered what was then North Park College (now University) on the northside of Chicago to run cross country and track as well as study. I don't remember anything about moving in the dorms. My best guess is that because we had to arrive a week early to go to camp on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we must have stored our belongings somewhere and then moved into our dorms when we returned. 

Ball State I remember clearly, particularly my parents getting ready to drive away after my things were unloaded into my dorm room (there wasn't any such thing as orientation then– it was drop your kid off and let them figure it out!). 

As I think of Becky, putting her son on a plane tomorrow for Albuquerque from their Boston home, it's not like he's going just a few hours away. He's going almost the whole way across the country, excited to start a new adventure in a place he wants to get to know better.

And I think of my friend Janet who once told me that you don't raise your children to be like you, you raise them to be their own people, to be independent. And so you send them on their way.

While Becky is letting Dean go, for Greg and I, we get to enjoy time with him (I jokingly say until he makes friends and wants nothing to do with us), helping him to explore Albuquerque and New Mexico and build a new life around his next level of schooling.

When I came to New Mexico, I was twenty-two and I had just finished my bachelor's degree. And my sister Denise had died just eighteen months before. I didn't understand then how hard it must have been for my parents to let me go, to drop me and a UHaul full of items off into a studio apartment, and head home. There were no cell phones for us and it was because I moved away that my parents joined AOL so we could email at least, providing more contact than phone calls (which still weren't so inexpensive then). Obviously I managed to build a life here because, well, I'm still here.

But when I transferred to Ball State my sophomore year, I was lucky that a few weeks into the semester, I was sitting in the Newman Center Church, just off campus, when a woman and her middle-school son sat next to me. It wasn't long in that first conversation that Pat declared herself my adopted mom.

Pat had three daughters of her own– all in college or just beyond at that time– even one also named Michelle. She lived several miles from campus and I only had a bicycle, but she gave me a connection in the community, made me dinner, too me to dinner, gave me a family to spend Easter with when I didn't go home, and an attic to store my belongings when I went home for summer break. 

She's come to Albuquerque, I've been back to stay with her in Indiana multiple times, and when I married Greg two years ago she sent us a slew of Fiestaware off our registry (me forgetting how much she liked it) and I think of her every time I pull out the yellow pitcher for a dinner party.

While I made other connections throughout my three years there, Pat was a stable family presence, one that I relished while my own family was in Chicago, and especially after my sister died the next year. The photo here is of us and her son Tim taken in August 1992. My mom took the photo and somewhere I have one of Mom and I there in Pat's backyard, but I don't know where it was. 

As I look back now, I'm sure my parents appreciated Pat more than I will ever know. 

And as Dean arrives tomorrow night, I hope that I can return the favor of all that was given to me, twenty-some years ago.