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The skin on my hands is peeling; the chlorine-based sanitizer seemsto have an adverse effect on my skin, but I make six-fifty an hour so it is worth it. The lingeringaroma of hot sauce is everywhere. It spilled on my good jeans when I was making the wings, and Ireally liked these jeans, but I make six-fifty an hour. It is no big deal. Marinara, grease, tartarsauce and other stains cover my standard-issue shirt. Pumpkin, amaretto and black cherry syrupscake my weary forearms like a splatter painting. This plethora of smells is like having a few dozenpacks of zebra stripe gum crammed into your sinus cavity, but I make six-fifty. It is allgood.
It is a dull hour before I can begin closing the kitchen and time is an inchworm on atreadmill crawling along yet never going anywhere. The chaos of early evening has vanished asabruptly as it began. Above the evergreens in the cemetery across the road, the sunlight is fading.There are no customers. There is only me and the sisters, who are looking impatient as they detaildisturbing stories of their past. One killed a guy in an accident and thinks it is funny; the otherwas beaten and raped by her husband but thinks he has changed. Both smoke a pack a shift and thinknothing of the fact that they are pregnant.
Either the short one is grouchier than usual, orthe nic-fit is starting to kick in. I guess both.
“We’re gonna have asmoke,” she says in a voice reminiscent of a table saw. “Can you watch out
“Yeah,” I say, ever the people-pleaser.
“Holler ifanybody comes,” says the tall one.
“Okay,” I reply, knowing full well thathollering at either of them is bound to get me a sensual experience with the milkshake mixer.
They are gone, and I am alone. Here I am at the front of the store, by myself, watching thesun go down and the cars go by. I could be watching MTV right now. I could be playing my guitarright now. I could be eating a toasted, 12-inch Spicy Italian with double-meat at Subway with Roccoright now. I could be cruising Cranberry with Poots right now. But I make six-fifty anhour.
It is worth it.
Strangely enough, my mind is not on the money to-night. Mythoughts are wandering, as they often do, into one of those daydream realms. Today, unlike my usualdaydreams, this one is a trifle upsetting. It is not some fantasy adventure but a recap ofeverything going on in my life.
I am a senior, which is strange, considering that I’vealways looked up to seniors in the past. I have no older siblings or cousins, so older kids alwaysfascinated me. To me, seniors were adults hardly distinguishable from teachers. They were grown-upand had everything in order. Either I was wrong about them, or I am an exceptionally lousysenior.
Look into this college, Corey. Apply for this scholarship, Corey. Do not forget toget your class syllabus signed. Read this book within two weeks. Remember to take Shawn to hisfriend’s house after school. Let’s visit this college next week. Are you going to thefootball game on Friday? Have you heard anything from that college yet? You have a C in math and Iwould like to know why. You should apply for scholarships as soon as possible. Where did this dentin the truck come from? Your uncle was moving an organ into a church and it crushed his leg, theyare not sure if he will ever walk the same again. I told you, I need the class syllabus signed, andif I do not have it by next week I will give you a zero. The boss said something about firing youif you are late again. I thought you were coming straight home after school. Why don’t youcall off work for the football game, Corey? Your aunt and uncle are getting a divorce. You weresupposed to have that class syllabus signed two weeks ago, so I have no choice but to give you azero. I really expected more of you.
My path is laid before me, but it is hard to walk theline. It is like being tackled from every side. No, it is more like being snatched by a metal hookfrom every side and yanked in all directions. Everything is crazy and I have no idea how to manageit. I do not have time to manage it. I only have time to get the essential done and put the lessessential off for tomorrow, when I’ll have even less time.
The early autumn windcomes through the open window. My thoughts are scattered like the leaves that will soon litter theground. The wind streams over my face like a gentle caress, and for a brief moment, there isnothing but the open window and me.
A sudden realization hits me that there is nothingbetween the window and me. To a casual observer, this would be a detail of little consequence, butto me it means the world. It means that if I want, I can jump out that window and leave. There isnothing stopping me from running away from everything. They say the grass is greener on the otherside of the fence, but in this moment, the other side of that window seems a paradise. I can jumpout, run away, never look back, and start a completely new life somewhere else. There is nothing tostop me. My problems will be in the rear-view mirror, and some day I will laugh for ever havingworried about them.
I start for the window. The air has never tasted so crisp. No one willknow where I went. No one will be able to find me. No one will ever bother me about a classsyllabus again.
But I stop. There still are no customers, and the sisters are still smoking,but I stop all the same. Those seniors before me, those adults I looked up to, they had problems,too. They had all kinds of problems, and probably worse ones than mine. What would the world belike if we went through every window available to us? What kind of adult would I be if I ran awaybecause I was overwhelmed? What kind of solution would that be? It would be the coward’s wayout. It would be the child’s way out.
I shut the window. I am still overwhelmed. Istill have as many problems as I did a minute ago. I still got a zero on the class syllabus, but Iam here. I am standing tall, and I am here taking my dose of life. The sisters will be back soon,which means I need to worry about getting better acquainted with the milkshake mixer, but I will behere, and I will deal with it. I will deal with what needs to be dealt with because that is how itneeds to be done. It is the adult thing to do. Besides, I make six-fifty an hour.
It is allgood.