The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Learner

This article originally appeared August 22, 2008, in issue 1633.

The time on the computer screen reads 11:18 p.m., and the loneliness sets in. (In truth, the accuracy of this time is questionable as my computer is often many hours ahead, and the date setting is often many years behind; 1982, to be exact.)

Regardless of chronological inaccuracies, there is still the slightest twinge of melancholy that this distance student feels tonight.

Were it actually 1982, the closest approximation of academically related gloom would be the depressingly unreciprocated love for my fifth-grade classmates, Amy Carter and Cara Bell. Needless to say, these adolescent lamentations have long since passed, but this evening there is an undeniable sense of isolation within me.

The feeling doesn’t come often, but at such times I must remind myself why I have been hunching over this battered laptop and countless textbooks for the past five years: I have persevered in order to redeem the mediocrity of my educational past, to improve myself intellectually in the present moment, and more importantly, to broaden the future for myself and for my family.

As I begin to dwell on the embarrassing scholastic ineptitude of my youth, our family’s ancient tabby, Boo, begins her long, drawn-out, ritualistic caterwauling from the basement. Her intermittent howls break the silence of the house for the next few minutes, and under my breath I curse her seeming immortality. My disdain for the cat is only temporary, of course, and I must remind myself to sympathize with her apparent dementia.

While I am attempting to put myself in the emotional mindset of an aged, slightly overweight feline, it suddenly occurs to me that Boo has been in my life almost as long as I’ve been pursuing some form or other of post-secondary education. With this reflection, it also occurs to me that for all the good my lacklustre intellectual pursuits had done me, I may as well have let the cat do my homework all along.

Hyperbole aside, I am so very thankful for the second chance that distance education has now given me. If not for AU, I would still be stuck in a professional rut, most likely involving a polyester uniform and a plastic name tag.

If not for AU, I would not currently be surprising myself with my own studious achievements. If not for AU, I would not have the opportunity to be both a student and a stay-at-home dad, rewarding myself with knowledge both academic and precious.

At the thought of my children, I shut down my computer for the evening and quietly ascend the stairwell leading to their rooms. (With ninja-like precision, I manage to avoid the numerous squeaks, pops, and moans so characteristic of slipshod, builder-grade construction.)

I enter my daughter’s room at the top of the stairs and, in the pink glow of the night light, I see her stretched out like a starfish, snoring softly into the worn belly of her favourite stuffed bunny (dubbed ?Bunny,? appropriately).

I draw near and kiss her between her eyes, where faint blue veins suggest the shape of a butterfly taking flight. It is at this moment that I am reminded of my purpose. Indeed, whenever I begin to wonder why I fight to keep myself awake into the wee, lonely hours, chipping away at a degree with no apparent end in sight, all I have to do is watch her sleep and I am reminded.

I visit my son’s room next. By this time, my eyes have become accustomed to the darkness, and I can distinguish his long, scrawny limbs positioned at the oddest of angles. As I brush the bangs from his uncharacteristically calm brow, I smile to myself and am reminded once again of my purpose; he fills me with such pride, and it is this same feeling that I wish him to have of me.

I kiss his small nose and, in return, my son smacks his lips, turns to the wall, and farts loudly into the small, still room?a blast of surprising amplitude for such small buttocks. It is a poignant moment, to be sure.

At this point in the evening/morning, I long only to be horizontal, preferably in a bed of some sort. After a drowsy, negligent display of dental hygiene technique, I lumber through the darkness toward the sweet release that only my pillow has to offer. As I hit the mattress, every spring and coil groans in protest of my collapsing weight, and I momentarily disrupt the sleep of my beautiful wife.

She soon drifts back to unconsciousness, and my final waking thoughts are of her: she, who has sacrificed much so that I may continue my education; she, who works tirelessly to earn our single income; she, who reminds me that I am not alone in my struggle.

The burning, red LED of the clock radio reads 1:32 a.m. The loneliness has passed, and all is well.

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