The last twelve years


courtesy of Kyle Gagnon

NVU journalism student Kyle Gagnon, pictured with his lunch box ready for the first day of school

I didn’t want to go to college when I graduated from BFA Fairfax in 2008. To be fair, I didn’t really want to do anything at all, but college was closer to the bottom of my list than it was to the top. I attended Johnson State College for a whopping three semesters from fall 2008 through fall 2009. In that time, I attended about half of the classes on my schedule. Now, I live in fear that any remaining faculty members from those days will recognize me on campus today.
When I dropped out with my 1.2 GPA and unrecognized dependence on light beer and weed, I wasn’t exactly sure what the plan was. So, I started performing. A few years later, I celebrated my 22nd birthday by winning the 2012 Higher Ground Comedy Battle and working 50 hours per week for 9 bucks an hour at a deli in Essex Junction. I was already an elite-level beer drinker within my weight class, and the weed kept my diet of sandwiches and spaghetti as interesting as it could be.
While pursuing stand-up comedy at full warp, I met a girl and fell in love. Woof. We both did comedy, we both liked beer and weed, and we broke up after three years and she moved to Chicago. Woof.
For most of 2014 and through summer of 2015, I slowly phased out of comedy and started dabbling with heartbreak and depression. It is funny looking back now but wasn’t so funny in the present tense. I performed my one hour special to a sold out crowd at Club Metronome in downtown Burlington and had more or less achieved everything I wanted to do in the realm of comedy. But what next? I was still at the deli and didn’t have many prospects other than my futile efforts to get my handicap under 18.
An old friend of mine who was living out in Milwaukee, Wisconsin convinced me to give it a try. At the end of October of 2015, I packed my bags and headed west. Well, Midwest. Living in Milwaukee has without a doubt been the most important and positive experience of my 31-year-old life. I found an apartment and got a job as a tour guide at the Miller Brewery. Even a tour guide lives like a king in a place where everything costs a dollar. I made friends, met women, fell in love with the Milwaukee Bucks, and started to phase out weed in favor of sports gambling (Khris Middleton over 17.5 points all day long). Things were looking up.
Then I moved again.
In January 2017, I landed 80 miles south of Milwaukee in the behemoth that is Chicago. There, I took on a job as a freight broker for a third-party logistics firm and started earning nearly three times as much money as I had ever made before. I was able to find my own apartment in Logan Square and was pocketing $1,000 per month without even thinking about it. Unfortunately, I was working over 60 hours per week, and my life consisted of waking up, going to work, eating a whole frozen pizza and drinking 11 Miller High Life’s, then going to bed. Rinse, repeat. I gained a considerable amount of weight, hated my boss in a way I thought was only possible in movies and television, and I started dating the depression monster again. Luckily, with my positive saving habits and an epic run for Bitcoin in late 2017, I had saved up quite the nest egg and decided to venture north back to my home in Milwaukee.
Then it happened.
It was May 7th, 2018. I had been in MKE for less than three weeks when I collapsed on my front porch, out of breath and my consciousness fading. Needless to say, I was a bit confused. I was extremely fortunate that my terrible, new neighbor, Brian, happened to be returning from his third shift job that morning and called an ambulance despite my Millennial efforts to avoid any kind of medical bill. Upon arrival at the ER, I was run through tests for a couple of hours before they discovered a massive blood clot in the saddle of my lungs. I really should be dead. After a week in the hospital, sneaking onto Wisconsin Medicaid, and a visit from my worried mother, I was more or less back to normal. Blood thinners for a year and no playing with knives were the doctor’s orders.
Summer 2018 was incredible. After humiliating the Reaper herself, I was set on using my well -protected savings to have myself a little summer staycation. Having a near death experience changes one’s perspective on money, love, and mostly, time itself. I unconsciously cut back on drinking and smoking weed while very consciously ramping up the sports gambling habit (the US Women’s Soccer Team basically paid my rent for all of summer 2019). I found a job at the end of summer 2018 selling wine for a little startup company and spent my days working from home happy as a clam.
In summer 2019, I was taken off blood thinners. It was less than six weeks before I was in the hospital with another clot. This one wasn’t as serious, as I recognized the symptoms weeks earlier than the first one, but it did a number on me mentally. “There is something wrong with me. Death looms daily. Let’s start a cycle of random panic attacks in public places.” I decided it was time to pack up my things, come back to Vermont, and finish an associate degree in the familiar territory of Winooski.
As my intense bouts of anxiety became more frequent while I finished off the two semesters needed to complete my degree, I did the unthinkable. I called my doctor and asked him about therapy. This story has meandered and could very much be seen as pointless, but if you heed one message it is this: don’t suffer in silence with fear, anxiety, or depression. I have been talking to my therapist for a year now, and it has been a year since my last legitimate anxiety attack.
I quietly finished my associate in business as the pandemic took hold of our planet. Summer 2020 was very good to me, and I spent it at a cabin on a small lake in the Northeast Kingdom. That fall I found a job selling advertising for a television station in Burlington and found a boss that was a carbon copy of the boss I hated in Chicago. No more sales, ever.
Like many Millennial dropouts my age, I decided to take a look at going back to school to pass the time while COVID-19 does whatever it is that it’s going to do. With the help of some massive grants and a new part-time remote job that allows me to work from my apartment on weekends, I found that I could finish my writing degree with little to no debt. With the support of my girlfriend, who is a rich, sexy veterinarian who apparently doesn’t know it, I have made the leap. And by leap, I mean that I am back at the very school I walked out of 12 years ago. A little fatter, grey hair in my face and my alcohol issue replaced with a basketball/soccer gambling issue. Ready to go. Finishing what a teenager, who knew so little of the world or what was to come, started over a decade ago.