What I don’t Talk About When I Talk About College

What I don’t Talk About When I Talk About College

I’ve never told anyone this, because how would it ever come up? Besides, no one would believe me if I told them that a guy awaiting trial in jail attempted to hire a hit man to kill me. I was the sole eyewitness to his crime, and I held the power in this particular case.

It even looks silly in print, and was hard to believe when the police rang my doorbell one night, claiming important business. I was a freshman at the University of Maryland, living with my parents in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

They waited under the bright porch light, the county prosecutor flanked by a uniformed officer, until I realized I should invite them inside. My parents gathered around, and we stood, sat, and perched awkwardly. No precedent for this event. Does one offer tea?

Here’s the story: Another inmate snitched when my criminal approached him with the offer. The police, cautious about trusting this inmate with good motivation to lie (great leverage for early release), sent in an undercover state trooper. Sure enough, my criminal repeated his proposition.

I didn’t hear the details of the contract—i.e., the monetary value of my life—until several months later, when I read it in The Washington Post. My mother, sitting on the sofa and scanning the Metro section, exclaimed, “Oh my, there you are, in the paper.”

Turns out I wasn’t the only one on his hit list. He was also awaiting trial for two more battery/sexual assault charges against two other women, so he wished us all to disappear. For that, he offered $8,000—$2,500 apiece, with a $500 bonus for all three. You see why I don’t expect anyone to believe this.

So there we were, the policemen and my parents huddled in the den. The police had gathered enough evidence to charge him with solicitation to murder and ended the investigation. Still, they couldn’t be sure that my criminal hadn’t got the word out another way, and that my life was clear of danger. They suggested I go about my normal activities, taking note of those activities (job and school, hours and location) to keep an eye on me, just in case. Oh, and one more thing: If I wanted, they could set me up in the Witness Protection Program, give me a new identity. If I was worried.

Well, until that moment, I hadn’t thought much to worry. After all, the guy was in jail, and they’d thwarted his plan. And I was Kathy Hrastar, always was, always will be.

I don’t recall if I declined then and there or said I’d consider it, because my brain was a bit overloaded. This guy had already given me nightmares with his initial assault, and now he was at it again. Here’s what I do recall: The next day, I showed up for the verbal portion of a Spanish exam, a one-on-one interview with the teacher. After I missed five easy questions, she said, “You really should know this material,” to which I responded by bursting into tears.

Meanwhile, with my major undecided, it was then that I chose criminology. General reason: to pursue law. Specific reason: to figure out my criminal and make sense of it all.

Halfway through college, I understood my energy was inappropriately channeled, but, well, I was halfway through and certain of one thing: I had no idea what I was certain of. So I finished, and, yes, own a BA in criminology.

The decades passed, my college degree causing me evermore angst, and I wished I could blame this guy for derailing my life. But he didn’t force me into this ill-fitting major, nor did he prevent me from changing my mind or going back for another degree.

The wandering from one thing to the next was all on me. I’ve tried dozens of jobs, educational paths, vocational pursuits, or whatever you want to call them. For now, I choose to wait tables. No interest in criminology. I got sidetracked, at most. But it wasn’t this guy’s intention to ruin my college education. All he wanted to do was kill me.

I kept the secret all those years. A handful of people know the saga. I don’t think about it much, yet each mention of college brings a hint of reminder. “I majored in criminology, uh … it’s a long story.” I didn’t want it to be what defined me. I didn’t want him to have that power. But by holding it in, I was allowing just that. I was a prisoner, alone with my burden, building walls so it wouldn’t get out, while at the same time, not much could get in either. Isn’t it time to let it go?

Now I’ve revealed it. A story for you, a step forward for me. No longer will I keep it with me as a trump card—for what situation, I don’t know. No longer can I hang onto it, to assure myself I’m unique, that I carry within me a special moment—my 15 minutes of unclaimed fame.

After all, my role in the drama ended when I testified in court, a long time ago. As for the criminal? You’ll probably want to know that the jury convicted him on one charge and he was put away, with concurrent time for the murder scheme. Most likely, he’s free by now.

Finally, I’m ready to be free as well. Let it go; it is a choice.

Kathy Hrastar lives and works in Oakland. In work, she appreciates waiting tables for the endless novelty of characters who pass through her day. In life, she has a talent for surrounding herself with smart, funny, energetic, creative people.

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