Diners, tanning salons, and Kid Snips shaped the person I am today.

All of your favorite online reads have a few things in common: they dance around the topic of self-love, self-care, relationships, breakups, and overcoming adversity. I am entirely guilty of making these my focal points as well-because, you know, they ARE important; however, I need to shake things up. I’m sitting at my desk thinking…”what is different? What haven’t people read before? What would I want to read?” It’s not as simple as that though.These thoughts don’t come to you like some fusilade of creativity. If you have an audience, no matter how big or small, you can’t cater to everyone’s needs. Some people will send one of those little automated emoji responses on Instagram applauding you AND…others will unfollow you. Do I give a shit? If you can’t tell by now, the response to that is a quick and simple, nope. The only time I seek a bit of validation (when it comes to my writing), is when other…much more talented writers can articulate their thoughts like an artist; they are the impressionists of art with their thin and light brush strokes, conveying what they want you to see but in a specific manner. I, on the other hand, am Salvador Dali (don’t get me wrong- I adore him), but my writing is abstract. Chaotic. Sometimes hard to follow.

And ironically…this is where I digress, yet again; however, I wanted to supplement this piece with a bit of a background. Is prologue the correct word? Anyway- what is mentioned above, is a part of it. Wanting to stray from the rest of writers is NOT my main goal, but it did spark some creativity.

When I was five years old, my family and I moved to a very affluent suburb of Chicago. Filled with large estates and private schools, we were surrounded by wealth. I was privileged…in many ways. I was offered piano lessons, a pretty house in a safe neighborhood, nice clothes that my mom always ironed the night before. I tried ballet (which soon taught me that I CANNOT dance). I was a “child model”- I’m laughing as I type that; my big debut was my role in a Kid Cuisine commercial. Ha! We had, what my mom referred to as, “cleaning ladies,” we always had sandwiches made the night before, and we were always reminded how much we were loved…the list of advantages goes on.  My family was the epitome of white privilege. A white, nuclear family, building a life in a safe and beautiful town, having family dinners every night together (this all drastically changed when I got older-but that’s a story for another time). Anyway, what I failed to realize, is that there was a “spectrum” in this town and we were at the bottom. MY G*D that sounds disgusting. My “bottom” is still the majority of the worlds “top.” But let me explain.

I’m going to date myself a bit here, but the trending designers at the time were Abercrombie, Coach, and Juicy Couture. And my family struggled a bit to afford any of it. I didn’t even pay attention to the clothes I wore until the day I went over to, for the sake of privacy, A and N’s house. Their beautiful, charming, yet almost uninviting house. We were so young. Instead of playing house or making music videos with the VHS Camcorder I loved so much, we gossiped about Caroline’s new push-up bra and Hannah’s dad’s new Mercedes. I admired A and N. They were a couple of years older than me, incredibly popular, and I was in dire need of fitting in. So I played along. I became a mean girl. Not overtly, but I said what I needed to in order to conform. Something I never thought I would do. N was the older sister and she was getting her license soon. Or maybe her driver’s permit? Either way, in my eyes, she just kept becoming cooler by the day. We were all in the Annie play together at our local community center. It was our first rehearsal and they were helping me do my makeup in the backstage bathroom. She pulled her makeup bag out of her big purse and said, “do you like it?” I naively responded with, “your  makeup?” “No! My new purse, silly! It’s Coach.” I gave my best fake smile and pretended I knew the importance of this…item. “Wow, yeah! It’s beautiful!” She was beaming. Her excitement about this new present from Daddy had her glowing. “What’s your favorite designer bag you have?” As these words spilled out of her mouth, I froze. Not like the cliche “deer in headlights” type of frozen. More of like- what the fuck do I say here? I don’t even know designers well enough to even fake something.” So I did my very best to make something up. I remember my mom wanting this Louis Vuitton wallet, so I went with that. “I have this cute little Louis Vuitton wallet but I keep it at home because I don’t want anyone here to take it. I love it too much.” She was, yet again, beaming with joy. It was as if this materialistic conversation brought us closer. I did what I had to do. I said what I needed to. I had to vindicate this facade to avoid any form of derision,

My mom was driving me to rehearsal one day and I asked her why I couldn’t have a designer bag. She turned around and with a stern voice, she said “a WHAT?! Sammy, you’re barely twelve years old. I didn’t have my first designer until I was eighteen…and I bought it MYSELF.” I was upset. I didn’t understand at the time. All of my friends were handed such nice things so willingly by their parents. I questioned if my parents cared about me the same way. How fucking ridiculous of a thought? T was given a car before she even received her license and my parents wouldn’t’ buy me the designer wallet I “wanted”. My thought process was vastly distorted. Like I said, I simply didn’t understand at the time.

At twelve, I was a nanny. At fourteen, I “illegally” worked as a hostess at our town diner. At fifteen, I was a receptionist at a KidSnips. I was gaining money from the memorable Kid Cuision commercial but I continued to babysit while I worked at LA Tan. I did whatever I needed to. It wasn’t as if I had bills to pay…but I was starting to enjoy this newfound feeling of autonomy.

Lets jump to 2013. I’m graduating high school and the college talk emerges. My parents couldn’t afford to pay for my college. They promised me they would help to the best of their ability, but they were adamant on me attending community college for a couple of years. The thought itself humiliated me. Now- I want you to envision this-I had dreadlocks in high school and I wore baggy clothes found in thrift stores. I had grown into myself a bit more (personality wise), and I was the furthest thing from materialistic. I even transferred high schools because I grew so incredibly tired of the unvarying and dull environment from my previous, wretched town. (Insert a deserving quote of white privilege). But the people who formerly surrounded me were sheltered robots…but STILL, there was a certain image I felt I needed to uphold at times, and the thought of me in some community college, isolated, while all of my friends were joining sororities at Big 10 schools, turned my eyes fifty shades of green with envy.

We found a state school that we could afford and I JUMPED on the opportunity. I didn’t care that it was only a short train ride from home and that it was in the middle of nowhere. I was just eager to leave. I wanted liberation.

That freedom didn’t last long. After a semester, I knew that the decision I had made was rash and this wasn’t the place for me. So, as it always seems to go, I made an 180 adjustment and  transferred to a community college. My eating disorder became inconceivably prominent; visibly and emotionally. I was chain-smoking 27s in the morning and trying to compensate with yoga at night. I called my boyfriend at the time, who was in a fraternity at the University of Iowa, begging him to talk to me. I was so incredibly lonely. But I knew that if I worked my ass off, I could get into a better school. And I did.

I became a Big 10 sorority girl! Seeking validation and approval all over again. It was dejavu…only at a college level, which is far worse. I was pretty and people liked me. I didn’t even need to FAKE this surface level Sam. I embraced it. My boyfriend and I were the poster couple of Greek life. But it didn’t last long. I was overwhelmed with the environment I was in. It felt staged and scripted. It was as if I was on a poorly made soap opera. I dropped the sorority. I picked up three jobs, gained an adderall prescription, and excelled in school. I was starting to have my shit together (kind of). And the harder I worked, the more excited I became. I didn’t rely on my parents at all. I finally felt the true meaning of independence. Sure, did it hurt a little when my friends came home from classes and began drinking right away with no other obligations? Or when I realized that their entire tuition was paid by their parents while I was left drowning in 70,000 dollars worth of student loans? Or when I drove around a 1989 Oldsmobile Bravada and they all had cars manufactured in 2017? Yeah, it fucking stung a bit. But I wouldn’t have changed a single thing. I finally understood what my mom meant. When you work for something…when you really earn something, it’s almost as if the value increases. You cherish it. You’re proud of it. You want to boast and brag because you have the RIGHT to. No one handed anything to you. You weren’t fed with a silver spoon. To me, that is something to be grateful for. I now understand that A and N didn’t possess utter happiness. Their father was bringing home designer bags to compensate for the 190 plus days he was traveling for work. They were lonely and the materialistic attempts to save the father-daughter relationship sufficed. I wonder how they are now.

To this day, I don’t own anything “designer.” If I do, it’s a hand-me-down or purchased from a thrift store. I have a neon yellow wallet I purchased for seven dollars at Ragstock and rather than a purse, I carry around my dad’s fluorescent blue backpack to and from work. And when I go out, I still borrow my mom’s purses. Don’t get me wrong, I do like nice things. I like my spa days and when I dress well,I do feel better. At the end of the day, the material world I grew up in, had only broadened my horizons. Rather than succumbing to the social norms of the small, rich town I was thrust into; I used it as an opportunity for growth. It set me in motion to be the person I am today. I don’t identify the consumerist community that does still surround me. By day, I’m a waitress at a sports bar. By night, I’m a hard working student finishing a Master’s in clinical mental health counseling. But my job, my work ethic, my studies…none of it defines me. These are all just characteristics of the woman my family raised me to be. I am eternally grateful for them. I am 23 years old and in one year I will have my classes finished in graduate school. My long term goal is to have a private practice by thirty. It may seem unrealistic to some, but if I continue to remind myself that with the necessary drive and the diligence I learned to possess, I can do it. I will do it. I implore you to create a list today of things you are grateful for. Apart from a roof over your head or food on the table, do not put one materialistic item. This might be your awakening of true happiness.

Over and out,

Sam

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