There’s nothing more magical than living in the moment and enjoying your youth. You’re most likely at your peak physical condition, your future is bright, there’s so much to accomplish and look forward to, and because your basic schooling is now only a memory you can move on with your life. You can literally be whoever you want to be and do whatever you want to do. Or so we’re told. For many, this golden era is just not what it’s cracked up to be.
Like most people, life was easy for me as a kid going into my teenage years. The only things I had to worry about was keeping my grades up and taking care of my daily/weekly responsibilities around the house. School was a breeze. I was academically gifted and earning a 3.0 GPA was no skin off my back. I just did what I had to do to get by. Unfortunately, at 23, I’m still working on breaking this bad habit. In high school, I was always told by family, teachers, and my peers that I was going to grow up to be special. It was destiny for me to be somebody. I didn’t have to work hard for anything, it would just come easy. It always has so why should anything change now? After graduating with a 3.36 cumulative GPA (which could have easily been a 3.5 or higher if I actually applied myself) and being accepted to Penn State University, I was well on my way to being the accomplished man I was groomed to be.
Then life happened.
Before graduation, my father often inquired what I planned to do after high school. My answer: “go to college”. That’s what I was supposed to say wasn’t it? After all, isn’t that the only way to guarantee success in the future? His response: “That’s all fine and dandy. But what are you doing about it? Don’t think I’m just going to write you a check and send you on your way.” I was baffled. Now I could be wrong, but I always thought and kinda still do think, that the parents play a key role in sending their children to college. As an 18-year old, how the hell am I supposed to find a way to put myself through college? I applied for a few scholarships here and there, but realistically speaking I find it to be futile to solely depend on winning scholarships and other forms of “free money” to pay for school. My father didn’t have anyone to put him through college and he made a way. I suppose he wanted me to do the same, but times have changed. I did end up winning ONE scholarship for a measly $2,500 and I already had a job lined up at the campus cafe. My voracious father was unmoved by my efforts. He still didn’t believe that I actually wanted to go. So, while all of my peers were packing up and shipping out to continue living carefree lives without parental supervision at the colleges of their choice, I was given an ultimatum: Move with my financially strapped and emotionally distraught mother or work 3 jobs just to be able to afford to pay rent with my insatiable father. I chose the former.
I was bitter. I was furious. I felt cheated. I wanted to go off and enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime experience that college had to offer. I had the mental capacity to pass my courses with flying colors. I was an extremely outgoing and likable teenager, so I felt I had what it took to establish a solid social standing within my college community. I couldn’t fathom that I would have to forego the experience. My twin sister didn’t know the first step it took to go to college. It seemed she didn’t care. She had no aspirations to pursue a further education. Maybe she truly didn’t want to go, maybe she just didn’t know where to start. So instead of going off to school like everyone else or working minimum wage jobs and living under our unbalanced mother’s roof she joined the Air Force. My younger sister remained under our father’s house. I felt bad for the kid. Pretty soon, she too would have to make the tough decision and decide what to do with her life. In my opinion, the three of us had to face that decision too soon.
Five years later, I still don’t believe I am where I should be in life. Everywhere I go, I see people my age living their lives, enjoying their youth and everything going just as according to plan. Every time I logged onto Facebook I saw people I graduated with having it up at college parties. People were making names for themselves and pursuing their dreams. People were getting married and buying their first apartments. People didn’t have anything to worry about. After all, mommy and daddy wrote a check or signed off on a loan and sent these friends of mine off to have the time of their lives and build a foundation for a solid future. I was generally unhappy with my life. While my friends were worrying about what they should wear to the club off campus, I had to worry about what the hell I was going to do to help my mother pay the mortgage. While my friends were complaining about finals, I had to work 50+ hours a week to make sure I ate that month. While my friends were smoking weed and having drunken sex (amazing I assume), I had to worry about consoling an over emotional, manic depressive mother and tell her everything would be fine. I didn’t believe it would be, but it was my job as the man of the house to at least make her believe it. The stress and disappointment of the years following my high school graduation took a toll on me. I wasn’t as witty and hilarious as I used to be. I wasn’t as goofy, enthusiastic, and outgoing. My mood started to show through my words and actions and my friends let me know about it. On multiple occasions they mentioned how depressing I had become and that I always seemed to cast a dark shadow on everything. Of course they would feel that way. They don’t know responsibility. They don’t know struggle. They don’t know life. Oh, but they will (I hoped).
I must admit, though. I am grateful that life threw me such a curveball. I don’t exactly like it, and if I had it my way I would be in my dorm right now writing a last minute paper due in the morning. I’m slowly learning to accept that things happen for a reason. I’m slowly learning to take responsibility for everything happening in my life. If I had gone off to college as planned, I wouldn’t have learned responsibility for myself and others. Having to take care of a parent when they should be taking care of me FORCED me to mature. If I had gone off to college, I wouldn’t have gained as much street smarts had I not been living in the neighborhood I lived in. Having to revert to a lower class standard of living after living the majority of my life in the middle/upper middle class showed me that things could always be worse. In a way, it’s inspiring. Unlike some of my peers, I’ve lived at both ends of the spectrum. I now know how fortunate I was to live in a family household that could afford to vacation 2 and 3 times a year. I know what it’s like to miss meals and live in a house with a leaky roof. I haven’t seen it all, but I’ve seen enough to appreciate everything I have. At 23 years old, I’m a few months away from completing my associate’s degree (no significant accomplishment by any means) and taking the next step forward in life. I’m still learning to live a fun, happy, young life. I understand now that I won’t get these years back and I only have now to enjoy them. It’s pointless to constantly compare my life to others and I only hurt myself by doing that. After all, I don’t know what my peers are going through in their lives. Life rarely happens exactly as planned, and you can either be bitter and blame everything and everyone around you or you can take responsibility and push forward. I still have a long way to go though and I’m sure the journey will be tough. But I plan to learn and grow from every bump in my road to adulthood.