Life After Debt

by Derek Hamilton

As of this week, I’m officially debt free. As a millennial, just saying that feels unnatural.

I must have logged into my student loan account three times per day this week to be greeted by the “Congratulations!” zero-balance notification. It’s a celebration GIF that makes confetti rain down on my screen. I don’t get any satisfaction from it, so that’s not why I keep checking my non-existent balance. I keep logging in because I’m afraid the bills are going to somehow re-materialize on my account.

It’s like I’ve become so accustomed to student loan dread that I’m filling the void with my own fabricated version of the anxiety it caused. It’s debt-related PTSD.

The journey started at the low point that all new grads experience: tallying up the bills and realizing what I’d gotten myself into at the behest of my teachers, family members, and even my own overly-idealistic self.

Student loans felt like an anchor. They felt like a prison. They felt like a tombstone. Here lies: my financial stability, and all hope of establishing personal wealth. It was like being in an abusive relationship – where there was a domestic disturbance every time my paycheck was deposited.

Throughout my repayment process the past five years, I realize that I became financially anorexic. Even now, knowing I’m in the clear – it’s incredibly difficult to splurge or treat myself to anything. I’m such a fiscal fascist that I can’t even justify my own celebration. After years of practice, I can tactfully convince myself to avoid any non-essential purchase.

The only glimmer of assurance in this story is that I couldn’t have done this without my wife. She had her own set of student loans that needed to be addressed as well, so the threat was on both of us. We’ve kept a running tab in our minds of everything else we could have spent this money on. It has been painfully unmistakable to us.

Paid in full. That’s the only concept we’ve been focusing on since we graduated. Now that our student loans are gone, we’re finding ourselves becoming more and more debt averse. We don’t even want to purchase a home unless it’s with savings and we pay for it outright. We’ve already experienced the smothering curse of debt.

We have drunk from that cup, my friends, and it is bitter.

We keep asking ourselves how we feel about all of this, but we still don’t know what to make of it. It’s insane that we’ve joined the minority of Americans who have paid back their student loans without defaulting. It’s sickening to think that we’ve paid off the equivalent of a 30-year mortgage in five years and have (basically) nothing to show for it. We know it’s for the best. We know we did the right thing. We know we finally achieved what we set out to do – but we don’t feel any relief from it right now.

Paying back student loans is a personal victory that has all of the symptoms of an absolute defeat.


Derek Hamilton is a writer, musician, voiceover talent, and self-proclaimed nerd from Northeast Ohio. He’s a Columbia College Chicago alumni, a published poet, and currently works as a streaming media producer. You can find more of his work at derekhamiltonedits.com

The Epiphany

by Nelia Aboagye

It is January, it is a new year and suddenly I realize that what was once my last year’s resolutions are creeping up in my mind, screaming out to be let out into my new year planner/journal. It suddenly dawns on me that I never accomplished my last year’s resolution.

The guilt fills my chest and my heart begins pounding, my palms are sweating as my eyeballs push out of their sockets and are ready to pop out. I rub my sweaty palms on to my arms and my panic is disturbed by the goosebumps all over my arms and my ice-cold feet. Wait a minute, I am having a panic attack!

I run across the room searching frantically in my desk drawers, looking for my last year’s journal. Documents, bits and bobs fly out of the drawers as I throw them out in search of my old journal.

“Aha!” Found it, I quickly find a spot to sit while I flip through the pages in search of that long list of old resolutions.

With my face buried in my old journal, my eyeballs swing from left to right, back and forth hoping to see a tick reflecting an accomplishment – but no chance. A rush of sorrow fills my heart followed by disappointment. My body slouches as I exhale letting out a big sigh.

I sat in my home Office feeling disappointed in myself, I look around and I see a lot of things I have accomplished, a happy home, beautiful healthy children and suddenly I have an epiphany. New year’s resolutions are overrated and exaggerated. I was being harsh on myself and had false expectations of myself merely based on what others expect.

I realized that I owed no one but myself I answer to no one but myself, I realized I am happier having forgiven and loving myself. I suddenly realized I achieve more goals by doing what I love and happier at this.

The Epiphany is profound happiness in loving self.


Nelia Aboagye loves herself and her family (husband and four children, all boys) give her joy. She enjoys writing children’s books.

Mugged

by Dustin Pellegrini

The night I got mugged was a Monday. I had only been up at school for about two weeks and I remember not realizing that until other people pointed it out and kept repeating it. Like it made a difference somehow. Like it mattered. I remember getting sympathy for it from people I didn’t even know. Feeling uncomfortable at their touch, the hugs they forced on me. Their knowing looks they tried to pass over to me. Like they understood. But they didn’t.

I remember feeling the bite of the gun barrel as it made solid contact with the back of my head, smashing down clean like a hammer driving a nail in one swing. I remember not telling people about that part after hearing my brother’s reaction to it. Dad translated it to me first. How Tyler was a hair’s length away from driving up here with every hunting rifle he had to take revenge for me. I remember thinking this was just something dad had said, but then believing every word of it when it was said in my brother’s heavy, panicked voice. How I had to calm him down, convince him not to want to kill on my behalf. How his voice came out in screams between buckets of breaths. How it sounded on the phone like he was driving with the window open and I was afraid he was already making good on his word.

And as I was talking him down, I remember thinking, ‘Let him do it.’ Part of me wished he would, but I let that sink back down into my guts. Now, I only wish I could have responded with his anger, his pure frustration at how unfair it was, instead of with my silence.

‘It’ll be okay,’ I told myself. ‘Turn it into writing. Make it something. Rise above it.’ But I couldn’t help but want to sink. It’s hard to hold it in and just try to float up, it would have been nice to just tread water at their level or just dive down further and hold my breath for a minute or two like Tyler could. I just wish I could give in and do something like him.


Dustin Pellegrini is a writer living in Chicago. He studied Creative Writing at Columbia College Chicago, has had his work read at Chicago’s Story Week Festival and currently works at a nonprofit. You can find more of his writing at dustinpellegrini.com