My freshman year of college I went to Emerson in Boston, Massachusetts. It wasn’t the best financial choice, but my gut told me to go there. After a few months of being there, though, my gut told me to leave.
Although I made some great friends that year and had the wonderful experience working with AmeriCorps teaching, I never quite felt like I fit in. I was the poor kid among children of celebrities and chefs. On top of that, I was a goody-two-shoes trying not to get in any trouble and had boyfriend back home in New Jersey. That meant no going to parties, no smoking pot or drinking and often turning down offers to go out to eat with my friends because I couldn’t afford it.
I remember hiding out one time when everyone in my suite was drinking alcohol. We lived next to the Resident Assistant and I was afraid of getting in trouble by affiliation, so I went down to my friend’s room to be safe. It turned out to be the first and only time I’ve ever seen anyone do a line of cocaine – something my friend’s roommate would never get in trouble for, just a quiet snort in the solitude of their room.
I knew I didn’t belong somewhere where it was more dangerous to be in a room with a few drunk girls than to be four feet away from harder drugs.
At the end of the year, I decided not to go back to Emerson and not to participate in a semester in Amsterdam. I wasn’t ready for the kind of experimentation that was sure to go on there and, besides, it’s not like I could really pay for it anyway.
That’s what I told myself.
I transferred to the community college and then to the state university where I belonged.
Now, not quite a decade later, I’ve found myself working in Napa Valley surrounded by people with class, with money, with power. People who go out to dinner to nice places, go on family vacations, and own their own homes.
I live in somebody else’s house in Vallejo. I was spending too much money on eating at Taco Bell for lunch, so for the last two weeks I’ve been eating Hot Pockets every day. I was making grilled cheese for dinner, but when I ran out of bread, I decided to just have another Hot Pocket.
It’s been a long time since I’ve eaten like this, but I feel like I don’t have any other option if I want to pay all my bills in addition to making a trip to New Jersey this month.
Not too long ago when a coworker asked me what kind of meals I grew up on, I said “Hot Pockets and dreams.” He thought it was funny, I think.
That was when I was living with my mom who didn’t attend college, who was recently divorced and had problems working under authority, working under pressure, and working with negative people. She had been abused, we were food stamps, I got free lunch at school and we did the best we could.
It’s been 15 years and I’ve found myself feeling just as poor, but now it’s because of a car payment, school loans and cat food that is 48 cents a can.
I got out of the towns that no one leaves, I went to college, I graduated magna cum laude.
Where did I go wrong?
I feel like I’m right back to where I began, living on Hot Pockets and dreams.