“Ma’am, are you alright?”
I was sitting in my car in a mall parking lot on the phone with my student loan provider and the agent was concerned. This is likely because I had started sobbing about thirty seconds into the conversation. She hadn’t even given me any bad news; I had only called with a simple question.
Later, telling my grandmother about the incident, she offered an explanation. “It’s because it’s right here,” she said, gesturing up to her neck with a flattened palm; meaning, it’s a sensitive subject, one that results in an emotional release at even the slightest provocation.
My loans aren’t even massive - right now, they’re at about $27,000. I’m aware of the fact that this is practically pocket change in comparison to others’ loan debt. I’m also aware of how fortunate I am to even carry this burden at all, to have attended college and have parents that took on their own debts in order for me to do so.
The reason it weighs so heavily on me is because it feels like it’ll never go away. I’ve been out of school for over five years and my debt has only decreased by about $1,000. Though my payments are set at roughly $300 a month, there have been significant bumps in the road. After graduation, I moved back in with my parents, completely lost and making very little money. I eventually moved to NYC, where I was laid off twice in the span of one year. I put my loan payments on hold in order to pay rent, and because of my high interest rate, my debt went back up to its original number. Hot, angry tears burned in my eyes whenever I thought about it. Here I was, trying to scrape together enough money for groceries, when all along I had been throwing money into a void.
Sometimes I blame myself for blindly accepting debt, but there was also no system in place to ensure a different outcome. How can we expect a seventeen year-old to fully understand the implications of student loan debt? How can we expect their parents to understand it when they had a drastically different experience with paying for college, in a drastically different economy?
I feel cheated, in a sense, and that anger is compounded every month when my bill comes, reminding me that there’s no end in sight.
I have dreams for the future. I’d like to travel. I’d like to own a home someday. Maybe I’ll have children. It’s hard to feel like any of this is possible when your debt functions like a starfish, regenerating itself every time you cut off a chunk.
Transparency has been a saving grace over the years. Talking about my situation and realizing that so many others are in the same boat makes everything seem more manageable.
Gratitude has also helped keep me in check. At the end of the day, I’m lucky to have experienced college and all the opportunities that my education has led to. Though my debt often feels like a weight on my shoulders, I won’t let it suffocate me. I can see it, instead, as an anchor, tethering me to responsibility and reminding me of my strength.