I Wish I Had Enough Money

Raising my voice above the clamor, I called out, “Okay, you can start your ten minutes of freewriting NOW.”

Even in my rowdy, chaotic, feral-children-come-to-college afternoon class, that command settled them down. Heads bent over notebooks, and fingers tapped away on keyboards.

For the next ten minutes, the usual cacophony calmed down, and they focused on writing journals.

Asking them to keep journals at home would be a fool’s assignment. They can hardly get to the classroom with pants on. They’re so caught up in the drama of bad relationships, daycare that has failed them, parents who are addicts, boyfriends who grab them by the throats, getting “beat down” by their girlfriends, going out and buying “a 750” and nursing that huge bottle of liquor all day before attending math class in the evening, cars that veer into the ditch, “wiping butts for a living” in their home healthcare jobs, being handed a blunt by their pals who know they just got out of juvie…

they’re so caught up in figuring what a bad decision looks like

that I would never see a journal entry from any of them if it were assigned as homework. So, well, we do the journals in class. I time them. I tell them to go off on tangents, make shopping lists, draw me pictures–but to keep their hands moving for the entire ten minutes, no matter what. I describe the activity as a brain vomit and urge them to spew.

The results are mind-boggling: crazy, confusing, hilarious, amusing, informative, unfiltered.

And occasionally, as in the case of one of the best students in the class, a young woman who was thirty days sober when the semester began, a young woman who wrote her first paper about waking up in detox–not for the first time–and then being kept there for three days, until she was functional again, the results can be moving.

Here is what she wrote when given the prompt “I wish I had enough money to…”:


I wish I had enough money to live without having to pay off hospital bills and unhelpful therapy bills.

I wish I had enough money to buy clothes two times a year instead of once.

I wish I had enough money to find a physical activity I’m passionate about.

I wish I had enough money to have a car and maintain it.

I wish I had enough money to see a therapist more often.

I wish I had enough money to take a vacation to California every year or two or three. I would love to go every summer.

I wish I had enough money to get my natural hair color back.

I wish I had enough money to adopt a lot of animals and feed them and take care of them.

I wish I had enough money so my mom and I would not have debt.

I wish I had enough money to change things.

I wish I had enough money to always have bread and milk at my house.


I, her teacher, wish all of these things for her, too. I wish and hope that a college education makes all of those things possible

and changes all of her everythings forever.


She’s why I can walk into that classroom every day. The toughest of the lot–the dealer, the pimp, the ones with guns in their backpacks–stopped coming. The ones who relied on smooth patter and attempts at charm instead of effort stopped coming. The ones who couldn’t fight the urge for heroin, whose parents called the college, frantic to know their child’s whereabouts, stopped coming.

But this self-described “drunk,” she’s in the classroom every single period. She and the blonde identical twins in the back row almost came to blows one day. To this young woman’s credit, they managed to keep their annoyances verbal and reined in their tendencies toward the physical. This gifted “drunk” finally offered the olive branch of “I’m sorry if I came off as bitchy, but you two just have to shut up sometimes,” and we called that détente.

This gifted “drunk” has been a delight of my semester. Always, she should have bread and milk in her house.

We all should.







19 responses to “I Wish I Had Enough Money”

  1. julie sucha anderson Avatar

    “Always, she should have bread and milk in her house.”

    Absolutely. How lucky she is to have you for her teacher to get her started. Thank you for sharing her.

  2. Avie Layne Avatar

    This is the third time this week that I have cried. You were witness to the first two and my MAC is witness to the third. We often dream of the “Winning the Lottery” and all of the wonderful things that we have. It’s people like your “gifted drunk” who remind us that we really don’t need large amounts of money to be happy.

  3. Joanne Avatar

    I wish the best for her. May she stay sober every day, find her way and watch her dreams happen.

  4. Meg Avatar

    For a self-descrbed “drunk” she is awfully grounded and sane. Certainly her road won’t be easy, but it’s leading in the right direction. And helped along by a certain prof who gives her the gift of time for introspection that she’d likely never have otherwise.

  5. Green Girl in Wisconsin Avatar
    Green Girl in Wisconsin

    I’m praying for her, Jocelyn. Added her to the list tonight. “God, I hope she makes it. You know who she is, you know her struggles, protect her and keep her safe and help her through to a sweet place.” And I’m keeping her in my prayers for the long haul. This one touches me.

  6. lime Avatar

    may she be blessed with an exceedingly long sobriety, all her necessities met, and her simple dreams granted. may she have enough for herself and enough to share.

  7. Jenn @ Juggling Life Avatar

    There are always those amazing ones that get inside our hearts. You are better for having known one another.

  8. Jess Avatar


  9. LIl Avatar

    You are one of “those” teachers, the ones we remember who actually had a lasting impact on our lives. I don’t doubt that for a moment.

  10. Secret Agent Woman Avatar

    Yes we should. And maybe she’s on her way. And I also hope, for her sake, she can find a way to a helpful therapist instead of an unhelpful one.

  11. Maria Avatar

    I am married to a high school teacher. Every year, it happens like clockwork. There is this kid. Bugs the holy hell out of her. But, there is just…something….about that one. She can’t put her finger on it, but, something. By the end of the year, she is sitting across a plate of pancakes in our favorite diner with me and telling me how this kid, against all odds, got that Buffet scholarship for college. And then she chokes up and looks away, says, “God, I love that little shit.”

  12. Friko Avatar

    I wish your gifted drunk had enough clarity of mind to see that a few of her wishes could come true without having a lot of money. Could you help her to see that?

    I sincerely hope she and anyone else in your class with staying power will make it and that they’ll remember you as the one who gave them a shove in the right direction.

    I listened to you on the previous post. Do you know, I thought that your voice would be more forceful and determined. You sound like a very pleasant, totally non-aggressive person. Pondering it I would have to say that I really have no reason to think you anything else. Strange how we create an image which can be quite wrong.

    1. Jocelyn Avatar

      Good observations all around.

      I would definitely describe myself as non-aggressive. However, I’m fairly assertive when need be–and I am very attuned to the distinction between being aggressive and being assertive.

  13. chlost Avatar

    I represent many of these kids “in juvie”. So many of them have that something….that they don’t see as they struggle to lurch from day to day. I am so happy that your student is in college, is sober, is trying, and that she has you in her life. Just one person, it is true, can make a big difference.
    I have begun to think that for some kids, the potential that is within them sometimes is the reason that they struggle so much. That sounds a bit odd, I suppose. Does that make sense to you?

  14. Jenny Woolf Avatar

    What’s up with me? I read this post about a week ago, thought “That is a wonderful post, it moved me, it made me think, and it made me angry to think of people who could do so well, struggling just to stay afloat.” Then I see I don’t seem to have posted that comment. Well, I’m back here again and I am posting it now. Whatever becomes of this student, she will surely remember that you believe in her, and it will help her on her way.

  15. Bijoux Avatar

    My daughter who has autism is a community college student and took an online class this semester. It was eye-opening to read the various assignments on the message board.

  16. Monica Avatar

    I wish I knew you – IRL.

    I wish more people were like you!

  17. kmkat Avatar

    She could get her natural hair color back by taking the extreme step of shaving her head. Not saying she should, but she COULD. I wish her days and weeks and months and years of sobriety and positive decision-making (in the tradition of her deciding to take your class) and success in whatever form she deems it to be.

  18. Magpie Avatar

    They are lucky, they that have you.

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