What feels like a long long time ago, in a sad suburban hell far far away, I graduated from high school. And sitting in my ghastly white gown in a humid auditorium, I listened to Principal Bishop preach about how the 350 or so teens wearing mortarboards would soon be entering the “real world.” Pssh.
It took me only a few weeks of living in the dormitories of Michigan State to realize that there was nothing “real” about the life I was leading: unlimited meal plans meant that pouring milk into cereal was about as close to cooking as I’d get that year; community bathrooms cleaned by frumpy middle-aged women meant that I could spill hair dye all over the formica counter tops and it wasn’t my fucking problem; and with dozens of friends within walking distance (if not in the building), parties with cheap beer in frat houses and apartment buildings scattered across campus, and innumerable free activities provided by the university, there was always something (or someone) to do. It was a blast, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t resemble reality at all.
Apartment living was slightly more “real,” what with bills to pay on time and maintenance men to call when the nail protruding out of the floor finally lodged itself in your foot so that you couldn’t overlook it any longer, but I still had cafeterias to fall back on should the stove seem too foreboding and easy-to-acquire jobs through the university.
Then I reached the end of that journey. In 7 semesters I took 120+ credits, worked as a student manager, a teaching assistant, a lab tech, and a literary journal intern, and MSU told me that I had successfully completed my undergraduate education. So I wore another oversized gown–this time green–and another mortarboard and I listened to another educational administrator lecture on leaving the safety and security of student-life and braving the mean streets of the “real world.” And as I sat there, vaguely excited about what was to come but mostly sweating as terror pulsed through my veins, I experienced a moment of déjà vu, and I knew that I was approaching a new phase of life, but would it ever feel “real?” Probably not.
I hate so much that I was right.
One year after receiving my Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature from a Big Ten University, I’m living in a sort of limbo. I do not have a career in my field but rather work as a full-time nanny for a young couple (a job I was qualified for as a 12-year-old.) And unlike 80% of college graduates these days, I did not move back in with my parents (it was agreed upon by the folks and myself that after a few weeks I would end up killing them in their sleep, so we’d all be happier in a long-distance relationship). So yes, I do my own cooking and I wash the dishes at least once a week and when I run out of socks I will buckle down and do laundry. But I do said laundry at the home of my employers, and sometimes my mom buys my groceries because she wants to feel needed. And I live in a house that is owned by my boyfriend, so while I pay half the bills, I can’t, say, paint the living room a nice warm color, because he likes the entire house in this stark shade of white and it’s his house so that’s that.
No one told me that just because I spent $60,000 on my education that doesn’t mean anyone will have any faith in my skills. No one told me that I’d be craving something more fulfilling or meaningful but my fear of debt would keep me working menial jobs until I saved enough money so that I could quit and go after my dreams. No one told me that sometimes I’d look at my life and feel so much like a “grown-up” but that sometimes that very existence feels like it’s sucking the life right out of me. And no one told me that after all the work I put in and all the growing up I managed to do, that sometimes I will feel so out of control and helpless in my own little slice of the world that I regress back into the 17-year-old emo kid I once was, turning to alternative bands and black nail polish to give me some sense of identity.
They left all that out.
Real world my ass. This is the part between pre-life and real-life. This is the world as I see it. This is the view from limbo.