I was twenty years old when the recession hit my parents, hard. I had enjoyed an upper-middle class upbringing in Connecticut, which I honestly never paid much attention to one way or the other. I had everything I needed, so when I left for college late in the summer of 2007, I imagined a fairly typical life for myself: finishing my English degree in four years, then getting a glamorous writing job in a cool city and continuing to live comfortably, the way to which I was accustomed. But that is not how things panned out.
In 2008, I was living with a friend a two-bedroom apartment in the East Village of New York City, having transferred from the University of Colorado just months into my sophomore year. My rent was $1,200 a month, which my parents were generously paying while I continued my degree at Marymount Manhattan College and worked at a trendy bakery in midtown. Writing this now, I almost cringe at how privileged I was, and the fact that I didn’t truly realize it until I lost all the things I’d been taking for granted for so long.
The first thing that happened was that I started getting calls from our landlord, telling me that my rent checks were coming in late. Honestly, I attributed this to the fact that my parents were sometimes procrastinators; they worked hard, and had a lot on their plates. Still, I felt a prickle of resentment that they would let something so important fall by the wayside. I brought it up with my mom countless times, via text, and her reactions alternated between nonchalant and defensive.
I continued to work hard at school, and that fall, applied for another transfer — this time to the Ohio State University. I was accepted, which meant I would leave New York for Columbus in January 2010. When it came time for me to submit my final rent payment, my parents’ check to me bounced, and put my account deep in the red. Having never really learned much about how these financial things worked, I just abandoned the account, allowing the excitement for my upcoming move to overshadow any anxiety.
Not long into my first quarter at Ohio State, I began receiving emails from the Bursar’s office at Marymount Manhattan. At first, they were fairly gentle reminders that I still had an unpaid tuition balance of approximately $15,000. As weeks and months passed, however, the emails became more insistent, telling me that my account would be put into collections if it remained unpaid. I continued to forward these emails to my parents, my own accompanying notes often a tonal mix of angry and confused.
It is worth mentioning that due to my parents’ income at the time of my acceptance to these schools, I was not eligible for any kind of financial aid. I had also (stupidly) failed to apply for any scholarships, and loans had never even been brought up in conversation. Thus, when my advisor at Ohio State called me into her office to let me know that Marymount Manhattan was refusing to release my final transcripts (something upon which my acceptance was contingent), I had no earthly idea what to do. Then, when she informed me that my tuition at Ohio State also had yet to be paid, I entered the first stage of what would be something of a slow-motion meltdown.
I remember feeling devastatingly helpless. I had a part-time job as a hostess at the student union’s restaurant, but no real source of substantial income. My advisor recommended talking to my parents about taking out student loans, but every attempt to broach the subject with them resulted in intense defensiveness. They seemed angry that I doubted their ability to solve the problem themselves, while still keeping from me the fact that they were having money problems. It was a time of great stress for me, and I remained in this limbo until, finally, I was administratively dropped from my classes for failure to pay my tuition.
I could go into detail about what happened next, but to do that would be to miss the point. Long story short, I left Ohio State, a school I loved and where I had been on the Dean’s List. I was devastated, and it all felt very isolating and unfair. I moved around a lot after that, trying to figure out what to do next. Still not fully understanding what was going on with my family financially, I tried to keep my education going, but none of my previous schools would release my transcripts without being paid.
I fell into a very real depression, following along on social media as my friends and former high school peers studied abroad, finished their degrees, and, eventually, landed jobs they loved. It felt like the life I’d always thought I’d have was slipping away from me, and honestly, it was. I entered adulthood with close to $40k in collections debt, which tanked my credit score before I even got a chance to apply for a credit card. Without a college degree, I relied on freelance writing and social media jobs to get by, and as any freelancer knows, it’s anything but a steady, secure source of income.
Now, it’s seven years later and I’m still struggling to build the life I want. I’m jobless and in debt, and I’m scared, but I’m also fighting my way back. I’ve set up a budget plan to pay off what I owe, and in April, I’m moving into my boyfriend’s studio apartment, where he is so generously letting me live rent-free while I look for a job.
I’ll be honest; there are plenty of times when it’s hard not to feel sorry for myself. There are times when I get overwhelmingly angry, or hopelessly depressed. I see the people around me succeeding in their fields, and I’m jealous. But what I have learned from all this is that life is hard, but I am resilient. The picture may not look the way I thought it would when I was eighteen, but then again, does it ever?
Kristi is a writer and chronic over-thinker who keeps moving to random states, but always comes back to New York. Reading articles and essays on TFD helps keep her sane.
Image via Unsplash