Volunteering in College Town


 

volunteer-graphic


 

Today, readers, I have a different kind of post to share with you. I know you’re expecting snarky complaining, or a humorous story about work, but variety is the spice of life, after all.
In my English 102 class, we were split into groups and told to pick a topic, focusing on a problem we believe is relevant in our community. The idea is to do something to improve upon the chosen problem, so today, I’m presenting you with my group’s topic of choice.

Within Heartland Community College, there are clubs and groups and organizations and independent groups, and we have an awesome internal volunteer network. In many ways, we have everything the other two universities in town (Illinois State and Wesleyan) have, in regards of classes and degree focuses. However, one of the huge differences is that both of the other universities have centers and facilities for volunteering in town. There’s opportunities for in-home care for the elderly, a few homeless shelter and soup kitchen links, even one for animal shelters. But when it comes to Heartland, we are on our own if we want to volunteer off-campus. We’ve decided it’s time to change that.

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Last year at this time, I was a wreck. I lived in a state of numb depression, feeling as though nothing I did had an impact on my life. When I think back on that part of my life, it’s shadowed with an overtone of grey.
I can look at the pictures on Instagram, where each of my selfies is my unsmiling, dead-eyed and lifeless. Even the colors prevalent in them are muted, shades of black and grey. When I try to insert color or joy into a shot, I look at that picture and all I can remember is the sadness involved in that post. I found myself in almost nothing in my life at that point.
I was living in a series of routines that I thought encompassed my life. Routine was all I had. It kept me sane and gave me slight handholds to try and grasp my way back to reality.
Even that Christmas was tired and listless, shadowed with my emotional problems. Added to that, I was working nights at that point, and the idea of being up with my exuberant siblings at the crack of dawn was dreadful.
In actuality, it was worse.

This year, I am myself again. I was happy as a child, but almost every child is happy. I retained that happiness for a long time, but real life has come around and beaten me down a couple of times, leaving me sad and broken in its wake. I sincerely enjoy being happy, and it’s a relief to have it back.

This year has held some of the most significant life changes so far. Everything from my mindset and attitude to my job and relationship status, along with my living situation.

(Somehow, that change is a familiar-feeling one.)

Another change is that I spent most of last year in close companionship with someone that ended up being very toxic to me. It taught me a lot about my life and myself, and it showed me a lot about the people to whom I choose to give my time. I used to call her my best friend, and last year, she sat with us on Christmas day. We had intentions to get a place together and decorate it according to various themes, and I was sure that we were good together. I defended her to my friends and family, convinced of my choice.
As time went on, I became sure of other things; first that I was at least good for her, and eventually, that nothing good was present in this relationship.
I needed to escape.
We no longer speak.
All of my siblings still adore her and spend time with her, so there are gifts for everyone under the tree with her name on them.
There is no gift for me.
I like it that way.

It’s hard for me to know what my future holds, especially looking back at things I used to assume were a guarantee. My life at 20 is so different from what I expected it to be that I cannot begin to fathom what may come.
When I was 17, I thought I would join the air force, and the way it looked was that doing so would pave my life for me. I thought the promise of free college could make my life infinitely better, even though I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. Figure it out on the way, right?
That decision was made for me by a phone call that never came. So I moved on.

I recently had a lengthy conversation with my mother where we tossed around the logistics of my future. I have goals for my academic career, and I have a field of study into which I plan to pour my time and energy. My life will need to focus on that, and a good amount of my money right now is going to college payments. It’s nigh on impossible for me to look ahead and see a point in my life where I don’t label myself as struggling financially with a noble intention to do better for myself in the future. I have to believe I won’t always be in my situation and struggle to get by.
But that is then. I can’t even know what will happen next week.

So it is that I end this year with a question mark. I’ve always said that the birthdays of 17, 19, and 20 are very pointless. 16 is momentous, and 18 is groundbreaking. No one really cares about the in-between years.
I must amend my statements. They may not have any achievement tags on them, but in the years between 17 and now 20, I have learned more in my life than I have since I was a toddler and discovered walking was a thing. I am grateful.

Untitled post- a free-form poem.

Cat

I told my mother I had a boyfriend over coffee when the sun was rising
She told me to be careful and refilled my coffee cup.
No relationship brought to a sudden end
from the secret I just offered up.

I talked to my mother about my boyfriend in a coffee shop with a teacup in my hands.
I tell her he reminds me of a cat and my father.
She tells me about when she got engaged
and how communication is worth the bother.

I admitted to my brother I have a boyfriend in my truck with the radio on
He said “oh, I remember” and stuck his hand out the window
I found out my mother had told most of my family
and that none were terribly shocked to know.

I tell my boyfriend about my mother in pieces at a time when I think of them
Mentioning the ten children, the cooking
and how she fosters puppies with 3.6 legs
And he doesn’t say much, just listening.

I wait for the world to crumble to pieces because of my boyfriend
Sharing my business and mixing my worlds isn’t comfortable
but these people care about me more than anything
In the end, listening is all I really need.

Nice Costs Nothing

I’m the oldest of 10 children. I have five brothers and four sisters, and this is only slightly above average size in my family. Children are blessings, bundles of joy that are prayed for, begged for, rejoiced over.
So naturally, there’s a lot of them.

From the time I was 2, I have been an older sister. I’m now almost 20 and I still have tiny people as siblings. The youngest are four now, and even though they are definitively the last biological children my parents will have, there are 16 years between my birthday and theirs.
I have been in charge of small children, in control of their survival and health, for probably more years than I should have been. I have a remarkable ability to track wandering toddlers, and juggling wiggling babies is second nature.
The other second nature I have walked away with- slightly related to the first and unavoidable, in my opinion- is a terrifyingly fierce protective instinct. A friend once labelled it a hero complex.
I love an underdog with every fiber of my being. People who cannot protect themselves instantly earn my protection, and I will fight to the hyperbolic death for their cause.

I don’t qualify myself as a nice person to most people. If you’re going to harass me on the street or waste my time with inanities, I’m not a nice person.
If being nice involves lying about my feelings on a matter, then I’m not a nice person. I will not tolerate your nonsense or laziness, and ignorance or cruelties will gain you my harshest words. Continue reading

Struggling to Eat.

Today does not have a happy post.

Today, I’m not going to have a doggedly optimistic view on life.

Today I’m going to be poor.

Today, despite being on a budget plan that is supposed to help you save money, be able to live with a better grasp of your finances, break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle, and give you peace of mind, I found myself plotting out where my bills fell in relation to my next paycheck.
I got paid today, and also paid rent, along with most of my utilities. It’s the last day of the month, but I won’t have anymore income for the next 2 weeks, and I need to make this money do a lot for me.
After I had plotted out what bills needed paid, I came to the grocery fund and realized that all I had to offer it was 3.45.
Three and a half dollars was all I had to provide myself nourishment for the next 2 weeks.
So it was that I found myself going through papers and utility websites and the various other categories defined as necessary for a piece of my paycheck, scrounging for food money.
The snacks and gasoline and even the single dollar I had spent on a pack of gum suddenly looked like shameful, scowling foolishness, reprimands and implications that I should have known I would need this money.

Because of the irregularity of the every-other-week pay schedule, sometimes I get paid on the first of a month, sometimes I get 3 paychecks in a month, and sometimes they’re more completely random than that. But without fail, on the very evening of payday, I feel depressingly poor.
I go through my little ritual of filling up my gas tank, watching the price climb into the $40 range and settle my needle comfortably above the F on my gauge.
And then for the next 13 days, I plan every outing around my gas tank, because I cannot afford to buy more.
Each purchase I make rattles ominously with the promise of not enough– the suggestion of this is a mistake, and the fear that maybe I’m not making any progress at all.

My poor truck hit another truck in early fall of last year. For months, I’ve wanted to have the body work done to repair the front end, and to give it a small measure of dignity. But that’s at least $1,500 of work, easily and believably more.

For perspective, that is essentially a whole month’s income.

So instead, I pay $30 here to replace the shattered headlight, and delve into my tax return to fork over $150 to have the turn signal wiring fixed.
An oil change is a thing for which to save for a paycheck or two, and the idea of new tires or brakes is depressingly daunting.

Being poor is not fun. Making minimum wage- an alleged living wage- is some tough shit. Looking at your bank account and dreaming of what even $50 could do for you is miserable.
It’s not that I mind the work. I’m good at working hard.
But if you’re going to sit there and tell me that, because I work fast food, I don’t deserve to make a wage on which I don’t struggle to eat, then I will probably cry at you.
Telling me to just “get a better job” doesn’t help either.
I have been trying for years.
I’m trying so hard every day of my life.
It’s like a cruel video game where no matter how quickly you push the buttons, your health meter still depletes.
It’s hard to be average in the world of today.

Hopeless Romanticism- Incurable.

Alternate titles include-

Even Bohemian Princesses Have Day Jobs.
Peter Pan Pays His Bills Online.
Adults Are All Pretending To Know Anything.
Grass Stains Don’t Come Out Of White Things.

I am in love with romance.
When I moved to this house, it was the middle of February. It was cold, and there wasn’t a fridge, and my room was bare of anything that would make it mine. The walls echoed for their emptiness, and looking at it sometimes, it felt like I would never be able to get it to what I wanted from it. How was I supposed to remember all of the little things I viewed as cupboard necessities? What if I forgot something obvious? Had I remembered to buy sugar? We didn’t have any toothpicks- there had always been toothpicks before.
There was, however, something I liked in the drabness of my mattress on the hardwood floor. I secretly liked having to keep anything chilled on the back porch, where the milk would freeze on a daily basis and stay fresh for weeks. It was my house, and each little gesture was an announcement of my freedom.
Valentine’s day came and went, and me and my roommate got each other ridiculous gifts and congratulated each other on our independence. “Happy Valentine’s Day,” we said, even though we meant “Good Job Being An Adult.”

When the month turned over and it switched to March, the snow slowly began to melt, though the brisk, cutting wind stayed. I had friends over whenever I wanted and one time, we stayed up watching an entire anime, nodding off for seconds at a time during slow parts, and sipping too-hot tea for something to keep us awake and because there was nothing else in the house to eat.
My roommate would drive us to work and roll down his window to smoke, and the fumes made me cough. The breeze was chilling, but there was a delight to being grown up enough to carpool.
Ask any 20-something college student, and they’ll have a few of those “Omg- I’m an adult,” moments. It’s a thrilling, secretive joy, where you look at yourself and think “A real adult would be so proud of me for doing this.”
And yet it’s sad, because you look around and everyone who looks at you thinks you are a real adult, and you realize that buying towels is a necessity, and you grab a package of sweets on the way to the checkout to make yourself feel better.
Of course, you’re allowed to buy however many sweets you want, and that starts you feeling like an omg-adult all over again.

In April, snowdrops flowered, and crocuses began to poke their tiny indigo heads through the grass. My mother had planted them when she moved to this house almost 20 years ago, in the hopes that they would spread across the yard and form an azure carpet of blossoms. However, in a tiny practical joke at which only she laughs, Mother Nature had confined each bulb to its original place, and instead of a carpet, we have tiny dottings of blue, peeking between the grass and telling us that spring has, despite the best attempts of winter, sprung.
They either die or get mowed down with the first round of the lawn mower each year, but for a precious handful of days each spring, they bloom, and have done for nearly two decades.
The magnolia tree down the street that I and my siblings climbed and fell out of for years slowly donned its pink party dress. I had memories of these flowers lasting for seeming endless weeks, but to my dismay, within two, the petals were dropping and withering to brown.
I was presented with the possibility that perhaps I hadn’t grasped time so well as I’d believed, and it was saddening.
I quietly mourned the tree and its mortality, and yet I secretly cheered my lawn as the crocuses grew, blossomed, and then slipped back into their bulbs until next year.
The grass was growing at an astounding rate, and I was unreasonably proud of it. Walking down the sidewalk each day to go to work, the shaggy blades hung over into the path in a forest of green. How incredible that the drizzling, miserable storms could make something so lush.
I put off mowing the yard for three weeks, because I was just so tickled with how abundant my lawn was. When I finally conceded, some places took two go-rounds to subdue.

Now, it’s May. The heat is beginning to arrive, though it’s only a sample of the oppressive, damp waves to come. The irises have already flowered in their long-necked glory, then slowly bowed their yellow or purple heads to the ground, and died out. Not a day goes by where I don’t hear someone in some distant house mowing their yard, and I’ve been kept awake by a particularly industrious neighbor, weed-whacking their fence line. Never mind that I’m trying to sleep at nine AM- that’s just plain invasive.
Even so, walking from my door to the gate, there’s a patch of clover that has taken root under the fence. It’s thick and stubborn, and yet I love it with a fierceness that few people inspire.
When I was little, our back yard was covered in the stuff. I could lay down and stretch my limbs as far as I could reach, and still be surrounded by the tiny ivory blossoms in a way that felt unending and massive. To me, clover symbolizes everything immortal about this house. It’s watching the sun set and smelling the damp from the shady spot that never dries between rains as you crawl through underbrush- it’s playing endless games of hide and seek and building forts and digging holes and climbing trees in the back yard that to a child, is an infinity far greater than NASA can grasp. Worlds exist in that back yard, tangible worlds, with languages and cultures and timelines all their own. Beat that, Curiosity.
So I don’t mow that spot. I let it grow, and I admire the blossoms and thick green leaves and I remember rolling through patches of it, drinking in the beauty before my father mowed it down.

I have these little things, like worn-down paint on wood, or the low hum of the whole-house fan that one parent or the other would turn on every single summer night, that will always make me feel like I’m home.
Sometimes it seems to me that these things are universal- that everyone finds their solace in them. How could one not enjoy the smell of the night air, as it pushes the curtains aside in undulating waves? How can you not drift off to sleep to the sound of the fan’s motor, just outside your door? These things are as much a part of my childhood as is learning to ride a bike.
And yet, they are unique.
At one point, while sitting in my room, my boyfriend told me that he was sure that everyone who had freshly moved out of their parents’ house put up Christmas lights. He said this as if I should put away such childish things and move on to something like lamps- as if to imply my enjoyment of them was a shameful thing, to be enjoyed in youth, and grown out of with the acquisition of sense.
I looked about my room at no less than four strands, draped and piled and tucked. The technicolor bulbs shine softly at night, providing an ambiance that nightlights never have. From the street, my sheer curtains glow with the greens and blues that sit on the corners, and I know that that one, that one right there, is irrefutably mine.
“I’ve always had christmas lights,” I told him. “Even when at home. It’s just something I do.” And it really is.
The christmas lights belong in my room as much as my bulletin boards do. As much as my battered bookshelf, which I salvaged from a garage sale so many years ago that my family still lived in this house. I carry it everywhere, and I love it because I am capable of doing so.
When I turn off the lights and look at my room, the street lamp outside provides a sickly yellow glow from the window. But it is outshone by the steady primary colors of my lights, playing off the two mirrors and various pieces of jewelry and embossed card stock about my room. My room glows like a firefly, and it is where I feel the safest in the entire world.

I am hopelessly in love with the romance of my life. I write quotes that mean something to me on the paint of the walls with a sharpie.
I sit on the counter and sip my tea.
I put my mattress on the floor because the idea of that is so much more romantic to me than a wobbly, cumbersome bed frame.
I climb trees with my best friend and laugh at her boyfriend watching us from below, scolding us and being embarrassed for us.
My legs are scraped and I’ve scrubbed mud and grass stains off of them both of the past two days.
I turn my music up so loud that I can’t hear myself screaming the lyrics along with it and I roll my windows down to let the night breeze in while I drive home.

There is no great screenplay to my life.
But it is overflowing with romance.

Perhaps.

Perhaps the world is a place in which we struggle.

Life is not a simple task. It’s something we try at every single day that we breathe, and something we die feeling like we never quite finished completely.
I have days where I feel like I graduated yesterday and I’m just starting on my real life, and there are days- weeks, more like- where I feel like I’ve wasted every productive point in my life.
Because obviously I’ll work fast food forever.
Who else would hire you?
What else is even the point in trying?
You just know you’ll get turned down.
No one wants you.

Perhaps the most difficult thing I do is to put on that pair of jeans that’s a bit darker wash than the others and looks slightly more professional, tug on some shoes that aren’t converse, and try and do my hair to make me look not-seventeen again.
Presenting the best I have over and over again, just to be told it isn’t good enough, is crushing.

And yet, I can honestly sit here and type that I am the happiest I’ve ever been.
Oh, there will always be bad days. Bad days are as inevitable as the last cookie in a package.

But maybe we should live for the days where you go to bed happy, or at least content.
For the days when the tea brews just right, and you can watch the milk swirl around the spoon.
For the breezes that come through your bedroom window and smell of lilacs, as you’re drifting off to sleep.
For the person in some unknowable house, playing a song called What A Wonderful World. Because it is.
For those days when you shake your hair out after stumbling out of bed, and it falls in supermodel waves around your face, clear for once.
For five pound bags of tater tots.
For that “Rocky” feeling after you sprint across the parking lot in the rain, and you’re not even out of breath.
For that weirdly satisfying moment when you finally get to the bathroom and you can finally pee.
For good-butt jeans.
For canned mandarin oranges, because why do they even taste so good?
For that overwhelming feeling of thank you when you look at someone, and you’re just grateful that they spend time with you.
For those people you meet for ten minutes, and they say something in those ten that you think about for years afterwords, and contemplate it while you zone out and fill your mind.
For standing by a window, and feeling the sun warm the backs of your thighs and the inside of your soul.
For standing back and admiring a freshly washed window.
For the two hours you can spend cleaning the house, and then it looks really good.

My life has been, by no means, perfect. I complain a lot, and very articulately. But it’s a good life.
I am happy. And I predict that I will only get happier in the months to come.

Tracks and Childhood

Humans are incredibly nostalgic creatures.
The lengths to which we will go are incredible, when childhood memories or memorabilia are involved.
Why do you think vintage action figures are so valuable? Why else is scrapbooking a massively successful industry? People are terrified of losing themselves, as defined by physical and mental imprints on the world.
If you ask anyone what their first car was, they will be able to respond almost instantly. Most people probably still remember the first big purchase they made with their own money. Almost everyone has their first home address memorized, and home videos are full of “baby’s first things”. Sounds and smells and textures are all physical triggers in accessing memory banks.

Last week, I moved out of the apartment I’d been staying in for the past few months. I’d moved in with my best friend at the time, and we had been planning to get a house together when her lease expired at the apartment complex. However, over time, differing schedules and lifestyles created a good number of tensions, and there were several long, tearful conversations, where frustrations and personal affronts were discussed at length.
I don’t know about anyone reading this, but I never enjoy those sorts of conversations.
All in all, stresses were high, and something needed to change.
So change, it did.

In the space of an afternoon, months and years worth of planning, wishing, and dreaming culminated in my moving into a tiny, two-story house.
The roof needs replaced, the doors don’t quite seal all the way, and the floors creak when you walk across them.
The bathroom floor leaks into the kitchen if the bathtub gets a little too excited.
The back yard isn’t fenced.
The floors give you splinters if you drag your feet.
The windows stick, and most of them don’t open, unless they’re the ones that have been replaced.

But there are radiators in every room downstairs, rippling with heat, and providing a toasty seat to chilled bottoms.
The floors are a light, golden-brown hardwood, and when it catches the sunlight, it glows.
There’s a threshold between living room and dining room that to a seven year-old, embodies the glory and power of a thundering river. She will spend many years leaping across it, imagination aglow with the feat.
The stairway has a narrow ledge parallel the top half of it, and a ten year-old girl likes to walk along it and pretend a bottomless chasm drops away below her bare feet. She will stand at the end and curl her toes over the edge while she watches family members trudge up the stairs in a routine they don’t even think about.
The upstairs bathroom is bigger than the master bedroom, there’s a funny, slanted corner to one room, where there wasn’t quite enough room for both the stairs and the bedroom, so they had to share.
The closets are all at least six feet deep, and one of them was big enough to hold the world of a thirteen year-old as she dreamed about boys, wrote about fantasy worlds, and hid from the outside world under her blankets. The evidence is still scribbled on the walls, if you care to decipher the handwriting.

Now, a nineteen year-old lives in the master bedroom, stocking feet folded under her legs to protect them from the drafty cold. Boxes are scattered about the floor, and clothes are on the floor, for want of a better place to go. The rooms are empty and they echo, and the upstairs had to be aired out for two days to get rid of the stenches of cigarettes and pot that were lurking in the corners.
Tatty carpet pieces have been rolled up, explicit DVD’s discovered in closets, and floors scrubbed and refinished.

It’s been half a decade at least, but this blog post is proof that some dreams do come true, if you’re willing to wait.
I now live in my childhood home, and I don’t plan to be going anywhere soon.

When All Else Fades

Here’s the thing.
Many of my posts are to do with how much I don’t like people, or particular persons, or how I wish they would all go away.
If it wasn’t already obvious, I have my walls. I shove people away when they get too friendly too fast, and I’m perfectly content to be by myself.
Mostly.

I recently discovered that someone into which I had been pouring a lot of my time and energy wasn’t all that keen on me. That they didn’t care, would probably be more accurate.
If I’m honest, it wasn’t entirely platonic, at least on my end. But that’s not the part that hurt. Not most of it.
The part I don’t understand- what really gets me- is that they just let me keep trying to win them, let me keep pouring myself into them, when they knew it would never happen. I wanted so badly to be in their inner circle, and they knew it.

I’ve had two or three conversations in my life that have made me want to curl into a ball and just close my eyes. To forget that I had to ever get up and carry on.
This was one of them.

So now, if my pattern holds, I will retreat into my walls of composure and collection. I will pretend to be okay.
Co-workers tease me about being emotionless, or a robot, or that I’m incapable of feeling anything aside from malevolence.
Times like this, that comes in handy.

When you take away everyone and everything else, what I have left is me.
I have my coping mechanisms and my imagination and my incredible ability to think myself away from situations.
What more do I need?