By Alexandre Igor
You’re twenty-one or older, sat at the kitchen table of your rented home, drinking a cup of coffee that, if you had not seen the label of, you could have sworn it to be a drink mixed with cyanide and last week’s laundry water.
A long forty-hour week at a seemingly dead-end job finally wrapped up (and tied with a bow as a couple of days of solace, peace, and excitement). You plan to jam-pack your weekend with as many meetings, deafening music, and good vibes as possible, completely oblivious to the university application submitted three months prior for which, subconsciously, you await a reply for.
The final sip of coffee drags itself down your throat as smoothly as sandpaper would across an open wound. With its bitter bite, you snap into full awareness, spotting a letter you have not yet opened. As you glance at it, “UWA” is boldly stamped on it. You presume it to be the rejection letter you have both long awaited and long forgotten.
To your pleasant surprise, UWA has decided to accept you into your primary choice of major, Commerce. You are ecstatic at the prospect of finally being able to pursue your passion. Being the first son of three and the only one of your entire known heritage to ever get to university, you call your family to share the good news; you call your best friend to tell her you are as good as a millionaire. But something dawns on you.
You have just given up the ability to work your nine-to-five. I mean, money is completely overrated. Sleep, who needs it, you never liked or needed sleep anyway. Relationships and healthy friendships; whoever said you had any of those. You suddenly realise, you will have to make a weekly decision to eat or pay the SSAF alongside your rent to ensure others eat on your behalf. You breathe a sigh of relief; at least you have HECS, you think to yourself as you recall arriving from New Zealand nine years prior – which you soon find out does not help until you have been in Australia for a decade.
However, this is exactly what you have wanted for the last six years since finishing high school: your golden ticket to Charlie’s Chocolate Factory and the millions of dollars you hope to launder in the name of finance and economics.
Life is suddenly certain and simultaneously uncertain. You are certain your future will be great, yet uncertain about the many questions, of friends, books, clubs, and careers.
It is uncertain, for example, whether your friends will still be in university, or have long since finished and are living it up. You wonder whether people will see you as the new kid on the block, or as the old kid trying to blend in as well as oil blends with water. You are confronted with the fear that if you had friends, whether you might miss out on seeing them for the next four years as you pour blood, sweat, and soul into your degree.
On campus, you become genuinely convinced you are somehow of lower IQ than every other student you come across. From being completely confident and self-assured in the ‘real’ world of things, you find yourself tested on the daily as your pride and ego are continuously hammered. From being the smartest and most eloquent in your workplace, the roles seem to switch around and you suddenly become the least of those things; you are faced with the reality that you know nothing. Referring both to the academia, as well as to the knowledge of self.
The emotions of loneliness begin to surface, and it becomes evident that no one ever taught you how to make friends. Thinking back to school, the reason you made friends was because you were trapped together. We were all scarred soldiers laying in the trenches of high school, as the teachers opened fire on us with a daily barrage of the bullets we call routine and assignments. The trenches willed us to become brothers. In the trenches at university, those who are in them have arrived there voluntarily, and more than just tolerate the university regiment lifestyle. This time, there’s not enough reluctance around you for it to make friendships on your behalf. Friendships at university are made by shared interests, like degrees, classes, and clubs. They aren’t as much formed by shared disinterests, which is the only you’ve had experience in.
Even when among friends with shared interests, these people will almost never overlap with your own age group, social class, or your own culture. As bonds strengthen during the semesters, you are conflicted as to whether you should blend into the group and become immature by the standards of your previous life, or you act your wise age and guide people as if a self-ordained, and forever out-of-touch prophet.
You get caught in this limbo of being too old, too young, too mature, or too naïve. As the weeks pass by, you finally come to the realisation of your current existence. You have started to see yourself among the greys of life. You are uncovering more about the web of contradictions that comprise you, which ensure you’ll never be a perfect fit for any group you mesh with. You become a student of “grey’s anatomy” if I may. The anatomy of a person who’s too late, and yet too early. Too wise with life and love, yet too naïve with theory. Able to crack a dad joke or two but unable to grasp the updated slang of the youth, to understand your friends’ jokes and comedic nuance. You are an imposter behind enemy lines according to every single side you are allegiant to.
Each day, it’s necessary to keep grounded while utterly ungrounded. In the present day-to-day, there’s often nothing nearby that’s a sufficient sign of hope that you belong somewhere. The only thing that’s remaining is a little loophole for morale: the hopelessness of the present never strictly indicates the hopelessness of the future.
Move forward three years. One day, you wake up. You find yourself dressing for your graduation, your robes fitting you better than you could have imagined. Buttoning each button, you count the number of years you have been to university, each thread dragging across your skin and reminding you of the many memories that you have accumulated over the years.
Seemingly you have woven a robe that will never come off, as it clings and intertwines with the very fibres that make up your being. You speak fluent academia, and double speak on occasion, as you learnt its necessity both on campus as well as within the workplace. You drink your coffee, once painfully bitter, now seemingly sweeter. It could be the whisky that you added, or the better beans that you are now able to afford.
You look in the mirror and are pleasantly surprised that you graduated still within the best years of your life, and well before the estimated finish of ninety years old. A pair of gentle arms wrap around you from behind and cuddle you for a moment. It’s nice they are attached to living breathing human that you can call your own and vice versa. A gentle kiss and gentle push out the door. You find yourself on stage, graduated.
None of us are any one explicit, fully intelligible thing. Just like the fibres that make up the graduation robe and mortarboard, we’re made of millions of fibres that have congregated over to this intersection of intellectual and physical being: an ever-conflicting cluster of matter that thinks and breathes, overthinks, and overreacts. We’ll never be wholly accepted by any one group. We’ll only ever serve as the intersection between every group we’ll interact with, the beauty of which is, when we accept this conflict, we’ll blend those interactions within us to stand out in the most comforting and amazing of ways.
And at the end of the day, regardless of what you have thought, done, or said, your experience in the present will propel you like rocket fuel. That invisible hand, of the market forces we call life, will move you to your personal equilibrium of great prosperity. All you must do is be patient, by holding onto that little loophole, and sifting through that overbearing temptation to assume that your current struggle is an all-encompassing window into your future. If you don’t think you can do anything about your future, then you won’t do anything. Once it is sifted through, you can shift your focus to the potential of the present and start forming a future that’s beautifully subversive to the now.
Alexandre was born in Eastern Europe and enjoys meeting new people.