I never really thought about twenty-five.
I am reaching a point in my life that I never considered reaching when I was growing up. I have no recollection of thinking about my late-twenties. Throughout adolescence, it was all about getting into college, then I might do graduate school after that, and then feasibly I’d have some career that would carry me throughout the rest of life. 24 was, kind of, the cut-off for imagination.
There is a part of me that always hated thinking about the far future. The part of me that remembers how it felt to go through life two, three weeks at a time during my latter college years feeling absolutely worthless and remembers the calculation I’d do in my brain where I felt the massive weight of those two-to-three weeks being only a fraction of a year of 52 weeks and 365 days, and how many years I had left given the average lifespan of an American male, living through all of that and feeling the weight of a life where I was suffering through whatever that equation would bring forth, like, if I had 50 years left at 365 per year what was that, like five figures worth of days where I’d just have to be like that? Just miserable day atop miserable day for the rest of my days? Add that to the recognition that other people had it worse, which I always interpreted as “That means that I’m not allowed to feel badly about how I’m feeling” so every day felt worse and worse and also how miserable it was didn’t matter.
At times like that, the idea that I would reach an age like 50, that I’d have to spend 25+ more years of waking up as Joe Bush and hating every waking moment doing so, it hurt, so I didn’t think about it. On those days, when the prospect of “next week” and “next month” hurt to think about, I didn’t think about 24, or 25, or 26, or 37, or whichever other age I would one day hit, I didn’t think about them because I didn’t want to feel the pain of thinking about it. It was defensive, more than anything.
So the future, for me, was always either a dark, painful slog, or it just wasn’t considered. That’s how a lot of things have been for me. I do a lot of the same think about what happens after I die, I don’t think about whether there’s a God, I don’t think about whether I’ll find a spouse, or if I’ll have children, because the stupid logicizing my horrible brain does always ends up with immense pain, loneliness, and suffering forever, and then points out to me that I can’t feel badly about it. My brain takes that sort of contextless, pessimistic logic and runs it to its very end if I let it, and my response so often was that I just couldn’t let it.
So, for my own sake, I never really considered getting here. I knew that I would, I just never thought about it. That was how things went, for a really long time. It was very pragmatic, it was about doing what I could, while I could, and continuing the next day.
But then, in maybe the most obvious act of dramatic irony I could drop right here, things started to change. The seeds of it were planted in late 2018 when I first arrived in San Diego and took a position as an embedded tutor in a Rhetoric and Writing Studies class. Even though I felt at points unappreciated, the moments wherein I actually did help students improve at writing were so special and powerful to me.
For the first time, I recognized a skill that I had, and I was making other people’s lives better with it, even in a small way.
For someone who spent most of their whole life feeling like a leech on society, taking from others and never being able to pay anything forward, that had power. When I was teaching, tutoring, I mattered. I’ve never intrinsically felt that, so doing something that made me feel like I mattered meant everything to me. I was able to use that experience and take up a job with the writing center at SDSU, a role I cherished. I got to meet, work with, fucking help so many special and incredible people. It was a dream for me, just being there and knowing that I was going to be a positive presence for a stranger I didn’t even know yet, when I’d spent so long feeling like I couldn’t be anything to anyone. It was, and still is perfect for me.
I stopped noticing that I was waking up and going to bed. Days stopped feeling like statistics of torture building up over a period of too long and they started feeling like I assume they feel for other people. Next week, next month, they felt real and I was excited for them without even knowing what they held.
August of 2019 brought me my first class as a teaching associate. It was one of the toughest jobs I’d ever taken on. But the stakes were all worth it! There was a group of nineteen students whose lives I could improve, even if in the slightest sense. Writing had provided me with a feeling of purpose at points, it had helped me clarify who I was and what I meant and what I stood for. I could be the vessel that helped them recognize that in themselves!
I started to work on this thesis, it covered the experience of multilingualism in writing centers and the aspects of empathy and connection and belonging between both the tutors and the students in a way that connected so well with what I appreciated about what I did. I saw what I was doing with it! It was important, and I could take what I learned from this, and I could apply it if I could get a job working in another writing center in the future.
The future. I was thinking about the future. For a minute there, I lost myself, and I was thinking about the future. I think from about August 2019 to March 2020, things were starting to make sense. I was setting up search agents on job sites for positions opening in my field, I was applying to doctoral programs. The future was there, it was real, and I could control it, and it was going to be good. My sun was going to come out.
And then, fucking Coronavirus happened and within the span of like a week it all stopped and we were somewhere severely different.
It really happened over the course of a few days, like things felt normal one Saturday and I was having to readjust to what the idea of the rest of the semester’s curriculum would be by that Tuesday. At the end of that class session Tuesday, it hit me that I’d never share a physical space with that group of students ever again. The realization came through so quick and hit so hard, like a guillotine, and the blades just kept falling in the coming days. It struck me as I was sitting in the writing center on that Friday that it was possible I’d never sit in there again. I walked off campus knowing we’d go online for the rest of the spring, probably through the summer, and maybe into the Fall, and I hadn’t prepared in the slightest.
Within the span of a few days, the future was out of the question again. I went from living with a sense of the future to a philosophy limited to the remaining hours of the day. I went back to a familiar pragmatism, going to bed and waking up and whatever happened in-between was only as important as it needed to be. Thankfully, I had people to work and live for, I was able to start teaching and tutoring online, and I was able to at least focus myself on an, admittedly abridged future, as there was a curriculum that needed to continue into mid-May even if I was teaching via a webcam and microphone.
I have, since the beginning of April, basically limited my thought processes to the extent of tomorrow. I sit down with my planner at the end of every night before I go to bed and I lay out what I’ll do the next day. It’s all that I can do for myself, I don’t think about the days coming after, really.
Every day has led into the next, as they always do. While that used to be a painful thing to recognize, that the days and the suffering would continue to stack up, in this case it’s been somewhat stabilizing. Recognizing that my level of influence over everything right now is so small, and then taking control of what level of influence I have by making sure that I control what tomorrow holds, it’s actually been something positive for my mental well-being.
And after all of that, here I sit, in my bedroom, at my computer, on April 26th. Last month, when I was settling in for the first week of social distancing, I couldn’t have conceived of April 26th getting here. I had no thoughts about what April 26th would look like, but it got here, regardless of whether I wanted it to or not. The 27th will follow, then the 28th, et cetera, et cetera, no matter what I put into it. As obvious as it is, I have kept myself going by recognizing that any date that I think of in the future will eventually get here, and I can only influence what I have influence over.
I will remember 24 as a year that I spent getting better, a year of what felt like genuine personal ascent interrupted by a force outside of my control. At the end of it all, I’m still here, I’m happier with myself than I was at this point last year, and even if the pandemic complicated everything, I’m still going to do what I can to keep getting better. I feel like I have absolutely no control over the future in any sense other than my own, but if that’s all that I have right now, I’m going to do as much as I can to control it for the better.