The Thrill is proud to feature personal narratives courtesy of the Project for Open Voices. Today’s essay was authored anonymously, in October of this year.
Flashback to freshman year, October—my friends and I are finally starting to figure out how things work here. Settling into a routine hundreds (sometimes thousands) of miles away from home is never easy, but this had been much more difficult than I would have liked to admit. But despite the stress of academia and the fluid social circles, everything is starting to make sense. Parents’ Weekend is here. We’ve all heard about it—it’s a Kenyon tradition! Parents come to Kenyon, join our little bubble for a couple days; everyone puts on their best, happy, sober faces and seeks to assure their families that the investment they made in this little school was a wise one.
My parents, of course, couldn’t make it. I’m definitely not alone in that. I had done my best to make sure they didn’t even find out that Parents Weekend was a Kenyon “thing.” But they did, and sure enough, my Father called me that day to half-heartedly let me know how sorry he is that they couldn’t make it. I’ll never forget how defeated he sounded.
My relationship with my parents has always been complicated. I never thought I would miss them. Sure, I would tell them I missed them, but I never actually believed that I would really miss them. I had never felt that feeling before. But when my father called that day, it hit me like a brick to the chest.
“We miss you, son” he said. His voice was scratchier than usual, and I couldn’t help but wonder why… I didn’t ask. I never thought I would miss them, but that moment made me realize how much I did, and how much I would continue to miss them until December when I would finally be able to go home.
“I miss you too,” I said, with my usual composure, careful not to let them know what I was feeling.
That Saturday, I got a text message from another friend: “I just wish they would leave already. They’re so embarrassing. You’re lucky yours didn’t come.”
Lucky. I sighed, put my phone in my backpack, and walked back to my room.
We never had much money growing up, but we did all right for a while. I wasn’t poor until my father lost his job during my junior year of high school. I had never been able to buy the nicest shoes, go to a lot of movies, or eat out with my friends very often. But I always had shoes. I always had food, up until then. It’s very difficult to explain what it’s like to not know where the next set of groceries is going to come from. It’s difficult to explain to Kenyon students what it feels like to go straight to a minimum wage gig right after school, work until 11 pm, and come home hungry, to find only stale bread and ramen noodles in the pantry.
Being poor is difficult for many obvious reasons, but I think the issue I struggled the most with freshman year was my constant internalization of my circumstances. Looking back, it’s clear to me that none of this was my fault, of course, but at the time I blamed myself. I should have saved more money over the summer. All of my friends must have done that. How else would they have so much to spend here, especially when none of them have jobs on campus? I shouldn’t have gone out to dinner so much at the start of the year, should have sacrificed that new bedspread and gone with a cheaper option. I remember the denial, how I ignored the sinking feeling in my gut whenever my friends wanted to skip Peirce and go to the VI for dinner, or when everyone lined up in the lounge for their cheaper-than-usual but still-not-free flu shots, or when it was the end of September and I still hadn’t found a job, and the balance of my checking account was forty seven cents, my K-Card empty. How was I supposed to tell my friends that I didn’t just decide to stop taking my anxiety medication, but that I just couldn’t afford it anymore, even if it was generic? How was I supposed to say that I couldn’t do laundry because I have no money on my K-Card, and even if I had money to put on my K-Card I would be too scared to let the bookstore employees see the balance? How was I supposed to react when my friends bought me birthday presents, or Christmas presents, and I knew I would never be able to buy them anything, ever?
“Are your parents coming?” a friend asked me while we sat at Wiggin Street, catching up on work before class.
“No,” I said, coolly.
“Why not? They should come, it’ll be really fun!” She smiled, and I could tell she honestly didn’t know exactly how little sense she was making.
“I guess they just don’t want to. They’re busy, I don’t know.” And I smiled. I wanted to cry, but I smiled. It’s not a new story. I, like many Kenyon students, never really considered the way the extremely wealthy live before I came to Kenyon. The point is that all of this stuff, all the ways in which I was different from most of my friends, and from most of the people at Kenyon in general, went from blurry to clear in the span of a few days. At the end of Parents’ Weekend, I was a different person. I was aware of my place. I knew I would never fully fit in with Kenyon culture.
It’s Parents’ Weekend again, one year later. Gambier is bustling more than ever. I want to call my parents. I don’t know what to say. I wish I wasn’t “lucky” again this year. I wish I could have bad luck.