Proximity

By ARIADNE WILL

I woke up Thursday morning to loud voices outside my door. I am not someone who enjoys being jostled from sleep by someone else’s conversation, however interesting. As a result, my internal monologue went along the lines of, “Who do these loud people think they are?”

And then I began listening to their conversation.

“It will be nice to have weekends off, now,” said one voice.

“Where were you working before this?” asked the other.

“I did security. I worked at McDonald’s for a little bit, too.”

They shared a laugh, from which I guessed that neither of them thought very highly of the employment opportunities offered by Ronald McDonald. 

Then, the second voice asked, “How old are you?”

“I’m 22,” the first voice replied.

22. The person behind that voice was 22 years-old and cleaning bathrooms used by people about their age — people like me. That voice was 22 and spent what might otherwise have been their college years working seven days a week, while I am spending mine typing out op-eds and essays.

I am undoubtedly a member of the middle class. At Middlebury, there are many people who are more affluent than my family and I. There are also people who are as well-off as I am. There are also people who grew up with far less than I did (at least socioeconomically speaking).

The aspect of wealth I abhor is the distance it creates.”

On campus, discussion often turns to money. Money, here, is a topic of contention. There are people — and I have been this person at times — who roll their eyes at those who are from more affluent backgrounds. But the aspect of wealth I dislike is not the wealth. The aspect of wealth I abhor is the distance it creates. This distance can be observed in assumptions that we make about people whose socioeconomic statuses are different from our own. These assumptions range from assuming a person is able to buy a flashy new sweatshirt, to more severe notions such as the belief that peers attending community colleges are not motivated or ambitious. These kinds of money-related assumptions are not always symptoms of cruelty or malice, but are often simply the result of ignorance. This is an ignorance that I am not immune to.

In fact, this ignorance is why I was shocked to awaken to a 22-year-old talking about their previous work experience. I was shocked because, surrounded by my primarily wealthy or comfortable peers at Middlebury, I had forgotten my own privilege. Still, that conversation reminded me — first thing in the morning — that I am someone who is lucky. Lucky enough to forget about questions of distance and ignorance and privilege on a Thursday morning; lucky enough to attend a school where someone else (someone who is only a few years older than me) takes out the trash and wipes down the bathroom mirror.

I thought about that for a moment — thought about the way this other world was existing right beside my own. I shivered thinking that, if things had shaken out differently, that voice and I could have ended up in class together.

I began to reflect on the good fortune I had taken for granted — the way I had the means to spontaneously travel to Boston for Fall Break, the way my mother was determined to minimize my college debt. I thought about the way my aunt always wiped down the counter with a washcloth when we stayed at hotels, saying that she wanted to leave less work for whoever had to clean up after us. And then I thought about all the dried-yellow urine that was left on our Gifford toilet seat after every weekend, about this voice that was being trained to clean it up. I thought about the invisibility of their world, their world that did not have the opportunity that I had. Their world was right outside my door. I wasn’t going to forget that. I sighed and got up to use the bathroom.

Writer’s note: I would like to note that this op-ed makes the assumption that the “voice” is working as a custodian as a result of not attending school. I do not know the full story of this individual, as this is a conversation that I overheard. This piece is a reflection of myself, and I would like to acknowledge that I know only the context of my own privilege.

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