What It Feels Like to Be Part of the First U.S. Generation Worse Off Than Their Parents

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BY STEPHANIE KASHETA

Every day I am somehow reminded that I am a part of the first American generation to have it worse than my parents. I wake up at 5 every morning, my shoulders ache from making sushi for six hours (the newest minimum wage job I've acquired.) I check my email, using whatever random signal is floating around my neighborhood. Reluctantly, I accept my fall semester grad student loan amount in excess of $10,000. I drink my black coffee and grab my chef's jacket. I'm usually rushing, and as I button up while walking through the produce section to the seafood area, I feel myself becoming anonymous. Usually, somewhere near the mid-point of my day, I notice my rolls starting to get sloppy. I daydream a lot.

I wonder what my life would be like studying abroad in Finland, Norway or Germany, where tuition is free. I calculate how long it will take me to pay off my near $50,000 in debt when I graduate but stop myself. The light at the end of the tunnel is a degree and maybe an adjunct professorship, which would mean taking up a second or third job to make ends meet. I debate myself: Stephanie, it would mean doing what you love? Yes, but why should I have to be punished for doing what I love, having dedicated the same amount of time, if not more, to my studies and my art as anyone working in a more lucrative field?

I think about Charlotte Bronte, siphoning countless writing hours into household tasks and ponder the role of today's modern woman in the contemporary world. I attempt to calculate the amount of hours I've wasted doing subsistence work, completely unrelated to my writing, but I backtrack and try to tell myself that you learn something from everything, be it a co-worker's inflection, a customer's routine, the capacity some people have to smile, always. On Saturdays, I work as a glass-blower at the Sandwich Glass Museum, and it's the only time during the week that I feel of use, actively engaging my creativity, making something, regardless of the result.

Thoughts of a future family are kicked deep down, because unless my husband and I win the lottery, we won't be having kids until thirty, if that. I wonder whether or not I'll have the stamina to have children at thirty, as every year that passes correlates to a new kind of slowness, new aches, a new generalized fatigue a deadening of sorts. I think about wanting to be the type of parent that can tell her children firsthand accounts of the world, then tweak my goals to something less grandiose, like saving up for a plane ticket back to Vegas so that I can see my grandpa, mother, brother and uncle. I suppose that somewhere near a third of my day is spent suppressing either my wanderlust, my biological clock or my creative impulse. I tell myself that I am not alone, as birthrates among women in my age group declined more than 15% from 2007-2012, essentially meaning that we are reproducing at the slowest pace of any generation in US history. But, this collective hurt doesn't make me feel any better. It also doesn't help to know that suicide is the third leading cause of death amongst us.

I am one of many children who has been reared in collapse. Typically, we average around $35,051 in student debt upon graduation. We are skeptical of the world, and rightly so. Healthcare has become a business, $700 billion was spent to bail out the very people who chose greed over a thriving posterity and the education bubble looms ever on the darkening horizon. 34% of us still live at home with our parents. I try not to let any of the past-due bills and debt affect me, as there's a tragicomedy to it all. We live in a completely ridiculous society, where even produce (something that should be a given) is tainted with the stain of corporatization and a trip to the grocery store, more often than not, winds up in a state of disillusionment that eventually gives way to tacit compliance. I think of what my roommate said of past restaurant co-workers from other countries, who'd ask where our apple trees or farms were and be met with laughter. How preposterous is the idea of an agrarian America now? It's as if we've wiped the land completely free of our foundations.

On rare occasions, I go to a bar with my friends, feeling like the Vampire Lestat, hoping no one will comment on my unkempt nails or thrift store clothes as I re-emerge into a polite society, that I feel an ever-widening disconnect from. I listen to conversations, and realize I have forgotten about the world of concerts, road trips and housewarming parties. I return home, regretting having spent money on a well drink and curl up next to my sleeping husband, baffled by our having survived 2014. In December of 2013 my husband retired from the Air Force after five years of service, we moved across country to Cape Cod (which has a strictly seasonal economy and where the cost of living is roughly 3x higher) in the dead of winter, our car was nearly repossessed twice, we had to take in roommates in order to be able to afford rent, we worked somewhere near ten jobs between us and we, representing ourselves, gained shared legal custody of my step-daughter.

I can't sleep, as usual, and lay upside down at the end of the bed, letting the blood rush to my head to reaffirm that I am, in fact, alive, and that my life has so much dormant potential that I've forgotten about, in the rote motions of living to pay bills alone. I kiss my dog, who nudges me back into a normal position. I stare at him on the floor and think I'd be fine living in a shack as long as my family was with me. There are people who have it far worse off than I, and I can't allow myself to continue complaining.

I am one of ~80 million millennials. What's your story?

ABOUT THE WRITER

Stephanie Kasheta is a graduate of the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she majored in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing. She is currently finishing up her MFA in Fiction at Emerson College in Boston. She is a Las Vegas native who recently relocated to Cape Cod with her husband, a veteran of the US Air Force. Stephanie is also step-mother to a seven-year old future writer named Olivia. When not reading or daydreaming of travel abroad, she can be found blowing glass at the Sandwich Glass Museum or working on her short story collection. Follow her on Twitter

Feature image Fin Kasheta Esq. 

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