(Yes, that's also now upon a time, but let's look at the former.)
I barely managed to make it back to school at the beginning of junior year. I signed my first born over to Susie May for a loan (a.k.a. Vampires R Us) to make it back. I found a job at the lovely Picky Slave to start my fourth year working in grocery, this time a minor peon once again. I was willing to do anything to stay in college.
The first few weeks made it clear that this job was going to be the seventh circle of hell (right between being stuck in a burning tomb and sinking in human excrement). It was going to be a revolting year.
I knew all the produce codes as well as I knew the garbage compactor number from Star Wars: A New Hope (3263827), but still had to watch The Training Video of Torturous Doom (you know which one - it's the same everywhere you go). They made me pay $15 I didn't have for a work shirt barely one step above sackcloth and ashes. I had to work with high schoolers who had as much knowledge in their heads as the helium balloons over in floral. My boss talked endlessly about the expensive shopping habits of his Russian wife. And because I was an out-of-towner, everyone tended to avoid me like I had rotten flesh and a plan for world domination via brain consumption.
Hell, I tell you.
That was bad enough without having to endure a full classload and rushing from class to work, work to Boyfriend Unit (later to become Spousal Unit), Boyfriend Unit to treasurer duties in our local "non-sorority" sorority. I also worked in the college library, tediously categorizing the DVDs and organizing the stacks deep in the basement, where the ghost of a former student was rumored to dwell - and down in the deep, the boiler made some freaky noises.
By the end of finals, my status with the school told me there was no time to take it easy during the month of winter break. And so I sealed my fate: I forced myself to come back two weeks early to work as Picky Slave's slave and the library's toady.
During winter break, no living beings walked the dorm halls. I voluntarily came back to spend two weeks by myself, willing to sit in my room, peeking one eyeball out the door for some kind of creepy, ax-wielding intruder at every creak in the floor, the other eye hopefully watching the phone for some kind of outside contact. I was alone with my thoughts and five movies I'd seen three dozen times. I started to feel like I was in a padded cell.
This should tell you all you need to know about my sanity's fragile state.
The people I had the chance to interact with were a few (socially inept) librarians, customers complaining about the price of beer in Wisconsin, and a gum-gnashing high school coworker who once asked me, "Who's Paul McCartney?" and then, "Who are the Beatles? Are they a band or something?"
By the time students finally returned to campus, I was ready to open all the milk jugs at Picky Slave, throw the calcium-intense goodness all over the store, and then burn it down despite the moisture. I was ready to break all the DVDs in the library into shards and slice all the cords on all the computers so I didn't have to work on the maddening spreadsheets anymore. I was ready to run naked down the halls of my dorm building, save a bucket on my head, whilst screaming, "COME AND GET ME, GHOST MAN! GHOSTBUSTERS AT THE READY!"
By the end of those two weeks, I really couldn't take it anymore. When friends finally arrived on campus, I served my time at Picky Slave and joined them for the first gathering of the semester, in a friend's room in a different dorm. There were people, and there was booze. Glorious booze.
My friends had been drinking for two hours already. I caught up in half an hour.
Shortly thereafter, I taught rainbow-colored Goldfish how to fly.
All I remember from the rest of the night is something about a movie, force-feeding crackers to a friend, and making up stories about how lonely the other Goldfish in the box were. At some point I went to bed and proceeded to have my very first hangover at Picky Slave the next day. I was still hungover at 2 in the afternoon.
Some part of me was terribly pleased to puke in the customers-only bathroom, leaving the Stench of Parties Past behind me. And on my last day at Picky Slave that semester, I learned that my $15 shirt was good for more than just soaking up the hysterical tears I cried after each shift.
It also toasted marshmallows quite well.
The blaze was glorious.