I became a school counselor somewhat by accident. I had begun teaching English and had only obtained my BA in English the year before, when my roommate, Gladys(Darlene in my book), decided she wanted to go to grad school for a master’s degree. She thought that getting a higher degree in math education wasn’t a good idea because it wouldn’t offer her any options besides teaching math with just a tiny raise in salary. She didn’t want to be a school administrator because they were little more than the school police, so she had settled on guidance counseling.
As for me, I was tired of school. I had only graduated from college seven months earlier and started teaching right away, so I was just getting the hang of this teaching thing, trying to decide if it was what I really wanted to do for the rest of my life. Besides that, I was getting married in a few months. My focus was everywhere else. But Gladys was insistent. How could she drive 45 miles to Denton, Texas, two nights a week, all by herself? Anything could happen to a woman alone on the Interstate. What if she fell asleep after teaching all day, especially late at night, when class was over? What if she had a flat or car trouble? What if a rapist attacked her on the way to the car? What if aliens abducted her? I conjured my best friend being dragged away by evildoers and finally said, reluctantly, “OK?” She promised if I took the introductory class and hated it, that would be the end of it.
You must know Gladys and our relationship to understand why I caved. I remember well the day we met. There have been very few times in my life that I felt completely alone, even though I spent so much of my childhood in a new home and new school because my dad was in the military. The day I met Gladys, I was feeling abandoned and alone.
My overwhelming loneliness on my first day at North Texas State had to do more, I think, with cutting the cord to my mother and my past than to actually arriving at a brand new, never even visited, place. I had been looking forward to going to college for months. But the previous weeks of my life had been filled with upheaval. When my mother and I lived in Longview, Texas, we were used to being without my dad since he had transferred to three Texas cities before we moved. Since I was leaving home, my mother had decided to move back to Tulsa where she had made so many lifelong friends and felt so comfortable. What I didn’t know was she was divorcing my father and would be living on her own for the first time in twenty years. I knew my father was already back in Tulsa, working for the county health department there, but I didn’t know he was already living with another woman, just waiting for the divorce to go through so he could marry for the second time.
Why my parents made all these plans and never told me, I still don’t understand. When my mother told me on the trip back to her new home in Tulsa that she and my dad were getting a divorce, I burst into tears and sobbed uncontrollably. Of course, it was the best move she could possibly make after 20 years of living with such an explosive, unpredictable man. In my heart I knew that. But it was a shock, and I was hurt that all these plans had been made without my knowledge. It was a punch in the gut. I immediately began to question whether I should go to college 350 miles away from my mother, and I offered to stay with her and go to college in Tulsa; but she insisted that I follow through with my plans.
So, when my parents drove me from Tulsa to Denton, Texas, unloaded my stuff to my dorm room, and drove away to Longview to pick up their final divorce papers, I sat on the bare mattress in my bare room dorm room in despair. I knew nobody on this campus, including my two roommates who hadn’t yet arrived. I had never felt so lonely, so friendless and abandoned. Where would I go from here? But when I crossed the threshold of that dorm room, I was crossing over into adulthood and merging into the gigantic pod that is a college campus – swarming with like-minded, same-age men and women with similar goals and dreams. There was more fun to be had than ever before – and FREEDOM. This is what I had longed for, so why did I have misgivings, wondering if I had made a gigantic mistake?
Shortly thereafter, before I had even begun to unpack, I heard a knock on the door, and I opened it to a stranger who was looking for one of my not-yet-to arrive roommates (whom I also didn’t know). She introduced herself, said she was from Temple, Texas, took a seat, and a 50 year friendship was born.
It was through Gladys and her Temple friends that I met the love of my life. Our years at North Texas, though few, cemented the bond between Gladys and me. When she left to teach in Irving, we roomed together again in apartments across the street from Irving High School, while I did my student teaching and was fortuitously hired right away to teach there.
Even when my husband and I got married in our tiny little ceremony where Gladys stood up with me, we lived right across the courtyard from Gladys and had many mutual friends in our neighbors. When we both bought our first homes in Irving, we lived only a few miles from each other, and Gladys and I joined and served as elders in the same church.
And the rest is history. Though Gladys already has a wonderful sister, she has been as much a sister to me as I could ever hope to have. She was like a daughter to my mother and stepdad, and has always been a part of our family celebrations. My kids and grandkids call her Aunt Gladys to this day. She was the first to celebrate the birth of my kids and grandkids and to hold my hand when my mother, dad and stepdad left this earth. She’s the first person I call when I need an ear to unload in or a shoulder to cry on. The stories we share could fill a weighty volume full of gut busting laughter, barrels of tears, and undying loyalty to UNT athletics.
Gladys loved academia. I was fed up with research papers and final exams. But, she wore me down, and we embarked on our masters in guidance and counseling together. Our introductory course involved a good deal of introspection, its purpose to discover if we legitimately possessed the qualities of genuineness, warmth, and empathy that our professor claimed were the basic essential elements of effective counseling. I think he had his doubts about me; he even said I would be lucky if my upcoming marriage would last a year. But he was wrong on both counts. It took me a couple of years longer to get my masters than it took Gladys, but I got there four years later.
So, our long careers started as teachers at Irving High School and ended as lead counselors in the Irving Independent School District. I will tell anyone pondering a career in education: You will never get rich, you will work your ass off, and you will never be bored. Each day will be a new adventure, sometimes not one of your choosing. And if you were a dedicated, loving, accepting educator, as you just about have to be to have a lasting career, when it’s over, you will have influenced thousands and served the world well. And if you're lucky, you'll share your career with your best friend.