Desperation makes people do crazy shit. There are points in most people’s lives where any alternative would be welcome compared to their current situation. They make decisions they wouldn’t normally make; usually because they’re not left with many choices with happy foreseeable endings.
Fate had not been kind to me recently. For reasons beyond my understanding, my last semester at college had been incredibly stressful. A few small mistakes at the beginning of the semester quickly snowballed, leaving me eating and sleeping less, seeking psychiatric help, and ultimately abandoning two of my courses. I returned home for winter break in the hope that I could scrape by with two fails. The administration thought differently.
Not two days after Christmas, I was blindsided with an academic dismissal. That’s fancy talk for “expulsion letter.” I was losing it until something caught my eye. I could apply for an appeal. Perhaps I could still salvage my academic career. Too bad the letter was laced with false hope. Despite my best efforts (an eloquently written letter detailing my state of mind, with sprinklings of a sob story, and a referral from the psychiatrist I had been seeing) the administration saw fit to amputate me from their “pristine” student body. You’d think drug dealers, sex offenders, and violence threats would take priority over a couple fails, but you’d be mistaken.
Suffice it to say, I was distraught. Luckily, I was alone when I received the final decision, else some unlucky bystander would have caught a stray fist. I know it’s unbecoming of a twenty-year-old man to throw a tantrum, but how else was I to deal with the news that my entire future was in shambles. I realize now that I could simply have changed schools, but at the time I felt utterly hopeless. Not to mention, it’s hard to shatter a future that wasn’t well put together in the first place. I had yet to pick a major after two years of college. I had hoped that if I just stuck to core subjects, I’d figure out what I wanted to do. I never got the chance to find out.
I received this final piece of news on New Year’s Eve. I was quick to hand in my appeal, and the school was quick to deny it. I guess private schools had some streamlined method for kicking out students. Anyway, my parents weren’t around to witness my breakdown because they were already at a party. I myself was due at my friend’s party a couple of hours after I received the rejection letter. I rarely got to see my friends during the school year, so I wasn’t missing the party for anything. Not even my expulsion.
After I finally regained my composure, I started for my friend’s home. The shock had left me feeling hyper-award. My surroundings suddenly felt more real. I lived in a small town in Upstate New York. The denser part of the town - the school, library, shops, government buildings, and residences - was about a mile or two across. Past that border, there was a ring of farmlands, dense woods, and swamps. My friend hosting the party lived on the edge of town, across from a park with a forest on the other side. I was the last one of my friends to arrive, judging by the amount of cars outside their home.
My friends and I were a motley bunch, I guess you could say. There were about ten of us, and we all had some unique combination of political and religious views, sexual orientations, hobbies, and talents. The only thing we all had in common was a respect and acceptance of everyone’s views and lifestyles and an understanding of just how fucked up the world is. I was met with an uplifting attitude that made me forget about my troubles for a bit.
As the night progressed, many of my friends became drunk. I didn’t feel like drinking, but that didn’t stop me from being dragged along into drunk games and discussions. About an hour before the new year, someone declared a game of hide-and-seek. The house was too small to hide nine people well, so we decided to play outside. That winter had been unusually warm, so no one objected. I was one of the hiders. At the start of the countdown, we all ran in separate directions. I made for the jungle gym in the park across the street. There were tubes connecting different platforms. A classic hiding place, and a bit of a challenge for the drunken seeker considering they’d have to do a bit of climbing to get to it.
When I found my spot, and huddled down in the smaller-than-expected tube, my thoughts returned to my expulsion. Reality hit me like a sack of bricks, and a heavy feeling developed in my chest. That initial feeling of crushing hopelessness returned, but was soon replaced by surprise when a heard a voice.
“Hey, Drake,” it said. That’s my name by the way. I looked to my right, immediately recognizing Cleo’s voice.
Cleo was by far my best friend in the whole group. She was a feminist, left-wing democrat/socialist, writer and photographer with a love for natural science. She was double majoring in journalism and biology and wanted to be a journalist and photographer for a science magazine. She had electric blue tips in her long, jet black hair, another new look for her, and she dressed halfway between classy intellect and hardcore punk rocker. I’m not sure how, but she pulled it off and made it look easy. She was also a heavyweight drinker, despite everything working against her. She was easily a foot shorter than me and just as skinny, if not skinnier. But for whatever reason, she knew how to hold her alcohol. She probably drank the most of anyone at the party and was the least drunk. I’ll admit, there was a time in high school when I had a crush on her, but my time in college convinced me she wasn’t for me. Whenever I had a problem she was the first to know about it and she always helped in any way she could. If anyone could help me through this it was her.
“Hey,” I responded sullenly, still feeling down. She picked up on it right away.
“What’s wrong?” she asked. I immediately began spilling my guts out to her. I told her everything down to the hole I almost punched in the wall during my tantrum. Her initial response was one of shock and outrage. She ranted for a bit on how the school shouldn’t have kicked me out after a single bad semester and that I should sue their asses off. That was likely the alcohol talking. She quickly realized what she was saying, and sobered up for me.
“I think the best course of action for you right now is to contemplate your options. There’s a good chance the credits you got will transfer to another school. Maybe it’s time you figured out what your major should be.”
I thought about what she said. She was a very well-spoken drunk. She seemed to have pulled me back to reason without any trouble.
“Thanks,” I said. Her expression lifted. She seemed to know she had succeeded in cheering me up. “I think I’m going to take a walk. While I’m in this mood, I’m going to figure out what I’m going to do. Tell the others they don’t have to look for me?”
“Sure. Just don’t take too long. The New Yearas countdown starts in half-an-hour.”
“Right.” I had nearly forgotten the world around me. I thanked her again and started to crawl out of the tube. Before I left she called me again.
“Wait. Before you go, can I ask you something?”
“Uh, sure.” In the back of my mind I was worried she was going to ask me out. I’d hate to reject her after having a crush for so long. I probably gave off a lot of signals that told her I liked her. Signals that I’d never give off again.
“What do you think of my new hairstyle?” she asked. Relief spread through my body and I gave out a sigh.
“Like a pale sunrise,” I replied. In truth, it did look like the sky just before a sunrise, light blue fading to inky black.
“What does that even mean?” she laughed. She was back to drunk again. I’ll never understand how she does that. I climbed out of the tube, and down from the jungle gym. I decided the best place to walk without getting disturbed would be the woods behind the park. I snuck over to the tree line. I didn’t want any seekers catching me. When I got there I picked a direction and started walking. I knew these woods well. We used to play here as kids.
I started analyzing myself. I knew that Cleo was talking about figuring out a major, but I was starting to wonder if I even needed to finish school. Could I utilize my hobbies or talents to make a living? I looked at my hobbies. Reading? Not likely that I could monetize that. Drawing? I wasn’t all that good at it, so I doubt I’d be able to turn a profit my selling drawings. Video games? “Let’s Players” were getting very popular online, but I don’t think I’m interesting or funny enough to maintain a decent audience. It didn’t look like my hobbies would get my life on track. I had to think harder. What about interests? Not many of those would support me, and the ones that could, I didn’t have the looks for. There was something though. Something I had the drive for. Travel. For as long as I could remember, I wanted to see the world no matter the cost or dangers. This was my answer, or at least what would lead me to it. What could he major in that would let me see the world? Diplomacy? Archeology? Oceanography?
But as I got closer to the answer, I noticed something. Something very strange. A light was pulsing through the trees. It seemed as though someone set up party lights, but I heard nothing. No music to accompany the light and no people to explain why it was there. I made my way to it, weaving through the dense tree trunks and bushes. I reached a clearing, and my jaw dropped. This light was not man-made, as far as I could tell. A slowly twisting vortex of gleaming silver and blood-red mist was lightly hovering above the ground. My imagination immediately overpowered my reasoning. If this wasn’t a figment of my imagination, it was surely a portal. Everything in my very being was sure about that. I had to tell someone. I had to let someone know this was here.
But something stopped me. In that moment, my dilemma seemed to have a solution. Portals lead to places. All I needed to do is step through. I was ready to go through, but my reasoning resurfaced. Where would it take me? Would I be able to get back? Would it kill me? Then I remembered the anger I felt when I was expelled, the grief when I realized my life was ruined, the helplessness of being stuck in a world that seemed to reject me. I didn’t remember my talk with Cleo.
“Fuck it.” I dove headlong into the portal.
Desperation makes people do crazy shit.