I left a scribbled poem on my desk. It read:“Whatever/is making me feel/that I have to be making money all the time/makes me feel/alone/with a more sinister side of myself/crying out like a spoiled child/whining me into compliance.”
I headed downstairs for dinner. My parents had become accustomed to me spending a lot of time in my room, “studying.” They had no idea I’d packed up my things until they saw me paused on the stairs. My olive, drab duffel dragged behind.
“I think I might be dropping out,” I announced.
Mouths full, they didn’t say anything as I set my things by the door and made my way to the table.
“I plan on going back next year; but for right now, I think I need to go,” I said
“Where?” my father asked, maintaining his calm. My mother’s protectiveness was harder to conceal.
“What do you mean?” she asked, shifting in her seat.
“I’m not really sure,” I replied. “Something happened today that I don’t totally understand. I feel like I just need to get out of here. I’m thinking about driving to California.”
Dad nodded, eyes widening.
Mom choked, looked over at her husband pleadingly, down at her plate, and then back up at me. “But, Jules,” she pleaded. “You’ve got so much potential.”
“Thanks, Mom, but after what happened today and the way the kids reacted…” I trailed off.
My father—who for the past seven years had been suffering swing-shift degradation in the university’s heating plant just so my family’s tuition at the college would be free—who had more right than anyone to fly into a rage over my decision—broke into a smile.
My mother stood to fix a plate for me. She was unsure of what else to do. After delivering the venison, green beans and mashed potatoes, she began stuffing the contents of her pantry into a cardboard box.
“Mom, please sit down,” I said. “I’ll be back in time for next semester, to finish.”
Her eyes formed tears. “Where are you going?”
“I don’t know exactly.”
I stood to hug her.
“Why don’t you wait and get one of your brothers to go with you?”
“I don’t know how else to explain it,” I said. “It’s something I have to do.”
I released my hug and sat down. There was a glass of water on the table, and I took a sip.
“I’ve never been anywhere,” I told her. “I’ve never done much of anything, except school, sports and hanging out with the same people. I read about all these great places but never go. I’ve got some time, so why not?”
“Yeah, but this is a big deal,” she retorted. “I just want to make sure you’ve thought about what you’re doing?”
How could she possibly understand when I didn’t?
She finally sat down. My father reached his hand out to her, and the room found its equilibrium.
“Maybe, I won’t go,” I said, suddenly doubtful. I was a semester away from graduation. I easily could finish first, but that would mean returning to Mrs. Warburg’s classroom.
My father stood up and retrieved a bottle of bourbon from the cabinet above the toaster oven. He cracked a tray of ice cubes and filled two glasses. Flirting with a third, he turned to Mom. She waved him off. Out of the fridge, he poured a half-glass of ginger ale into both cups. He topped off the rest with Wild Turkey before finally turning around.
“It wasn’t that long ago when a young man would go off into the forest, the jungle or the desert alone on a quest to find himself,” he said, taking a deep sip of his highball. “I believe in Australia they call it a walkabout.”
Smiling, I accepted the outstretched drink.
My mother’s expression tightened. “That doesn’t mean there still aren’t a lot of wackos out there, especially now that we’re going to war!” she said and reached across the table, pulling the whiskey toward her. Cubes chimed against the sides of the glass. She fenced off the brown liquid within her arms.
“That’s what moms do,” she said, taking a sip from the glass and pushing it back to my place. “We worry.”
Joel Finsel is the author of “Cocktails and Conversations from the Astral Plane,” and writes creative short stories, essays and musings every other week in encore throughout 2014.