Six Months Out
“Yep, you’re good to go!”
“Ok, thanks!” I wave to my supervisor and a few of my fellow cashiers as I head to the back of the grocery store. Sore feet remind me I’ve been standing for the last eight hours, my weary body ready to get home and collapse into bed. Pulling my apron over my head, I drape it over my arm and pull my phone out of the pocket, opening my email inbox.
Subject line: 11 new writer jobs in your area
Content Writer and Strategist – Red Caffeine
Technical Writer – General Electric
Sales Associate – Art Van Furniture…
Subject line: article submission
Thank you for your submission! We would like to make this live on the site immediately…
Subject line: Interview Follow-Up
I regret to inform you that we have made an offer to another candidate and they have accepted. The team loved you and your presentation and interviewing skills, but it really did just come down to the qualifications…
I sigh as I punch my employee ID into the time clock, grab my stuff from my locker, and head out to my bike for the ride home.
After storing my bike in the basement, I head up the three flights of stairs to the apartment that I share with two other women. I walk into my cluttered little room, plugging in my tiny Christmas tree to give the room a spot of color. Discarding my bag, jacket, hat, and gloves in the middle of the floor, I plop on my twin bed and look through the to do list on my phone:
- Apply to jobs
- Cook chicken
- Do laundry
- Write something…anything
- Read library books
- Wash dishes
Netflix calls to me. I pull my laptop to me and scroll through the time-sucking black hole that we call a streaming service. Maybe just one episode of Reign and then I’ll get to work on something…
Six months earlier – Graduation Day
I place my hand against the medals on my chest again to silence their incessant clinking. One for being an honors scholar, one for being the English Departmental Scholar, and one for graduating summa cum laude. Adjusting the white cap atop my head, I check to make sure I’m not blocking anyone behind me as my fellow student marshals, selected for being the highest achieving students of their majors, get in position for a picture.
Once the deed is done our careful lines merge into an amorphous blob, and our kind photographer asks the question of the day, “So, what are your plans for after graduation?”
Ice creeps through my veins as the other marshals tell of prestigious graduate programs and promising entry level career jobs that await them when the leave the stage today. I beseech any forces that be who might hear me to hide me from sight, to save me from disgracing my major by admitting that the English major is the only student marshal going home to her parents, unemployed and without prospects. I hate the feeling that I’m proving right every person who’s ever made a snide comment about the usefulness of a degree in English.
Someone must take pity on me, because before expectant eyes can turn to me, we are called to our positions. I send gratitude to whoever’s watching over me, my clinking medals keeping time with my every step as I head to lead my fellow graduates to our final ceremony.
Early December 2017
“Hello, how are you doing today?” My smile is effortless, genuine, as I prepare new paper bags and reach for the first item waiting on my conveyor belt.
Though the work I do is menial and repetitive, I have yet to grow bored with it. I enjoy speaking with my customers, maybe getting a peek into someone else’s life, and working to bag their items in the most efficient way possible. Each batch of groceries presents its unique challenge, which must be completed as quickly as possible.
“Do your teachers love you because of your face?”
I look up at the woman across from me, short, bright-eyed, with short, curly grey hair.
“Excuse me?” I’m equally delighted and confused by the comment.
“You have a wonderful face.”
“Aw, thank you! I think my teachers loved me more because I was smart, but who knows! Maybe it was because of my face.” I chuckle and reach for a box of crackers, a good base for the bottom of the bag. Then I’ll grab that can of soup, set aside the berries for later…those carrots can go in now.
“Are you in school?”
“No, I’m graduated, just this past May.”
“And what are your plans now?”
“Still job searching! I’m hoping to find a decent entry level job to start my career, but for now, I’m here!”
“Well let’s set a goal, Rebecca.” I stared slightly at my name, remembering it’s written on my apron but still thrown off slightly when customers use it.
I look up and see the seriousness written across her face, this woman I only met a few minutes ago.
“You’re a great young woman, you’ll be on to bigger and better things soon enough. Let’s say by March, you’re moving on to that career job.”
“Well I would love that!” I say, slightly baffled by this woman’s utter confidence in my abilities. “What’s your name?”
“Well it’s really nice to meet you Ruth!”
I tell the woman her total and lift her bags to her side of the counter.
“Now if you see me in those last two weeks after you’ve given your notice, you be sure to let me know where you’re headed.”
“I most certainly will! Have a great day!”
I try to give my full attention to the next customer in line, but part of me is still in that conversation with Ruth, this woman who knew me for five minutes and has every faith in my ability to succeed.
Ruth, Ruth, Ruth, Ruth. I commit her name to memory, wanting to have even half the faith in myself that she has, and hoping I don’t let her down.
I know that studying English is about so much more than a career track. I’ve known this from the beginning, but it is only after these first agonizing months on the job search that I’ve accepted that I can be proud of my major, even as I work as a grocery store cashier. My major has made me into the woman I am today: a woman who I am proud to be. My compassion and empathy; my ability to analyse our culture and see the power structures behind it; my choice to envision a better future where all the bullshit is finally exposed, torn down, and people are finally seen and treated as people first, not genders, ethnicities, social standings, sexual orientations, etc.; all came about from my time spent in Simpkins’ classrooms, being challenged by my professors to think deeply and question broadly. In Non-Western Literature, Women in Film and Television, Critical Methods of Reading and Writing, New Media Literature, Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Workshop, and many other classes people I have the honor of calling my teachers asked me to look into the lives of others and understand them. I didn’t leave Western with a guaranteed, straightforward career track. I left with so much more. This is what I wish I could explain to the world, and what I’ve learned to be proud of in spite of the world’s opinion. Success as an English major doesn’t come from fancy job titles and big paychecks. We knew that when we chose it. Our success is much more impactful, because with our storytelling abilities and understanding of other people, we could change the goddamn world.