Last time I was in Tuscaloosa a massive tornado had recently ripped through Krispy Kreme and hundreds of people’s lives. I didn't stay long, just a quick 24 hours.
I barely registered how much the University of Alabama had changed since I'd graduated in May 2003.
It registered to me even less how much I had changed.
I was so angry back then.
This time, as Michelle and I wandered through campus, I marveled at its growth. The population alone added an extra 10,000 students (Michelle being one of them) and this year marked the largest freshman class in school history. Students now have to take a bus to even get on campus. No more driving from class to class. There’s several brand new dorms and massive buildings, and the parking lot where I was once backed into by a stressed out student...a giant construction crane ready to expand something else now shoots into the sky.
There’s a fountain at “the Ferg”. A FOUNTAIN.
What once felt old south, traditional, and slow moving, now feels confident, top notch, and expensive.
We walked toward the building I never seemed to leave in my four years as a student: the college of Communication and Information Sciences. It’s where I met my husband working in the Dean’s Office and where I cut my teeth for TV News, working my way up to weekend anchor at our commercial TV station.
As we approached the main door, I was surprised to realize I was nervous. Nervous to see the head of the broadcast news department, whose help and advice I’d shunned. Nervous to see the news director who offered me a full-time anchor job after I graduated and I’d rudely turned down knowing I hadn't been her first choice.
I was so defensive back then.
I ended up having a friendly chat with the department head and missed the News Director entirely. She was in a meeting. We peeked in the newsroom anyway.
Memories roared back like they always do when you find yourself in a place you haven’t seen in years, but was once consumed by.
Life was so hard back then.
I had been poor. The kind of poor struggling to eat and pay my car insurance, not to mention buying an on-camera suit.
I had two little sisters who needed me. Two little sisters who were in a horrible situation I was desperate to change.
I had been constantly exhausted. I took a full class load on top of being poor, on top of two little sisters, and on top of anchoring the weekend news.
And I was a bitch. I’m almost positive of it now. Back then I’m sure I thought I was tough, with little time or energy to deal with the petty issues of others. Perhaps that was true too.
But like the University, in ten years I've grown and changed. The inner core of me will always remain the same, but the insecure, angry, and defensive little girl is disappearing.
Thank God. She’s too constricting. Too serious. Too hard to have fun with.
I felt so different walking out of that building today than I did in 2003.
I’m no longer poor. I have plenty to eat, car insurance is paid, and my wardrobe suits me just fine.
My sisters no longer need me. At least not like they once did, since their horrible situation was miraculously changed.
I’m rarely exhausted. I still get stressed and tired (ask me about the joys of editing one’s book), but the kind of exhaustion that comes from battling life’s grossest family horrors is long gone.
I try really hard not to be a bitch. I've heard it said that we offer the same amount of grace to others we feel we have been given ourselves. Back then, I didn't feel like I’d been given much grace at all. Now I’m overwhelmed by it.
Who would've thought the same football team on probation for paying its players, would now be on their way to an unprecedented third national title in a row?
Who would've thought a University bent on keeping tradition at all cost, would now recruit across the globe for more than just superstar athletes?
And who would've thought the sad girl surviving on grants and loans, would trade a career for a dream, finding unimaginable freedom along the way?
Grace probably did.
I imagine grace thought it all along.