First Lessons Are Always the Toughest

It’s a strange feeling when it first hits you that life is really changing.

It’s a silent premonition, a feeling that creeps in slowly, invisibly, and settles like mist on the soul.

It has been settling for a while, but suddenly you feel it all at once. It’s like you just opened your eyes for the first time: Like progressed cancer, it has changed the look and feel of everything you knew and thought you were.

At first it was just facts that were changing—names, places, cities, the weather. It wasn’t Kat that you gossiped with anymore; now, it was Ashley. You didn’t spend afternoons in crammed dorm rooms, eating popcorn and watching reruns with your best friends till the wee hours of the morning; now, you found yourself in a crammed New York City apartment, with a big window, the company of two cats, and a wilting Christmas tree.

And the frost of the North suddenly bit harder than the thought that the Southerners were still enjoying summer dresses, even in mid-January.

But despite all that, you could deal. At least, you were still you. You still liked the same things, knew the same things, believed in the same principles. And you’d see your best friends in a few weeks, anyways, maybe not on Spring Break anymore, but surely on a random weekend or two.

And then it hits you: No more random roadtrips. You probably won’t see your friends for months. And no, it’s not Kat or Wil or Sophia or anyone familiar anymore, but Law and Atif and Scott.

Strange things are happening. Your old friends were simple, these new ones strange. We don’t talk about our favorite subjects anymore, our majors, or career hopes. We measure our dreams in titles, benefits, salaries. Or, if we majored in English, we bury our hopes in our unnerving identity of unemployment.

It’s not so bad at other times. These realizations are okay; you were never going to live your whole life alongside your friends, anyways.

It’s the feel of the bubble being popped that is the worst.

The biggest lesson in the big city: Not much is what it seems. It was easy to take things at face value back in school. For one, it was the harmless South, and two, it was in school, where everything broken was always somehow nurtured and healed. There were always accidents, second chances, rewards. Proof that whatever you were doing was concrete.

Now it’s all hazy—as hazy as that misty feeling. Or should I say, concrete? Because in the real world, you don’t get second chances anymore. You get food poisoning on the wrong day, and the prestigious magazine you landed a second interview with won’t want to reschedule for tomorrow anymore. “Sorry, we wanted to make a decision…umm…now,” they’ll tell you, and you’ll politely thank them anyway for their time and effort while they roll their eyes at the other end of the line, waiting for you to exhaust your last stint of hope and self-respect before hanging up and letting them return to doing the job you were supposed to be starting on next week.

You see a mouse darting across your tiny room floor at 2 a.m. as you are about to get your beauty sleep that will help you seal the deal in your other interview with the amazing book publisher tomorrow, and you fly up, jump on your bed and scream, and wait. For what? For the minutes to tick by, for an answer to dawn to the question, “How will I sleep now?” or “I live with mice?” or “Why do I live with mice when my apartment is spotless?” or “So that’s what I hear in the walls at night” and “How the fuck will I sleep tonight?”

Time passes, circles darken under your eyes, the hope of acing the interview tomorrow is fading. Luckily, a compassionate boyfriend awaits you across the bridge in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. You dial, he reads you off a checklist of what you need to remember to bring, and you run out of there—coat, scarf, bag all packed. Hopefully you didn’t forget anything. But then you get in the taxi at 4 a.m. and as your eyes glaze over the buildings of the city standing awake, lit, and erect, the piece of paper with the history of the company that is still sitting on your nightstand flashes before your eyes. Shit. You blink. That’s okay, don’t panic. You’ll look it up again on the computer. But when you get dropped off somewhere on Lexington Avenue, you realize that your man has compassion, wits, and the most amazing ability to make you feel safe from the world and protected, and basically everything that any woman wants—except for an internet connection.

Fast forward a week ahead, a 212—area-code number flashes blue on your cellphone screen. The unemployed recent grad’s cue. Your heart races, you clear your throat, and switch into professional mode. “Hello?” you answer carefully, your voice not breaking. It’s the publisher. They’re talking to you. Did they like you? Why are they taking so long to tell you their answer? What is this guy blabbing about? You get nervous, confused, excited. And before you know it the call is over.

They loved you. They loved you, they think your experience is wonderful, your personality warm and your skills suitable. Congratulations, you didn’t get the job.

But they meant what they said about loving you, and so the HR guy was wondering, could you please come in tomorrow for an interview for this other job within the company? You accepted without second thoughts. But are you ready?

Of course you’re ready. You spent four hours coming up with the perfect words for the thank you letters you wrote precisely for each editor you met; you are DEFINITELY not going to give up now. Besides, they loved you. All you have to do now is start all over. Reconnect with new editors. Convince them of your worth. Not that hard of a task. Unless your patience is wearing. Which, it’s not, because as you sat in those classrooms last year where they taught you to fight and live and learn and love, you knew you were born alive, you were born a fighter, you were born ready. You’ve become a romantic.

Fate hits, and while you were sitting in those classes learning letters, you were missing out on life, learning lessons. So while you got the part about the transcendentalist oversoul, you missed the whole bit about sacrifice. So when the time comes, you find yourself sipping on Mint Juleps and Raspberry Gimlets in a prestigious speakeasy in the East Village. Recent Grad Therapy, you call it, convincing yourself that this is the best way to prepare for your interview tomorrow. Relaxing with friends so you don’t freak yourself out. Stress shows in interviews and you can’t have that when you are busy convincing editors of your worth. Besides, interview isn’t until 3p.m. the next day.

But then some unexpected drama happens, just like it used to in school. Except this time, there is a missing fifty dollars, and your own friend Ashley is the culprit. Of course, this is real life; there are no accuations, or cat fights outside the bar. There is discussion, and a drunken Ashley getting defensive and making a fool of herself in front of you and your other friends.

You cast a glance at your wonderful boyfriend, and the thought that he must think I’m way too young for him flashes your mind. You get insecure. Suddenly, your faith in his good thoughts falters, you have no friends, it’s already 2 a.m. and you are incredibly tired, cold, and you start to feel nervous. A strange feeling creeps into your body and you push it away.

You don’t recognize it then, but you surely do as you roll out at noon the next day and you realize that it’s not your aching limbs, or feverish forehead, or dry throat that feels worse: it’s the sinking realization that you should have sacrificed a night out last night in order to do well today. In school, you would have gone out, stayed up all night, then winged the exam at the last minute, and come out on top. Or if you didn’t, you’d always wheedle a make-up out of the teacher. In real life, it isn’t so anymore. You get one chance, and if you lose it, it’s gone. Nobody to turn to to get it back, nobody to blame. Indifferent, like a wagon, life passes by you fast, especially in New York City. It’s up to you to catch it.

And if you waste your time with sickness and thoughtless decisions, you lose it, whether you’ve studied science or English or Basketweaving in the most prestigious school of the country.


About tali2

I am a recent grad of the wonderful English major. Though I don't regret studying English one bit, I realize why my teachers, parents, friends, and imaginary mentors warned me against it: Because it leads you nowhere. But it did give me great writing skills which I hope to continue honing in this blog as I chronicle the tribulations of the terrible job hunt in the terrible job market of NYC. And I hope that my blog reminds fellow unemployed recent grads that you are not alone, inspires some hope within us, while presenting a snapshot of our lives to others who do not share the same self-imposed troubles.
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One Response to First Lessons Are Always the Toughest

  1. Khushboo says:

    o honey! i miss you! I’m guessing this actually happened and it saddens me to think this. I wish I was there to cheer you up or warm up some soup or make you something warm to drink. It’s a big change, college to the real world. And there isn’t a clear line between right and wrong. All you can do is experience as much as you can, learn from them, and continue fighting for what want. No one said it was going to be easy, and as much as I would like to tell you that it all gets better from here, i can’t. You’re absolutely beautiful and talented. You’ll find what you’re looking for, give it time and remember the moments that you enjoy. One day you’ll look back and see it was all worth it. I love you hun and i wish i was there to brighten up your day. btw, it’s snowed twice in GA in the past week… in fact it’s still snowing.

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