Non-traditional student sweats out first day

Vietnam vet, full-time student Michael T. Isam fights nerves in return to school

By Michael T. Isam |
Photo by Matthew Boyle

Dark o’clock is a term pertaining to the hours between sundown and sunrise. As my eyes flew open milli-seconds after my alarm went off at 4 a.m., I recognized my old friend, dark o’clock. We meet regularly in the confines of my bedroom.

Time to get up, pour a cup of the hot dark liquid that kick-starts my heart so I can face another day. Today is a special day for me, the first day of a new semester at Flagler College.

Here I am, a 62-year old disabled Vietnam veteran starting over from square one in my second life career. In these quiet times I sometimes have the thought, “You must be either the bravest guy in the world or a masochistic glutton for punishment.” I chuckle and tell myself nobody can live this long as a masochist, so that leaves the bravest.

After my morning exercise, four repetitions of lifting my arm, sipping from the cup, swallowing then lowering my arm, I push the “on” button of my computer monitor. I’m ready for the day.

After catching up with overnight e-mails, I start the shower running so the water is hot when I enter that life-giving stream flowing from the nozzle. Showered and shaved, I scarf down my breakfast and head toward the college.

After 15 minutes of stop-and-go traffic thanks to the reason-challenged person who set the stoplight timers on U.S. 1, I turn the corner of Cordova and Valencia streets and my heart almost stopped.

“Oh my God, is this the wrong day?” The scene before me was a Twilight Zone description befitting a parallel dimension of sight and sound. I had my choice of all the parking spots from Cordova to Sevilla Street.
I parked right before the crosswalk and exited my car. Grabbing my cane and hefting my briefcase loaded with the obligatory 40 pounds of reading material, I started my journey to Kenan Hall. Do I have the date correct?

There was not one soul standing in front of the hall nor was there anyone walking on campus. I was half-way to Kenan when three people come dashing around the corner from the main building. Are we all experiencing the same delusion? In the main doors and push the elevator button. Whoa, the door begins to open immediately. Quickly sliding in before the door changed its mind, I pushed the button for the fourth floor. I had grabbed the express car that made no stops.

Exiting the elevator, the dream was still in effect as I was alone in the fourth floor hallway. The dream ended as I entered the door to the classroom. The instructor was there along with eight others.

The magic time for dispersal arrived. I opened the classroom door to exit and three people attempted to run over me as they barged through without so much as an “excuse me.” I had returned to the “real world.” The hallway was alive with bodies milling around like white and red blood cells shooting the rapids of the veins and arteries, and I was making my way against the flow.

I have a condition that affects my ability to walk after I have been sitting for an extended length of time. I look like I am attempting to traverse the length of a Coast Guard cutter from aft to bow while the cutter attempts to make headway in 20-foot seas. I have no fluid movement anywhere in the sequence.

Most people are nice and give me extra space especially after they see me start to take a step forward and then begin tipping to aft. That must be quite a sight! I’m standing on one foot, the opposite leg 8 to 10 inches off the ground, my opposite arm raised nearly shoulder height and temporarily frozen in motion.

Others are not so pleasant. I have been shoved, bumped, knocked against the wall and buffeted around like a small tumbleweed blown across a Texas landscape by a 25 mph wind.

Here is when reality sets in and lets me know in that not-so-gentle nudge “This is no dream.”

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