My student loan coupon book was thumbtacked just below my MFA degree. My payment had been due on the 4th, but if received by the 25th would be considered “not late.” This lenience was a small thing, one of a very few, to recommend my loan-holding company. It nearly made up for the internet-security confusion that prevented me from making online payments When their colorless website asked for my DOB and SSN to set-up my account, it said I was not in their system. But, I was deeply part of their system. To the tune of $XXXXX, which was a more plausible figure if split evenly between Anna and me. Every time I wrote a check I experienced a small guilt that it wasn’t. The loans were all mine.

The company was named XLS, located at a six digit PO Box in Muncie. (In case you’re wondering, this story takes place in 2011, the year before my loans were bought-back by Direct Loans, and I began sending my payments to myfedloan.org.) I had no idea what XLS actually stood for. Nowhere did the coupon book elaborate. It must have meant X____ Loan Servicing, but I was inclined to think it stood for something nonsensical like “Extra Large Short.” Also, on the front of the booklet there was what appeared to be a motto written in small italics. It said: “Payment Processing Provider.” Beneath that, a wide window framed Anna’s and my address, 41 Market St, Apt. 2R, Northampton, MA 01060, which did double-duty on the first interior page. Each time I opened the booklet XLS and I confirmed this. Maybe they should have called themselves “The Wallet Vacuum People.”

I ripped out my coupon, confirmed my address had not changed, and found my checkbook inexplicably in the kitchen drawer where we kept screwdrivers and batteries, masking tape and thumbtacks – inexplicably I say, except intuition told me it was there. On the last page were XLS’s address stickers. Even the sticker I had to lick, but nice of them to provide one, lest a dummy transpose the PO digits.

Nevertheless, the booklet, in its smallness, in its concision, was kind of pretty. It was like a miniature art-book forged by financial chicanery. This was especially so if I posited my debt wasn’t all my fault, that I chose most of it at 18, feeling I had no other choices. The real travesty was that in the 10 years since I couldn’t or wouldn’t, or in any case didn’t, get a job that allowed me to make a dent. And, with the MFA I feared I’d sealed fate against myself, choosing what my entrepreneurial uncle Rob had called over a Thanksgiving dinner, not incorrectly, “auto-impoverishment.”

A Buffalo Wild Wing to you, Uncle Rob!

The page I held was thin but strong and had a slight gloss. It had the green ticking of a watermark floating inside. There was a maroon stripe on the top of each coupon, and a disjunctive black stripe on the bottom. I kind of wanted to take our Royal Blue Sharpie from where I’d just seen it like an old pal in the miscellany drawer and make a Royal Blue diagonal to connect the maroon and the black, and then paper a section of kitchen wall with them, like small nautical flags, thereby curating something productive and transcendent of my debt. Then, when Anna got home, she might find me also covered in blue sharpie, shirtless, Kurtz of the kitchen, and I would offer my student-loan folk art as an ultimate marriage test to her.

Jack Christian

Jack Christian

JACK CHRISTIAN is the author of Family System, which won the 2012 Colorado Poetry Prize. Other excerpts from “The Apartment on Market Street” have appeared in Carolina Quarterly and The Weeklings.
Jack Christian