Brady Connel awoke Monday morning with a hangover rivaling that of a seasoned alcoholic. He hadn’t grown nearly as used to the spin as he had hoped he would before the continuation of the rest of his academic career, the regurgitated yellow watery mess filling up the toilet in the upstairs bathroom, a further inclination of such. Brady’s loud coughs had managed to stir Lorene from her light slumber, the bathroom wall bordering her own. She laid in bed, strung out, contemplating if it was at all possible for her mind to shut down, and sleep to continue. After roughly five minutes of her brother’s frantic movements from one room to the next, she decided that possibly the day would pass much faster if she simply arose and went through all the same motions again.
Victor and Joni Connel had both risen at the same time, with satisfied smirks on their faces. The sex had been rather adventurous the previous night, despite the exhaustion from both following the cleanup of their son’s graduation party. Possibly it was the fact that two responsible adults had been drinking for the duration of the day, the hormonal tension that still roughly existed between them even after close to twenty-one years of marriage, having become slightly harder to handle with each passing in the kitchen, each look before their parental duties took over again. It was either that or Victor’s own boost the second he started thinking about his next door neighbor Audrey Tate’s get-up, while drunkenly setting a path with his own wife. Even if Joni had known the truth, she wouldn’t have necessarily cared. It had been years since she thought about her husband when the two of them were making love.
However, the smiles still rang true that Monday morning as Victor sat at the kitchen table, drinking his familiar cup of Joe, waiting for his son to get a move on. Joni, completely fatigued from cooking the previous day, sat at the chair across from him, eating a bowl of Cheerios, and blinking harder than she was used to in the morning. Her headache was vaguely present, but nonetheless pulsated at the slightest inclination of a sound above a certain decibel level. Victor yelling up the stairs wasn’t helping anything.
“Brady! We gotta get a move on son! You don’t wanna be late, do you?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming,” Brady shouted down from upstairs, in half a raspy voice. It was coarse from a lot of things besides the alcohol.
“We should have had the party on Saturday,” Victor rationally said to his wife, before taking another sip from his World’s Best Golfer mug.
“We couldn’t. Sandy Martin was having hers, remember?” Joni calmly replied.
“But Brady isn’t even friends with Sandy Martin.”
“Yeah, but they have some of the same friends or something. I don’t know how it works exactly.”
“Well, still. I’m just saying because I don’t think any of us are too tiptop for the ride to Clearview.”
“Do you want me to drive, hon?” Joni had asked it out of marital habit, despite the fact that she was in no condition to signal before changing lanes.
“No, that’s okay. I’m fine. I feel fine.”
Lorene wandered down the stairs at that moment, her blonde hair a mess, her eyes red from the drops shed the previous evening. She sat down in the chair next to her father, groaning, before coughing up a smooth sounding chunk of mucus in the back of her throat. The Connel Sunday Barbecue and subsequent hangover had been contagious throughout the house.
“Good morning sweetie. Do you want any breakfast?” Joni asked her one and only daughter, picking up on a slightly unsettling vibe shooting off of Lorene, that only a mother could notice.
“No, I’m okay ma. My stomach’s kind of all over the place right now.”
“Well, maybe you should put something in it then,” Victor said, offering the best advice a computer aficionado could.
“I will when I’m hungry dad.”
“Okay, just saying,” He paused, loudly smacking his lips together. Joni felt instantly agitated by the sound. “So what the hell’s taking your brother so long?”
“He’s got the bug apparently,” Lorene said, dully.
“Well, he better get over it pretty quick. We gotta go soon.”
“Yeah, about that guys. I was thinking maybe I’d just stay home today,” Lorene said in a miserable tone, trying desperately to sound worst than the rest of them. In a lot of ways she was, but there was no denying that Lorene Connel was probably in the best condition to drive Victor’s blue station wagon that morning.
“Oh honey, don’t you wanna see your brother off to college?” Joni said is an almost perfectly played sentimental motherly tone, the truth behind such standard performance being that Joni didn’t want to be the only one forced into the car.
“It’s not even college. It’s more academics before college, for the smart kids. I mean, all the cute boys aren’t going to be moving in until the end of August.”
“She’s got ya there Joni,” Victor replied with a soft smile.
“Alright fine. What are you going to do, though?” The mother asked, out of the blue.
“I don’t know. Hang out for awhile this morning and then maybe I’ll apply for jobs somewhere later.”
“Well that’s good thinking,” Victor’s economically sound view of the world was taking over.
“Yep, that’s me. Always thinking ahead,” Lorene sighed.
Brady’s fast-paced steps halted all early morning breakfast conversation. His sweaty forehead and feverishly perplexed looks, didn’t necessarily help the cause which was cautiously popping up, over and over again in the back of his head. He didn’t want to go, didn’t want to leave home, and wasn’t sure if more knowledge was necessarily going to help him all that much in the grand scheme of things. It was a cliché that had somewhat lost it’s meaning in the three weeks between high school graduation and the next logical albeit forceful step in the proper direction of growing up. Brady regrettably knew that, unlike his little sister, there were no educated excuses to get him out of such a situation. His bags were already packed.
Brady sat in the backseat of his father’s station wagon; the bumpy abstractions on the highway not offering his head any kind of solace. Victor and Joni were both trying to hide the same effects on their own noggins, but at that point in life, had grown more than used to a few unleveled mornings full of vertigo.
Everyone in the car was mostly quiet, letting the soft sounds of Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits replace any discussion the Connels might feel like having with each other. It was possible that they had been through it all before, not in the same fashion, the trips having been for family vacations or to drop somebody off at camp, but in any case, it didn’t feel like much of anything was changing.
Victor and Joni had been patiently waiting for at least one of their children to finally vacate the premises, even if it wasn’t permanently. They were almost sick and tired of the bullshit that went along with it. All the school-sponsored events, chaperoning at dances, donating, selling and purchasing, made their star student of a son, seem more like a business partner as opposed to someone who was a spitting image of their union.
In short, Victor and Joni Connel were almost disappointed by Brady, and the fact that he was so goddamn perfect. He hadn’t fucked up in any sense of the word, but rather simply and truly went through all the proverbial public school motions and requirements, filling in the blanks as beyond satisfactory. It almost made them cringe inside as they thought about it on the drive over. Wasn’t it supposed to be harder? Weren’t there supposed to be drug problems, or aborted grandchildren somewhere in the mix? Wasn’t it supposed to be more stressful than a hungover drive across the state? Neither one could necessarily find the answer they were looking for.
In this same fashion, much like their headaches, Brady shared a similar trait with his family. He was confused, and not by their supreme parenting skills or possibly lack thereof. He wasn’t rolling around in thoughts of why he had been such a fully fleshed example of the administration at North Shade High School’s dream student. All the A’s, volunteer academics and extracurriculars had come natural to him.
Instead, much like all the other recently graduated persons, Brady Connel was simply wondering why the next step was necessary. He hadn’t learned a shred of what he thought was important from assignments in high school, his eyes eventually turning to the red lights of the digital clock on the wall much like everyone else. From what he knew of college, sentiments crafted in horror stories from former class presidents and returning heads of the student government, Brady wasn’t in the least bit up for wasting his last summer free of a greater life purpose, with more pretentious opinions from seemingly adult men and women, who far too much enjoyed the idea of spoon-feeding younger more impressionable minds. It wasn’t exactly something he was looking forward to.
Yet Brady Connel had filled in all the empty spaces of the application and sent it out with the hopes of wasting his time in such a lackluster environment of timid fakers like himself for the majority of the summer. It wasn’t like him to doubt his previous actions, and yet, much like all the other larger than life situations occurring every day in the world, Brady knew why he was all of a sudden the lost and frightened intellectual in the woods. It was because of a girl, and if nothing else, it just made sense to blame such newly discovered indifference on her.
Brady had known Halle Gibson for a long time before even the inclination of the two of them as something other than just lab partners or study buddies came into the picture. She wasn’t like all the other girls in the school. Halle wasn’t the girl who grabbed every one of his thoughts as she strutted down the hallway in something tight and low cut. She wasn’t the girl who was searching for anybody to drive her home, or possibly away from the elaborate mess in her life.
No, instead, Halle Gibson was exactly like Brady. She was a lawful abider of the rules, her homework assignments always in on time, her extensive list of civic duties to the North Shade High community meticulously completed to a tee. In short, she was the girl that Brady Connel had a hard time coming to terms with as somebody who would obsessively fill in the contemplative holes for him. However, by senior prom, she did just that.
They asked each other out of common sense, each one knowing that the people they really wanted to go with would probably only end up disappointing them in the long run anyway. Then the preparations, the dance, and finally after each willing participant had a better time than they expected, the subsequent drunken intercourse in Will Leidy’s parents’ upstairs guestroom. Suddenly a world of pent up sexual frustration took over as both Brady and Halle soon disregarded their assignments and final reflective papers for a chance at making up for lost time.
It had been an incredible month in Brady’s eyes, and one that he hoped would continue and make him all the better, but there was just that one tiny little problem. He was accepted into the Clearview College summer scholars program, and unfortunately attending seemed like the right thing to do. People were expecting it of him. Brady’s parents and family, all the teachers and counselors that were so proud of him, his ambiguous list of friends who were pretending to be jealous. All of them wanted Brady to be that guy. All of them except Halle.
They had been drunk in the backyard the previous night, everyone else having retired to other various houses of North Shade, Illinois; their porch lights still vaguely lit. He held her hand gently and tried to think of another solution, a way that would make it easier for him to just stay and act like all the other dim-witted lovesick kids who spent their summer on a whim. However, for the first time in Brady Connel’s life, no answers were coming to him, and he simply didn’t know what to tell her other than goodbye, a sentiment that continually popped up over and over again with each song and bump along the road. He was angrily and legitimately turning away from one of the only things he ever cared about, one of the only things he hadn’t been told to care about, and it was killing him.
The green and white exit signs started coming closer and closer, and then finally the long turn off from the straight path with all the other cars. Part of Brady hoped his father would get so lost that eventually both parents would mutually agree on their son’s bigger ideas. It wasn’t a day for academics and self-discovery. Instead, it was a day to return to the normalcy, to let all the stuffy noses know that it was far too beautiful outside to do anything but think about falling in love. They wouldn’t get it, though. To those expecting Brady Connel’s intellectual presence in their program, it was as much of a foreign concept as God. Logically he couldn’t exist to them. They were far too busy thinking about other sanctimonious forms of folklore.
Traffic was at a bare minimum in and around the campus, all cars of the overachievers and their parents’ filling a small portion of the street in front of Anderson Dormitory. The amount of thick-framed glasses, collard shirts, and “I’m a proud parent of a ‘fill in the high school’ honor roll student” stickers were at an all time high. The overabundance of such a strangely pervasive and highly similar group of less than amused eighteen-year-olds made Brady’s stomach slowly sink for the second time that day. He wasn’t quite ready to meet new people again, to form all the remedial bonds of illustrious college friendship, before the pull of reality set in. Everyone was kind of an asshole, even if some were better at hiding it than others.
Brady first moped in through the front doors, past about two dozen other early arrivals, already obsessively checking their lists of required items for college living. After waiting behind six or seven other kids, slightly more angry with their parents than themselves for being late, the short and chubby female resident assistant behind the front office counter, handed Brady his golden key. It wasn’t shining any differently that day, or offering the former occupant now instant visitor to 1469 Derby Street any bright concepts of opportunity. Instead, Brady felt like he was once again falling into the familiar pull from a single-filed line, everybody waiting their turns like robots on a conveyor belt.
The process of moving in with Victor and Joni didn’t necessarily help Brady discover what the point of everything was. There was unfamiliar arguing between the three of them; some of it about lifting heavier objects the wrong way, while the rest just seemed like an offshoot of lingering human emotions which couldn’t necessarily be explained at that point. Neither Victor nor Joni felt as if they were about to go rolling down the path of empty nest syndrome, and yet the sentimentality of seeing their first born son, stand in the middle of a plaster-chipped walled dorm room, compliments of his academic scholarship, waiting patiently for both of them to leave him alone to his thoughts, was, as the commercials often say, priceless.
“So are you all squared away here Brady?” Victor asked, taking one final introspective look around the enclosed space, bringing back memories that in this day and age could never reform again.
Times had changed. It wasn’t like the golden age of experimental drug use where everybody desperately clung to the notion that enlightenment was only a hit away. Instead, everything had been cracked down upon to the point where fun was a beyond highly ambiguous word. The smiling and excited faces slowly but surely starting to fill the first three floors of Anderson Dormitory weren’t in the least bit sure of its meaning, having been force-fed morals and inspirational sayings since the onset of their supposedly gifted minds. It wasn’t ever going to be like it was before. The mixed bag of drunken overly sexualized drug-induced collegiate frivolousness had unfortunately died off with the likes of all those over-achievers.
While some would inevitably drop out, give up or give into peer pressure, the majority of them would continue to walk the path set in stone for them by their own diminished will power, until death. The entire thought of a world full of people like those, who would be surrounding Brady Connel for the duration of the summer, made him contemplate variations of escape and suicide. Neither one would necessarily hit home, though, as both concepts seemed, quite literally, overused at that point.
“I think I’m good dad,” Brady replied upon his quick snap back to reality.
“Well then I guess we’ll head out of here. Let you get settled.”
He hugged both his parents and listened to their steps as they eventually faded out down the hallway. Brady Connel then sat down on his unmade creaky dorm bed and mattress, the springs offering a screech that would do more than just resonate in those first few days of common procedure. It would start to sound oddly refreshing as every afternoon and evening came to a close. Brady wouldn’t be the same person upon his triumphant return weeks later.