By now I’m used to the questions but it doesn’t mean they can’t piss me off.
They’ll find out somehow that I don’t own a car.
“You don’t own a car?” they’ll ask, and I’ll shrug and find an excuse. Say you’re saving money and it shuts them up for a second. Long enough to change the subject.
They’ll find out somehow that I don’t have a license.
“And no license?” they ask then. “Really? Are you serious? At 21? I got mine when I was fucking sixteen, man.” As though telling me when theirs was obtained will help me navigate the bureaucracy as well as reverse time so I’ll never have to have had this conversation in the first place or navigate the tense shifts required to properly describe the encounter.
They’ll find out I’m not in college nor ever have been.
“Wait, you aren’t in school yet?” they’ll ask, the look on their face somewhere between wonder, contempt, and worry; as though their concern actually means anything to me anymore. “Why not?”
These are the hardest ones to answer. Why at twenty-one years old I have stories published amid a hopefully budding career but no college degree nor a license or a car to my name and can count on my hands the number of times I’ve driven one.
Well, I’m giving myself some space here to answer that. Sit back and observe my failures in spectacular and painful fashion before your very eyes.
- Why No College
I remember walking into my guidance counselor’s office during the last few months of my senior year to that stern look on her face again. I never liked that stern look. My defenses went up automatically.
“You haven’t been all that honest with me,” she said. I said nothing back. No point in trying to crawl my way out of this. I’d been keeping secrets my entire school career. I was a pro at it by now. Sure it made me a lying deceitful little piece of shit but it kept my school life stable. They didn’t need to know what went on when I got off the bus and walked to the mysterious house they were never able to follow me to. Which one could it be? I thought, waiting.
“I learned that your mom’s been in-” She trailed off for a second, that sorry look in her eyes amplified suddenly. “-Jail.”
The look dropped. I didn’t crumble. Still said nothing. Nodded acceptance.
“I know I told you you’d be able to make it to Eastern-” Eastern Connecticut State University, the only school I might be able to afford without loans that’d haunt me till I die. “-but Matt, you might need to take some time off and get your own life stabilized before you try going. You have that new job.”
I nodded again. Looked at the floor with hard eyes and back up at her.
“Save up. The money is yours. You have to remember that you were homeless two years ago.”
She stops to get her emphasis across. I nod again. A secret I’d also kept all this time. Only slipped once. When overtired to a friend who hadn’t told a soul in the remaining time I knew him. I couldn’t imagine how I’d be treated if it came out. How I could ever look any of them in the face again.
“You’ll get there. It just might take a little longer because you were born into something outside of your control. And when you do make it-whether you’re a writer or a Spanish teacher or a social worker, you’ll know what it feels like. And that sympathy? It’ll make you even better at whatever you decide to do.”
I’m not here to talk about what happened in that six-month-little-longer-time after I graduated. I turned eighteen that October. I was gone by that December. I was on my own. College had never felt so far away.
I guess I just got used to it. College is a means to an end. I don’t want to be enslaved by loan debt with a degree that does nothing but hang on my wall. What the hell would I want to study anyway? Not writing. Writing classes kill me. Would I just find out eventually after a semester or two? Do I even need an education to survive? To feel smart? When I can read almost any book across any discipline to brush up when I need to? There are plenty of writers who made it without a college education. Jim Thompson, James Ellroy, to name two off the top of my head.
I’m not in college because I’m not sure if I even want to go. You can try to suade me all you want but I’ve made it this far on my own. I’m not sure how much thousands of borrowed dollars and a piece of paper will do. It’s my choice for my life and I’ll make my mind up eventually.
2. Why No Car
At first it was because of no money. Everything in those days was because of no money. I sat back idly in high school and watched all of them get licenses and cars and drive to school and go on roadtrips and have a chance to start living and I hated them for it. They were leaving me behind. The jobs I got were temporary. Two lay-offs from two places in six months. Family needed the money. They were first dibs. I ended up saving nothing.
Moving out and having something stable for work and a stable place to live meant no excuse. I was cheap. Always have been. Barely spent anything-most lavish thing I bought in 2014 was a used PS3 I still use actively to this day-and was able to save. Like a few thousand. Of course, no bank account and cashed checks helped. Keeping track of finances on a Draconian level helped. Being painfully fucking single helped.
So why don’t I have one?
The parents needed a loan of a grand and a half to save the house they lived in alongside the girl who might’ve become my fiancée if we lasted longer. I was going to marry her. Eventually. I didn’t want any of them on the streets.
We split two months later. They haven’t paid it back. The case is in arbitration, therefore I can’t comment on it.
The new job held promises it still can’t keep. Easier overnight hours, easier customer base, better money. Being an auditor was almost a goal of mine. I am young and stupid and completely underestimated what I was getting myself into. What it’d cost to leave home at eleven o’clock and find a way home when I was off after seven. To work is almost non-negotiable: cabs. Fifteen dollars (that’s tip included) one way, five nights a week. Seventy-five. In the beginning, fifteen dollars getting home, every single fucking morning. Another seventy-five. That’s one hundred and fifty dollars from a four hundred dollar paycheck every fucking week just to make the money.
I needed another way home. Well, there’s busses. I could catch one at seven thirty and then transfer to the only one running to my part of Groton and meet other transfers in New London and back to Groton and run north through Preston to Norwich and take the scenic route through Ledyard before running back to Center Groton and by my house. Total commute time: two hours. Daily. Except for Sunday, the only day mine was the only route that didn’t run and I’d take a cab home.
With my luck, eventually, that stopped too. I’d heard good things about mopeds, scooters and the like. Fast enough to get you there, heavy enough to almost balance itself and make for an easy ride. Plus Macklemore has that song “Downtown” which makes mopeds cool. So after bitching and moaning someone recommended a place in Norwich that sold Chinese scooters (“Was,” because they’ve erased their website and fled town, I’ve heard) fresh off the boat at 49.5 cc (0.5 cc below the minimum registration combustion) for six hundred. I caught a ride there from the roommate.
“Have you ridden one of these things before?” he asked.
“No,” I admitted, “but I’ve heard it’s just as easy as riding a bike. Easier, actually, cuz of the weight.”
He said nothing. There might’ve been a smirk on his face.
We picked it up. Drove her home. It wouldn’t start for two weeks. I had various people come look at it. Got the parts I needed. Dealership couldn’t be reached. I fronted the money myself. The bike worked. I went to ride it to work one night just after a fresh repair.
I am young and stupid and did a stupid thing.
I failed to realize that the balance was worse the first night I tried taking it to work. I overcompensated a turn coming out of the driveway and almost fell on my side. Made it to the long downward hill going three miles per hour, legs on the sides to keep what little fucking control I had, and after another electrical malfunction I panicked and flipped her on the left side in the middle of the fucking road to keep from crashing her down an embankment.
Right on my ankle. Limped the bike home. It was ten thirty at night. I’d be due in by eleven. I called and told them what happened and walked an hour there in seventy degree weather with a hundred percent humidity because there was no way I would have time for a cab on a fucking Friday.
I was defeated. Got the electric fixed, tried a few more times, more trouble with balance. There is no point in trying to ride a bike that cost me six hundred dollars and was supposed to just be a means to an end. It sits in my backyard, now, barely eight miles to its name.
It’s also for sale. If you’re interested
3. Why No License
Little known fact:
The only decorations of my own I have in my room are a Bellator MMA poster that sat crumpled under my bed for eighteen months before I finally got the nerve to hang the thing up and a collection of self-written vanity cards that sit above the loveseat I call my writing desk, the scribbles on it composed of random inspirational shit to put my head back on my shoulders when my existence of endless failure catches up to me.
One of my favorites has been relevant all my life.
“Eventually: A word that needs to be struck from the English language.
I have put trying to get my license off since I left home. Some part of me is terrified of driving, of the responsibility required, even if I’m actually OK for someone who’s barely driven ten times in his life. I’m terrified that I’ll get in a car and immediately crash and kill somebody. It’s a stupid fear. It holds me back.
I love to drive. And I finally can’t wait to do it. After two years of putting it in the background I am ready. Two years of the only stability my life has ever really known. Something I am young and stupid and let get in my head.
Eventually, I’d tell myself. You’ll get it done eventually.
My permit I got when I was nineteen. Driver’s Ed I didn’t start until the end of the summer after at a place just down the road from me that had a weird system where they split the required hours into two halves. The first was done then. The second I was supposed to do this spring (Spring of 2016, for all you future people). The job and the commute home left no room for it. I vastly underestimated what the job would take out of me. How am I supposed to go to a 3 p.m. class when I don’t get home from a fucking overnight until nine thirty and am lucky to be in bed by noon five nights a week? They wouldn’t let me adjust the lessons around my ever-changing schedule. The erratic days off, the on-call hours I’ll never be paid for.
I was young and stupid and didn’t expect it from a newly opened hotel. I should have it by now and it pisses me off beyond no end. I should’ve asked about how clusterfucked the hours were and listened to advice screaming that I needed to prepare myself for it.
I could have it all done by now and never have to type this if it wasn’t for a summer that blinked away while I dragged through it. And that’s the regret that hurts the most.
The permit expires next week. I get it renewed the week after. I wasted two years and will grit my teeth about it for the rest of my life. I never want to taste this defeat again.
At long last I am ready to finish getting my shit together.