Twenty-Six Year Old Man Child
I’ve been in college since I was eighteen. I am graduating, at twenty-six, in May with a Bachelors. I know the math is wrong considering the fact doctors are in college as long as me and they are doctors. Then again, math was never my strong suit. I suppose that is partially why I chose to pursue an English degree. The beauty about college — besides the knowledge, the parties, and the awesome loans — is that it is a time in our lives that we see the journey begin, but then also end. The stress and anxiety of beginning a college career is just as intense as the closing of a college career. Not only am I concerned with my never – forgiving GPA, I’m also thinking about money, loans, finding a job and growing up.
By my age, I suppose one could assume that I am in fact an adult. However, I am a twenty – six – year – old man child. I have not had to work while attending Chico State for the past two years. I have a two bedroom apartment and I live by myself. My rent is $730 a month and I have savings. I afford the finer things in life like, tattoos when I want them, dinner with the girls and I have a phone that should run me at least a hundred bucks a month. How is this possible? Again with math. I have two wonderful parents that have supported me, their adult man- child, throughout my college career and I am on the wonderful payroll of the state. Therefore, I have no excuse for taking this long to complete my degree.
My college “dream” began in high school, like most others. I dreamed of moving to the east coast and going to Syracuse (only a California kid who has no scope of the world would dream to move to Syracuse). I wanted to study law and live a life pursuing education. I wanted to study all day at a library and talk about important philosophical things in a fancy coffee shop with my fancy, like – minded friends. Basically, my dream was to become a giant nerd. However, there was a slight set back – I didn’t possess the real want to do all of the things that were required to attend Syracuse. I also didn’t want to leave my family and I really wasn’t a fancy person. I instead applied to California State Fullerton. I got in. Then I didn’t go. Why? Because, I fell in love. Nice, right? My rejection of college caused a crack in my parent’s world. After causing heart break to my parents and foregoing their phone calls for just about a year, I decided to enroll in junior college. I took two classes and got a 2.0.
As a kid, my dad was the driving force in my academic career. My dad would say, “For every A that you get I will give you twenty dollars.” Or, “You better do well in school because that is the only way to be successful in your life and not turn out like your mom.” Naturally I didn’t want to turn out like my mom, since her life was always contrasted, by my dad, with his accomplishments and easier life.
These conversations with my dad about my mom’s choices took place every other weekend in the car ride from wherever my dad picked my brother, Erik, and I up from, to his house. Erik and I would talk about all the stuff we didn’t like about living with my mom, she enforced rules and had her share of problems that affected us, but dad always took us to the movies and to the park and he never exposed us to any problems. That is how I learned about psychological issues that manifest themselves in the physical world. In these conversations, the contrast of him and my mom made us feel that if we repeated what our mother had done then we were fucked. For example, I remember thinking at eighteen that I was not only celebrating the fact that I was eighteen, but that I also didn’t turn out like my mom, who was eighteen when she gave birth to me. I, in a sense, my dad’s sense, had one up’d her. The idea of failure incapacitated both Erik and I. It has prevented us from trusting ourselves and having confidence in ourselves and thus makes us completely dependent on our dad; for help, guidance, and direction. The horrible part is that if we do not do what dad prescribes not only is our future in trouble but so are we, with dad. So there is fear established in failure and not just in our life but in our various relationships, we are somehow always made to feel as the guilty party. There is always that voice that says to me, “I must have done something wrong, so I deserve this.” As I have gotten older I have begun to learn fact from myth but in a sense the damage has been done. It is in my nature to second guess everything I do. It is in my nature to feel as if I messed up and failed. It is in my nature to need from someone. Brought to you impart by Dad Enterprises.
So I, like a good daughter, obliged them – mostly my dad – and went back to college. But for the first time in my life it was up to me to succeed on my own terms and it didn’t go so well.
While in my relationship, I became my relationship. I had no identity outside of the relationship and cared about fostering nothing but the relationship. I was mental. I had begun dating John at seventeen and I thought he was my soul mate. However, we had more bumps in the road over the course of the first year of our relationship than the 405 freeway has potholes. Instead of going to California State Fullerton I decided I wanted to move in with my boyfriend and do nothing but be with my boyfriend. I thought that school would just take away time from John and me. Since I was eight years old I have served as a secondary mother to my siblings. So at seventeen, when I met John, he was my way out of that role. I felt that for the first time someone was going to take care of me, instead of me taking care of someone else. Yet, in losing the role of taking care of siblings I entered another role that I was comfortable in and that was the role I played with my dad, dependent.
At nineteen, I was working at Starbucks. I had been recognized and appreciated for my hard work, dedication, and loyalty and I loved being at work. I was able to adapt so easily and I enjoyed the fast-paced environment, especially around Christmas. But now not only was I financially taking care of myself, but I was also financially taking care of John. John at this time didn’t have a job, but he had a car that needed gas. So when I would get paid I would give him some money for gas. It was with my work, my money, my gas, and his car that he went to see my best-friend Jennifer. I had taken on a more serious friendship with Jennifer after her father committed suicide. She lived an hour away and had no car. So I would pick her up and bring her to our house where she would stay for the weekend and I would do my best to help her back to some semblance of happiness. It was while I was at work, with my gas, and in his car that he slept with her and murdered my heart. I could begin twelve pages of ‘what-if’s’ now, but I did and still do feel like I set myself up to be cheated on. It’s times like these that I hear that voice tell me “I did this to myself. It was an unintended consequence.” Perhaps that is why I took him back. I tried over the course of the next few years to forgive, forget and let go but I couldn’t. The trust was shattered and I felt that it was my responsibility to make things go back to how they used to be before he cheated, but I couldn’t because it wasn’t up to me, if it was none of this would have happened in the first place.
So at 22, after martyrdom and waking the fuck up, I broke up with John.
Shortly after that, I started as the manager of the retail section of a local coffee shop; I set up the shop from the bare-bones and turned it into what it is today. Since the store wasn’t always busy, there were times when I would be called to help at the restaurant. During the time that I was working there, I developed a sort of mother-daughter relationship with the wife and co-owner of the coffee shop; Jean. She recognized my hard work and I think that she empathized with the stage in my life that I was in. Always proving to be a complex character, I was trying to find my identity in my work; roles and identities are two very different things that I have yet to find clarity and definition between the two. I was at work a minimum of ten hours a day, seven days a week. Even when I didn’t have to be there, I was there. Within months, added to my job was the responsibilities of office manager and floor manager of the restaurant. Again, I was busy but I enjoyed it. Within a year, I felt that I had found my place. Jean and I were close and I felt that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I asked Jean one day, “Would it make a difference to you if I went to college?” She replied, “No. You’re perfect for this job and that can’t be taught.” I remember feeling satisfied with the answer because it made me feel like I hadn’t fucked up by choosing not to go to college and it also gave me the satisfaction of knowing that she recognized my skill and, therefore, I was an asset.
Cut to, Unemployment.
Despite the fact that we served duck, steak and tons of celebrity clientele the economy came like hurricane Katrina and wiped out all of management excluding Jean. I remember that I had taken the first sick days – ever. I was with my mom and the phone rang, it was Jean, “Hey Ash. Listen, it has been really slow here and since you’ve been out I have been able to manage all the work you were doing without you. So there really is no need for your position anymore.” I responded, “Eh. I knew that you were going to do this to me. Sounds great. Bye.” One of the things that I overlooked over while working there was the lack of ethics and integrity that they had. This same scenario that happened with me had happened three times prior with three other managers. I thought since I had the relationship with Jean that it actually meant that she wasn’t going to do the same thing to me that she had done to so many other people. But I proved to not be the exception. I know from the financial meetings I attended that we were in the red, as most businesses are when they first open, and she wanted to be in the black; so since the salaries were too high and instead of lowering our pay they just laid me and the kitchen manager off. I felt that I excelled at my job and that I had a sort of second family there – I had found my place and now I was removed. I look back now at that opportunity and I realize that it was bittersweet. The knowledge I gained was good, but they way that I got that knowledge an opportunity was not only because of my ambition, but it also came at the cost of other people’s jobs. In spite of how it all turned out I now realize it was all for the best. Even though I tried to avoid college it was really what I needed. This job was the final push and it ultimately led me back to school.
I went to the local junior college and talked to an advisor and they told me if I enrolled and took twelve classes I would be able to transfer to a university within a year. I was stunned. All of those random classes that I had taken here and there actually paid off and got me to a point where I could see myself completing this goal if I set it for myself. Naturally all the classes that needed to be completed were my core classes. But I was unemployed, collecting unemployment; I was eligible for financial aid and was living with my grandma. I had no responsibility and no promising direction.
The decision to go back to school came at twenty-three. I began to think about my future in terms of what it takes to survive not at twenty-three, but what it takes to survive for the rest of my life. I didn’t want to depend on anyone to take care of me. I had learned through working at the coffee shop that I was capable and if I set myself to do something I could make it happen. I wanted the satisfaction and the proof that I could do this for myself. Even though fifteen dollars an hour is amazing to a twenty-two-year-old with no responsibility, it is nothing when you have the responsibilities of children, a house, a car, phone, insurance etc. I began to think not about what works now, what is easiest now or what will get me by now, but what I can do to secure an easier future.
I had always had a fear of struggling since I was a kid. I grew up in a poor home with my sometimes single mother trying to provide for four mouths. She didn’t go to college. She didn’t have the option after she started having kids. My dad, on the other hand, had us only on weekends and was able to work and finish his degree. I saw a difference in my mom’s life and my dad’s. I learned that if you go to school you make money. If you make money everything in life becomes less scary because you can afford food.
Since I was back in college my dad began his role of supporting and creating incentives. Within the year of attending college, I was back together with John and we were living together. John was, as always, playing music with his bands and working and doing the John thing. Our relationship was a little better, but only a year had passed and we each, individually still had our demons and our demons never got along. He saw no point in going to college. However, he did encourage me and he always said, “You go to college and then go to law school and make a bunch of money so that I can be an artist and keep playing music. You can support me.” At twenty-four the thought of taking care of a twenty-six-year-old man for the rest of my life was crazy, but I just kept going keeping in mind all the while that this was going to benefit me in the end.
As the fall approached, my last year of junior college, I began applying to different colleges. Chico State became my first choice because it was far enough away, but still within California. I wanted to get away from the problems that I had in Los Angeles – being a slave to sex appeal gets old. When I told John about moving to Chico his first concern was, “What am I going to do about my band?” I left that for him to figure out because I had a goal that was going to make my life, years from now, better. I felt that in the past and in the present I was constantly encouraging and supporting his goals and dreams and this was the first time that I was asking him to do something for me. He did support my hobbies and if those would have turned into goals I’m sure he would’ve done as much supporting as he felt comfortable doing; moving to Chico was not one of them. Although, he did move up here with me and he did help pay for a lot of it; I feel that he did what he could do under the stresses of our relationship. I did emphasize to him that two years in Chico guaranteed me a degree and he could not guarantee that in two years he would be some famous rock star making tons of money. My future was only secure going in the direction of college; not counting on my boyfriend’s dreams and career and his earnings to take care of me. I wasn’t even entitled to anything if he did get rich. That was his goal, his dreams, and his future. When I got accepted to Chico State I was so excited that I had been accepted, but also because I had accomplished something.
After a few months in Chico and despite our engagement, John couldn’t manage. His band had become difficult to maintain and he felt that he was supporting my dream more than he was supporting his own. There were continuous battles over being in Chico, porn, trust and trimmings of infidelity. We parted hesitantly. He moved back to Los Angeles. Since John and I were sharing the financial responsibilities, it was when he left that my parents told me that they would help me in any way financially to help sustain me and my goal of completing college. I recall my mom asking, “How much a month will it take to get rid of him?” I responded, “Four hundred dollars a month.” My mom said, “Honey, seriously that’s it? There is a check in the mail.”
My parents hated John. It was victoriously earned hate, though. Over the eight years of our relationship, there were periods of infidelity, the corrosion of trust and overall a lack of respect. My parents both saw the results of that first hand and through the deterioration of me. At the beginning of our relationship, when John was 19, my mom would say, “Well honey he is nineteen. He is young and he is a kid. He is going to do dumb stuff, but if he’s pulling this stuff in the next few years then he is always going to be like this.” This would get repeated to me throughout the years but as he got older it started to shift a bit, “Honey, this is ridiculous. The man is twenty-six and he’s pulling shit like this? You need to get out Ashley. Otherwise, this is going to be your life.” The relationship between my mom and John became more of a hostage negotiation situation. My dad, on the other hand, thought John was just a moron. But, was able to adapt to John because they had similar interests; both are musicians. So they always had something light and fun to bring them together. That was good and bad. I was happy that they got along because it gave me hope. After all, as evident thus far, I care about what my dad thinks. However, I can’t imagine that it was easy for my dad to spend time with someone that he knew I loved, but he knew all of the pain that I had gone through with this person, because of this person. When John was planning on proposing he took my parents to dinner to ask them for my hand. I found out that John was going to propose before he did because my mom called me up and said, “Ashley! What the hell is going on?” I, of course, had no idea what she was talking about. She told me that John had asked them if he could marry me and she said, “I have never seen your dad so angry. I had to talk to him the whole way home and he wouldn’t stop cussing.” It was evident to both of my parents that real love wasn’t reciprocated. I loved him more than he loved me and it was obvious. It wasn’t like he didn’t love me; he loved me as much as he was capable of, but that part of him was broken. The irony behind this situation is that I felt, in a lot of ways, I had failed in this relationship. I had failed to make someone happy; thus it made sense he couldn’t love me. My math is seriously off. I, with my parents help, progressed on despite the loss. I focused on the fact that I needed to complete something for myself for the first time in my life; instead of focusing and encouraging my boyfriend’s goals and dreams. I needed to think about me, the individual. My future. My well-being. So that is what I did.That was almost two years ago. I feel happier now and excited for what is to come. It’s kind of funny because I actually am going to miss going to classes and seeing people on campus and doing student oriented things. I worried that I’m going to have some sort of panic attack in the summer when I feel like I should be registering for classes when instead I’ll actually be working. I’m going to miss being a student. Graduating is definitely bittersweet. It’s good to have completed my goal and to be moving forward, but it’s sad because I’m going to miss college. And my friends. Without the help of my family, my experience in college would be completely different. The loss of John and the glorious double income could’ve sent me back home or even put off me completing college. The blessing of the unemployment payroll has served to help me complete college and it has me excited to reciprocate and pay for everyone else on unemployment when I finally get a job.
I admire students who are twenty-two and graduating. I feel that they have something figured out that I wish I did at their age. However, there are people like my twenty-four-year-old brother that will follow my footsteps and have the same regret or may never even make it into a college campus.
John did make it to a college campus and is happy that he did. Although he is twenty-nine this year he is where I was at 23, looking towards transferring and in spite of our history we are still very good friends. My mom is graduating this spring from the University of Phoenix and she is looking forward to moving onto a master’s program. She has also been happily married for the past eight years (hoping this one is a keeper – they have each other’s names tattooed on each other). My dad is the executive director at a medical auditing company and makes over six-figures a year.
I can’t say that I don’t have regrets about not completing my degree earlier. The reasons why it wasn’t completed earlier is what troubles me, however, I also wonder if I would’ve taken it as seriously as I do now if I was twenty-two trying to complete my degree. What I have learned from those around me, and what gives me hope is that it isn’t so much about where you are or where you have been, but it is about where you end up. Learning lessons the so-called ‘hard way’ isn’t really the case, we all learn the lessons that we need to learn to hopefully grow and not repeat them. I hope that in time I will manifest my realization of roles and identities, failures and losses and dependence and independence. I know that there are many other people like me who have struggled with the same and even worse. I am lucky to be where I am and I am happy that through all of the hardship I still have hope inside of my heart. I have learned that being dependent upon people is literally just upsetting and disappointing and unhealthy. It has been the times that I have negotiated my own path that I have felt empowered and independent – and in those times I have succeeded.
I look forward to creating a new chapter in my life that filled with deferred loan payments and paying for all of my own things, independence and dropping the title of the twenty-six-year-old man-child.