Senior Abby attempts to get through high school while the recession creeps into her life.
| The day America changed began like any other work day. People simply went about their business having no idea that their first world comfort and security was about to change. Trains and buses were filled with workers of all kinds, Starbucks lines were long; people moved throughout their busy lives as though nothing would ever bring them down. Months later, the newspaper headlines would all revolve around the down slide of America’s economy.
Suddenly, stress and anxiety were everywhere, behind the doors of houses in foreclosure and on the faces of those responsible for putting food on the table. Well known businesses begin to close, working hours are cut back, and countless jobs are lost. The materialistic world of today will change in ways that no one can imagine.
The large white envelope comes in the mail mid September and holds all the shiny promises that I believed college offered. The freedom, the academics and the new people were reason enough to leave home for college. Applying to an Ivy League school was a stretch even for me, but I approached it with never ending excitement the way a new actor approaches Hollywood.
Across the table lay a pile of envelopes and papers that threatened to destroy the dreams of Dartmouth. They are mostly bills that my mother had fallen behind on and interrupted the dinners that we never really had together.
I can not bring myself to open it and flip through the information that the school has sent. I do not really have time anyway because the walk to school takes about ten minutes.
“Bye Mom”, I call and make my way to the front door. I’m not sure if she replies or not. She does not say much these days.
I walk across the empty driveway that used to hold our car. The bank took it back last week. I’m sure my mother saw it coming, but she never said anything to me. Either way, it was a hard blow to our already fragile financial situation.
Roosevelt High school is your typical suburban high school. It has sports teams, clubs, and cliques. I used to enjoy endless social activities at school, but then my father died and our financial situation took a serious downhill turn. My days are less social now and occupied mostly by studying.
I also lack a guy friend which really brings me down. Every one needs the guy friend who will listen to your problems and won’t judge them like a girl would. They are someone to spend weekend nights with when you don’t have a boyfriend and they always tell the truth even if it’s not something that you want to hear.
“Hey Abby! Wait up!” At least I still have Karen. I turn to see her running up the front school steps with her Coach purse on one arm and her cheer bag swinging from the other.
“Hi Karen. How are you?”
“Ugh I’m so stressed. I have so much to choreograph the homecoming cheer and we have a physics test this morning and Cecelia and I are fighting.”
“Why are you fighting with the queen bee?”
“Oh you know, she’s upset because Max broke up with her and she’s still mad that I got picked as captain over her.”
“Sound like a hard life”, I say with sarcasm.
“Well I’m over it anyway. Are you nervous about the physics test today?”
“Very. This class is a threat to my G.P.A. and brings about trepidation like I have never felt before.”
She gives me an annoyed look. “Is that SAT vocab?”
“Yep. Using it in everyday conversation is easier than making note cards.”
Well then Miss 4.0 Ivy League bound, makes me really smart by the time we get to Mr. Anderson’s class.”
We make our way to class through all the chaos. The school hallways are always too loud for me. Four grades of students are crushed into narrow halls that are fostering claustrophobia with all the lockers and mindless conversation. Most of our physics class is at their desks, bent over their notes and worksheets when we arrive. We take a seat at the same table and exchange words of encouragement until we receive our tests. I take a deep breath and begin what I hope will not be my first F on an exam.
Six hours later, I’m still brewing over my physics test while I try to carry out my hostess duties at the restaurant where I work. The job itself is easy. I greet our upper echelon customers when they waltz through the door and seat them with the dinner menu and wine list. I think that I clock more hours a week than my mother does because the restaurant has trouble keeping hostesses very long even in this recession. The job becomes very monotonous after a while. Greeting the same types of guests over and over again with the same view greetings makes me think of Groundhog Day.
I envy these people and their ability to drink wine among the candlelight and purchase our overpriced sea food. Their lives seem so perfectly organized despite the chaos that has rumbled through the economy. I know it is pointless to be jealous of them, but on some level, we all wonder about having a life that is different from our own. My fantasy is just mostly focused on money and a life devoid of any and all anxiety.
Another well-dressed couple comes through the door. I put on my professional smile and take them to their table.
I never have those good feelings when I come home after being away for a while. Work gives me the opportunity to forget about the financial situation at home. They are always waiting for me when I return though.
My mother has fallen asleep in front of the T.V., the light throwing odd looking shadows on the back half of the living room. I turn off the creepy Lifetime movie that is playing and take the Dartmouth catalog up to my room.
I change out of my black uniform and pull my seventh Harry Potter book of my bookshelf and stuff my tip share between the pages. It’s the most sophisticated system that I could come up with since I don’t have a bank account. I’m not really sure what I’m going to do with the money. I don’t usually have time to spend any of it and even though I’m not sure if college is going to be an option, I’m hoarding it away.
I begin flipping through the Dartmouth catalog. The photographs show smiling students in perfectly clean classrooms and out on the bright green grounds. They all look so content under the orange and yellow leaves of fall. I put myself in their place; happy, successful and seeking knowledge at an Ivy League school. I envision college as an escape from this stressful situation that my Mother and I are trapped in. Going away to Dartmouth means getting out of this town with its perfect suburban image that hides a lower class that is struggling to breathe and find financial peace.
The next day at school, my counselor calls me into her office to discuss my college plans.
“Hi Abby, have a seat”.
I heave my overstuffed bag to the floor and sink down into the cushy chair across from her desks. She digs for my file out of a large stack of folders and looks up at me. She’s young and although she has a tired and stress look on her face, she looks more pulled together than a beauty queen.
“Senior year going well so far?” she asks in an overly cheerful voice.
Yeah it’s great. My mother doesn’t work full time, we’ve lost our car, we might lose the house, and I don’t have any money saved for college.
“Fine”, I say in a steady voice.
“Okay, Summers”. She opens my file and skims over the last three years of A.P. classes, ACT and Sat tests, and extracurricular activities. Three years over hard work are displayed on five 8 by 11 pages.
“Your test scores are good and you’ve maintained a 4.0 grade point average”.
I give her a small smile and say nothing.
“What colleges are you planning to apply to?”
“The state colleges of course and maybe Stanford and Dartmouth.
She looks at me with that encouraging smile that counselors are supposed to give students. “Good. Well continue to study hard and don’t hesitate to come and see me of you have any questions”.
“Thank you, I say as I heave my bag back over my shoulder.
I leave the office feeling slightly angry, but it’s not really the counselor’s fault. How is she to know that I have no way to finance college when my transcripts show such potential and aspiration?
I make my way towards class, passing a group of seniors when I feel someone walking right beside me. I look up to see Max North, one of my classmates that I haven’t really gotten to know.
“What’s up Abby?”
“Not much Max. What’s up with you?”
“Oh the usual. Too much football and homework. I’m already wanting in to be graduation time.”
“Already?” I say. “Aren’t you enjoying all the perks of senior year?”
“What perks? There’s so much homework and so many applications to deal with.”
“I know what you mean. At least we don’t have to worry about a physics test for a while.”
He nods. “That is true. How do you think you did on the last one?”
“I think I did ok.” Actually, I think I might have failed, but I won’t share that with anyone. “Physics is hard to handle with my other classes and yearbook.”
He looks at like I’m crazy. “You’re doing that A.P. tract of classes aren’t you?”
“Well maybe before the next exam, we can study together at the Starbucks across the street.”
“Um ok. I’d be up for that”, I say, wondering why he wants to study with me anyways.
“Alright then, I’ll see you around.”
I watch him walk away wondering why he would ask me of all people. We haven’t really spoken in all the time that we have gone to school together. He’s a nice guy, but I’m hesitant to meet with him. Why did he ask me to study with him? Why did I agree to meet with him?
My mother and I actually have dinner together tonight; which is quite the accomplishment for us. We both have opposite work schedules and usually by the time I get home, she is asleep.
“Is spaghetti ok”. She calls from the kitchen as I attempt to finish physics homework.
“Spaghetti is fine Mom, just don’t put any meatballs on mine please.”
“I know I know. How was school today?” she asks.
“It was ok. How was work?”
“Oh the usual.” She attempts to be subtle, but I know that she is under so much pressure.
She brings our dinner to the dining room table. I put my homework over the stack of bills still sitting on the table. We don’t need a reminder. In all reality tough, that stack is a reminder that we might wake up to the electricity or water cut off. The safeness and security that I once had in this home with my mother is long gone.
I can’t comprehend how this debt came about. How do things accumulate to such a high number? CNN and the other media outlets attempt to explain this recession to the public, but how many people actually understand it?
Most people were not paying attention when the economy suddenly slid toward edge of the cliff. It hasn’t actually gone over the edge, but many believe that it will eventually. Everything seemed to be going fine. The iphone was released and an election was approaching. Very few people looked up from their Starbucks latte and Facebook profile to realize that serious consequences were about to hit the nation and the rest of the world. So we’re here now. Unemployment is at 9% in this state. The housing market is a mess. Businesses are closing and suddenly the middle class finds itself out of work. Members of the lower class are also out of work, as are members of the upper class. Suddenly, all socioeconomic statuses feel the hard hit together. For some, it is a humbling experience and for others, a frustrating one. And there is one question from everyone; what happens now?