I know I’ll be late for work if I don’t turn on my coffee maker at exactly 6:53 a.m.
As I pour the coffee beans into the machine, I think about how my dad was appalled by this new habit of mine. An avid drinker of instant coffee for most of his life, he was confused when I bought a coffee maker when I moved to college. He always teased me about my pink Keurig when I visited home, mocking my so-called “grown-up behavior.” What he doesn’t know is that no matter how old I am, the instant coffee he makes will always taste infinitely better than whatever expensive Keurig cup I’m drinking. To him, I’ll always be a little girl, and sometimes, I wish it would stay that way forever.
The beep of the coffee maker snaps me out of my reverie, and I put the milk back in the fridge.
When I moved back to Berkeley to begin my sophomore year of college, I transitioned my summer job at a surgical clinic into a year-round job. I love working there, and I wanted a taste of what a “big girl” job would feel like. It finally felt like I was a “real adult” — paying rent, maneuvering rush hour traffic, complaining about taxes.
I work in San Francisco, on beautiful California Street — yes, the tourist one, immortalized by its amazing view of the Bay Bridge. Unfortunately, that view is only possible on one tiny corner of the five-mile-long street. The rest of us work in big office buildings with extraordinary views of bustling San Francisco streets.
Every other morning, I wake up, make my coffee, and hit the road right at 7:10 a.m.
At about 7:41 a.m., midway through my one-and-a-half-hour journey to work, I begin to suppose that being an adult isn’t something that you’re guided into.
At least, it definitely wasn’t that way for me. There is no syllabus week, and if you mess up terribly, you might end up getting fired from your job, which is the adult version of getting a bad grade, only a thousand times worse. Sometimes I feel like I’m playing dress-up in my hospital scrubs, like I’m pretending to be a fully functioning adult even though I’m still a kid. These are the thoughts that run through my head as I open up the clinic for business and check in the morning patients.
I love my job at the clinic, but it does have its downsides. I get yelled at by patients, both over the phone and in person, and quite honestly, it feels terrible. The stress builds and builds until sometimes all I think about is quitting for my own mental health. But right at my breaking point, there’s always one patient that I help that looks at me with gratitude in their eyes. A thousand people can ruin your day, but just one can make everything worth it. Unfortunately, it seems adulthood has turned me into a quotebook.
The medical assistant pushes me into the breakroom at 12:10 p.m..
“You need to take a break and eat, Aarthi, or else you’re going to get burnt out.” She’s not wrong, but it’s not like my lunchtime is a relatively relaxing time. I usually do schoolwork during lunchtime: a side effect of the pandemic and online classes. I spend my hour doing homework or playing catchup with my lectures.
This is where I decide that, just like my job, I, too, am part-time: part-time adult, part-time child. It occurs to me that college students are stuck in a sort of limbo, halfway between being an adult and a freshly graduated teenager. We wake up for work at 6 a.m. and have a problem set due at 5 p.m. We pay income tax and toll bridge fees, but we also pay tuition and buy textbooks. It feels like there are so many things that I’m supposed to do, and these college years are slowly slipping away. But the reality is that it’s barely started, and I’m just an overwhelmed kid.
I’m usually exhausted by 3:00 p.m., at which point I realize the truth in the words my parents have always told me: “You only understand the value of money when you start to make it.” I never understood why everyone in America hated the Internal Revenue Service until I, too, became another taxpayer. Money makes the world go round, and the world apparently needs a lot of it. The phone rings for the billionth time, and as I reach for it, I go into autopilot mode. “Good afternoon, this is Aarthi, how may I help you?”
At 5:03 p.m., I slump into the driver’s seat of my car and I turn on the radio. I transition back from my part-time adulthood on my drive back home to Berkeley — back to my little college apartment. I roll down the windows, and blast 2010s pop music — another reminder of my time in youth-adult limbo. (For all of you out there, a gentle reminder, 2010 was more than a decade ago.)
It’s 7:00 p.m. I eat my badly cooked dinner and finish what remains of my chemistry homework. I am a typical college student once more. At midnight I go to sleep knowing that when I wake up, I’ll do the same all over again, starting with the familiar whistle of my pink Keurig coffee maker.
Aarthi Muthukumar is the head of illustrations and infographics. Contact her at [email protected].