Neatly sectioned off, precise squares line up before you, each one holding promise in cool, mint green. All of the pretty tokens are yours to choose, in silver—any one. And the rules are constant, blocked off in dark, straight lines. They never change: Move back at least two spaces to start grad school. Land on Imposter Syndrome. The ones who got there first already know theory. They’re the loudest, the cleverest—the ones who will argue that their grades are unfair and will win. They suck up all of the points. Graduate with a PhD (a professor reaches over, during the general exams, to slap your hand when you give a wrong answer). Fall in love and get married. Move forward. Apply for a job. The committee explains to you that your one publication as a chapter in a book didn’t count. Also, your dissertation topic didn’t count. Move back four spaces. The committee calls back to offer an adjunct position as a consolation prize, but you’ve interviewed for and gotten a visiting professor position at another university, temporary, but full-time. Move forward a space upon acceptance. Move forward another space when the chair says there are plans to make the position permanent. Move back five spaces when the deans from the college come to a faculty meeting and look you squarely in the eyes and say, “There is no money in the budget, ever, for another permanent faculty position within the humanities.” Get pregnant half-way through the year on purpose. Plan to quit your job when the contract ends so that you can write or start a new career. Move forward a few spaces in anticipation. Move back when the baby almost doesn’t live. Move forward again when he does. Depression hits; move back a few spaces and look for work. Pick up an adjunct job that pays less than 1/3 of the previous salary. Pick up another adjunct position but move back five spaces to find a reliable sitter—and pay them. Discover that the English department is hiring for a full-time position. The Dean says to apply. Move forward. Then he says, “The position is for teaching writing and composition. Your degree is in Spanish. You’re not qualified.” Skip a turn. Tailor the resume to show that studying literature, in another language, still means you studied critical theory and taught students to write papers. The Dean is doubtful, but the chair of the English department encourages you to apply. She hires you. You move forward. You move forward again—three, eight, ten years of spaces—forward and up and up and up. Skip a turn. The now middle-school-aged child needs a specialist. House values are dropping. The spouse’s job will not last, so he looks for a new one, in another state, and gets it. It’s time to move. You see what’s coming, so you move your job online. If you leave, you can take your job with you; you just have to convince the Vice President of Academic Affairs, so you present a five-year plan, with numbers and big words like “retention” and “completion rates.” And he smiles and asks, “Do you have a degree specifically in English?” And in that question, you hear this: “Were you really qualified to teach English this whole time that you’ve been here? How did you even get this job with a degree in Spanish?” And you tell him that your degree is enough. You did everything an English graduate student does, but in Spanish, which is not your first language—and it kicked your ass—and you got your hand slapped during your general exams—only to be met with a blank, uncomprehending stare. Skip a turn. The moving vans are coming. Wait. Wait. Wait for a response. Stop packing and go back to the boardroom where you presented your plan—to see if you can take your job with you. “The answer is no—honestly, your resume is so strong,” the Dean and the VP tell you. “You’ll be snatched up.” Skip a turn. Skip a turn. Skip the last promotion. You tell them that it took you so long just to find the job you had. You’re met with looks of bewilderment—and a consolation prize: an adjunct job. You decline the offer. Move away, far away, not back. Just away. Tailor the resume. Apply for positions on websites that force boxes for degrees. You can’t write “Literature/Literary Criticism.” In the space for degree, it’s “Spanish.” There are no college Spanish teaching positions—just advising—just English. “Not qualified/underqualified” is the automated response back. Move back four years’ worth of spaces. Pick up a job with a publishing company as a writing tutor. Make $15 an hour 19 hours a week, if there is work. Move back to graduate student earnings. Make 1/6th of your previous salary and dropping. Dropping hours on the days that there are no essays in the queue. And now, what’s this crying? What’s this crying for? Stop crying. Go to therapy. Wait. Wait. Wait. Don’t move. Tally the score. Fold up the board. Put the game pieces away. Change the game. Annihilate it—say it didn’t exist. Create a new board—much longer now. So long. Go.
Cecilia Kennedy taught writing and literature courses in English and Spanish for over 20 years in Ohio. Currently, she lives in the Greater Seattle area with her family. Since 2017, over 27 of her short stories have appeared in literary journals, magazines, and anthologies online and in print. The Places We Haunt (Potter’s Grove Publishing) is her first book of fiction, which was released June 30th. She also keeps a blog of her humorous attempts at cooking and home repairs: Fixin’ Leaks and Leeks: https://fixinleaksnleeksdiy.blog/