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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Vignette

“It’s very important that you figure out what you want to do with your future. Decisions you make now can either help or hurt your future career. Knowing what kind of career you want can…”

Mila’s thoughts began to drown out the droning sound of the lecturer. She had heard variations of the speech for years now. Grades are important, Mila. You don’t have any extracurricular activities to impress a college, Mila. Why didn’t you write anything down for your career aspirations, Mila? She grabbed a scrap of paper as the speaker at the front of the auditorium began sharing their life story about how hard things used to be for them. Their shoes probably cost more than everything in Mila’s closet combined.

‘Milk?’ The word scrawled on the paper in her hand whimpered compared to the notes of classmates on either side of her. The girl on ber right had been making a bulleted list of the speaker’s points and had been checking off things she was already doing to make her life perfect. GPA, clubs, volunteer work, and more filled her lines. Nothing looked out of place. Mila secretly glanced at the girl’s face. She looked like she was close to tears. The boy on her left had drawn several inappropriate doodles on his paper around some general actual notes. ‘Technical school. Wielding like dad.’ He was more interested in trying to mime jokes with his buddy across the aisle than paying attention now. His plan was set.

Mila’s things were packed neatly away and her bag was already in hands when the bell rang to release everyone. On her way home, she stopped by the store to get groceries. The cashier nodded at the familiar face and said nothing when Mila had to pick what to put back when she miscalculated for taxes. Mila was thankful the cashier was nice and thoughtful enough not to voice pity or even comment on the situation they both knew Mila was in. She grabbed the bag and finished the journey home without the meat she was hoping to have for herself for weekend lunches. School lunches were provided, but the weekend was a strategic nightmare for her budget. After she found out about the program at school, got the paperwork, and forged a parent’s signature there was some comfort in knowing there would be fewer hours of her stomach howling in protest of its neglect.

As soon as she unlocked the door she was swarmed. The dogs were barking. There was a cat somewhere in the house, but it was practically feral from no one giving it any attention and she wasn’t sure where it was anymore. Sometimes she found evidence that cat was still around in her drawers if she forgot to close them all the way. She would briefly imagine what it would be like to track wild animals for nature documentaries. Two little siblings were clinging to her legs. As she softly closed the door behind her she could hear the raised voices. Mila gave her siblings a smile and gave them each something small to carry as she led the way to the kitchen.

The ritual of supper making began. Two small bodies lingered underfoot as they kept Mila between themselves and the source of the sounds in the other room. Mila’s nose wrinkled at the smell wafting into the rest of the house. She hoped the smell of cooking would replace it soon. There were thuds, screaming, and crashing sounds. Laughter drifted in occasionally but it was not the kind that makes your heart float. She set two plates down near the door and knocked before quickly walking away. The noise and smell briefly exploded as the door opened. Food was grabbed. The door slammed close.

Mila was on the floor next to the bed where her siblings were sleeping. One of them still had a fistful of the back of her shirt clutched tightly. She angled her homework in the attempt to catch the light coming through the window. The numbers on the page, if they would sit still, mutated into other numbers or were impossible to decipher. It felt like reading another language and that was before she even attempted to solve the problems. The noises in the other room still had not stopped and would not for hours. There were much bigger problems than the homework to worry about and they took up every ounce of space she had left.

She heard and felt the rumble of the car outside before it rolled to a stop beneath the streetlight. She saw the flicker of light inside as someone lit up. She wasn’t sure if he could see her, but he certainly acted as if he knew she was watching. He’d been nice to her before. He was older, but not in a gross way, she thought. She knew what he was. Everyone probably did. Mila’s chest felt as if it had become concave and hollow.

They kept telling her to think about her future. What she wanted to be. Mila could feel the tug on the back of her shirt from her sibling. She could feel the push from the noises down the hall. She could feel the crumpling homework assignment in her hand. She could feel her stomach reminding her of how little she had eaten for dinner. What she wanted to be? She didn't want to be hungry. She wanted to be alive.


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