Meritocracy by May Hathaway

I have a recurring nightmare in which I never grow up. Every day I am further away from being a child. Sometimes I do not sleep because it saves time and sometimes I do not sleep because I can avoid nightmares. This, I think, is self-sufficiency. In my recurring nightmare, I take two hours to get out of bed and eat Lucky Charms for breakfast. I watch cartoons on the Internet and forget to drink water; when I stand up, my vision is fuzzy and my head spins. I do not go outside, but I open my window for fresh air. I stay in pajamas all day with knots in my hair. When I’m hungry, I rustle through the pantry and eat some saltines. I spend my day alone. I do not accomplish anything of value and I am fine with it. When I have these nightmares, I wake up screaming. In the morning, I eat Cheerios and watch sitcoms on my laptop all day, and I fall asleep with a ready throat.

***

Time is money. Time is currency. Time is a commodity. I refuse to sign up for LinkedIn because I am afraid of motivational quotes. I don’t want anyone to tell me “Stop wasting your time!” because I don’t want to know whether or not I would listen to them.

***

we are making out at the subway station and i am portioning time in my head like the bright yellow stripe separating our sneakers from the train tracks. what i can afford to give up and what i have given up are two very different things. we’re both wearing beaten-up air force 1s because that’s what everyone wears and we are like everyone else except we also aren’t because we are making out in this grimy subway station instead of in the grimy stairwell behind the music hallway. you love the piano in the music hallway and i think i love it when your slender fingers hit the bone-white keys but we both know that that time is not well-spent. we bought sandwiches at the deli (bacon lettuce tomato for you, bacon avocado chipotle mayo for me) on the way here and they cost too much but we were okay with that today. before the school started paying for our metrocards, we always had to make a choice: add value or add time? sometimes when we are making out in the subway station one of us will miss a train on purpose and sometimes i regret it and sometimes i don’t.

***

I like omitting commas sometimes because no one wants me to take a pause. Correction: I am not allowed to take a pause. I am trying to write a love letter to wasted time, how much I want to hold it in my hands, but I keep getting distracted. At some point, by which I mean right now, I am wasting my time and giving it away to the wind like litter.

***

I have another recurring nightmare in which my parents drive to some university in mid-August while I sit in the backseat, all my worldly possessions neatly rolled into suitcases like perfect rows of soda cans. I sit in lecture halls while accumulating massive amounts of debt that will take me years to pay back. I study something productive and I carry around a little green planner that I use to keep track of all of my assignments so I can turn them in early. I don’t date; I’m bad at managing distractions. I apply for internships and get them, though I am woefully underpaid and sometimes not paid at all. I create a LinkedIn account and I apply for a job and don’t get it on the first try, so I apply somewhere else and I succeed. I write about this experience years later and talk about how failure motivated me, how I learned to channel my time in productive places. I take the subway to work, where I pick at my skirt and sigh. When I wake up from these nightmares, I am quiet and still but sweat drips off my forehead and the armpits of my T-shirt are soaked through.

***

you hold my hand on the bus to the debate tournament, our wrists draped over opposite sides the armrest between us like fabric. we’re sharing earbuds because i forgot mine and also because i like listening to the same music you do. i once spent three hours making a spotify playlist for you and filled it with indie artists because i wanted you to think that i was cool. i still want that but i want a lot of things so this is nothing new. right now, for example, i want to arrive in massachusetts so that i can marvel at my day beginning and ending in different places—how economical. there are better ways to spend this time. there are worse ways to spend this time. you fall asleep on this bus at exactly four o’clock p.m. and i lean my head against the cool window.


May Hathaway is a high school student in New York City. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Sine Theta, perhappened, and PANK and has been nationally recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. An alumna of the Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program and the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio, she enjoys doing crosswords in her free time.

Vagabond City Literary Journal

Founded in 2013, we are a literary journal dedicated to publishing outsider literature. We publish art, poetry, and creative nonfiction from marginalized creators.