I have the spoonful of rice halfway to my mouth when I hear, “Exactamente de que se graduo usted?”
Welp. Here we go again. It’s been over a month since I graduated college and my father is once again asking me what my degree is in. What did you study? English literature?
“So you got a degree in reading?” he asks, a jar of figs in his hand.
I try to make a joke: “No me vio con un libro siempre en la mano?” Didn’t you always see a book in my hand?
“It’s just that when people ask me what you studied or what you do, I don’t know what to say.”
“Usually English majors become teachers…”
Can’t I enjoy my meal in peace? This is the point in our conversations where his voice starts to get loud and his face turns red.
“You see, I’m an electrician. When people ask what I do, I say ‘electricity.’ When you ask the head of a company, he says he’s a lawyer. He runs the company, sure, but he also has a profession. Entiende?”
I try to think of something funny as I feel the blood rise to my face. He always has a way of getting under my skin in a real bad way.
“So tell me,” he asks as he chews on a round fig. “What is it that you want to do?” These types of conversations never end well, especially when my mother tries to save me.
“There are lots of things she could do. Jackie, answer him. What do you do?” Her hands are clasped under her chin. She tries to keep her face calm, but I see a darting nervousness starting to brew in her eyes.
“Nada. I haven’t been able to find a job.”
“Ah. Ya.” Oh. Ok.
For the first time ever, I cannot get mad. This is one conversation which will not end in insults or raised voices or temper tantrums. I have nothing to say. I just chew my food as my parents talk about so and so and this and that. The man’s got a very valid question – what the heck do I do? It only made sense to me to pursue a degree in English three years ago. It’s what I loved to do. It’s what I was good at. I wasn’t thinking about a career or unemployment. I wasn’t thinking business proposal writing versus a teacher residency. I didn’t give a second thought to certifications or years of experience required. My degree, as it stands alone, means nothing given the track I have landed on – education.
My father, his brevas, and his booming voice make my mind travel to a thought which nearly breaks my heart – I went to school for nothing. I let that possibility sink in. But wait, Jacqueline Canola. Hold on a minute, girl!
“I know!” I say, interrupting their conversation. “I went to school to be an author.”
In the middle of my lunch, at three in the afternoon, on September 24, 2013, in the midst of my father’s impromptu interrogation and angst at not being able to find a job now and wearing my Northeastern University sweatpants, the most fundamental truth of my existence had escaped me. I repeat it again, so that he knows. And so that I know.
“I am going to be a writer.”
“Eso si,” he answers with a head nod. That’s more like it.