A friend told me I should be proud to share this story, because I’m holding myself to the same standard I hold others. But sharing just part of this story feels unfair; it’ll give people the wrong impression. Not, really, that I anticipate that anyone cares, although maybe people will find some parts of it strange and therefore interesting. In any case, if you’re interested in why I don’t pay my student loans, read on!

My great grandparents were apparently wealthy, thought I’m not sure from what; they had a huge fucking house in Maine where my grandmother grew up that I didn’t know existed until a few weeks ago (I don’t ask questions. There’s a lot of shame in my family, much of it held by me).

That grandmother, Constance, was a force. She was a psychologist before many women were able to accomplish much beyond (the incredibly difficult task of) motherhood. But motherhood, perhaps, was not suited for her, because she moved to New Zealand when my dad, the middle child, was young. She would take occasional trips to Antarctica as an adventure, and on one such trip, on which she brought along a young, teenaged family friend, she died in a now-famous plane crash.

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Constance in the middle, my dad, John, in the black hat, my aunt Susan in the red, my aunt Coralie in the white.

My personal, and somewhat uneducated for reasons stated above, opinion is that that crash devastated my family in irreparable ways. Hardest hit was my dad, who over the years became a meth addict in what I can only assume was how he coped with his mother’s death.

Eventually, he met my mother — a fellow meth addict who already had two, much older, children— and had me. They kept it together for the duration of my mother’s pregnancy and perhaps a little while after, but it wasn’t to last; my dad was a truck driver, a dream he’d had since he was little, and was gone for long stretches of time, leaving me with my mom who battled her own addiction, to varying degrees of success, while caring for me.

For that reason, I was taken in by my aunt — my mom’s sister — and uncle when I was six. A few months later, my father would overdose on heroin, which was not his usual poison, so that for years I was convinced he was murdered. Drug addiction, of course, was not a concept I fully understood.

So, because, I believe, my dad was a drug addict — an affliction with a tendency to make people temporarily unpleasant to be around — he was written out of my great-grandparents’ will: John Lashbrook, and, I should add, all of his descendants, the only descendant being me, were never to see a drop of that money. So when my great-grandparents died, their money went to my two aunts, Coralie and Susan — and none to me.

But I was somewhat of a transient child for years, being taken in by various family members at different points of time because of my parents’ illnesses, and thus, despite being cared for from age seven on by one set of aunt and uncle (and never, I should add, adopted; my mother would fight it until her last breath, when I was nineteen, of liver failure), my entire extended family on both my mom and dad’s sides felt a sort of emotional responsibility for me. So when the inheritance was being divided out between my aunt Susan, who has three children, and my aunt Coralie, who has none, it was decided that my aunt Coralie would use a portion of her inheritance — which would have, if life were gentler and more fair, have gone to my father — to pay for my college degree.

The freedom that gift afforded me is indescribable. I worked during college, but I was never hard-up for money, and I now have a good degree from a good school that I am blessed to not have to pay for. But that money comes with a lot of pain and shame, too. I’m afraid to talk to people about my parents, even to my aunts, who I know loved my dad infinitely and would do anything to sit down and talk to me about him for hours. I’m ashamed to have in a sense “taken” money from my aunt Coralie that she surely could have used for herself. And I feel a good measure of guilt for not having college loans when nearly everyone I know is crushed under the weight of their own.

Regardless, despite everything that led to it, I don’t pay any college loans, and that puts me ahead of a lot of people I know. So for that, I’m grateful. I only, desperately, wish that in one way or another, it wasn’t like this.

Written by

I’m a columnist for OneZero, where I write about the intersection of health & tech. Also seen at Elemental, The Atlantic, VICE, and Vox. Brooklyn, NY.

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