Written: November 16th, 2007, 7:35 (UTC) By: omer
Note: this post is part of an ongoing novel. You should probably start at the beginning here.
The novel continues here.
Orr said, "Yeah," but even as he said it, he was no longer certain. The news correspondents had been entirely certain of this fact, but he was an intellectual, and a social dissident. Why had he trusted them so? "... Yeah, I guess... maybe not..."
Tom seemed to have been waiting for this moment because he started speaking as soon as Orr stopped. He said, "Yeah, and, everyone's completely terrorized by this whole thing, but wasn't that their point? I know it's scary and awful for lots of people, sure, but it's also like chess: if your opponent wants you to do something, you should try not to do it."
Orr said, "Yeah, but it's still pretty scary."
Tom said, "Yeah. We were all pretty worried about Sarah." It was the first time that he had mentioned her for over a year. "I can't imagine being a family-member of someone who died today, or somebody who's missing."
Orr said, "Yeah..." He imagined Sarah missing, or being dead, of consoling his parents and being expected to stay in-state for college.
Tom said, "But, that's just the thing: that's what isn't new. People everywhere live with dying and missing family."
Again, Orr wanted to say that today's event was different, but again he couldn't explain why.
And, before he could express doubt or even assent, Tom continued. His voice was softer, and almost a whisper. He said, "You know, I really don't think it would be that bad to live in New York." Orr heard him twist a little in his sheet, and Orr turned reflexively to see the source of the noise. In the shade-dimmed moon-light, he saw Tom turned directly facing him, half-sitting with his arm supporting the weight of his body. Orr, reflexively, mirrored him.
Orr said, "What's up?"
Tom said, "Well, today might not be the best day..."
Orr said, "No, my birthday's probably over..." He realized that this was probably not what Tom meant (and that it was probably not long after 10:00pm). "... and, uhh, well... Anyway, now's as good a time as any."
Tom again seemed ready with a response. He said, "Yeah, you're right. The thing is this... I think I'm applying to Columbia."
For all their talk of spending the rest of their lives together, neither had made especially concrete plans about any portion of that future. The sudden realization that he might not be spending his future with Tom after all hit him almost palpably, and emitted a shuddering "oh," as if from his whole body.
Tom, seemingly unaware of Orr's negative response but now with a slight tremble in his voice, continued, "Would... Could you see yourself there too?"
Orr, honestly, had never considered it. There were so many schools, and he was never sure where he fit or what his family could afford, that he mostly expected himself to stay to stay in New Mexico and attend UNM on in-state tuition. But, the almost-palpable release of what had hit him moments before emitted from him an excited and overly loud, "Yeah, I would love to go there!"
When he retained control of his body, he attempted to hedge his bets by saying, much more quietly, "I mean, if I can get in... and afford it... which are both unlikely."
But, it was too late.
Tom sat up straight and said, "No, we can totally make this happen. We can help on each other's applications. And, we'll study up for the SAT -- I don't know about you, but I think I'm going to take it next month, and we can take it together if you want, or not, you know -- but, we can study up for that, and if you do well, you'll get some killer recommendations. Mr. E loved you last year. And, then you could even get some scholarships!" He crossed his legs and started rocking back and forth.
Orr tried to imagine himself at Columbia. He could not, having no idea what Columbia actually looked like. Instead, he tried to imagine himself in New York, which is to say, in Times Square. Although he could imagine the metonymic square, he failed entirely to place himself in it. So, he continued with his reluctance. He said, "And, there's no way that my parents will let me go there..."
To this Tom appeared to have no answer, because he said, "Well, we'll just have to see, then!" and then more quietly, so that Orr could barely hear it, "... but, it'll work out..."
And, after that, neither of them spoke for such a long time that Orr eventually fell asleep to jittery and shadowing dreams that, though he could not remember them, left him jittery and unprepared for the jittery world into which he was entering.
Though it stemmed from his own reluctance, Orr's prediction about his parents' reaction to his consideration of Columbia as an alma mater was largely prophetic. He and Tom had filled out an online form two days later at school, such that when the requested information arrived in the form of a large envelope labeled, "COLUMBIA" in giant block letters, just below, in unmissable black, "Enclosed: The Information You Requested." His father happened upon it, demanding the bulk of the mailbox for itself, such that the daily issue of the family's accidental subscriptions to "Pizza Deals" (for "Ol' Famos Ragnarok or current resident") and "Housing Deals" (for "Future Home Owner") were forced to wait in a crumpled corner. If it had been a letter of ordinary size, he perhaps would have seen the name of the addressee and left it on the stairs, but the Columbia Information demands attention with its weight alone, and Orr's father was planning to be around as the thing was opened even before he saw what the thing was or to whom it was addressed. And, when he read the large black text, his curiosity and confusion both escalated.
Orr had spent just over an hour playing Hearts in the computer room with Kelly, Toff, and Tom before returning home, so he arrived a few minutes before dinner. (The timing of his arrival was not a coincidence. Over the years, he had maximized the amount of time he could spend at school with friends while still managing to catch a bus that would bring him home in time for dinner.) By then, his father and mother had both been glancing periodically at the package with its strange phrase, "You requested," in such big and black letters for just over an hour.
After taking off his shoes, abandoning his backpack at the foot of the stairs, and washing his hands, he came into the kitchen, prepared only for a feast, not a package. But, he saw it before anybody spoke, and in the second he had before his parents' dark stares manifested audibly, he prepared himself mentally for an adventure.
His father began: "Orr, what is this about you wanting to go to Columbia?"
This mild beginning eased Orr. He said, "Oh, Tom was really excited about it, so we both asked for more information."
His father said, "Oh, so you are not actually interested?"
This, of course, was a conniving trick, for it forced Orr to either lie or to disappoint his parents, which made him feel guilty, which made it seem (to all concerned) that he was in the wrong and thus should follow his parents' inevitable (and obvious) advice. But, Orr had been the target of this type of paradox before, and his answer (he hoped) would render it ineffective. He chose indecision. He said, "Well, I might read it over, just in case it turns out to somehow be the perfect school for me or something."
Orr's father appeared to be unaware of how to extract further information out him, but at his father's silence, his mother took her turn. She said, "So, you are suggesting, and correct me if I'm wrong here, but you're suggesting that you requested that this much paper be wasted on the off-chance that you might look at it, and the even more off-chance that the school will be perfect for you?"
This attack, both in form and in contact, surprised Orr. Though he was used to his mother's tactic of asking questions that bordered on derision, he had softened up in this argument with the easy questions his father had fed him, and had, admittedly, not anticipated the absurdity of his claim put in this way. He thought for a moment, not sure how he was going to respond. Finally, he hit upon, "Well, I guess I really should read it over, then, so as not to waste the paper." It was a lame response, and felt hollow as he said it. But, to wait any longer, staring dumbfounded at his parents, could be even more injurious to his cause.
His parents, of course, had not been fooled. And, within moments, his father, with a sigh and a scowl, said, "So, are you thinking seriously about this school or not?"
And, as always, his parents had now won. He had already played the indecision card, and here it would not apply anyway (for a person cannot easily be unsure about whether or not they are having a particular thought). So, after fixing his eyes down between the two adults, he said, "Yeah, I guess I'm thinking about it."
His father used this temporary victory to press on still further, saying, "And, you think you might attend this school?"
Orr said, "I might, yeah."
His father sighed, and his mother said, "I don't like this, Orr..."
Orr was mumbling now. "I know..."
His mother said, "I don't like that you didn't tell us, because that means that we all knew how we would react."
Orr said, "I know..."
His mother said, "It's so far away, Orr... and New York is so dangerous..."
Orr said, "I know..."
His mother said, "And, I don't know if we could handle having both children in the same place, so far away, if another terrorist attack hits."
And, suddenly, Orr had a new plan of attack. He said, "You don't want me to go in case of terrorists?"
His mother said, "It's a legitimate fear. It's something we all have to worry about now. And, terrorists will target Manhattan before they target Albuquerque."
Orr's voice was starting to rise, in tenor at least. "But, we can't let fear of terrorists keep us from living our lives, because then we live in terror, and they've won!"
His mother remained calm. "I'm not advocating fear-mongering, just making wise decisions. We have to be more careful now, not terrorized, but careful."
"No we shouldn't! It was awful, sure, but people die of awful things all the time, and in big numbers too."
"This is different."
If anything, his mother appeared to be growing more calm. "Those awful things that happen to lots of people, they're accidents, or they're acts of war that involve soldiers. This was a huge, purposeful attack on citizens. And, when there are people who kill arbitrary citizens in such large numbers, deciding to place oneself in a place more prone to attacks is a decision that affects your probability of staying alive."
Orr was shocked by the reasonableness of this argument. He had always considered his parents intelligent, but he secretly harbored the belief that he and Tom were more intelligent than their parents were, yet neither he nor Tom had considered such a simple argument. But, now he was too upset to adequately register his mother's intelligence, and lacking a proper response, he mumbled, "Let's figure it out later," snatched the guilty package from the clutches of the countertop, and stormed to his room, where he waited until his hunger drove him out. The table was empty but for a plate of scalloped potatoes and a note that read, "Sorry, Orr. Salad's in the fridge. Love, Mom."
And, as Orr munched on the soggy lettuce, he wondered why he had so vehemently argued for the right to attend a school that he had so little interest in actually attending. But, soon, his feelings of frustration and impotence over his own fate led him to the thought that perhaps he really wanted to attend Columbia after all.