Today she graduates, at 31, from Jacksonville University with a 4.0 GPA in accounting. She was also named co-winner of the top accounting student award.
Paging all armchair psychologists: Is it any wonder then, after that turmoil, that confusion, that she finds refuge in the cool certainty of accounting?
After all, “it always works,” she said. “It always makes sense.”
Unlike so much of life.
Tracey was born in the Boston area but moved to South Florida when she was 7, with her parents, her older brother, John, and her twin brother, Peter. Her parents were already drinking heavily when they made the move, she said, and it got worse as economic pressures mounted in Florida.
She was often on her own, making sure she and her brothers got to school, scrounging for baby-sitting or dog-walking money to buy food. A dollar could buy a lot of pasta. At one point, she said, her mother put a lock on the refrigerator, leaving only spoiled food in the pantry.
After Tracey finished ninth grade, her mother quit drinking and has remained sober since. Oddly, that made things worse, said Tracey; she’d become used to being in charge of herself and wasn’t ready when her mother tried to mother her again. Tracey admits: She wasn’t always the easiest teen to live with. Her relationship with her mother remains tense, though they do talk.
She didn’t have many friends, but found solace on an online chat forum for Christian music fans. There, she could tell people of her despair, of feeling unwanted. Songs about hope, about holding on — those are what she gravitated to.
She went briefly to California at 16, after her father left the family and moved there. But she ended up in foster care after clashing with her father’s girlfriend.
Back in Florida, she dropped out of high school a semester shy of graduation: She just couldn’t take it any longer. Her mother, she says, then kicked her out of the house, forcing her to spend nights with her older brother and his girlfriend, on friends’ couches, and sometimes on the street.
At 22, she’d been on her own for some six years, working as a waitress and at other odd jobs. But there was nothing on which she could build her future.
So she joined the Navy and became a personnel specialist, handling record-keeping, payroll and other things. She was in five years and two months, spending time at Jacksonville Naval Air Station and in Bahrain.
That was a step toward certainty: She now had structure, order, a regular paycheck.
After getting an associate’s degree at what’s now Florida State College at Jacksonville, she enrolled at JU with the help of an academic scholarship, the GI Bill and other aid.
She’s been a regular tutor at JU, making some spending money and sharing what she knows. Ines Paulino-Chindra, a business management major who graduates today as well, was first a student of Tracey’s, then a friend.
Only gradually did she learn of her friend’s past. “She puts on a great front,” said Paulino-Chindra. “She doesn’t carry her past on her shoulders.”
So now comes the future: Tracey is looking for a job. Studying for her CPA exam. Someday she’d like to go on to get a doctorate. She wants to be a college professor.
In accounting, of course.
“If you do it right, it’s going to work out,” she said. “You start with some numbers, you make the right steps, and the numbers on the other end come out right.”
Matt Soergel: (904) 359-4082