With a tap, John’s ThinkPad came back from sleep mode with a restrained whoosh from its cooling fan. He clicked his web browser. He’d just defragged the hard drive so the computer responded promptly, loading a fresh window. John had it set to take him to CNN. He wasn’t so naïve as to think it was a good source of unbiased reporting, but he was stimulated by the unnecessarily sensational titles. A few keystrokes later, he was at his Gmail account. Verify password… remember this computer… mouse click. A list of hyperlinks prefixed by sender name descended from the top of the screen. One was a letter from his parents. He opened it and read it. Just a reminder, his sister’s birthday was coming up. He nodded mentally and leaned back in his chair. His relationship with his sister was best described as remote. They weren’t terribly close though they obviously cared about each other. She wasn’t very nice to him though. Got annoyed by him easily. Made it clear she thought he was very irresponsible. Frequently told him what to do.
And the annoying thing was, he wouldn’t have minded quite so much if she was thick-skinned enough to be able to tolerate a criticism of her own shortcomings, such as her need to win constantly. Or the fact that she judged everyone as if she was just a pinnacle of... efficiency and moral authority. Because, as everyone on Earth fucking knew, she had never done anything illegal or bad in her whole life. Nope. The good child. The currently sane one.
She was successful. A doctor. No dummy, though John was fairly confident his paradigm for life would lead him to be an overall more fulfilled person, when it was all over. Her great weakness was she followed rules. It was hardwired into her. Or perhaps their judgmental helicopter parents had had something to do with it. Probably. That would have been consistent with his own behavior at least. He rejected authority figures who he thought were misusing that authority. He knew he did. It made him impatient. And… he thought harder.
Furthermore, he rejected authority figures that were unreliable. Which would seem to explain why he was very wary of taking his parents’ advice. How could he not be? Their reactions to life were disproportionate. And so were his sister’s. They all also expressed the belief that he was pathologically obstinate and defiant, which upset him a fair amount because it simply wasn’t true. He didn’t have a problem considering other peoples’ opinions in general, as they all assumed. Nor did he take issue with authority in principal. He had a problem with how the three of them exercised authority. That was it! That was the main reason he resented her! She had become one of the very judgmental, controlling authority figures she’d suffered under. It was the hypocrisy. Thinking about it for a moment, as best he could figure, over the course of time, to deal with the cognitive dissonance stemming from their parents’ overbearing personalities, she had come to accept certain negative elements of their worldview. Now she projected those elements onto him. Well, even if she didn’t project onto him in that way, he would still reject her solution of simply aligning parts of her worldview with their parents’. Screw that. John knew what happened when offspring coped by giving parents that kind of power. Lots and lots of therapy. No. John would take his chances with his friends. John would be the stereotypical youngest.
He loved her though. He did. But she pissed him off. OGH!! STOP IT! He always did this when he thought about her. It was the same feeling he got when he thought about Margaret. Well fuck that and FUCK HER. Which her? DOESN’T MATTER. Delete. He wasn’t prepared for the next message.
Dear Mr. Marshall,
Good day. I hope you are well. I very much enjoyed speaking with you at the RPI, Geo-Technology job fair. I have reviewed your credentials and think you would be a perfect match for our entry-level hydrologist position. Our company is a relatively new and rapidly expanding, employee-owned consulting company headquartered in Buffalo, NY. Our operations are conducted from a modern, and aesthetically pleasing facility and we offer a generous benefits package. If you are interested, I urge you to reply to this e-mail or contact me at (716) 867-9767.
Chief Recruitment Officer
Taylor and Mender
John swallowed hard and looked at his watch. A quarter way through April. The job fair had taken place… a week ago. Damn. He couldn’t deny it was an ego boost. John knew the odds of getting contacted by one of these firms. They wanted the best. He leaned back in his chair again and twisted his body so he was resting on the soft back with one of his folded arms. His chin rested on his shirt sleeve. He suddenly became aware of just how loud the refrigerator was.
He hadn’t even wanted to go to the stupid fair. John was on a mission. For a year now he’d been nursing a dream of joining the NOAA Corps. It was all he bloody fucking wanted to do. Some of his friends had gotten federal internships early on, one most notably with the CIA, which had really jarred him. He, the most likely to succeed, had no such experience. Suddenly, he’d started to feel like he was standing still. Yes he took many classes, but he didn’t really have a lot of real world experience. He’d suddenly wished he hadn’t gotten the Chinese minor and done an independent study. And then he’d stumbled on an ad for the NOAA Corps. And he’d known where he wanted to go. It was so simple. No courtship necessary. It’d been love at first sight. The science, the security clearance, the uniforms, the structure, everything.
Fortunately, he had a background in the geosciences, which meant he was in the running. Their main pool was composed of engineers, atmospheric scientists, environmental scientists, oceanographers, biologists, geoscientists and GIS specialists, so far as he could tell. Since that moment, he’d been directing himself more or less completely towards becoming attractive to that organization. He’d taken two GIS classes and a meteorology class, though he hadn’t had time to delve into any biology.
Regardless, with graduation looming, he really thought he had a good, no, a damn good chance of getting in. Hell, he was an excellent candidate. If they didn’t hire him, they were crazy. Of course… And so he waited with bated breath for a reply to his application, diligently sent in the middle of March, two weeks ahead of the deadline. And now this.
Bloody hell. He knew what his parents would likely say. Explore it! Good opportunity, a job that’s consistent with your long term goals of being successful and independent. Yadda yadda yadda. All missing the point. The point was John had worked for years, YEARS, to be an all-star student. He’d even given up the rowing team, which he loved. And all for one reason. So that he could get the kind of job that would make him stand out. So that he could do something really significant. Not… fucking consulting. There wasn’t even any research in that.
Quitting rowing had stung the hardest. John looked down at his hands. They were smooth and unremarkable. Utterly unblemished. To a normal person this would have seemed insignificant, but to John, it was a reminder of the distance that had widened between himself and the other kids on the rowing team, his comrades in arms for two years. Rowers’ hands were rough. The handles of the oars were wooden and required a considerable amount of force to stroke, which eventually culminated in both a layer of dead skin and also not uncommonly, a bunch of blisters. For a fraction of a second, John was able to remember what it felt like to have one. That stinging, pinching pain that never quite went away.
He suddenly realized he was getting upset. Was he really thinking of taking this offer? Were his parents’ anticipated questions legitimate? It was a tough call. Because either decision could pay big dividends. If he went into consulting, he could make a lot of money. If he joined the NOAA Corps, he’d get his fix for adventure, travel the world and do research. On the surface, it seemed like a no-brainer. But then he knew you had to think about practical matters.
He was a college student. He had money from the two jobs he had, one in the coffee shop that was having financial problems a little ways off campus and the other at a computer lab where he pretty much got paid to sit around and occasionally unbreak a printer. But he lived at home. Or would soon. Had no car. No real independence. Loads of debt. And an uncertain future. He felt very… exposed. Long pause. Yes, that was part of how he felt. He shuddered and stood up from his chair, hands ruffling his hair while his roommate’s screensaver transitioned silently off to his right. He turned and looked at his Soviet Union poster. For some reason, the letters CCCP spoke to him. Through his optic nerve, into his brain.
Aaron knew something was up when he came back and saw John lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling. John had a number of peculiar idiosyncrasies. But staring at the ceiling was not one of them. He wasn’t even blinking. Aaron stared at him for a moment. No response to his presence. Squinting, Aaron took off his coat and leaned it over the back of his chair. John blinked.
“Ah, so you are alive.” John looked at him.
Aaron didn’t mince words. He was comfortable with his roommate. “John, are you okay? You’ve been really remote the last couple weeks. It’s starting to worry me.” John nodded awkwardly.
“Hmph, I have a lot on my mind.”
“Like what?” He didn’t bother asking if John wanted to talk about it, he already had a feeling he did. “Come on. Come on.” John didn’t respond.
“Come on, frowny face. Let the sunshine in.” John laughed.
“You’re such a psycho.”
“I got contacted by a consulting company about an opening for a geologist or an environmental scientist or something.”
“No it’s not! It’s not, it’s really not. I don’t want to be a consultant. I want to do research, real research. Not… drilling goddamn holes in the ground.” Aaron leaned against the back of his chair and rocked on the balls of his feet.
“Ok. So… are you going to pursue it?”
“I don’t know. I’ve been hoping to join the NOAA Corps for so long. I want it so bad. This is exactly why I didn’t want to go to that job fair. I was afraid this would happen.”
“Well it doesn’t sound like your priorities have changed.”
“True, but there are a lot of benefits to this potential opportunity.”
“The consulting job you mean.”
“Right. I just know what’s going to happen. I’m going to do it. I’ll say, hey, I won’t do it long, two years. By then I’ll have paid back enough debt so I won’t feel self-conscious doing grad school, and I’ll do that. No problem. But that’s another two years. Or more. Because you never know. You never know. So by the end of all this, five years might have gone by. And I still won’t be in the NOAA Corps, which is something I really wanna do.”
“Well, your credentials won’t have changed by then. You’ll have more experience. More training. Assuming you don’t bomb out’ve grad school, which I don’t really see happening.”
“I know but there’s something else too. My vision is really bad. I’m 20/400 right now, which means I’m right on the threshold. Now, they may agree to give me a medical waiver, but there’s no guarantee of that. So now really would be the best time to do this. God. I wonder what rational choice theory would tell me to do.”
“Okay well,” Aaron said. “I figure, you’re qualified for other consulting jobs. Worst comes to worst, you’ll have to wait a little while. But you’re bound to get a good offer if NOAA doesn’t pan out. Okay, so you might be poor for a while. Live at home. So there’s that. But consider something else. There’s a pattern to sniping.”
John scrunched his forehead. “What?”
Aaron breathed in audibly. “When you’re a sniper, you’re sent to kill someone. Along the way, however, you may encounter other valuable targets. But you can’t compromise your primary mission to respond to those.” John tilted his head so they were looking at each other. “Because your primary target is your primary target. Joining the NOAA Corps is your primary objective. If it’s really that important to you, you shouldn’t deviate from that. Because as you said, you may only get this chance once. And life is a long time to be asking yourself what-if?”
John nodded. “That’s good advice. Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it.”
John thought about it for a few moments and then slid off the bed and went to his computer. The screensaver snapped off and he brought up his Gmail account. This wouldn’t take long.