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May 18, 2010 / Michelle Ferris

A Vague Ambition – (Story 2006)

One year? If that’s all that stopped me, my little sister would be so disappointed. She used to look up to me, her big sister, formerly not a fuck-up. So sad. She may just beat me to graduation. She’d be heartbroken, I’m sure. Used to be, when we were kids and she got close to winning, I’d just beat the crap out of her. It’s a littler harder with her living out of state. My little sister, finally going to win – be cooler than me, have more pieces of paper that reek of success, and be finished first. Sibling rivalries never have a 2nd place, even if you both get there. Motivating factors make me wonder. Especially in my family.

I, myself, am prone to having a good dose of vague ambition; I keep it on hand at all times. It gets you everywhere you never expected to be. Really, it’s a lovely time. There’s no one around to tell you what you’re supposed to do anymore, just you and your footprints. The journey is a bit aimless, however. I’ve been wandering in circles for years. I’m not sure what to do but follow my own footsteps – but they only lead me back, tracing myself back to where I started three years go. But I don’t want to toe-up to the line again. After having finished four years of school already (three years plus three consecutive quarters of withdrawals, to be exact), I don’t know that going back to square one will help anything. I can hear my sister in my head, taking her red board game piece and clattering my blue piece across the board. “Soooo-rry,” I can hear her say. I know she feels bad, but she enjoys it, too. As well she should – serves me right for beating her up as a kid. Welcome to the Karmic Loop – I’ll be your tour guide. Better use the restroom now, kids; this is a long ride.

My sister is following her dream – a voice major. She’s got a gorgeous voice – I have to give it up to her. And just as soon as she pays of her $80,000 in loans, she’ll have a damned good shot at becoming one of the rich and famous. Someday you’ll see her on the cover of a magazine, smiling through you with pretentious, glossy, airbrushed teeth. Not me. I like to pretend I’m more real than that. I’m fully experiencing the suffering of my own procrastination. It hits me on a near daily basis.

The University campus haunts me – forever a sprawling local monument that mocks me. Every day on my way to work, my bus passes through campus. Even the trees seem to laugh – swaying, pointing their gnarled fingers my way. Waste your time here however you’d like, but there are no money-back guarantees. Ah, the land of the free. Those Americans – always starting things they don’t finish. We live in a society built on waste. Just look how much we can do with a former dump site, these days. Part of the campus itself was formerly a dump; now it’s a soccer field. Aren’t you proud? I know I am. A little pride softens the blows you’re bound to receive, so you have to have something to be proud of in this lifetime.

I want to go back. I want to go back – just to prove them wrong. But God help me if I withdraw one more time. The Back-to-School fairy will come and blink me out of existence. I can do right, if I just set my mind to it. I swear – I’m not the fuck-up of the family. Besides, they raised me; they can take all the credit. And really, they’ve done such a lovely job. Growing up, my mom always used to tell me to strive for my goals, but never taught me how to figure out what my goals ought to be. Sometimes I wonder at the power of strong leadership.

Maybe I expected too much. How could she have taught what she didn’t know? She still doesn’t know – she’s stuck in a crap-ass dead-end job, just like me. Like mother, like daughter. I only knew I was supposed to go to college because she told me to. Kids are so gullible – they’ll eat up any bullshit line you give them. It took me four years in college to realize I had no idea what I was there for, or what I wanted to do with myself afterwards. A whole world of opportunity – a blank slate. But I had no idea where I’d put the chalk. or if there was any at all.

And so what if I never finish, anyway? I’m not going to use my degree. I don’t know that I want it all that bad. If I finish, whoop-ti-doo, I get a piece of paper that shows it, and an even longer rap sheet of debts to take care of. But really, who wouldn’t want that all-important B.A. to wave around and show off?

“So, what do you want to do with your degree?”

Yeah, that’s always The Question, isn’t it? I’m going to show it to people. Laminate a copy and tie around my neck with twine. Screen-print a copy onto the back of every T-shirt I own. Let it gather dust on my wall. What would you do with an English degree? Might as well have majored in Philosophy. But to have that tangible piece of evidence – something solid that says, “You’re not a failure!” Yeah, that would be pretty nice.

I have ten years before my credits expire. I’ve been out for three, so seven years, is it? I guess I had better get myself in gear. Hit up Macy’s for the hottest Back-To-School styles for fall. I’m not getting any younger – but the freshmen are. I’m cropping up with my first grays, and they’re just getting over acne. They’re just learning how to buy cigarettes without sketching out. Still too young to legally drink their problems away. The age difference seems to get bigger and bigger the older I get.  College feels like a ball pit at McDonald’s. I’m much too old to ride this ride. But it’s still worth stepping up to the line to see if I measure up.

I thought for sure I would go back this year. Last year I forgot to turn in financial aid on time – I carried my FAFSA paperwork around with me for almost two months. There never is a mailbox around when you need one. The year before that, I had to cover a few hundred in late fees that I’d forgotten about. Only $320 between me and the deadlines. Who knew I would be so easily defeated? I’d make my mother proud.

Back-To-School season has come again. Which means I have missed the deadlines. Again. Three years in a row. At least I made it halfway this time – just forgot to sign up for classes before they filled. Seems like there’s always something. I guess in a couple weeks I can get my refund from the school for registering and not actually attending. They must be getting sick of seeing my student number pop up here and there, every year. I guess I can buy a new pair of shoes with the $100 I’ll get back. They’re having great Back-To-School deals right now at every major shopping center.

I could just sell pants forever. Keep on working. My world of retail is full of size 16 women squeezing into size 10 pants. It’s everywhere: the American dream. Fear drives a lot of impulses – I fear the truth. There is so much cellulite involved with most customers, I don’t know what to do but lie. To them, to myself. Every day, with every comment I don’t mean, my smile gets a little more plastic. It’s amazing how much you can do without meaning it. I’ve been doing it for years.

Work days seem longer now than when I started. The idea of being a student again is festering in me, and my hands itch to write. But I can’t even get my paperwork filled in – and sent out. Don’t know how in the world I would get papers and homework in on time. I never know which I have more of – fear, or laziness. Wish I had the ambitions my sisters held. She may now know what she’s doing afterwards, but at least she’s making it to the finish line.

Maybe next year I’ll get back in school – I can call it the “Year of Debts.” Game on, I guess. I’ll only be playing against myself; my sister is still going to beat me. At least she’s a good role model. Everyone should have a younger sister they look up to. Maybe she’ll let me borrow her old backpack – mine is out of style. And hers is big enough to fit a screen print.

© 2006 by Michelle Ferris

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