“What do you mean you’re still undecided?” She said as Brian took a deep breath and sighed. “You’re going into your second year of college.” Brian looked at his mom, her face oddly positioned, so her left eye was closer to him than her right, the left bulging in near apoplectic rupture. “You need to decide on something…! Now!”
“I still have to think about it a bit more,” said Brian. “This decision could affect the rest of my life.”
“Brian, I want you to go to the library.” She said, the blood vessel in her left temple coursing, “And stay there all day.”
“Mom, I need to think more… I need to think more and look at possibilities on my own,” said Brian.
“Well, I see…” Her voice was now sickeningly sweet, which Brian knew to be a sign of danger. “I was going to let you borrow the car… but since you need so much time to think, you should walk to the library instead.”
“But Mom, it’s three miles away,” he said.
“Go, and I don’t want to see you back here until it closes.” she said. “Don’t forget your library card!” as he walked out the door.
As Brian stepped onto the sidewalk in front of his house, he considered disobeying his mother by going to a friend’s house instead, but since most of his friends lived in East Town, he knew if he didn’t at least cross Maple Avenue, his mom’s friend, Missus Snyder would surely rat him out. The arcade, however, was on the West Side. After half a block in the arcade’s direction, he checked his pocket for money, but pulling out only two wrinkled dollar bills, an Idaho State quarter, and a green penny, he realized the library was his only feasible option.
As long as he could remember, Mrs. Snyder had it out for Brian. Usually, she sat on her porch and rocked for the duration of most summer afternoons. She was an older lady with graying hair and false teeth she kept in a jar by the door, but she also tended to make everyone else’s business her own. Among the busy bodies of the town, her gossip was always the juiciest and often the least reliable. Crossing Maple, he passed the huge lavender Victorian with a very anachronistic screened-in front porch.
“Good Afternoon, Mrs. Snyder,” said Brian politely as he went by her house.
“A man without a purpose is not a man at all,” she said, wringing her hands. “Boy, you’d best hustle along.”
“Why? You’re not my mother,” said Brian.
“No, but I can phone your mother.” She rose from her rocking chair and said, her mouth puckering like she had just bitten into a lemon. “And she’ll let you see the bottom of her sole when you return home.” Ignoring Missus Snyder’s last comment, Brian continued along.
Further down the road, country faded into urban sprawl. Brian approached the Springfield County Seat and Courthouse, and idly wondered what his life would be like as a lawyer…
District Attorney Brian spoke, “This guilty verdict isn’t simply a victory against organized crime or those who would try to cheat the system, but it is a gain for justice in our town, our state, and our world. It is…”
A man in the front row of the assembly stood, pulled out a gun and aimed it at Brian. Before anyone could react, Brian was shot and bleeding his life away.
The mayor said to Police Commissioner Snyder, “God, damn it! Why couldn’t you have beefed up security a bit more?”
She responded, “I assigned almost every available officer here. What was I supposed to do? Call in the National Guard?”
He seized, his day dream nearly overpowering him. Law wasn’t what he wanted to study.
One of the major military bases of the region was set inside of the borough of Springfield. As he walked to the library, he heard the sounds of the base and its drills, Brian wondered how his life would be if he didn’t go to college and instead joined the military…
Riding on patrol in a hummer, scouting for enemy combatants and IEDs, these days had been difficult for Private Brian; he lost one of his own unit, and their leader Second Lieutenant Snyder was anything but empathetic. The doctor called it hyper-vigilance. It was Brian’s fifth tour and sleeping was becoming more and more difficult even with medication. He thought of himself as Elvis in that respect, a pill to get up with and pill to go down with.
Suddenly, there was an explosion, and Brian felt sharp pains all over his body. The next thing he knew he heard a member of his unit shouting, “Medic! Medic! Private Brian needs a doctor now!” And then his world whited-out.
His breath was heavy, and Brian didn’t want to be a soldier.
Primarily an outpatient facility with an EMT Router and a seldom-used ER, a branch of the local hospital, Springfield Memorial East was the first major landmark on his journey. Passing it, he thought what his life would be like as a doctor…
Nurse Snyder gave meds to the patient and asked, “Don’t get snippy with Doctor Brian. He’s got a new ulcer, and his malpractice insurance premium just tripled.”
The patient’s eyes widened.
The nurse went on, “Well, I suppose that’s what happens sometimes to a doctor when a patient in their care dies. Then again, it might turn out to be the hospital’s fault in the end ‘cause he was working a 72-hour shift when the error happened.”
The patient’s mouth went slack.
Nurse Snyder continued, “And he’s still got loads of student loans to pay off. And two other ulcers and prematurely graying hair from keeping that GPA up and those years of residencies and fellowships. He’ll probably have three more before retirement.” She smiled, “Oh, well. I hope your surgery goes okay with Doctor Brian.”
Doctor Brian came to the patient’s bedside, out of breath, and asked, “How are you feeling this afternoon?”
The patient said, “It’s six in the morning.”
Nurse Snyder said, “You have nothing to worry about. He got almost four whole hours of sleep last night.”
Doctor Brian felt a harsh pain in his chest. He said, “I was on the ground floor when they paged me, and I had to run up the stairwell.” Putting his hand over his stomach, Brian said, “Nurse, my ulcer. Help!"
As he collapsed onto the hard and institutionally white tiled floor, he heard Nurse Snyder say wistfully, “He should’ve been a writer. Being a novelist is so much less pressure.”
The daydream released its grip on Brian, and freed, he shouted, “I don’t want to be a doctor,” and the feeling left him.
Continuing to pass through town, Brian noticed the bookstore and the people milling about, browsing the various works of fiction and nonfiction. He imagined his life as a writer…
“Life’s a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” Brian read to himself. His literary agent and Editor-in-Chief Snyder had suggested that he write a novel where the hero doesn’t die in the end, and by suggested, they meant mandated. These words were first penned by Shakespeare and were the essence of the anthem of not only most of Brian’s works, but also, his life. Then he prepared his personal response to this MacBethian sentiment by putting the pistol in his mouth.
The moment before he pulled the trigger, he looked at his suicide note and one line jumped out almost nonsensically: “Sometimes I wish I had been an athlete because God knows I could have used the endorphins.”
Feeling the emotional pain but not the physical, Brian realized that a career in writing could exacerbate his own melancholy tendencies.
Walking further down the street, he came upon the Springfield Football Stadium. If there was one thing that would get every person in the county to come together and unite around one idea, it was football. Brian daydreamed about his life as a football player…
Half-time was tough for the state university’s star quarterback. Though he wasn’t playing perfectly, the scout from the NFL was already impressed by his performance. Coach Snyder called him over saying, “Brian, please. You said you almost sprained your leg. Let the second-string quarterback have a chance to shine.”
“No, I’m fine,” said Brian.
“Fine,” said Coach Snyder, “But I’m sending in Andrew Finnegan as your center.” Andrew was a skinny sophomore from Western Ohio. Finnegan was under five foot in height, so he apparently must possess the ability to shoot fire from his eyes because that was the only way someone his size could protect Brian from the opposing middle linebacker, a wheatgrass-fed juggernaut, the lovechild of the bearded lady and Chuck Norris.
After the whistle, the titan pushed aside Andrew with one shove of his arm. While this colossal man came at Brian, he had the instinct to drop the ball and run. You know: self-preservation and all that stuff. Instead he went for broke. And by broke, he would mean the dozens of broken bones in addition to serious brain and spinal damage. He thought he heard the Coach say, “If only you had just thrown that damn ball, I wouldn’t be dealing with so many freaking lawyers,” as the bright light overtook his mind. Athletics wasn’t for him.
At the library on campus, he met with a major-selection specialist. Her name was Mrs. Stevens, and he was sure he had seen her on an episode of Charlie Brown, you know one of the grownups. She wore pearls and had a British accent as if she was an effigy of Margaret Thatcher. After several minutes of lecture about various subject areas, she asked, “Which area are you most interested?”
“Well, if I knew that, I wouldn’t need your help, would I?” Brian said in a snarky tone.
“We have to start somewhere,” she said.
He explained, “I think my biggest problem is: Whenever I think of myself doing a particular job, I imagine myself suddenly dying while doing it.”
Mrs. Stevens looked as if Brian had just told her that in his free time, he enjoys feasting on the entrails of unicorns in the hope that he will live forever. Then, she slowly calmed down and processed this idea over the next minute or two during which time Brian was either twiddling his thumbs or wiping unicorn blood from his lips.
“Even though I think this issue might be better suited for a mental health professional, I don’t see why I can’t help you eliminate some possibilities,” she said.
“Good. Let’s start,” he said.
“How about Agriculture?” she asked.
“Giant rolling boulder… Indiana Jones style…”
“Gunned down by an intoxicated man robbing a liquor store…”
"Bludgeoned by a overachieving student who got an A minus..."
“Stabbed by a woman who was declared an unfit parent…”
“Strangled by a juvenile offender who wanted another waffle…”
“Disgruntled employee wielding a fire axe…”
“Too much citizen, not enough man; would rather die than succumb to such a life…”
“Would rather chop off another person’s head than examine it... Death penalty…”
“Really bad allergy to dry erase markers: Anaphylactic shock…”
“Crazed fan and a very gangly bodyguard…”
“Left a very cynical suicide note…”
“Catcher in the Rye… again…”
“Cut my ear off and then bled out…”
“Lost at sea…”
“Electrocuted by a teleprompter…”
“Rabbit Hole… Starved to death…”
“Giant Singing Venus Flytrap…”
“Serious bacterial infection…”
Mrs. Stevens pinched the bridge of her nose. “I think you should schedule the appointment with this professional. After you begin addressing these issues, please return to me.”
“Okay.” Brian took the card without the intention of contacting the head shrink.
They stood. She said, “Thank you.”
As she turned away, he said, “Anytime.”
As Brian walked back out of the Library, he was occupied with his potential for meaningful work. He walked all the way back to Maple Street where he found Mrs. Snyder sitting on the porch. She said, “It’s a bit early for you to be returning home, unless you’ve already decided your course of study.”
Sarcastically, he said, “Yeah, I’ve decided to study to be a truck driver for a living.”
As he crossed, she said, “Truck.”
“No, I was just kidd…”
"Stop!" She yelled, “Truck!”