Windows Facing Out

Finding a Room of my Own

I'm an activist by conviction, not affinity. If I had my way, I'd probably sit in bed all day, reading fiction novels and eating homemade muffins. It's how I remember spending my summer in fourth grade, sneaking downstairs to grab one of mom's homemade pumpkin muffins, spreading on some of that awful plum jelly dad bought in bulk at Costco, cold and congealed in a tin can the size of a small bucket, and rushing back upstairs to my room with muffin in napkin, jam leaking out into little purplish spots and soaking onto my fingers. I was a voracious reader, sometimes looking out the window and feeling vaguely guilty for "wasting" sunny days by spending them inside. In class, I hid choose-your-own-adventure novels beneath my desk and pretended to study multiplication tables. That was also the year my teacher, Mr. Kelleher, told me I should get my PhD. I cannot remember why he said this-what possessed him to think such a thing-but I never forgot what he told me.

Several years later, in the midst of my college education, I volunteered to spend the summer in Belfast, Northern Ireland, working with kids. Protestant and Catholic hostilities were an everyday reality, and the experience of living out my Quaker beliefs in the "real world" blew my world wide open. Once returned from Belfast, my vague guilt gave way to deep conviction and my view out the window became much, much bigger. I decided that if needy kids who were threatened with violence lived in a city halfway across the world, chances were good that those same kids lived next door to my Seattle apartment as well. I was right. I signed up to work in a violence prevention program with AmeriCorps, and returned to the classroom. This time, I was the teacher. I met other little girls like me with crazy dreams that needed compassionate teachers to name them. I gave my students journals and told them to write to me. I wrote back, telling them they could be teachers or athletes or PhDs.

Fast forward to age twenty-three. I invite two close friends and my future husband over to my 400 square foot studio apartment where we sit on the floor and toast plastic tumblers of cheap wine. Smack in the middle of downtown Portland, Oregon, we light candles, and I ask them to support me over the next two years: to hold me up when the going gets tough and to remind me why I am here when I forget. I'm going back to school-this time, a Masters program in English at Portland State University.

Want to read the rest of this article? Subscribe today to read this article in full online!
A reprintable PDF of this article is available only to subscribers.

Kayla Walker Edin (2001 Krista Colleague) is a first year PhD candidate at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, where she is studying late 19th- and early 20th-century women's literature, feminist criticism and rhetoric. An Oregon native, she spent the past four years teaching college composition in the Portland area where she earned her M.A. in English at Portland State University. She currently resides in Richardson, Texas, with her husband Keven and their two misbehaving Siamese cats.