The BART train screamed as it ground to a halt. A gust of wind blew across the platform and whipped my hair around my face. The metro’s metallic high shriek and the sound of scattered dry leaves sliding down the pavement made my teeth grind together. The doors hissed open and I walked inside the battered, heated car, trying to find a seat away from the door.
I had a love and hate relationship with the BART. Relying on the aging public transportation system to get around wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience. The seat cushions were old and stained, and if you didn’t have a seat, then people with varying degrees of hygiene crammed against you. I sat down as if the BART seat was a pincushion and recoiled as someone next to me coughed. Thousands of people depended on it for transportation into the city, and it was frequently the target of delays and strikes. It cost me over ten dollars to ride into the city, and paying a bridge toll and overpriced city parking was an unaffordable luxury.
I was riding the BART to my college campus as a last-ditch effort towards finding a damn job. On Friday, I wrote to my old professor in a melancholy, drunk-infused haze and he finally replied last night. The late night Sunday response from my English professor surprised me. I didn’t think he would get back to me in time, but I scheduled a meeting for nine, which unfortunately was the time most people commuted to the city for work. In a few stops, the BART would be jam-packed with hordes of people, pressed up against each other like sardines in a can.
Maybe I would walk along Embarcadero and visit Pier 39 for clam chowder after the meeting. Even though it was always packed with tourists, I always loved walking there and breathing in the clean air. On a clear day like this one, the sun would light up the pier like a gem. In the distance, crystal waves would crash on the rocky shores surrounding Alcatraz. To Northern Californians, San Francisco was the place that promised a path to success. If you lived there, you had it made in life.
When I was in school, I used to dream about the day when I’d be able to afford an apartment. In a city where rent cost at least three thousand a month for a studio apartment, only a few could afford it without sharing expenses with several roommates. Still, the city was the goal. Even though it was a short BART trip away, everyone wanted to live there.
The train emptied nearly an hour later when the majority of passengers got off at Market or Powell, but I had to take the train all the way to the end of the line. Freezing mist greeted me as I exited the train and made my way through the station to the street. I clutched the resume I spent the morning scrambling to finish in my folder as I climbed into the shuttle bus that would take me to the dreary gray college campus I thought I’d never see again.
After you get a Bachelor’s degree, you’re supposed to be qualified for a job. With the economy in the tank as it was, none of my English major friends got jobs. Some switched to other careers, while others applied to grad school and retreated into the false security it provided. I felt cheated somehow.
A sick feeling riled my stomach as I thought about what I would say to Professor Lark. I did well in his class and he always encouraged me to follow my dreams, but there was the possibility that nothing would come out of it. He’ll know someone, or something. It’ll be fine.
I walked across the campus and opened the door to the English department. As I walked down the hallway, I saw many professors I recognized at their desks, some in meetings with students. It was really strange to be back here. Asking for help from my professor felt like a step backwards. Why was I doing this? The sick feeling in my stomach rose sharply. I didn’t belong here anymore.
I was here because I didn’t have a choice. It was this or I was going to send in applications to the local Chili’s. I stopped behind Professor Lark’s door, my heart beating rather fast.
Pull yourself together!
I heaved a great sigh and nodded to myself. Then I raised my fist and knocked three sharp raps.
Professor Lark wheeled around in his chair and smiled as I entered the door. “Jessica, how are you?”
“Good,” I lied as I hitched up a grin on my face. My hand tightened over my resume. “How are your classes?” I asked as I sat down across from his desk.
He was young for a college professor, with thick brown hair and an attractive face. Professor Lark was known for being easygoing and fair, and as a result he was one of the most popular professors. Everyone liked him.
I envied that. I had never been charismatic—my upbringing was painful. I could never treat strangers with such open kindness. I was quiet in class, but I wrote well.
He waved his hand and an irritated look crossed his face. “The furloughs have been really frustrating, as you probably know. But otherwise, it’s been fine. How goes your internship?”
My face fell as the burn of failure heated my chest. “Well, I was there for a year and they told me they didn’t have a paid position available. So I was forced to quit.”
He frowned. “I’m sorry to hear that. At least it will look good on your resume.”
A sting of anger punctured my self-pity. Didn’t anyone understand that I couldn’t live on unpaid internships, no matter how good they looked on my resume? “That’s sort of why I’m here.” I swallowed. “I’ve been applying to editing jobs, even technical writing, and I’m having a really hard time. It’s been a year since I left my internship and I haven’t found anything.”
The panic I’d been feeling crept into my voice. Professor Lark looked sympathetic, but I didn’t see anything in his face that gave me hope.
“Perhaps you should get a job while you continue searching. I’m sorry, Jessica. But I don’t think I’ll be much help. Have you tried looking in the career center?”
“Do you have any contacts in the industry? Anyone you could send my resume to? I already tried the career center.”
He took the resume from my hands, avoiding my eyes as he scanned it. “I’ve been out of touch with the industry for a few years, Jessica. I’m really sorry that you came all this way for this. The only thing I can suggest—”
My heart swelled with hope.
“—is to keep trying. Get a paying job anywhere, it doesn’t matter. On the side, get another internship or a volunteering gig at a publisher. Just keep at it. You have to gain more experience.”
I felt hollow. My head nodded as if I was hearing life-saving advice I hadn’t heard before. I couldn’t count how many times I’ve heard, “Don’t give up” or “Keep trying.” One of these days, someone will see how dedicated you are. Or, you know, they won’t. It was all bullshit, all of the optimistic hopes of people who had their lives together and really didn’t understand what I was going through.