The Beginning of Now
"Though I picked the thorny path myself
Afraid of where it leads."
*This story is not "based" on a true story. It is a true story. All the names of people and places have been changed. Including my own.*
"You’re lucky to be alive," was my earliest memory of what I was told as I awoke from a coma. At that point in time very little was making sense to me, and I would often fall asleep. The medication that was given to me lulled me to sleep and kept me very sedated. Although I slept often, was completely unaware of the extent of my injuries, and had a great deal of problems remembering the names of people and friends who would come by to visit me, I knew exactly why I was in the hospital, and why each nurse felt the need to say, "You’re lucky to be alive."
At that time my jaw was wired shut, therefore nothing I said would make sense. To my great annoyance I would simply slur everything. No one could understand me in the first few weeks after I regained consciousness, but my parents managed to, especially my father. I was completely unaware of how drastically my life was now changed. For weeks I was convinced I would just have to heal up a little, have all the casts and my neck brace removed, and I would go back to exactly the way I was before. I realize now how far fetched this way of thinking was. So I will backtrack to the night this all happened.
It was Friday August 13th, 2010. I realize the irony of it being Friday the 13th, but that was the exact day when everything would change. At that time I had been laid off from work for a total of just over 4 months. Despite of what it may seem like, this was actually a very enjoyable time for me.
In March 2010 I was still working for Fitness Now. I had before then worked 6 days a week, but slowly the company’s profits were disintegrating, so my hours were cut and I now worked 5 days a week, and each day I went to work I was lucky if I was required to do a 5 hour shift. Some days customers would not even come into the store. It was at the point where I had gone from being a full-time employee to a part-time employee with no hope that I would have full time work again as long as I stayed with the company.
There were a significant amount of Fitness Now stores all over Canada, and I had over time become friends with employees in other stores. From the beginning of 2010, Fitness Now began to let employees ‘go.’ I expected them to let me go. After all I was a completely unproductive sales person. I had a very hard time convincing a customer who was set on buying a $1000 treadmill to instead purchase a $4000 treadmill, simply because I could not convinced myself that the customer actually needed to spend the extra few thousand dollars. As a result my hours were cut, and while others around me were fired, the company held on to me. For some reason. By the end of March 2010, it became apparent to me that I was hardly making any money, and a good portion of what I was making had to be spent on bus fare to get to work. I had then decided that it was time to say goodbye. It was my first real job and I was there for a year an a half as a "Fitness Consultant", or "Sales Associate" in other words.
I approached my boss Aziz at the end of March:
"I was wondering if you could give me more hours. I’ve always worked full time."
"I understand, but it’s out of my hands. The company isn’t really doing well, and I’ll be in shit with the big boss if I give you more hours and our profit doesn’t go up."
"It’s just that I’m spending over $100 each month on bus fare just to get here, and making just enough to cover the travel costs and my rent and a bit left over for food."
"I can really understand that. Have you been looking for other work?"
"No, actually I haven’t. I just can’t find the energy to. I know I should... I just can’t seem to find the motivation."
"I can understand that. You know what, just give me a night to sleep on it, and I’ll try to find a solution that can work for everyone."
"Oh, okay. Thank you. I appreciate that."
The next day I came in, I found my boss as always sitting by the computer typing away, then as he spotted me a smile crossed his face.
"Hi, how are you?"
"Okay. I gave it a lot of thought and did some calculations last night and this morning, and I think I came up with a reasonable solution for you."
"Oh really? About work and pay"
"Yes. Now stay with me as I’ll explain. Basically there is no point holding your breath hoping you’ll get more work hours. The company is firing not hiring people left and right. They however have no intention or reason to fire you, but your hours, if anything, will be cut even further. Now I’ve looked into it, and did the calculations. I can "lay you off" right now. I’m not gonna fire you but lay you off so that will imply you did nothing wrong to lose your job. In that case, with all the time you put into this job, you will be eligible for employment insurance. We can finish all of the paper work right now. Okay... so I did all of the calculations and the amount that employment insurance will pay you will be around $300 less than what you are being paid now. The thing is you will save yourself over $100 on taking the bus to come here every month. You will be down about $200 but on the other hand you will have a lot of time on your hands. You can use that time to look for something more stable than your job here. Okay... what do you think?"
He looked at me with anticipation.
"I really don’t see a downside to all of this. That sounds perfect."
"Great! I have the employment insurance stuff here online. We can do the paperwork today. Actually I can take care of all of it, if anything. I just need you to sign some things. And if you want, today can be your last day. We can complete all the paperwork today and I can mail it in for you tonight. And then they shouldn’t take too long to process everything. They give you a year to find work, but I’m sure you’ll find something way before the year is up."
"I don’t even know what to say. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for all of this."
His smile broadened.
"Don’t mention it Kar. I know how these things can be. If you ever want to come back and work with us, we’ll take you back with open arms, but until then you just relax and take your time."
The application was filled, the printer had printed, the papers were signed and now for the goodbyes. I went to the back of the store to say goodbye to the technician. We were on good terms, and always had been since I had often assisted him when he was required to travel to peoples’ homes to help collect unwanted fitness equipment and bring it back to the store.
That day there were only three of us working. The manager, the technician, and me. I then said my goodbyes to Aziz. He hugged me farewell, and I walked outside through the front door to the bus terminal. I looked back at the store, through the window at the treadmills, and then up at the store sign. I did not know this but this would be the last time I would see the store. I also did not know that in one year this store would no longer exist. The sign would be pulled down and the treadmills would not longer occupy the location.
I was beyond grateful for the kindness the manager showed me.
Working at the store had been a very good experience for me. Before I acquired a job there I did not see my life as being an easy one. I had always felt forced to comply with my parents’ expectations and had often lived my life with decisions that in no way were my own. But now at this moment, I felt that I would finally begin to live my own life. Nothing would be expected of me, except for rent payments, and since employment insurance would take care of that, it was in no way a worry for me. I had no more managers to tell me what to do, and no more of me worrying to sell and please customers and superiors. I had graduated from the University of Toronto two years prior, which I had solely done for my parents, so they no longer had a reason to nag or push me to do anything.
I was 25 years old, and for the first time in my life, my life was my own. I would not feel obligated to do things I did not want to do. This would only last for 4 and a half months. I of course did not know this or what I would have to endure in a short period of time. Those 4 ½ months would be the happiest time of my life. For the first time in my life I would experience a substantial amount of happiness and a small amount of stress. For the first time in my life, and for the last time.
Now I have to rewind a few years back to explain how I got to the point where I am at now.
It was sometime back in highschool when I was 14 that I became friends with a particular girl. Loupe. It took a few months for Loupe and me to become inseparable. Often after school I would walk the 35 minute walk to Loupe’s apartment and spend the evening with her and her family. She was the only girl and had 3 brothers. The oldest brother was her half-brother. The middle brother was only a few months older then me and developed a liking to me. His name was Eduardo. The youngest one still went to a primary school and we would pick him up from there sometimes. Everyone in our highschool knew Eduardo. He made quite a name for himself as being a real "bad ass," so I was extremely flattered that he had bothered to take notice of me. But we were relatively young and saw no point in starting a relationship.
Loupe had a few girls in highschool who really didn’t care for her, but it was mostly because of the reputation that her brother had developed that they stayed out of her way and kept to themselves. Loupe had no problem attracting a boy she liked. Outside of school she had many friends, but with bad reputations. Very bad reputations. I had met some of them when I was 16, and for weeks later could not shake off a very uncomfortable feeling.
One spring when I was 16, Loupe’s mother called me, asking me where Loupe was. I hadn’t seen her at school that day and had absolutely no idea where she could be. She did not come back the next day. It was only a day after that, that Loupe called me. She came home and reassured me everything was fine. I asked if I could come over and when she said I was welcome to come by, I speedily got ready. It would usually take me 25 minutes to walk to her apartment from mine, but that day it must have taken me 7 minutes at most, because I pretty much ran the entire way there. Back then I could run. It was good exercise plus I had no money for the bus or for any other method of transportation.
When I arrived, Loupe was making noodle soup. That was about a decade ago and despite everything that has happened to me since, I remember that day perfectly. Her little brother was playing video games. Eduardo was not there, either was the oldest brother or her father. But her mother was home. She sat on the couch. A broken woman with tears clouding her eyes. Loupe was actually nonchalant as she went on boiling water. So I asked,
"Where were you? Where did you go all these days?"
She looked up from hersoup cooking , "Oh I was at a friend’s place in Toronto. Sorry I didn’t call. I fell asleep and then I forgot to call."
"Oh, I just went to hang out with my friends. Nothing bad happened. I just lost track of time."
"I was really very worried"
"Oh. I’m sorry honey. I really didn’t want you to be worried, I just forgot to call." She added the flavoring to the noodles and continued to stir. She became motionless and looked blankly at the wall. I walked closer to her. Turning to her mother I said, "I’m so glad she’s okay."
Her mother looked over at me with sorrowful eyes, and spoke in broken English, not her native Spanish, so I’ll word it in a way it will be easy to understand. She
"I didn’t know where she was," she began to sob, and the sobs became uncontrollable.
"She’s back now. That’s a relief."
"She never called... I didn’t know what was happening. She cannot continue like this. What if she ends up pregnant?"
She looked into my eyes but I had no answers. The noodle soup was served. None of us knew this but in just over a year, just as Loupe’s mother had feared, Loupe would in fact become a pregnant teenager.
It was only a few months after Loupe had disappeared that night, that she found me in the school hallway and told me she needed to speak to me.
"My mother and father talked it over. They’ve decided to send me away to live with some relatives, so I’d keep out of trouble.
"What! Is it far?"
"Yeah, they’re sending me to the States. To L.A."
"Oh God! You’re kidding! They’re sending you to L.A. to keep you out of trouble? How does that even work?"
"They are worried I’m hanging out with a bad crowd here. So they are sending me to a place where I don’t know anyone. And some distant relatives happen to live in L.A. and are willing to take me in. So it was the only option."
"This time next month I’ll be gone."
"But we still have 3 months of the school year left!"
"Yeah. Well I’ll probably have to repeat grade 10 again, so I’ll be a year older than anyone in my class... kinda like you."
I was born a year before everyone in my class, not because I failed a grade but because I started school late. I didn’t even live in Canada when I was supposed to
"I don’t know what to say."
"It’ll be okay. I’ll call you every day. You’re my best friend."
I think I must have cried bitterly then, as if someone had informed me that she was dead, because I remember Loupe putting in a tremendous amount of effort into calming me down.
The next three months are now a blur, but I remember the pain I felt was both emotional and physical. And then one day she was gone, and school continued, and I walked the school halls without my best friend by my side. My mother on the other hand was very relieved Loupe was gone. In her eyes, that girl was bad news.
And then it was another summer and I had a new best friend by this time. Her name was Anna and she was in a grade higher than mine. Most of my friends were from a higher grade, I think simply because we were the same age and gravitated to each other. I was a year older than all of my classmates because when I finally started school I was 2 months shy of turning 7.
I should have been placed in grade 2, but at the age of 6 I had never been to any type of school, not kindergarten or anything. I had not lived in Canada. I was not a Canadian. Before I arrived to this new country I lived in Italy with my parents and my mother’s mother. A year before that I lived in the Soviet Union with my father’s mother, and a year before that I lived with my parents, and my father’s mother in a commune .
So basically the teaching staff and principal had a decision to make. Judging by my age I should be placed in the second grade. Although my parents had taken it upon themselves to ‘school’ me at home all of the time when I lived in Italy, the school board did not see how this was a solid education that would place me in grade 2. I did not have formal schooling. There was also the small slightly significant problem of me being completely unable to speak English. So I started grade 1 and soon after turned 7 years old. Then the new year rolled around and other kids began to turn 7. My birthday is in November and close to the new year, so I was not much older then the other kids in class. My slightly older age was never noticeable and had never become a problem for me.
I was immediately enrolled in ESL. I spoke very little English but was able to understand it.
On the first day of ESL the teacher decided to go around the small class and ask everyone where they were from. She asked me first.
"Where were you born Karina?"
My reply, "A hospital." I wondered why she was asking a stupid question like that. So she reworded it, "What country were you born in?"
"Oh...Russia". She nodded and proceeded to the second child, and this time asked what ‘country’ he was born in. I stayed in ESL for 4 years. Basically anyone who was a
landed immigrant was enrolled in ESL. The exact same lessons were given to students no matter how well they spoke English.
In class, I mostly kept to myself.
One day one of my classmates decided to teach me a new word.
"Here, repeat after me... say Fuck."
"Say fuck you."
"Miss Constance! Karina is swearing at me!"
I had no idea what the word even meant. I had never heard this before. I was sent to detention. My parents were called. My mother and father came to the school to speak with the teacher and the principal.
"Your daughter has been swearing at the other students in class. She will now have to stay in detention after school."
My father looked confused.
"What swear word? Karina not know any swear word."
"She used the ‘F’ word! She swore at a student. The student was very upset and had to tell on her."
"We not know what ‘f’ word mean."
"I repeat what girl said to me." I tried to explain.
"How you know girl was not first to say word to Karina, and Karina repeat what she hear?" asked my father.
"Well the student had to tell on her."
"So... because student ‘tell’ first, she victim, because she tell first? Karina not know word mean. Why Karina tell first if she not know?"
The teacher nodded, acting like she understood.
"Well I suggest you have a good long talk with your daughter. You have to make sure she stops using this kind of language. To use this kind of language is very inappropriate here in Canada."
My father turned to my mother and I began to speak Russian.
"The educators posses this kind of logic? Because the English speaking girl told on Karina first she was in the right, and my daughter was in the wrong? Our daughter can hardly speak English, yet she has a list of English swear words memorized by heart, and has nothing better to do then to swear at her classmates for some reason?"
"I will keep your daughter in detention, and have her write out lines promising to no longer act this way."
By the fourth year I felt that my English was in no way different then those of my classmates. I had to translate many things for my parents so technically I was always practicing. A handful of times there would be a classmate who was unable to understand an English word because it was an uncommon one, but I almost always knew what it meant, and would spend time defining it to students who didn’t know.
Still... ESL held on tight. By the 4th year I was beginning to feel extremely restless, as the teacher was teaching a lesson that she had taught every single year. 4th year was the breaking point. My home room teacher would take half an hour reading a children’s book. Then we would prepare for a math lesson. To this day I wonder what genius came up with this, but my ESL class was always scheduled during the math lesson. So the teacher would begin to write a math problem on the board and the ESL teacher at precisely the same moment would arrive at the door to collect me for the ESL class. The ESL lesson would in no way benefit me, because it would be a review from previous years. We would spend time reviewing things I had already learned, and relearned and relearned again. I was spoon fed things I knew by heart so one day I sat down with the ESL teacher and told her I felt bad because I was missing math.
"Well yes. But it is important for you to learn how to speak English." She looked at me as if I was mentally slow.
"It is important for you to learn to speak English so that you can com-mun-icate with those around you. You will have to improve your English. Do you understand?"
"But I can speak English. I need to learn math and I miss math every day to learn English."
She was not expecting this. But that would be my last ESL class. I focused all of my attention on my missed math lessons. As a result I had the highest math grade among my classmates for 3 years in a row.
In the beginning stages of my life in Canada I was not ashamed to tell people that I was born in Russia.. I didn’t see anything wrong with it, but in elementary school kids began to tease me mercilessly about it. They felt the need to point out to me that Canada was better than Russia. This had to be proved. I felt confused. Obviously my parents wouldn’t have moved to Canada if they thought that Russia was so much better. Why would they?
In the third grade, a classmate found out that I was born in Russia, and felt that she needed to have a discussion with me.
"So, you’re from Russia?"
"Hah. Canada beat Russia!"
"Yeah, there was a war and Canada beat Russia, cause Russia sucks!"
"There was a war?"
"Yup. Now Russia isn’t the biggest country anymore! Ha!"
"No... Russia is the biggest country in the world."
"Nah ah! Canada is, because we beat Russia!"
I came home feeling extremely confused. I decided to present my concerns to my father.
"So Canada beat Russia in a war?"
"What? What war?"
"I donno... World War 2?"
"Now Russia isn’t the biggest country anymore."
"What!? What are they teaching you in this school?"
I later found out that there was a "Cold War." It seemed to have played a big role in Canada, because when I lived in Russia I never even knew about it.
I decided then that I should not tell people about where I was born. Apparently I should be ashamed of it.
Years later I looked back on how ridiculous this all was. Why would a 10 year old girl feel the need to have a very absurd metaphorical dick measuring contest with me? Obviously she must have gotten her information from very misinformed adults.
The following year after Loupe left I became close friends with Anna. She provided me with a lot of companionship when Loupe was away. We had our fights, some pretty shitty things could be said, but if one of us said ‘sorry’ the other would feel a little ashamed for not saying ‘sorry’ first. In the end everything would be forgiven.
Loupe kept her promise and would call me, just not everyday. She was adjusting to living with her Los Angeles relatives, and she found school to be very easy. A lot easier than our Canadian Our Lady of Mercy, Secondary School. She said she hardly had to try and would get very good grades. They were a lot better then my grades and I would actually try. I had always had the highest marks in class growing up until I got to high school. Technically I didn’t become stupider, I just lost all will to overwork myself for all A+’s and A++’s as was the pattern for me in my younger years. It looked like Loupe and I had switched places when it came to marks.
Sometime in the 11th grade, months after the girl I loved moved away, a boy began to court me. Now he wasn’t the only one who had taken an interest in me, but he was the only one who put all of his heart and soul into convincing me to be his girlfriend. The fact that I had no interest in him did not discourage him in the least bit. He thought that maybe in time I would learn to love him back a little, but until then he would be more than satisfied to simply call me his girlfriend. Then he gave me a compliment that would seal the deal, and still remains, for me, the best compliment anyone has ever payed me. I never thought that he was lying to me because I don’t think I had ever met someone who could be so sincere. He said,
"Karina, you are the most beautiful girl I have ever seen in my life." It may appear that he was laying it on a bit too thick to get what he wanted, but ten years later, I still believe that he meant what he said, because of the way he said it, and would continue to say it months into our relationship.
In time I realized I had fallen in love with Trevor. He slowly began to squeeze Anna out of my life. Something that I had not noticed during that time, but realize now that my friendship with Anna started to slowly disintegrate. Trevor and I became inseparable. He quickly filled the emptiness that Loupe had left.
Loupe called me now and again. I began to hear from her less and less. She had met a boy and fell in love with him. She told me that he would come over and see her almost every night, but because the relatives she was living with had in no way approved the relationship, it had to be kept a secret. Almost every night she would keep her bedroom window open allowing him to crawl into her room. Loupe was happy. They were both letting their relationship blossom, and her relatives knew nothing about their evening meetings.
Then she called me one day and told me she was living with her boyfriend, and she was really happy. I told her that that was a pretty big decision on her part. I
wished them all the happiness possible. She replied,
"Well...I actually didn’t have much of a choice in moving out of my relatives’ place. They kicked me out. We’re not on speaking terms. "
"Well one night my boyfriend came in through the window to visit me as he always did, but we accidently broke the bed. It crashed with a bang to the floor. My relatives came running upstairs to my room, and found us in the broken bed together"
"What were you doing to break the bed don’t answer that."
"Well my aunt was mad as all hell. My boyfriend was asked to leave, and in the morning they decided to have a meeting with me."
"Holy crap. That must have been awkward."
"It really was. I was told I was no longer welcome in their home. So I packed my shit and moved to my boyfriend’s. And it’s good. We at least don’t have to hide anything anymore."
I guess I was happy for her then. She was living with a boy she loved, although she complained that it took her a longer time to get to school, she was managing, and her grades, unlike mine, were good. She was getting an 82% average, and mine was now in the 60's. There was a small hint of jealousy on my end.
The year I entered grade 12 was the last year any highschool in Ontario would offer grade 13. So now there was a double cohort, and there would be twice as many students who would be applying for a post secondary education. And it had been decided years ago, perhaps when my mother was still pregnant with me, that I would be going to a University.
My mother decided it would be best if I went into business, or accounting, which would make me a large amount of money, resulting in me living a happy life. So because of this I had signed up for as many highschool business classes I could think of. I would regret this later, but I remember I took accounting, calculous, business and a philosophy class which would countas a religion credit. Because I was attending a catholic highschool, it was mandatory for me to take a religion class every year. A philosophy class had to be taken if an individual wished to attend a University. All of the classes were taken not out of interest, but purely out of obligation. As a direct result, I hated every second of it. In philosophy, the class teacher had discovered that I was born in the Russian Federation. He took it upon himself to remind me of this as much as possible. In spite of common knowledge, the ‘Cold War’ in many North American eyes was not over, and would most likely not be in the near future.
Accounting and business classes bored me senseless everyday. I would sneak a novel to those classes and occupy my time reading to avoid the possibility of dying from boredom . And then there was calculus. I was no longer an individual who aspired to be good at math. Technically I could do it if need be, but I never cared for it. Calculous however, I could not do. Despite all of my effort I was failing the class badly before mid-term.
Going against the advice of an academic counselor, I dropped that calculous class, because it became obvious that from that point on, the class would only become harder and my mark would be lower. And so, for a semester I became a ‘part time’ student. This was nice. And then the time rolled around to apply for post secondary education. It would cost $80 to send an application to 3 different Universities. Now at that time I had no money of my own. Trevor would help pay for small things, such as lunch, but asking him for $80 was out of the question. I did not work. My parents were afraid that if I tried to hold down a job I would be spreading myself thin if on top of it, I was trying to get accepted into a University. And so then with a dollar and 75 cents to my name I went to my parents to ask them for $80 to pay for my University applications.
"$80! They are charging that much!? What the hell kind of process do they have to endure that they would ask for $80 for their trouble?" My father was outraged, my mother followed with,
"Is this true? You’re not lying to us? Maybe it’s free and you need the money for something you don’t want to tell us about. Are you lying to us now?"
"No I’m not, that’s really how much it costs, I can show you the paperwork as proof."
"So you have to pay $80 and then you’re all set to go to University next year?"
"Well not exactly dad. It’s $80 for the applications, then they check my grades and decide if they will allow me to attend their school."
"That’s smart. They must make a shit load of money every year for themselves."
My father looked at my mother and said,
"We absolutely have no choice...go write her a check."
And so that was done. I had never worked as hard as I had that year I was in grade 12 to raise my grades. On top of it I had never taken classes that I hated with so much passion. I only took them because the plan for me was to acquire a business education followed by a career in business. I had at that time pulled up my average. It was a 75% which was the highest average I ever had throughout my entire highschool career. I had a friend who had applied to York University the previous year and was accepted with a 72% average so I tried not to worry. This year however there would be twice as many students graduating. OAC and grade 12. It was the last year OAC would exist, and it was just my luck to end up in the double cohort.
As you may have guessed, I received one rejection letter after another from the Universities. A 75% average was in no way spectacular. And so it was time to tell my parents. I can’t remember what my mother had said, I think my brain may have protectively deleted her reaction from my memory, but I will forever remember the disappointed look on my father’s face.
"So what now? You won’t get an education?"
"No, I was thinking about just returning back to highschool for another year. Actually a lot of students will be coming back. I’ll raise my marks and apply again. I’ll just take another year, as if I was going to OAC that was discontinued, and apply again. There will be less students competing next year so I’ll have no problem getting accepted."
"What about the $80?"
"It’s gone. That’s none refundable."
"Typical. That’s how they work," he looked into my eyes, "Karina... that was and entire day’s pay from a job that is taking a significant toll on me. The only reason I go to that work is to support you and your mother, not so you can take that hard earned money, use it as toilet paper and flush it down the toilet. That was a day of very hard work completely wasted, because you didn’t care to keep your grades up."
He then turned away from me, and I felt pain to the core of my soul. I turned to my boyfriend Trevor for comfort. He had managed to fail a class and didn’t even have enough credits to graduate. His parents were just satisfied he was willing to return to highschool the following year . He was content and not worried, rather happy if anything that I would come back to school with him. He suggested it would be fun if we took a class together. I did not have his optimism and I felt like a completely useless failure, crying myself to sleep often.
Trevor’s father had a collection of strong alcohol, and he liked to dabble in trying to make some cocktails now and again and would always offer me a couple. His wife didn’t care to drink, either did anyone in his family, so it became a welcomed tradition that I would gladly accept and compliment his cocktail making skills. At the time it helped ease the incredible stress I was under, but sometimes I was still a nervous wreak, and Trevor would very lovingly sneak into the liquor cabinet and pour me a glass of strong alcohol that would occupy me for a few hours and calm my nerves. It was good.
And so then, the new year began. For the first time in a long time I signed up for classes that I did not mind taking. No more philosophy. I took religion. It was now accepted as a credit that Universities would look at. It wasn’t the previous year, so I gladly took it, considering I physically could not care less about what some old fart philosophized about. No more accounting. Although I liked the accounting teacher. One day when I was taking the class he asked me to step into the hallway with him.
"Karina... You’re really not doing too well in this class."
"I know. I’m sorry sir. I’ll try to really pull my grades up."
"Are you applying to post secondary?"
"Yeah I applied to 3 Universities"
He frowned a little. "I see," he looked into the hallway, then turned to me.
"Karina, you’re getting a 35%."
"Oh! I knew it was low, but I didn’t know it was that low."
"I thought about it, and I’m gonna make a deal with you."
"I’m going to give you a final grade of 75% only if you promise me one thing."
I nodded again waiting with anticipation.
"Never, ever take any accounting class in your life, ever again."
"Okay." I broke into a smile. "I promise you sir. I will never take accounting every again."
"Good, it’s settled then." We both walked back to class. To this day I have kept my promise. I am now 25, and have no desire to ever participate in any accounting activity. So as I was picking my classes for grade 12, second time around, accounting was not looked at. Instead I picked environmental studies, and other classes that would not be challenging but still be acceptable on my University applications.
When September came around, I was nervous beyond anything. As I have mentioned before I was a year older then all of my classmates, because I had started school late. I was born in 1984 and now, all of my classmates were born in 1986 and I would be 2 years older. I felt ashamed and insecure. Trevor though did not leave my side that summer, and often gave me words of encouragement telling me my age did not matter and he did not care that I was older than him, and what would it matter that I was now two years older than everyone else. I did not look it.
I don’t know what it was, but that year God smiled down on me, and that year would be the first and last year that I would enjoy going to school so much. My classmates knew that I was older, but did not react the way I expected. They looked up to me with respect and would always ask for my opinion. They would politely make room for me if they saw that I wanted to sit near them. My marks began to soar.
There was one test, I remember in my Environmental Studies class that I neglected to study for, so I was expecting a very low grade, or a fail, but was optimistic that in time I would pull up my class grade. It may have been my imagination, but I think my teacher may have liked me. I had very often caught him looking at me, and when my eyes met his, he would very quickly turn away. And so one day he informed us he had marked all the tests and would be giving them back.
"I expected the class as a whole to do a little better... but the highest mark was a 96%."
Holy crap. I thought. Someone really has no life. This person must have taken all of their time studying for this test.
"And the highest mark was Karina’s," Some classmates looked over at me and some smiled. I was in a bit of shock. To this day I don’t know if I had actually scored a 96% legitimately, or was just given the mark because the teacher liked me, and I really don’t care. There were no right or wrong answers technically, it was just measuring our knowledge of environmental issues. I don’t care what the reason was behind my high mark, I was just thankful for it. It would look very good on my University applications.
It was around this time that my boyfriend Trevor found a job and was hired at a McDonald’s. As coincidence would have it, my close friend Anna was working there already, at the exact same one. At that point they were both my closest friends. Although my mother had a bad feeling about Trevor, I had assumed it was just a typical ‘mom’ reaction to her only child’s boyfriend. Trevor and my mother shared a birthday surprisingly, so I decided to take it as a sign that we were meant to be together. Years before, when I was in the 8th grade, I had fallen on love with a boy named Travis. It was a few months later that I found out that Travis and I had the same birthday. I naturally thought that he was a year younger than me, as every student in my class was. I found out later that he managed to fail a grade somewhere down the road and was actually born on the exact same day as me. So I took it as a sign from God.
He of course showed absolutely no interest in me. So I would continuously, for the entire school year look over at him and sigh, and just be grateful that I was in his presence. That was the last year of middle school, and after that we went to different high schools, so years would pass before I would see him again, and yet this in no way changed the love I had for him. So when Trevor came along I tried to connect similarities. Trevor... Travis... similar name. Check. Travis and I share a birthday. Trevor and my mom share a birthday. Check? In my naive sixteen year old brain this somehow made plenty of sense. Trevor was only second best, but he really loved me back, so I took it. Plus as time progressed, I started to really fall in love with him, although I still loved Travis, it was evident that I could be in love with more than one person. I had no chance with Travis anyway, and Trevor would put in a lot of effort into letting me know he loved me. Although my mother did not really believe in horoscopes, she liked to read them to humor herself, and one day said to me, "This is not a good pick...leave him now."
Time rolled around for University applications. There were less applicants this time then the previous year. My marks were a lot better. My mid-term average was now an 87%. I had however decided that I would apply to college as well. Just in case, because I no longer had faith I would be accepted into a University. Plus college, unlike University seemed to actually prepare an individual for a specific career.
At that time I had a dream to be a flight attendant. I had flown on airplanes several times, and I loved it. I didn’t mind serving people. I knew I would be happy with this. I would fly for free which is something I loved and on top of that I would actually get paid. I saw no downside. And college, unlike University would only take me a couple of years to complete.
I saw myself as finally living on my own, no longer having to answer to anyone, which I had to do on a daily basis when it came to my parents. At that time the dream was there, and at some point it felt attainable. I had a boyfriend who loved me. My classmates respected me and looked up to me. I was very happy back then. I didn’t even mind that money was an issue and that I had no job. Trevor was more than willing to buy me anything I wanted or he would just give me money. Unlike me, he had a job, and I think this made him feel more masculine, and I was really grateful to him.
University applications still cost $80 plus on top of that college applications were not free by any means, and having learned my lesson from the previous year, my parents would be the last people I would consider asking for money. All applications would cost me around $140 and I considered asking Trevor, but he was working part-time at McDonald’s. It would take him a couple of months just to save that up, which would be difficult, because he would spend his money as soon as he got it, on pretty worthless junk. I never asked him to buy me anything but he would anyway. He took his role as a boyfriend very seriously back then. So I really had no choice. I turned to the school counselor.
We would spend several appointments talking about my financial situation, my feelings and worries. To this day, I think she may be one of the nicest people that exist in this world. She knew I was poor and one day slipped a $20 bill into my hands and refused to hear any objections from me. So when I had told her about having no money to pay for my college and University applications, she told me not to give it a second thought.
Our highschool had money collected and reserved for people in poor financial situations just like mine. We wore uniforms in Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School, and once every month we had what was called a ‘Civies Day.’ On those days we did not have to wear our school uniform, we were allowed to wear anything we wanted, but we had to donate a dollar for this privilege. The school collected money and would use it to help out people in very poor financial situations. People like me. I now knew where the money went.
It was a civies day one day but I had no money and neglected to ask Trevor for help. The first period teacher who was collecting the $1 coins had no problem showing me his displeasure with my ‘forgetfulness.’
"You forget to bring a dollar, yet you didn’t forget to wear whatever it was you felt like."
"It’s not that I forgot... I just don’t have the money," I replied.
"You mean to tell me you couldn’t bring $1 and expect me to believe you? Go to the office and explain this to them. Explain why you have no respect for the rules. If you can’t afford it, then you have no right to wear civies clothes Karina," he pointed to the door.
I headed straight to my counselor. She was not busy thankfully, and asked me to come in right away.
I quickly explained my situation. I told her I felt it was terribly unfair that I should continue wearing my uniform while no one else had to, simply because I was poor. I felt that if I was walking around in my uniform on a day like today, I would be advertising to everyone that I have no money. She was more sympathetic than I had anticipated.
"That money is collected to help out students who are in financial need like you. To make you pay money just to give it back to you in a few weeks makes absolutely no sense. Did that man embarrass you in front of the class when you said you didn’t have money? You are in a financial struggle already. There is absolutely no reason to make life more difficult, and make you walk around in uniform when no one else is. You do not deserve that. Come on, lets go back to your class. I’m gonna have a word with your teacher."
We walked back together to my class, and I was grateful someone had my back like that. Someone was looking out for me. We got to class and my teacher was a little
confused to see the both of us.
"I need a word with you, when you have a minute, please," she said in a stern controlled voice.
"Go sit down Karina," she said to me with a smile and a motion of her hand.
I looked into her eyes and thanked her, and went back to my seat. My teacher went out into the hall with her and closed the class door behind him. It was about a minute later that he came back into the classroom with a very sheepish look about him. I had to put a lot of effort into hiding a smile. He instructed the class to read some chapter from our class textbook, and went and sat at his desk. And we did not hear a peep out of him for the rest of the class period. I had won this round.
Post secondary admission and denial letters were mailed out a few weeks after we sent in our applications. I got letters from the colleges first, and as my mother was always home, and was the one who checked the mail, she was the first to see the letters. When we first came to Canada she had worked, and the only work she was able to find was babysitting, as most companies did not want to take a chance on a woman with broken English and a thick Russian accent, when someone else with better qualities was available.
The ‘Cold War’ was apparently not yet over and her Russian college education hindered her if anything. The kids would grow up, naturally, and she would no longer have a job. So we depended on my father to keep a roof over our heads, and at that time we were getting a tiny bit of financial support from the government. Basically we would be required to pay $300 less for our apartment rent every month. Because of this we would be able to afford food and my father could pay for public transportation to get to work.
So when I came home that day, my mother was eager to find out why colleges were sending me letters. My father was home fiddling around with the TV antenna, as we were the rare people who still used those because cable payments were out of the question. I excitedly grabbed the letter and tore it open. I don’t remember what college this was, but back then I was too excited to care. I had been accepted!"Mom! Dad! I’ve been accepted."
"What? To college?"
"Yeah! This is so great! I know this one is a little far, so the traveling may be a hassle but..." She quickly interrupted me,
"Honey! Did you hear this?! Your daughter doesn’t want to pursue an education after highschool! What did we come to this country for Karina? So you can throw your future away?"
This of course put a damper on my mood, but I was attempting to stay optimistic.
"No mom! I got into college. I will continue an education after highschool."
"What would you be going to college for anyway?"
"To study to be a flight attendant."
Her reaction was then such, that if you just saw her and didn’t know any better, you would think I had just informed my mother that I had every intention of becoming a streetwalker and possibly dabble in hardcore drugs, or something in that field, and that was that.
"Your mother and I are both college graduates! I was a mechanic and your mother was a store manager. And now what the hell does that mean? Nothing! Your mother is now unemployed and I pack and ship customer orders for a flower company. The only job your mother could find was whipping some snot nose kids’ butts, and even that was too good. No one gives a shit about our college education here. Is that what you want? Huh?"
A lot of explaining had to be done, but all worries were calmed when University acceptance letters began to come in. I had first received letters from York and McMaster, but I was really holding out for the University of Toronto acceptance letter. They had a campus in my city. The only reason I had really wanted to attend that school was because I would need to take just one bus to get there. It was probably because I was desperately waiting for that one acceptance letter, that it took its sweet ass time being delivered to me.
A few months before acceptance letters were mailed, Trevor had surprised me with an engagement ring. It was not a very expensive one, as he was working part-time at McDonald’s. The job didn’t exactly pay much, but for us it was a lot of money considering it was real diamonds and gold. I wore it to school but took it off at home, in order to avoid an unpleasant discussion with my parents.
As college and University acceptance letters were coming in, Trevor was failing a class yet again, and would not have enough credits to graduate at his rate, let alone be accepted into college, like he had intended. I remember when I told his family and him about the good news, that I was accepted into every post secondary school I had applied to, they were all happy for me. As much as he tried to appear to be congratulating me, he had a very sour look about him. This was a blow to his male ego. I understood this, and as much as it pained me I understood his bitchy attitude towards me.
The ring I wore started to become the only reminder of us being a couple. At that time our problems distressed me insanely. I would often cry and call him, only to have him tell me he was too busy to have a conversation. Technically he was my first real boyfriend, and at that time I had every intention to one day be his wife. But at some point it was becoming apparent that everything was blowing up in my face. The lies he was telling me were bad too. I mean, he simply wasn’t good at lying, yet he took it up as a hobby and just ran with it. He would tell me he had to go to work or do his homework, and later I would find out from his friends that he was out playing paint-ball with them. It wasn’t so much that I was upset that he chose paint-ball matches over me, it just hurt me that he felt he needed to lie to me as if I was some sort of a tyrant.
Then one day I brought up the lying, and this turned into an argument over the phone.
"I can’t do this!" I yelled into the telephone receiver.
"I can’t do this either. Goodbye," was the last thing I heard, and he hung up. And it was over. I was in
shock. We had been together for two years. He was my first real boyfriend. I felt like a part of my soul had walked out on me. I cried on Anna’s shoulder, and she would comfort me. She told me he
looked very sad at work. She may have been lying, but I took it. His suggested misery gave me some comfort. When Loupe called, I cried to her, then asked her about how her life was with her
boyfriend and if they were still together.
"We are Kar... Actually it’s kinda why I called... I’m pregnant." She was trying hard to contain her excitement out of respect for me.
"Oh Lou! Wow, that’s big!" We wished each other well and she promised to call in a few weeks.
I had no idea what to do. Trevor never came to class anymore. He stopped going to school, and his teachers would approach me to ask about him. "We’re not together." They would all have the same apologetic, uncomfortable reaction to my words. The nice thing was, by that time I had turned 19, so I was now of legal age to buy alcohol. I had been saving up money that Trevor had given me, and now had enough to buy myself something once in a while. It calmed my nerves well and I didn’t feel much pain as I drank my sorrows away. This was good. After giving it some thought I decided it was time for me to leave highschool. There really was no point for me to continue attending. I already had 4 extra credits. Technically I already had my highschool diploma hanging on my wall.
I had only returned back to highschool to achieve better grades to get an acceptance into a University, and, well, that was done. Therefore there was no logical point for me to continue going. I spoke to whoever was in charge, and the paperwork was done. I was no longer a student. I said goodbye to the guidance counsellor, and she let me know that I had made her really proud. I looked at the hallways for the last time and said my goodbyes, and I left, and I would never see them again. And I walked to the liquor store and got myself a cheap bottle of champagne to celebrate with, in my room alone. That’s the way I liked it.
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