First Place Winner – My Pursuit of Happyness Contest

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Pursuit of Happyness Essay Contest

Pensacola State College

Jan. 23, 2012

My Pursuit of Happyness

By Jill Marlowe

The Corsair


One telephone call, one movie and one billboard sign changed the direction of my life forever.  As a mother of seven still very dependent children, I found changing direction is like moving a two story house through a neighborhood of dirt roads with low hanging power lines. Keeping the collateral damage to a minimum while the house stays in motion was my biggest job and I had no idea where to start.

The Phone Call

When the phone rang I was cleaning out the garage after three consecutive yard sales in preparation for a move across four states.  At thirty weeks pregnant with my seventh child, I knew moving quickly was difficult but imperative. I sat down to take the call. Sitting was a good move. The father of my seven children and husband of 24 years  was calling to inform me that he wanted a divorce. He had already started a new job, but now instead of us joining him, we would move back to Pensacola where I had friends, family and a midwife. It felt like a bomb had gone off right in front of me.

I had no idea what to do. My attorney had told me that I would have to work, but my work experience and education was only enough to land me a minimum wage job.  Child care would cost more than I could make if I worked two full time jobs, and I already had a pretty solid full time job taking care of six minor children. I opted for doing what I knew—fixing up cheap yard sale finds and reselling them.  That would have to do until I could come up with something better.

The Movie

Shopping at yard sales became one of my main activities. I spent a set amount weekly, and with it I was able to make money from repaired purchases as well as take care of many other needs we had from clothing to entertainment. Yard sales also held that magical quality of finding treasure. Once I found a treasure in the form of a movie called The Pursuit of Happyness. Little did I know that movie would inspire me nightly.

The title alone had caught my eye because the kids’ Dad had left me because he “wanted to be happy.” Throughout the whole movie, I connected to Chris Gardner’s story. Like Chris, I wanted to be happy. Like Chris, I knew what I was doing wasn’t working. Chris Gardner’s story was hard, but it had a happy ending. Unlike Chris, I didn’t have a direction to go yet.

The Sign

Though I went on with the daily insanity of being a single mom of seven amazing children, the story of Chris Gardner never quite left me. Neither had it left me that I had no more idea of what to do for us all than I did the day I got that phone call. That is, until I saw a billboard, while at a stop light, that said, “You can get there from here!” I laughed out loud. “It doesn’t sound like you know where you are, or where you are going either!” I thought to myself. The sign was for Pensacola Junior College.

I may have laughed at the sign but it got me thinking about school. The thought had occurred to me before but somehow it  did not seem plausible for me o go back to school at forty seven, with six kids still at home and the myriad of other challenges that came with my situation. Now, with that darn movie playing in my head and that sign right next to it, I actually began to think I could do it!

I’m starting my fourth semester, and Pensacola State College is a big part of my life. It’s the part I won’t let go of until I’m done. Every semester has been a litany of challenges that included ER visits (yes, multiple!), food bank lines, odd jobs, a major car accident (with months of daily migraines), a best friend’s death, constant teacher conferences, just to name a few. All I know is I’m still here—heading there!