8. Uphill Slog

One of the things I’ve come to notice very quickly since starting this project – something I’ve always known, but which now smacks me in the face on a daily basis – is how many opportunities I was granted by virtue of circumstance.

I passed the evening introducing a man slightly younger than my father would be now to the basics of English grammar – and I’m talking personal pronouns basic. He had not grown up in a Third World country, nor did he have a disability of any kind. This was a guy who has lived in New York his entire life, whose body has given up on him after decades of labor. His dreams are small by the standards I know: he wants to get his GED and become a clerk so he can work out the days until retirement in relative comfort.

He seemed ashamed as I explained why “neither” must be paired with “nor” and why “theirselves” would never be correct. The whole time, I kept thinking of the politicians slashing education budgets across the country, particularly in my home state of Texas, where the public school system has dropped to the fifth percentile in the nation under governors Bush and Perry. Taken in sum with the other groups I’ve encountered this week – the children falling behind; the Muslim women building lives for themselves; the ex-cons trying to get a fresh start – the group at the learning annex stood out most for the ways in which the system had failed them.

A feeling of defeat trailed me through the neon chaos of Times Square, and I wished myself back down to my cozy apartment in the Village.

The 1 train arrived as soon as I stepped onto the platform and I claimed the last empty seat in the car. The girl next to me was eating a Shake Shack burger dripping with condiments, and for the first time since starting the project, I had cause for jealousy.

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