It was John who’d pressed Sara to go back to school. She hadn’t specifically wanted to, but she wasn’t happy with her current employment, and her future employment prospects didn’t look good as long as the only degree she could put on her resume was “Medieval Folklore Studies.” The only thing the branch manager at the bank where she worked had cared about when he hired her was that she could count change and didn’t mind suggesting that every customer who came to her counter apply for a credit card. The truth was that she did mind, but not enough to reposition her job search to whatever tier of jobs were below bank teller. Not that there’s anything at all wrong with being a bank teller, it’s just that it’s, you know–really boring.
John knew that if a person wanted to make any money in the banking industry, he or she had to be able to feign interest in things that other people were genuinely passionate about, and a he or she needed to have some kind of educational background in some kind of numbers field–accounting, finance, economics–any of them would do. He knew for sure that Sara could handle the first requirement, because they’d been together for 2 years before he finally realized that she’d rather pull her own fingernails out one-by-one than have another conversation with him about his fantasy baseball league. As for the second requirement, how hard could it be to take enough accounting classes to get a second degree? Accounting was just arithmetic, right? He encouraged a reluctant Sara to go back to school. Told her how much better she’d feel if she had a degree that more easily translated into a job prospect. Having only moderately enjoyed school the first time around, when she was studying something she actually found interesting, Sara was hesitant. She was torn between, oh-my-god-I’m-almost-30-and-I’m-going-to-continue-making-ten-dollars-an-hour-at-a-job-I-hate-for-the-rest-of-my-life and oh-my-god-I’m-almost-30-and-there’s-no-way-I-could-still-be-a-successful-student. In the end, John’s persistence, something she tried to think of as unyielding love and support, won out.
One of the few perks of working for the bank was that they had a tuition reimbursement program for employees who wanted to take classes in a field related to banking. All Sara had to do was work all day, go to class at night, go home, do her homework, get to bed by 1 AM, and get up at 7 ready to do it all over again. Oh, and get a ‘B’ or better in the class if she wanted the bank to pay her back for the quarter’s worth of tuition that she’d put on her credit card, the one she’d opened through the bank during her first week as a show of how committed she was to the company. No problem.
About three days after the deadline to drop a class for a full tuition refund, Sara got the grade back from her first test in her Accounting 101: The Stuff you Really Should have Learned in High School class. As more of a “language” person than a “numbers” person, it took Sara no time at all to recognize the giant read shape at the top of her paper as a ‘D’. There had been some other mark to the right of her ‘D’ that had been scratched out so thoroughly that she couldn’t tell if it had been a plus or a minus sign. She realized quickly that, unless the mark that had been crossed out had read “just kidding,” it probably didn’t matter, which symbol it had been.
When Sara got home from class, John, like he did every other night, had already had dinner, but he came into the kitchen as soon as he heard her keys hit the counter. “Well, I’m going to drop out of school,” Sara told him before he’d even kissed her hello, “I think we can still get some of our money back.”
“That’s crazy. You just started. Why would you drop out?” His tone was already accusatory, as if dropping out was something she’d decided to do to him.
“I just got my first test back. I failed it. Like, really failed it. I’m not just melodramatically saying I failed it when I really got a ‘B’ or something.” As Sara explained all this, she grabbed a can of baked beans from the pantry to heat up on the stove to eat along with a couple slices of bread. John stood across from her with his hands on his hips.
“What do you mean you ‘failed it,’ didn’t you study? You’re not dumb, you know. You just have to put in the effort.”
“What are you talking about? I didn’t even want to take these stupid classes,” she yelled as she turned her can of beans around and around with the can openers hand crank. The blade didn’t seem to be meeting the lid, but she kept cranking away anyway, shaking the can in John’s face as she continued to yell, “There’s a reason I majored in Medieval Folklore Studies, John. I fucking hate math.”
“This isn’t real math,” he shouted back, “you can add, can’t you? You balance our checkbook every month,” he said, folding his arms across his chest, as if that settled things.
“What do you know about it? You have a degree in Film Studies. You don’t even write films. You just criticize them slightly more articulately than most.” By this time, she’d given up on the can opener and was trying to cut the can open with the box cutter they kept in their utility drawer, poking tiny holes at tiny intervals all around the perimeter of the lid, but not quite close enough together to let her pry the thing open.
“You know what I think? I think you just haven’t tried hard enough. You can’t expect to just show up and understand everything right away. I mean, I know it’s going to be tough for a couple years, but you might just have to sacrifice some of your free time to studying.” John stopped talking and watched Sara with the box cutter. “What in the hell are you doing? Give me that.”
“Sorry, I couldn’t get this can open ’cause I didn’t try hard enough,” she yelled as she threw the thing at him and stormed away, walking through the mess of beans that had splashed everywhere as the can hit the wall behind John, spilling its contents at last. When she got to the bedroom, she slammed the door and locked it behind her. She suddenly had all the energy she needed to stay up, studying all night for as many nights as it would take to improve her current situation.