The Roaring 20-Somethings

Photo © 2005 Thomas Hawk CC BY-NC 2.0

I’m remembering my 20’s. Because everyone remembers his 20’s. I dropped out of school at 20 years old, met my wife at 22, married at 24, had my first daughter at 27, and my second at 29. Yes, the average American’s roaring 20’s are full of growth, choices, excitement, and dirty diapers, usually in that order.

Twenty is the age of true adulthood, finally. When you’re a 20-something, the whole world is before you. You can be anyone you want to be (if only you could figure out who that is), do anything you want to do (if only you could figure out what), achieve anything you want to achieve (if only you weren’t such an imbecile).

For me, the 20’s began with college. Or more precisely, dropping out of college, which I finally did after failing Materials Science for the second time in a row. I was attending Northeastern University, an Electrical Engineering major, which was fun my Freshman year, when I was 18. Then I turned 19, and it became less fun, but I was still learning stuff in class, and working in an electronics lab elsewhen. By half-way through my third year, however, I had been writing software at work—instead of doing electronics—and I was terrified of academics. (Still am. Terrified of academics, that is. And that’s completely unrelated to writing software, just for the record.)

The thing is, I never actually quit school. I just sort of… stopped going. Now, decades later, I still occasionally dream at night that I suddenly realize I’ve missed a good portion of the semester’s classes, and I can’t remember what I did with my class schedule, and I don’t know where my classes are, and I’ve not so much as cracked open any of my textbooks, and I worry that I won’t be able to catch up on all the coursework I’ve missed, and I’m about to take a midterm exam and I have no idea what’s on it. In some variations of this nightmare, I end up standing in a long line, anxious for them to print me a copy of my class schedule, because I’m already late for class. In others, I drift from classroom to classroom, wondering whether my correct professor will even recognize me, or (sometimes) whether I’m even in the right room.

In another recurring dream, I have to navigate through numerous buildings on a college campus, up and down staircases, past classroom after classroom, in and out of entrances and exits, in order to get from one end to the other. Yes, I have mundane dreams. But in the dream itself, this all seems so very important. I end up lost in a dark, underground tunnel lined with lockers, near a cafeteria, and I’m hungry.

In retrospect, it was probably best that I dropped out when I did. Because if I had followed the tradition set down by my father, which both my brothers followed, I would have paid for an entire bachelor’s degree in my chosen field, before deciding that I wanted to do something completely different for a career. As it was, I only paid for half a bachelor’s, so I effectively got a 50% discount.

Of course, after college comes marriage, which was very fun. Then we decided to have kids. That meant that we had to move out of our tiny, three-room attic apartment, to move into a tiny, four-room upstairs apartment. By this time, I had a steady job programming embedded software and fixing people’s computers. And so when the second daughter came along, we could move downstairs into an even larger apartment. (I’m still looking forward to the day when I can move into my own basement.)

It was here, at this even larger downstairs apartment, that I started writing fiction. But that happened a few years after I had turned 30, when I realized that during my 20’s I had accomplished so much less than I had wanted to. So that’s a different story.