A crowd gathered on a large field behind a school, listening attentively to a man as he spoke to them behind a podium. The sun shone brightly, mirroring the hopeful future the institution wished upon their bright minds. He was passionate in his speech, delivering it in a powerful, and encouraging tone. It was the speech of a man who believed that he could make a difference, one who was adamant that the world would be a better place if those sitting before him worked together, and placed their best ideas forward in a collaboration for a better future. At the end of his speech, they all clapped for him, and threw the square caps they donned into the air.
The crowd dispersed and congregated in smaller groups.The speaker traveled from group to group, shook hands and said a few words before moving onto the next. Finally, he stopped and embraced a grey haired man in a classic plaid suit.
"Congratulations Ben. This is a big day. Very big day. Your mother and I know that you've worked very hard these past 6 years Ben. Your brains may be from you mother, but the work ethics, very impressive, that's definitely me."
A younger man in formal military attire joined them, giving Ben a friendly slap on the back. "Finally huh? All done? No more classes. Congratulations bro."
Ben gave his brother a hug. "I am just glad to be done you know? No more classes, no more papers, no more lectures. Finally just going to have some me time, no more listening to what someone else is saying, or having them tell me "do this" and "do that".
His brother shook his head, smiling at his brother naiveness. "If that's what you want, then don't get married, and don't get a job."
As the sun moved across the sky, families began to disperse from the field until the last rays of sunlight gleamed upon two remaining bodies slung over the concrete steps of the school, each with a bottle in their hand. They talked and laughed, watching the shadows of the evening consume the scenery around them.
"Mom and dad are really proud of your now Ben," his brother slurred out. "Like really proud of you. You know?"
"They're proud of both of us Doug," Ben replied in an equally sloppy manner. "We're doing alright."
Doug rolled over from his back to his front. He wore a slight grimace on his face during the process, as the edges on the concrete step pressed into his side. After exhaling deeply for a couple of breaths, he sat up and put the bottle to his lips. He tossed his head back along with the bottle so that it was vertical, in line with his throat, as if the mouth was merely a funnel to prevent the contents from spilling. Doug finished his drink and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. He rattled the bottle close to his ear, and listened to the sound of droplets swimming in an empty void. The sound did not appease him, and he threw the empty bottle onto the lawn adjacent to the stone path at the bottom of the steps.
"It's not the same Ben. Not the same. They're proud of you because you wanted to do something, and you worked hard, and you got it. They are proud of me because I am their son. They are proud because they have to be."
Ben looked at his brother questioningly. "You are kidding right? You defend our country. People can sleep in their beds at night because of what you do. You don't think Dad of all people is proud of that? You think he is more proud of me because I graduated from nursing school?"
Doug leaned over and wrestled Ben's bottle away from his hand. He almost fell over to his other side when he sat back up. After another long drink and listening again to the bottle's empty song, he gave the first bottle a companion.
"There's a difference Ben. You became a nurse because it was what you wanted to do. Screw it, the reason don't matter. It's the fact that you worked hard to get what you wanted to get. I went to the military because I couldn't do anything else. Dad sent me to military school because I was in trouble all the time, not because he thought it's what I would be good at." He stared dully at the fading glow in the horizon. "But I am pretty damn good aren't I? At what I do I mean."
"Well, you did move up those ranks pretty fast you know. I don't know anything about the military, but I know enough to appreciate how quickly you progressed."
"Still, a son who was thrown out of three schools, and barely graduated from the fourth, didn't go to college or anything. And then there's you. Never a disappointment. Ever."
"So you did somethings that weren't considered good ideas. Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do."
Doug nodded to acknowledge his brother's support. "Who said that again?"
"Right." Doug stared into the approaching abyss that once held the sun. Its dark grasps were held back by the emissions of the street lamps and house lights; Like many divided by space, united to fight against one overwhelming force. "So what regrets do you have Ben?"
Ben watched the silhouette of a moth, fluttering around the glow of a street lamp. It was insignificant, its body drowned by the light. Within a few moments, a small cluster joined the lone moth, bathing in the luminosity. The light that was so bright a second ago, dimmed just a little bit. "Pretty much the opposite of your regrets. I've done nothing. Never tried anything, never rebelled. Everything I've ever done were all so," he paused, searching for the words that would describe his existence. "So expected."
"It's never too late to start. Most people start a little too late and people call it a mid life crisis," Doug injected. "You start now and you are years ahead of the curve."
Ben shrugged. "I wouldn't even know where to begin."
As he stood up, Doug acknowledged his brother's first step towards chaos. "For starters, you are consuming alcohol in plain sight in public. That's a pretty good beginning."
Realizing his own milestone, he cracked a smile, and with a gleam in his eye, he consulted his brother. "OK, so what's next?"
Doug gently grabbed his brother's collar and brought him to his feet, the way that a mother tiger carries its cub by the skin around its neck with her mouth. "Well Ben, have you ever been inked?"