I’ve tried about 13 times to go to University, and once to college. Each of these times, I have found a reason not to finish. I was bored, or broke, or both. I hated the coursework, and the professors annoyed me because they were often stuffy and I felt like they lived in musty old houses with many cats and drank weak tea and had no time for the actual students they were meant to be teaching who were paying for this pointless course on 18th century writers that no one ever actually cared about with the promise to surrender their firstborn child.
I am still one school year away from completing my University degree, and every once in awhile I get spasms of sheer panic that accompany a dialogue that goes something like this:
You have to finish school. If you don’t finish school, you will be a waitress forever and you will get varicose veins and seriously it is time to grow up and just finish something and you can do this (no you can’t) look at all of the people out there who finish degrees when they are like 78 years old and go on to be wildly successful for the last 7 months of their lives it’s never too late to go back to school.
This continues for a few months, and then I forget about it, and go back to the job that I really like and just sort of plod along in life like I suspect most of us are doing, regardless of our job titles or our annual incomes.
I respect the people who have done things the right way, and I also feel a little envious of them. Having a life that has followed a straight line to an acceptable and normal outcome is something that I applaud. School, more school, job, mortgage, spouse, child, retirement, cottage, death. For many people, this is the trajectory of life, with the occasional surprise or setback thrown in. And I think this is great. It must be, right? Because this is what we are taught, as soon as we can get our heads around the concept of convention. Do what you have to do in order to have a life that is comfortable. But do it quickly, so you can work as many years as possible, in a job that is suitable and stable, so that you can have enough money to buy stuff when you are old.
While I applaud this convention (cautiously and also sort of sarcastically) I have also spent most of my adult life ignoring it.
I live in an apartment, I don’t have any kids, I have no interest in a mortgage or a yard or in owning mechanical things that are used to cut grass and blow snow and essentially make me miserable in climate conditions that I prefer not to be outside in. I have a lot of tattoos, I still dress like I am 17, and I often speak my mind when the socially advisable thing to do would be to shut up. My spouse and I work in an industry that is gruelling and leaves little time for family life. We sleep in separate bedrooms by choice, we don’t ever want to have a wedding, and we hate all-inclusive vacations for the very legitimate reason that they feel exactly like what I imagine a real-life Groundhog Day would feel like except with palm trees and shitty booze.
I spent years being uncomfortable with most of these things. I struggled when I saw that people I went to high school with were living in enormous houses or becoming doctors or enjoying their vacations. I felt like I was doing life wrong because I didn’t want any of the things that everyone else seemed to. Pregnancy and childbirth actually alarm me so much it’s embarrassing – your body does what? And you did this on purpose? And you’re going to do it again?
The amount of people – sometimes people who are little more than strangers to me – who feel entitled to ask if I own my home or rent it is staggering. These are the same people who are shocked and, inexplicably, saddened to learn that, no, I don’t want kids, I never have, and my ownership of female reproductive organs doesn’t really make me feel like I have to guiltily slink into motherhood with my head down simply because it’s what I am (supposedly) biologically engineered to do.
As I get older, I am learning to stare these people down and hold my head up a little higher. I don’t know if this is because I am maturing into someone who is proud of who they are for reasons that are not dictated to me by other people or if I am just generally too exhausted to give a fuck what anyone else thinks about my life. Either way, it feels a lot better. There is no conventional life, anyways, I don’t think. I think a lot of people are struggling, even if they took the right path, the one that was properly timed and didn’t have too many detours.
I see a lot of humanity in my line of work. Some of the happiest people I know are filthy rich, and some are just getting by. Others have families so big it actually makes my head hurt to comprehend what it costs to feed and clothe so many individuals, but they are so blissful and content with their situation that it also makes me smile for them while at the same time feeling immensely relieved that I am not them. I see regular folks who seem sad or angry or discontented, and I see husbands and wives who have been married since probably 1918 and are clearly still in love. I watch young people who are so obviously unprepared for the life that is coming at them and hope that they take their own route to get there, even if it seems messy or wrong or unconventional.
I still don’t know what I want to be. The long road from divorce to happiness seems, in a lot of ways, like the biggest victory I could ever imagine. Also that I have found someone who seems to want to tolerate me indefinitely is definitely something I didn’t expect to happen twice in one lifetime. In the meantime, I’m happy to wander along my little path, screaming at people who don’t understand me along the way until I have offended so many well-intentioned strangers that eventually no one will ever go out of their way to speak to me ever again, until I reach the place where I am supposed to be, with Moe beside me, rolling his eyes and rubbing his face at the sheer level of frustration I bring to his life. I could have ended up a lot of places (most likely under a bridge talking to myself), but the fact that I am here, right now, in this life, is enough for me.
And we pay $1400 a month in rent. If you’re wondering.