I have tapped out at twenty-five.
I came to this depressing realization one afternoon on a cold South Iowa day. It wasn’t snowing, but there was snow on the ground. The dogs were barking outside, and the kids were fighting over something in the living room.
It was my birthday.
I was staring at the dusty blue walls of my bedroom, and thinking absolutely nothing. Only later would I realize that this nothing I thought of was the tell-tale sign of a young life coming to its end. From now on, I would be somewhere in between the young and the old, a miserable limbo where I’m convinced we accomplish nothing more than we do before we turn twenty-five.
I don’t have much to support this theory.
If you have graduated high school, you have a chance to avoid falling victim to this. If you’ve done your four years at university, even better. If you’ve exceeded those four years to make an absolute egghead of yourself over one passionate study, then you are golden.
This quarter-life ailment I speak of chooses its victims based solely on their inability to offer more to the world. And I am that victim.
Listen, I didn’t finish high school. At some point in my junior year, I came to the idiot decision that I wasn’t cut out for this sort of thing. I wasn’t passing any of my classes with the exception of literature (which I’m convinced is the bike-riding of all classes,) and I told myself it wasn’t my fault, but I’m not so sure anymore.
It’s not that I didn’t want to learn. On the contrary, I was starving for a proper education, I just don’t think I got it.
I remember sitting before the same black chalkboard as nineteen other kids, wondering why I wasn’t learning as they were. Twenty minutes into a lesson and these sixth-grade Einstein’s solved every problem in the textbook while I received help from the teacher’s assistant whose awful coffee breath taught me how to hold my breath for longer than a minute. I made the swim team that year.
Somewhere along the way, I came to the miserable and hopeless conclusion that I learned differently. The twenty-first century has painted a pretty picture of what it’s like to be different, and original. Allow me to inform you that being “different” isn’t all that special. It’s actually a real, royal pain in the ass, and I wouldn’t recommend it.
On the last day of sixth grade, I was awarded the “no-improvement” award from a teacher in front of the whole school. Everyone laughed. Teachers are dicks.
I can let the outcome of my high-school career speak for itself. Obviously, my inability to obtain information didn’t improve, and it only gets harder to make friends as you get older.
At eighteen, I was living alone in a quiet little a-frame at the base of a mountain unofficially named Giant Track. It was said the Ute Indians resided in those mountains along the lakes and rivers, and one day they spotted a “giant track” in the snow about halfway up the mountain. My dad told me it was white people in snowshoes.
In September of 2013 that little a-frame flooded after a three-day rainfall. It was then when that little mountain town was without power for a week, and I, at an all-time high because I was free of highschool for a time, made the decision to never go back.
Are you aware that without a high school diploma, you can’t go to college? And without a degree in something that only a highly educated professor can teach, you won’t make it very far in life. I wasn’t wholly aware of that.
Like I said, I wanted an education, or, at the very least, I wanted to learn. I was desperately curious about everything. I was parched for information. So I turned to books, the closest thing to an education I would find without returning to high school.
Charles Dickens educated me on the French Revolution. William Golding broadened my mind on social organization. John Milton enlightened me on the beauty of religion and prose, while Homer tickled my adoration for Greek philosophy. And Vonnegut illuminated my imagination. Wise, clever, witty Kurt Vonnegut tutored me on everything I never knew I wanted to know. Brilliant, brilliant Kurt Vonnegut.
Bear with me, Ever-Patient-Diary, as I quote the raw wisdom of Dear Kurt sporadically throughout this book. Let’s kick off with these pearls:
“If a person with a demonstrably ordinary mind, like mine, will devote himself to giving birth to a work of the imagination, that work will, in turn, tempt and tease that ordinary mind into cleverness.” - K.V.
Listen, the point I was trying to organically come to is this: I didn’t finish high school, I didn’t go to college, and now I am twenty-five with nothing to offer the world— no accomplishments to be proud of.
Well, there is one. Two, actually. You might have caught at the beginning of my introduction that I have children. My four-year-old son and my one-year-old daughter. I didn’t know love until I knew these two perfect souls.
I will say there is a flaw in a mother’s pride. A mother can stay home from work to take care of her children; an unimpressive occupation. And a mother can work a day job and come home and take care of her children; a selfish decision. These unbending opinions certainly make it more challenging to hold my head high in a room full of degree-holding intellectuals.
The way I see it: mothers just aren’t as valued as they used to be. I guess we see children everywhere, therefore we see mothers everywhere, and so being a mother might seem easy enough to obtain, and in conclusion, being a mother must be pretty easy too. I wish I could correct this inaccurate assessment of parenthood with one extraordinary diary entry, but I think it would take a lot more than that.
My four year old started referring to me as “kitchen mama,” whenever I’m making him food, and if that’s not a proper sum-up of parenthood, I don’t know what is.
In a moment of awkward silence with a fellow mother in the hallway of my son’s preschool, I told her the “kitchen mama” story, and the reaction I received was less than jovial. When her kid came out of the classroom and threw a paint-soaked piece of paper at her, she laughed and looked at me, and the reaction she received was less than jovial. I shrug as I type this.
So, at twenty-five, a young mother of two, I feel content to speak truthfully, and so I say this: it’s not about me anymore. I may not have planned responsibly, but at any rate, these are my children, and I am their mother, and they are my responsibility. My dreams still flash their brights at me in the rearview mirror of my life, but they come second. Or maybe third. Possibly even fourth. When you get right down to it, providing the best life for your child is the new dream. Helping them find their dreams, that’s the proper thing to do.
I will admit, however, in the private little pages of this journal, that I daydream once in while what my life would have been had I made different choices, and/or had it a little easier in school.
In lieu of an unhappy childhood, I would have been outgoing and bright. I would have found something outside of books to be more passionate about and that would have solved my friend-less status at school. In a perfect world, my brain would be just like everyone else’s, therefore, my grades would glow, and my parents would shine with pride.
In elementary school, I wanted to be a marine biologist. I told my mom I was going to swim with sharks. In middle school, I wanted to be an author, living independently in my twenties on one of the highest floors of the Glenarm building in the heart of downtown Denver, Colorado. It wasn’t until after my drop-out from high school did I discover how many ambitions I truly had.
For a time, I wanted to be a doctor, and then a forensic anthropologist. The dream of being an archaeologist resurrected itself from the third grade, but above it all, I wanted to be an author. I think because the art of putting words together was the only thing I was ever good at.
I could play the piano. I played very well. But somewhere along the way, I started to forget the songs. My parents were very disappointed. I think, in their opinion, playing the piano was the only thing I was ever good at.
It’s interesting. At twenty-five, I want to play the piano again to make my parents happy.
“...I honestly believe I am tripping through time. Tomorrow I will be three years old again. The day after that I will be sixty-three.” - K.V.
I have three alternate lives I imagine in the quietest moments of my day.
- What might have happened had I graduated from high school, and gone on to university?
- If I hadn’t been surprised with a pregnancy, would my husband (boyfriend then) and I still be together?
- Had I been a different child, a happier child, who and what would I be?
Let me be clear: I would never trade this life for any other. I love my children, and I respect the struggles my husband and I have endured. But don’t we all, sometimes, play the “what-if” game?
Greg and I used to say that we were never meant to be together. It wasn’t what life intended because, from the very beginning of our love story, everything seemed harder than it needed to be.
Before we explore my what-if’s, I think it’s important to mention that when my son was born, he was blue. He wasn’t breathing. This started a chain of unfortunate events that would affect us for years to come.
The first hiccup was the thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of medical debt. The second hiccup was the speech delay that would frustrate my eager-to-communicate child to tears for the first four years of his life.
I often worry myself sick over the awful idea that I might lose sight of him someday. He can’t tell an adult his name, who his parents are, or where he lives.
When he was just a baby, life felt inclined to throw another curveball. On top of the week spent in NICU, and the long nights under the UV lights to cure his jaundice, he was born with Clubfoot.
For the first three months of his life, his legs were cast from heel to thigh, and then both his Achilles tendons were snipped. For the next several years he was supposed to remain in braces that force his feet into the proper position, but I’ll be honest, we followed through for a year or two. It’s hard to keep an active child confined like that.
Can you hear the dollars and pennies flying from our pockets? Sometimes we’ll eat hotdogs every night for a week.
“So let’s divide up the wealth more fairly than we have divided it up so far. Let’s make sure that everybody has enough to eat, and a decent place to live, and medical help when he needs it. Let’s stop spending money on weapons, which don’t work anyway, thank God, and spend money on each other. It isn’t moonbeams to talk of modest plenty for all. They have it Sweden. We can have it here. Dwight David Eisenhower once pointed out that Sweden, with its many Utopian programs, had a high rate of alcoholism and suicide and youthful unrest. Even so, I would like to see America try socialism. If we start drinking heavily and killing ourselves, and if our children start acting crazy, we can go back to good old Free Enterprise again.” - K.V.
I’ve never tried this. Writing down my what-if’s, I mean. I think it could be quite an exercise of the brain and the heart. I have a theory that the main component I’ll uncover in my great, brain-wide search is this: I wouldn’t change a thing about my life.
I would like to write this away from home. Honestly, because I never get out. Practical for a mother of two. But I guess it would make sense to write this from home, considering the story I am writing is of the home. That, and the coffee shop I visit for several hours once every two weeks has been recently clogged with old men who trick me into kindred friendships before slapping their metaphorical penises onto the table.
One, in particular, is a writer himself, a big deal in the eighties, studied and taught at Iowa’s amazing writing program (the very same that Vonnegut circulated.) He also visits this coffee shop from time to time, and on a very lucky day, I happened to meet this estranged gentleman whose books are going for over a hundred dollars on Amazon.
I truly believe he is brilliant. Maybe too much in that, his mind is now so untamed that he’s become a loose cannon of unpredictable outbursts and perversions.
I fell victim to this man’s prickly personality one unfortunate day over an appalling email correspondence when I didn’t agree to go to his house. Thing is, I didn’t even get the opportunity to politely turn him down. My error would be my delayed response. He panicked at my lack of reply, and “penned” seven more emails within the same twenty-four hours of his first. “You didn’t have five seconds to simply say you’re busy? I wanted to help you, because you need it, no offense.” And then: “OK, forget it. Thank you, bye.”
I was indignant and terribly disappointed. This man, this foolish, idiotic human being had the opportunity to help me, the ability to connect me with someone who could break through the impenetrable fortress of literary agents. But his favor wasn’t free.
Why are people so disappointing?
I haven’t recovered yet. The whole thing put a foul taste in my mouth and a heavy weight over my heart.
“I have been a consistent pessimistic ever since, with a few exceptions.” - K.V.
Kurt helped me through it.
“My weariness amazes me, I’m branded on my feet.” - B.D
Bob Dylan too.
I was under the impression I could make something of myself through my only talent of putting words together. But that amateur idea found itself beneath an avalanche of rejections and disappointment and tears. The greatest lie I ever convinced myself was the truth is this: if I write a book, (or two or three,) if I make something of myself then it won’t matter that I didn’t finish high school.
The painful truth that shatters that lie into a million tiny, disappointing, tear-soaked pieces, is this: I could be as remarkable as J.K. Rowling and Steven King, and I would still be a high school drop out.
And the funny thing is: it was my intention to write young adult novels, but I worry over the example I’ll lend my young readers. I think I could preach in their ear all day, “finish high school, go to college!” But children don’t listen.
It’s late. Until next time:
- Ann J.