The overhead sun beat down on the back of my neck as sweat poured continuously down my face and back. My t-shirt was sticking to me, a second skin, and I wished desperately that I could shed it like a snake but the repercussions of the sunburn that I would undoubtedly get, was not an experience I was going to submit myself to, so I continued up the ladder, high above my comfort zone, and tried not think about it. This was summer in Florida. My summers in my coastal town were far different from the tourists that flocked down each July. They relaxed along the beach drinking margaritas without a care in the world. I picked oranges and hoped that I would have enough money for rent this month. It’s a tough job, not one that many people are willing to do, but without a high school diploma or any real work experience, I really didn’t have any other options.
As hard as I tried, I wasn’t fast enough. I hadn’t met my quota for the day, and probably never would, but I continued picking anyway. My only solace was after the sun went down, when I sat at the bottom of my ladder and enjoyed a juicy orange that was warm and far from refreshing, before the boss came around to yell at me for moving too slow. He would have fired me long before now if he’d had any viable options for my replacement, but I was safe for now. At seventeen years old I dropped out of school to support myself, something my parents left me to do when they died in the fire that snatched away everything from my life except the clothes on my back. Most of the kids I went to school with have graduated from college and have moved on to rewarding careers, but here I am, stuck in my hometown, unable to pull myself out of the rut that has become my life.
Sometimes when I’m up here, sweating and miserable, I think of how nice it would be to let go of the ladder and fall backwards. Hitting the ground would be painful; it would probably kill me, but those brief moments as I fell with the wind rushing past me would be absolutely glorious. Maybe I’ll do it one day. My life has become an endless cycle of getting up before I’ve gotten enough sleep, working twelve hours a day, and coming home after dark, too tired to do anything but go to bed. If you’re wondering what I have to live for, the answer is nothing. I don’t know why I continue putting myself through this torture each and every day, with no sign of my life improving at all. If I weren’t such a coward I would let go of the ladder and after the initial thud as I hit the ground, would never feel pain again, but of course I can’t do it. I’ll probably be up here picking oranges until the day I die, which hopefully won’t be too far off.