As someone preparing to graduate with her Master’s degree with a large chunk of student loan debt, I have done a lot of thinking about how I’m going to pay for said student loans. Obviously, I am applying for jobs – most recently, my dream job – with high-hopes that one of them works out. However, I cannot help but wonder how my balance would have differed had I applied for grants and scholarships.
People often remind me that I could have used my life experiences with abuse, traditional first generation education, etc. to get money for my education. There were many factors that would qualify me for grants, but it felt wrong for me (personally) to explain every scar to possibly be rewarded. I would have to talk about the times my step-dad (a convicted child-molester) would threaten to walk in on me while I showered because I was taking too long: time I spent hiding from him. I would have had to talk about the times when he would make me give him a hug in the morning, fresh out of bed, in only a sports bra and panties; and that I slept in those because he would watch me sleep in the morning before waking me up.
I would have had to tell them all of those things, plus the time that someone close to me, my only saving grace at the time, almost committed suicide as my aforementioned step-father lay dying of cancer: I was 16-years-old. Or of the abusive boyfriend that I luckily only dated for a few months, whom I decided to break it off with because he was three years older than me, and looking for something that ryhmes with “by turginity”; which I had no interest in losing to him. Or, I would have had to tell them about being in elementary school, around 10-years-old, lining up my stuffed animals as I prepared to end my own life. The only thing, rather the only person, that stopped me from going through with it all three times was my mom. I didn’t have my parents around full-time growing up, but I knew who they were. I lived with relatives because they couldn’t get along (see the stuff about my step-dad). I grew up hating my dad because other people told me I should. I grew up having visitation rights with my mom because other people told me I couldn’t live with her (again, my step-dad).
This didn’t stop me from applying to scholarships my senior year of high school. My mom was poor, I had spent my measly $2000 of college savings to pay for utilities, so I needed something. But I only talked about my step-dad’s cancer. I told them that he was a good man, that I loved him, and that his 7-month battle was the only damage that had been done to me. But it felt wrong. Every sentence, every paragraph, and especially the acceptance speech I was required to give made me sick. I felt like I had lied, and I made the decision to not pursue anymore extra-curricular money. It meant that I worked 32+ hours a week for a call center that didn’t treat their employees any better than my step-dad had treated me. It meant that I almost had to drop out of school after finally moving to a new city for said school, because I couldn’t get a new job soon enough. It meant that I worked more than I played, and I took on every experience-garnering opportunity I could. I didn’t spend my money or time partying, or enjoying, or exploring through college. I spent my time working.
And now, with almost $80,000 in debt, I wonder if it would have been worth it. I wonder if telling people what I’m telling you today – things I had only previously told my husband and a therapist before – would have saved me this debt I will live with for most of the rest of my life. If I had talked about it before, when I barely understood it myself, and asked for money before: would that have helped me; and would it have been worth it?
But at the same time, I wonder why I have to talk about these things to receive money. Why do I have to relive each moment, each experience, and spend time convincing people that I went through this just to get help? Why do I have to talk about how dirty it made me feel, and how I would actually felt like my step-dad was watching me after he died: then as a spirit without walls to stop him from gazing at me (which I believed for close to a year after his death). I believed that a monster lived in my life, and I sometimes still have nightmares that he has come back to life, or that he faked his death. I wake up crying, unable to fall back asleep for hours.
So tell me, was it worth it? I feel so accomplished, strong, and empowered. But I know that I will not feel that way when I get my first bill. And I definitely don’t feel that way when people say, “They have scholarships for everything nowadays, you know? You could have avoided that debt,” or my favorite, “it’s your fault you have that much money to pay back.” I’m so glad to know that, for the small price of my abuse stories, I could have escaped close to debt free. What a price for a debt-free education.