Paying in quarters makes it less painful. A step closer to actual bills than nickels and dimes. Heavier in the hand to remind me of what I’m giving up. The price of bread, milk, tea, dinner for three off the dollar menu at McDonald’s. It’s harder to spend quarters frivolously and easier to keep them clenched in my palm until the hash-marked edges leave dents along my lifeline that won’t fade for hours. I think I can still feel them days later. The ghost of change where it would be a gift to be able to think of anything except how it might be to afford to leave town and never come back.
I know a rich boy. This rich boy is older than me but he acts four years younger because his parents are a doctor and a hedge fund manager and when his hours are short at work he’s gleeful. He’s never counted quarters to figure whether he could afford to spend time outside with his friends in an overpriced coffee shop at the expense of bread.
His life’s goal is to make a million dollars. Mine is to pay my bills on time, own a greyhound named Tilda, and have a savings account with more than $5 in it.
Funnily enough I’m closer to achieving mine than he is. Guess which one of us is happier.
Where does freedom begin?
With the absence of fear. Where, despite the void or because of it there is a river of potential heretofore unnavigable, unknown. The water rushes and sings grey-green off the mountain dragging down moss, old bones, bees, poison hemlock. You never learned how to swim but the best part about being free? No one will push you into the water. Come and sit on this boulder in the dappled sun and let your toes get a feel for the snowmelt water rushing past and let the cosmic radiation burn the rot of stagnation right off your back. It’ll hurt a little but you’ll be better for it. Sit a while and talk. Stretch and take up all the space you never could before. Take up all the space you need.
I pretend to people watch behind sunglasses and watch the middle distance trying to see how long I can sit there breathing and calm before I remember where I am. It’s bizarre to be part of a co-ed campus again. To live on one (and living is synonymous with working in this world we’ve built up around capitalist productivity). To be adjacent to its culture at all times. It is different in ways I can’t put into words but I am always aware. Or maybe it goes deeper than that.
I am an outsider, an interloper with an oxbow across my shoulder advertising my singular strangeness. I look the part but I am not one of you. Is it possible to have Imposter Syndrome when you’ve accomplished nothing of inherent value? Is that thought a sign of the Syndrome? Am I a walking collection of pathologies?
I like to think I am more than the sum of my parts but paradoxically I cannot find peace with anything that lacks clear cut lines.
I’m not quite right for my age.
There is no mellowing out for me to do. I’ve had no unbound youth– I’ve skipped over it all. I have a degree that is utterly useless to me and an office job with benefits. I go to bed by 10 on weekends. My budget is laid out nicely on a spreadsheet of my own design. I have to monitor my health closely thanks to an unwelcome slew of vascular problems caused by bad luck and birth control.
I’ve settled firmly into middle age at 23. In a matter of days, 24.
I read about other people whose lives are more interesting than mine and I feel like I am failing, like I will wake up tomorrow and somehow become fascinating, like I am ungrateful for not being satisfied with this which is a dream out of reach for so many. All I do instead is write, work, wait. Interspersed with intervals of watching time pass me by as I waste it. This is supposed to be recovery from a traumatic brain injury but I am incapable of such patience with myself. I could die tomorrow. But here I am instead of doing anything else.