Quarter Life Crisis
Quarter Life Crisis
An Essay by Nina WIlson
Currently, I am sitting on a crowded school bus, repeatedly begging campers to get out of the aisle, and stop wrestling one another. One child had to be moved from the single seat in the back to just behind the bus driver. This child did unspeakable things, things that make me shudder just thinking about it. After four years as a camp counselor, nothing could prepare me for this week. At the tail end of 12 weeks of camp, kids were rowdy, rude, and worse than normal. The child in question was more or less insane. There was no other way of describing it. Who else, at the age of seven, would spit their food up, on purpose, all over the seat, start licking everything before removing one’s pants, sticking his fingers in numerous locations in his own body and spreading the contents around the seat.
At this time, with my mind swirling around in every direction, I realize many other things. At the age of 22, I am in the process of having a quarter life crisis, right on this bus, as trivial and stupid of a problem as it may be. It is literally eating me to bits. If I could help it, I may still be sane. 60 screaming kids on an enclosed tin can of a bus two hours a day, and rather severe clinical depression have done enough damage but all the existential questions floating around my brain may very well be the breaking point.
I’d like to say I have life figured out. One sign, though, that I haven’t done so would be the fact I am sitting on this bus, working as a camp counselor for the fourth year. I had nothing better to do with my life, and no wish to change that. For a little while there, it really seemed like I could do better, that I had my life in order. Or at least it would be one day. In college, with support and dreams of the future great thing seemed possible… ah such fond memories however flawed they may be. Me as much as anyone else felt suicidally stressed out on more than one occasion come the end of the term, just like clockwork. As a college graduate, all of that was over- I should be excited about my future prospects while my friends and colleagues from that time were exploring internships, grad school, cross country travels, and those I once deemed life’s failures in high school were getting married and having kids. I am on neither path. In fact, I have no path.
I’d love to go to grad school. I applied. I got accepted for a few MFA programs, but without adequate funding, I was up a crick without a paddle. A beautiful liberal arts education left me 30k in debt which stressed me out enough. An academic life path would be, for me, prestigious and comfortable. I couldn’t afford to be one of life’s failures. I needed to be something. I briefly considered going for a program in history, and surround myself in books, outlines, and proper Chicago citations, but that would require a working knowledge of Latin. Latin almost killed me, but that’s a subject for another time. Personally, I wanted to keep my brain as intact as possible.
The other route was all I wanted to avoid in life; three kids by the age of 23, a bum for a baby daddy and hardly making ends meet. Facebook showed me how crappy that could be. One classmate in particular had two kids by two different men by the time she was 21. She aged rapidly, looking for work wherever she could find it, complaining constantly about her situation while making it clear that she’d never even consider birth control. Briefly I questioned if she learned anything in high school biology, or if she was just stupid. Those thoughts made me feel like an awful human being, which I very well may be. At least her bum of a baby daddy was still around, even if he was ruining her life. Some of the other girls were in worse straights. One was married and divorced by the time she was nineteen. Another lost her entire friend base because of her marriage by the time she turned 20 as well.
As a young woman, there was pressure to do exactly that, get married and have kids. It was a long-standing cultural standard that as much as millennialism would like to get rid of, still remained. The very idea of having the joy and honor of shoving a screaming watermelon sized human being with thoughts, emotions and a future out from between my legs was incredibly terrifying. That slimy, helpless lump of flesh wouldn’t look so cute forever and soon would no longer be a dress up doll, but a child that would need proper nurturing and discipline and a stable environment. All of which I see people neglecting on a daily basis as a person who works with kids and sees them as individuals. Even without being a parent, I do realize there is a right and wrong way of doing it while accepting that I’d be completely out of my element if I ended up in that situation myself. There’s the terrible and strange realization that I may actually end up with that responsibility at some point in the future however distant or near that might be. Part of me panics at that very thought, questioning if I’m going to waste the last of my freedom until then, to live as an individual. I never found that I had the severe want to latch myself with someone else and become a pair. Even upon traveling the UK alone for six months, I’d never felt freer in my life while being totally and completely alone. It was something I wanted to recapture, to continue to be free. The idea of being stuck and useless was terrifying.
There was also the bit of me who stared at pictures of homes and lakefront properties in Minnesota imagining vintage kitchen décor and color schemes. It was a goal, a dream, and it always involved having a family, something to tether me down, something that was undeniably mine. I wanted to have little feet running around, laughter, someone to sit at a dinner table with. Someone to try recipes out for and bake cookies with. There were visions of little hands in the garden, working with the soil, shelling peas under the shade of a tree, just like I did when I was a child. I saw them as being lucky to have me as a parent. I would want them. I would do my best to raise them as independent, intelligent beings who would develop into functional adults. They wouldn’t have to struggle like my cousins did, or like so many other kids. They’d have food on the table, clothes on their backs, a very nice roof to be under. That very nice roof would be undeniably mine.
Living out of boxes, moving place to place, always in motion was draining. It left me holding my breath and genuinely uncomfortable. On numerous occasions throughout my years working at camp, travels, college, I felt homesick. Yet being home didn’t seem to solve the issue either. It didn’t click. The tiny, ugly duplex, void of color and life I shared with my disabled mother wasn’t the heavily windowed light filled, color coordinated home I so desired. I wanted a porch, and a garden with flowers and vegetables, and a fire pit, and room for a Christmas tree. It’d been years since we had a Christmas tree up, or seasonal decorations at all.
To complete that vision would involve kids, though. The longer I worked with kids, the more conflicted I am about them. So many of them are of great character, beautiful people with amazing moral character and possible futures. Others, not so much.
The bus I’m on just lost a tire, the rubber flying off in pieces into the bright and busy highway. The kids lost their minds, yelling and standing up in the middle of the aisle, understandably trying to get a peek at what caused the bus to swerve so severely, but the chaos was problematic. As mentioned, this week in particular has been worse than I have ever seen before.
Just Monday, one child, who clearly had issues from the beginning, spent the afternoon screaming about his lost towel. To make matters worse, there really was no towel matching the description of “I think it’s brown, it might be red.” No towel I found for that child satisfied him and that left him screaming his face off right after snack time, shortly before we planned on leaving. The child, still distraught, decided to take his anger out on the nearest child next to him, the smallest six-year-old boy at camp. He punched him right in the face. That was not the only significant incident to keep me interested that week. The amount of people punching others, the whining, and screaming, and the absolute disrespect.
Granted, it’s me against 45 or so kids, none of which were mine… I’ve always been told that it’s different when they are yours but I’ve also been met with resounding resistance by many to the idea of adoption. Large numbers of individuals have said: “it’s different, I don’t want someone else’s kid. I want my own flesh and blood.” Personally, my opinion is that the planet is overpopulated enough as is, and that it seems unnecessary to bring a bunch more people into the world when so many are without homes and families, or even basic necessities. That, and, no one needs my awful genetics anyways. It may not be in my future for any number of reasons. At the moment, though, it was the least of my concerns.
No job, nothing. Writing is not exactly a career choice. It does not provide a steady work or pay really. All it gives me is partial relief from the pounding voices in my head and the constant pressing need to write. I am qualified to work in a field that doesn’t seem to hire. After four years in a library, it seems as jobs after college doesn’t exist. I may end up at a grocery store as a bagger or something to get some income to survive off of, attempting to convince myself that the research skills and critical thinking I learned in getting a history degree may actually come into use some day, but in the meantime, I was 30k down the hole for nothing.
Already I was strange for my age, both ahead and behind others. Maybe having no path only left me in a similar state. I skipped the crazy phase, never drinking, doing drugs, going to parties. I was proud to be downright normal and avoid drama. People said I was wise beyond my years. At the same time, though, I can’t drive and have never held a steady yearlong job. Nothing was at a place it needed to be, nothing. There was sixty years to go, probably, with my life. I thought every moment was critical. Each day would help me figure out the next, to put me back on track, but each day I feel as though I fall further behind in my duties as a human being. Yet the truth was, I probably was overthinking this and everything else. The anxiety was only my mind lying to me. It had a tendency to do that, as stated before, severe clinical depression. It liked to lie, and brain-lying ran in the family. That didn’t give me any more hope though. If my brain was going to lie to me for the rest of my life, there was little I could do to fix everything I’d already messed up. I’d like to end this on a positive note, to make things liveable for myself and for others. I can’t just exist. I have to live. It’s not an option, and it’s non-negotiable just like my $3.12 an hour camp counselor paycheck.
Well I just started to read Stephen King’s IT out loud to keep the kid’s occupied. When I showed them the cover, a picture of a clown’s face, they screamed.