Rants & Essays

The Separation of Three

By Sabian

It's been a while since last I wrote, so a moment is needed to bring me back up to speed. Pause. Good, now we're ready. Malaise is potent and insidious --- there, I've said it. The life of the lost…

We were fourteen, all of us. We were all young and fresh and inspired. We were ready to take on the world --- although most of us didn't give 'taking on the world' a second thought --- we were, after all, only in grade nine. Sure, we took advanced level courses and tried to get reasonably good grades, but that was not really a lucid choice so much as just doing what was expected of us. We were relatively bright and, if you were bright enough, you took the advanced level courses so that you could get into university after high-school and get a good job, right? Like we had a clue.

Grade nine led to grade ten, ten to eleven, and so on. We mostly hung out and had fun, we were kids, we did kid things. Sure, we chose maths and sciences with our electives, and called phys-ed and wood-shop "bird courses," but that was just what the system taught us to do. We were merely automatons. We never really gave it much consideration. Go to school, do what you have to do to get by, and go home to get ready for the party, or the movies, or whatever.

It got kinda scary towards the end. Probably one third of the people we knew began to get "serious" -- they planned for the future (not just talked about it in some vague sort of way, not dreaming, they actually planned). These guys (and gals) studied like it meant something. They researched schools. They had (or made) a sense of what life should be when you 'grow up.' They were gonna be winners. Another third became definite write-offs. These guys (yeah, and gals) were obviously slated to become the next batch of welfare moms and deadbeat druggies. We all used to party together, but somehow it became more of a way of life for them. They didn't care about their grades anymore; they swore more often; they smoked more, and smoked up more; they drank and partied all the time. They were gonna be losers. And then there's us…

We kept doing business as usual at school. We kept playing around and wasting our time. We kept half-planning for after grad. We kept up appearances. Somehow we never really seemed to find a direction though, or it never seemed to find us. We just sort of carried on saying "Yeah mom, I'll fill out my university application tomorrow" and "Yeah Mr. McNeil, I'll have my independent study finished on time." Yeah, and sometimes we did. It didn't really matter though.

After graduation, after grade thirteen, after all was said and done, there were still three groups really. The good kids all got into good schools and became students. The bad kids well, mostly, stayed bad and did very little to benefit themselves or society. The good kids -- the students -- have mostly gone on to good jobs, with maybe a spouse or a nice car as a bonus to their fine lives. The bad kids became welfare mothers and drug addicts and criminals, and people with no jobs, or low-paying jobs. They had kids at too early an age. They got a bunch of tattoos. They forgot to pay the phone bill, but they made sure they had their smokes. Well, kinda. It's not cut and dried (some of my best friends have tattoos). Some of the good kids turned bad. Some got degrees and still found themselves without jobs. Some dropped out, or flunked out. Some got knocked-up, or got some chick knocked-up. Some of the bad kids ended up in factories, or doing contracting, or driving trucks and making a hell of a lot more money than me and mine do. Some got it right. Sure, but what happened to us, to the other third?

What happened was nothing. It was too easy to drift, too easy to just get by -- and now that's what we do, we just get by. We're working nobody jobs and making nobody money. We have a good time at the bar, but regret it when we can barely pay the phone bill. A lot of the guys (and girls) I went to high-school with are now just surviving…doing what I call "subsistence living." We're the guys who do the jobs that nobody fantasized about in school. We're Taco Bell night managers, drugstore delivery guys, retail store employees and shipping clerks. How the hell did this happen? I'm not talking about stupid people here -- some of these people were among the brightest in their classes -- but somehow we went nowhere. Most of us still entertain dreams of making it big somehow, and once in a while one of us even goes back to college or university, but it rarely changes things.

School, our parents, TV, nothing really prepared us for this. We were told that we could do anything we put our minds to, but anything is too big a scope. We weren't groomed for choice. We didn't know our options. We didn't choose. When your English essay was due on Thursday, you did the essay by Thursday -- that was the deadline. The same rules don't apply to building a real life for yourself. There is no deadline, no cut-off, no point-of-no-return. Things just coast gently, savagely, downhill. Being the manager at Thrifty's is cool when you're twenty, average when you're twenty-five, kind-of sad when you're thirty and absolutely pathetic when you're fifty. Still, when do you up and quit? If a job is good enough at twenty-six, is it really all that bad at twenty-seven? When do you decide that last-year's job is not good enough for this year? Oh, and by the way, if you're a member of the lost third it's a little daunting to try and one-up your current job because (in most cases) you either don't have an education, or you have a useless one. Motivationally, it's a catch-22. That's why most Red Lobster waiters are, unhappily, there for life. How do you give up a job that makes you $20,000 yearly to go to a school you can't afford, only to come out with a degree or diploma that doesn't guarantee you'll even make as much as you were making before you got it? On the other hand, there's no room for advancement in table-waiting; no real job security, no long-term goal to strive for. That's the kind of boat my group finds itself in. That's why we keep our Wallmart-esque jobs for too long. They're comfortable and secure. We're still drifting, still…getting by.