I grew up in a small town. It was an offshoot from a larger city, close enough that we had access to all of the urban amenities with none of the accompanying issues. Life began simply, with day-care giving way to preschool, preschool to kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, moved to the bottom half of the country, high school, back to the top and finish high school.
It was all fairly automatic, as I remember. Oh, there were things I did outside of school, and I took to them with an otherwise unseen fervor. Education was the backdrop, Hebrew school was a chore and Sunday classes? Not worth detailing. The Bar Mitzvah was a formality by which time I’d been to so many b’nai mitzvot that the novelty of the experience had worn thin. It was all the same dance with slightly different Hebrew, with me on the bimah, instead of my peers.
Then, one day, it wasn’t mandatory anymore. I didn’t have to go to the Hebrew classes or Sunday school and, soon enough, I was done with high school. College was my decision. Yeah, my parents pushed for it, but it was the first time I truly had choice. Even there, I chose the easy path. I applied to schools I didn’t want to get into and one I sort of did, well within my grasp. I didn’t stretch, I didn’t aim outside my bounds, and I feel like everyone knew it.
So I got into college. They gave me a scholarship, too. I felt like a star. College, though, is where it started, where I began to break down. So much freedom, thrust upon one who had always strived to follow the rules, to live in a manner as inoffensive as possible to his peers, but my parents weren’t there, necks craned over my shoulder anymore, encouraging me to just continue doing as I’d been doing.
They also weren’t there to push me to study, or even go to class, and it showed in my grades. Oh, they were all right, but I can honestly say that they were far below my potential. It’s still hard to admit that, that I have unfulfilled potential, because saying that is condemning myself as lazy. It’s so much better to feel like I tried hard and failed than that I was simply afraid to try, though the latter might be true.
I found a social group, I grew as an individual, I switched majors and found out where I fit, academically, but my grades still flagged. I could never pull myself above the routine, to take the necessary steps to ensure my own success. Was it complacence? Was it sloth or rebellion? No, it was the warning sign.
This was when I discovered the cycle, the swirling vortex of responsibility that would eat up everything I was and wanted to become with constant escalation, building upon itself until my goals and desires were swallowed up into a bottomless void of busywork and tedium.
This was when I discovered the maelstrom.