The world after education is a frightening place. When I was in college I believed that I could do anything I wanted. I suppose my loftiness was inflated by academia and dormitories. I was the cool and quiet writer type, often caught with a book in my hands, belly down on the grass. Eventually I became the upper-class elite, a title granted only by academic stature. Life is easy in college because all you have to do is show up. I was not prepared for the world that awaited.
I moved across the country after school. I went to Chicago. It’s a city that is simultaneously beautiful and awful. It was there that I got my first taste of the horror that is the Real World. In Chicago I learned to tread water. All the while I was drowning in debt.
It was 2008. The city was bankrupt. There were no jobs, or at least not for a recent graduate. As the fall of that year turned to winter, I noticed that along with the cold, there was a subtle darkness over the city. It was never quiet, never peaceful. The lovely architecture was shrouded in a layer of soot. The wind blew through the streets and cast a terrible stink over the busy and driven citizens. At night I dreamt that the buildings would awaken, their dark eyes pealing open, giant fists pulling free from their foundations, and they would crawl out into Lake Michigan, sprawl over the suburbs, creating concrete moraines in their paths.
I missed my home state of California every minute. After a year I moved home.
Since then, I have worked an incredible number of jobs, all incredibly different, and each another stroke as I tried to keep afloat. I have rarely lived in a reasonable or realistic place for a person seeking decent work, mainly because the cost of my debt has prevented me from affording living expenses. But each job has yielded some kind of experience that has led to the next promotion.
The problems I have encountered since leaving school continue to multiply even as I work harder and harder to fight my debts. I am a stunted child.
That is what I owe. That is the number that after all of the continuous payments I have made never shrinks.
$90,000 could have been a house.
$90,000 could have been a car and house.
$90,000 could have been spent traveling the country.
It could have been spent writing and getting published.
Without that debt, I could have had the freedom to take risks, to invest, to allow my work to follow me, rather than always chasing paychecks.
That debt doesn’t go away. It has come to define me. I am flat broke, always. I have tried everything I can think of to make it disappear, but there it is, always mocking me. Because of it I have always had to work. I have most often worked many jobs at a time. I work side jobs, part time jobs, full time jobs, seasonal jobs, any kind of jobs I can get my hands on.
I have found one benefit to having this beast lurking beneath my feet in the puddle that is my life; I have become more creative in my ventures. I have learned to take risks, but they are different now. I have made myself available and put my mind on the page.