The escape plan from Central California was going swimmingly. I had entered my first semester at Vassar College in upstate New York and thought maybe I'd left my adolescent angst and depression behind me.
It was quickly apparent that this wasn't the case, and the geographic isolation and general demographic of the Vassar student body wasn't well-suited for a clinically depressed late bloomer like me. Of course it's futile to play the What If Game (what if I had gone to Cal Berkeley? what if I had taken a gap year?), and it's impossible to say whether I would have been quite so despondent if life had zigged instead of zagged. What I can say is that I felt lonely and unlovable at Vassar College.
That is, I felt lonely and unloveable until I met Marshall, Maribel, and their two children, Drake and Hali.
The Pregnalls lived as the host family in my dorm (Vassar doesn't do the RA thing like other schools), and I'd met them briefly at an all-freshmen meeting. One evening in the fall of 1999, I was walking (alone) to the campus dining hall. Drake, who was seven at the time, ran past me, and his parents, with tiny Hali in their arms, were quick to follow. We ended up walking together, and I told them I missed being around children. I see now, as a legitimate adult, that this was a silly thing for an eighteen-year-old to say. But it was true. I didn't have to be cool enough or rich enough or smart enough or pretty enough or thin enough for children to like me. I just had to be my normal goofy self and they came a' runnin'.
Soon after that, I become the Pregnalls' primary babysitter. I loved being spared the embarrassment of college parties and spending my weekend evenings instead playing hide-and-seek with Drake and Hali in the dorm laundry room... or, more specifically, the dorm washing machines. When I got married in 2002 (a child bride!), Drake and Hali were part of the service. I truly loved those little people (and still do): Hali with her precocious art and communication skills, and Drake with his quiet willingness to grant me entry into his little-boy world, which often revolved around Pokemon.
I was welcomed into the Pregnall household as if I were family, and I strongly believe their kindness saved my life. To be clear, I doubt my depression would have ever manifested in suicide, but I certainly longed for an end to my perceived suffering. I felt like a normal person around the Pregnalls: a priceless gift which allowed me to persist and eventually graduate.
And that's how it started: with the children. I will forever be grateful to Marshall and Maribel for entrusting their most precious passengers with me; and I thank Drake and Hali, in their naturally childish ways, for helping me find my way back to joy.
Part II >
We are all carbon bodies, and there is no justice in whose breaks first.