Journal – August 2009
I sit in the airport on the floor, my back resting on the window with the suffocating Cancun humidity fighting back, unsuccessfully, against the thick plate glass. Hoards of obnoxious Americans with neon t-shirts announcing they had been in Mexico mill through the enormous duty free market. My hands shake as I attempt to open the packet of Pringles I picked up, not having eaten all day. Weak and exhausted, the maudlin tones of Heypenny’s Use These Spoons serve only to exacerbate the deep sense of regret that sits like a brick in my belly. Such a small and silly regret: just for not having followed that stranger on the beach in Tulum. And the sick sadness at the thought of returning to my life in Charlotte only weights me further. There is something alive in me that I am scared will die if I stay any longer in this materialistic, bullshit job pretending to be something I am not every day. Being in Mexico with Carlos opened my eyes and made me believe it really is possible to pick up and go. My student loans and credit card debt have been a prison from which I know I cannot escape in my twenties, or even my thirties. I don’t have that much time. None of us do. The weight of the life I am living is suffocating me like the humid August heat and I have got to get out from under it. I have made a decision. Instead of paying off as much debt as possible, I am going to save as much as possible. Once I have enough I am leaving. I don’t know where yet, but it will be somewhere beautiful, somewhere cheap, and somewhere new. Perhaps I will take my car and drive through Central and South America. Perhaps I will move to Playa del Carmen and find a job tending bar, learning the language as I go, become a part of something unfamiliar. Sitting in seat 17E I stare longingly at the azure sea as we leave the vast turquoise behind. Tears sit waiting behind my eyes as I try to reconcile the life I want with the one I have, growing ever harder the more I understand who I am. I am applying to school in November. If I can get into Adelaide or Vancouver I will find a way to get financing and my student loans will defer. If I don’t get in or I can’t afford to go, I will take as many cash advances on credit cards as possible, get in my car, and hit the road. Drive through the country, head out west, see what happens. Hopefully I can find odd jobs as I go, maybe settle somewhere for a few weeks at a time. I could follow the road across Tennessee, then out through the fly-over states, then up towards Vancouver and back down the coast to Mexico, down to the winding tip of Central America into South America. I would stop and stay in any place I wanted to explore and get a new tattoo from every place that feels like a home to me. Anything but this.
After six days on the Yucatan, I know I could live there for years and the Mayan sun inked on my ankle will remind me of that every day. The pilot has just announced that we are flying over the East Coast of Florida. At thirty thousand feet I am back in America. The thought that I may be able to follow the incessant pull in my belly to run away calms some of the sadness that Mexico is in my rearview mirror, and I will have to sink back into the hurried and soulless world of finance like jumping on a merry-go-round as it whips quickly past you. I don’t know what my plan is, I don’t know what will calm this ever-rising pressure from my soul, I only know that I have got to get out of this place, and I’ve gotta do it fast.
He picks me up by my waist, roughly, recklessly, and sets me on top of the copier. My tweed pencil skirt tightens against my thighs as he hurriedly pushes it up my legs. The plastic of the copier creaks with my shifting weight. We laugh with abandon. I unbutton his shirt deftly, though one-handed and blindly as our mouths can’t find enough of one another. With his chest bare I run my hands over his broad shoulders, down the contours of his back. He is a runner. I momentarily stop only so he can lift my blouse over my head, thoughtlessly tossing it into the recycling bin next to the fax machine.
“Taylor, do you have that model finished for the investment committee meeting?” I am snapped faster than a falling dream from my almost painful reverie. Fuck.
“Yeah, it’s almost done.” I lie. “I’m still working on it, but I’ll email it out as soon as I’m finished.” I am nowhere near finished. I hate this job.
I glance over to the man about whom I had been dreaming, sitting engaged and focused at his desk. He looks up, as if able to feel my stare on him, and the familiar glimmer of our eyes meeting pulses a quick shiver through me. He is married. He has left his wife. No one knows. We are in love.
I struggle through the model to the last minute, frustrated with the same errors time and again. I have never been trained in the work I am doing and wonder on a daily basis why I was ever hired. What the fuck is a sociology major doing working in a major asset management firm anyway? I still don’t have the answer to that question. I hurriedly paste the model into the presentation and wait while the copier dutifully spits out my thirty copies. I like my idea for the copier much better than this. From my place across the office I can see the entire team is already sat at the long, formidable table. I am late for my own presentation, yet again.
I stumble through my investment recommendation with the sole hope of not sounding like an idiot at any point in time. I have worked for this firm for over a year now, and am only just beginning to understand what I am doing. I come out of the meeting to several comments from colleagues congratulating me. It is not that I have done such a great job, just that I didn’t fuck anything up, which I assume is expected from me at this point. I sit back down at my desk, a sigh of relief releasing itself from my chest. Back to trying to figure out what I am actually going to do with my life.
I am twenty-five years old. I have just shy of fifty-thousand dollars of student loans from my bachelor’s degree. In addition to that I have anywhere between twenty and thirty thousand dollars of credit card debt, depending on how good I have been. I live in Charlotte, North Carolina, and other than a few close friends, and my sister, I hate this city. Hate it like getting lost down a dead-end. Like waking up in a stranger’s bed. The large majority of my good friends live in Washington, D.C. and despite my desire to join them I know I won’t be able to find a job to support myself and my debt in a more expensive city and Charlotte happens to be one of the cheapest in the country. I sigh the sigh of futility knowing that even here, I can barely afford to pay my bills, and my only comforts lie in the one room crack den that is my apartment, and the three bottles of wine I know I have waiting for me at home. Every day of my life is the same.
Despite the massive amount of work I know I have to be doing, I leave the office at six thirty, most people still toiling away at their desks. My twenty minute walk home through uptown is spent with headphones in my ears and lets the work day slip away slowly from my mind. It is the exact antithesis of driving home in rush hour traffic. Opening the door to my four-walled first-floor efficiency I kick off my shoes and immediately remove the shackles of my business casual attire. In my underwear I head straight to the kitchen and pour a large glass of cheap red wine and let the remainder of the day wash through me with the bitter crimson. Despite the books pouring from my bookcase and stacked in careless piles around my bed, I never have the energy to read for pleasure after spending ten hours reading credit documents and legal contracts. I turn on the TV and flop onto my bed/couch. I spend the remainder of the night in this position. My boyfriend is at home. With his wife.
Before I know it I am drunk. I am drunk every night. My sleep is sporadic and fitful, waking up each hour on the hour until I see the number starts with a seven and it is time to get up again. My Groundhog Day nightmare, my broken record existence, my lifeless life.
At eight thirty our morning investment committee meeting begins yet again, the same meeting, every morning, and I immediately begin sending dirty texts to my paramour on my blackberry. He is the only thing that makes coming to work worthwhile. We go on this way for ages. I feel a decade has passed. It has been another year. He gives his wife the house. He puts me up in a fancy apartment. I am his love. I look like his whore. Eventually we are found out and he is inexplicably fired for unrelated reasons. There is now nothing getting me up in the morning. But what choice do I have? Two hundred dollars to my Stafford, three hundred and twelve on the AMEX, a hundred and fifty to Capital One, two hundred to Citibank, three hundred to Sallie Mae, six hundred to rent, a hundred a fifty to Time Warner Cable, seventy-five to Sprint, and barely enough left to get drunk. My life is swallowed by the debt I am in. The debt I cannot control because as soon as I pay my bills, I have no money, and so I run up more debt. I am making sixty thousand dollars a year and I can barely afford to live. It will take me fifteen years in this job to pay off my debt at this rate. I do not sleep. I am a shadow of a woman. My only hope lies in the possibility of going to graduate school for my writing. My student loans will be deferred. I will come out with sixty thousand more dollars of debt and a masters in something that will make me no money. I toil over applications regardless, finding that even browsing the programs and dreaming of another life offers me quick breaths of relief from this career I never wanted. There has to be another way.
Journal – March 2009
It is the second day of our safari into the Serengeti and amazement is painted on the faces of everyone in our oversized crew. After four flat tires in one day, we are finally headed towards the Ngorongoro Crater. The sun is setting behind the crater rim, its golden rays piercing, unfalteringly true in every direction, a glimpse of something beyond the temporal. The plains stretch in infinite freedom beyond us. We are standing in the pop-top Jeep and suddenly I am overwhelmed. Tears fill my eyes and my breath is both shallow and great. At twenty-five years old I feel something I have never felt before. Everything inside me rises; my wide smile will bridge the hemispheres. I will swallow the world. I will absorb these lands, my skin is a billion cells, everything is possibility. So much beauty will suffocate me. The yellow of the sun brushes the crater rim’s horizon and I have no words, no voice, I am nothing in the vastness of this planet. I will devour it all. I am a human again. I am a human for the first time in my life. The purpose of life surges through me in one instant, electricity, a tangible change, the weight of a knowledge that levitates. I can never go back to the life I lived before. She no longer exists. I am born.
Back in Charlotte the change is imperceptible. Eight a.m., another meeting, another daydream. I have nothing left to give to them. The meeting is over and I head back to my desk to begin another day of doing as little work as possible. The man I loved moved to the other side of the country. We believe he was fired for fucking me. They never knew he loved me. I spend my days trying to get laid off. I have nothing left for the company that told me my apartment wasn’t nice enough. I have nothing left for the boss who told me my bonus would be bigger if I stopped wearing crazy jewelry with that grey tweed pencil skirt. I read the New York Times. I sit on Facebook. I plan trips to anywhere, to everywhere. This will not be my life for long.
I am traveling for the first time on my own. I have no idea what I am doing. I have a cheap ticket to the Yucatan Peninsula, my backpack, and a few hundred dollars. I spend a week reveling in all the possibility there is in the world. In a strange twist I find an acquaintance who has quit his job and moved to Playa del Carmen, a city on the way to my destination. He invites me to come and stay with him and I know there is no such thing as coincidence. He lives here now on almost nothing, on money he had saved. He and his brother own only two forks. No one wears shirts in the streets. He smiles with the ease of a man who knows what he wants. I fuck him maybe hoping he will give me whatever it was that got him. I think he does.
Despite the ease of his place in Playa, I venture alone to the beaches of Tulum. I don’t know how to travel yet, but I am learning. Find the cheapest hostel. Be willing to accept kindnesses from absolute strangers. Be spontaneous. Be open-minded. Be careful. I spend these days walking the beaches in a solitude that somehow comforts me. I am alone, I am not lonely. I watch a couple raise their glasses over the candlelight, in front of the moonlight, with a soft clink. They laugh. I smile. I will never know them. The ocean has always held a strong influence over me, and with the days the quiet turquoise of this ancient place pulls me deeper into it. I need it. But I know this is not my life. Waiting at the bus stop back to Playa I meet a fellow traveler. An American boy, ripe with the dirt and grime of the sweaty country that we share, open to everything else we might. I will never know why, but when he asks me to return to the beach with him, I turn him down. I have just trekked the four miles with my pack. I can barely stand I am so dehydrated. I have just purchased my ticket back. A million reasons why not. Sitting on the air conditioned bus on the way back to Playa I think of only him. I want to tell the bus driver to stop. To run back to the beach through the stifling heat with my heavy pack on my weary shoulders just to have a beer with him. Just to learn his name. As soon as I make it back to Playa del Carmen, I turn back to go find him. I learn how to ask for the American traveler with a red pack and curly hair in Spanish. We are vanished. I never say no, but this time, I did. Whatever path that boy represented gasped its last breath as the unfamiliar words fell exhausted from my thirsty lips against his protesting invitations. I will never let caution, exhaustion, or apprehension overwhelm desire. I will only ever regret the things I don’t do.
Two months later, I quit.