Choosing a University
“Oh Sean, Devlin’s waiting for you in the dining room, dear,” Mrs. Jacobs, the Summers’ housekeeper of ten years, greeted me with a grin on her face at the front door.
“Thanks Mrs. J,” I replied before heading off down the hall.
When I reached the doorway into the dining room I noticed that the curtains had been drawn, which could only mean one thing; Devlin was in one of his moods. I found him sitting slumped in his chair in the dining room, with his homework spread out in front of him, doodling in his text book.
“Hey Dev,” I announced as brightly as I could, after all that had happened lately it took too much effort for me to be in high spirits. He barely acknowledged me as I took the seat directly across from him at the table, only mumbling a reply but not looking up to greet me. I raised my head and peered across the table in the dim light, but failed to make out what he was drawing in his book.
“I noticed that new Ute out in the driveway when dad dropped me off. Got any visitors?”
Dev snorted in disgust and threw his pen violently across the room in reply before raising his head to look at me with wounded eyes.
“Apparently my birthday is in August this year. I don’t know about you but August the 22nd is a long way off from November the 3rd. They haven’t managed to get the month right in years, but at least they remembered it being the 3rd of something. I mean how hard is it to remember your only child’s birthday? I mean it is not like they have 12 children or something! They left to go on a cruise for 2 months today, wished me a happy birthday, patted my head, gave me money for a party, and handed me a set of car keys! I mean I haven’t even got my license yet!” Devlin burst out his chair then and began to pace, angrily throwing aside chairs that blocked his path.
“Why is it Sean that every time you think it could get no worse you suddenly fall? And why is it every time they hurt you, you’re the one that ends up feeling guilty? Because obviously if you were more like them, they’d accept you; or if you didn’t stay out of their way they wouldn’t stay out of yours!”
“You know the saying all brains and no common sense, Devlin Summers, well some days you’re the epitome of that!” Mrs. Jacobs’s voice boomed from the doorway as she brought in a platter with two extra large Chocolate Sundaes on it.
Startled Devlin jumped and turned around to watch as she bustled in through the door to place the platter on the table in front of us.
“Sit down boy,” she barked out her command and Devlin quickly pulled out a chair and hastily sat down in it, like some obedient puppy. A smile broke out on my face as I struggled not to be amused with the current scene being played out in front of me.
“Seems to me that I remember when I came here about ten years ago, that a little boy wanted a dinner party for his birthday because he thought that it would please his parents. And when they went out that afternoon with plans for spending the night at one of their damn friends places, he got really upset, but his friend, a solemn little boy who had parents of his own that were too consumed with their own lives, told you that they were not worth crying over, and you vowed that you’d never let them get you down again!”
Smiling I stood up and climbed on top of my chair and placed my right hand over my heart as I began to recite the vow we pledged as children. After the first line Devlin stood up and followed from my cue.
“We do not like our parents so we won’t let them see us cry,
We do not love our parents, and we have forgotten how to try.
We do not need our parents to make us happy true
And their approval doesn’t matter when I have a friend like you
We’ll be friends forever and this vow we make loud and clear
When we are old enough to leave this place, we’ll celebrate with beer
And when our parents are old and frail, we will delight its true
By sticking them in a nursing home and forgetting them too!”
Mrs. Jacobs cheered heartily at the end of our recital, which made both Devlin and I burst out laughing. We climbed down from our chairs and wiped the tears of laughter from our eyes before reaching for our plate of ice cream, and Mrs. Jacobs bustled off back to the kitchen.
“You know Dev,” I reasoned seriously, “you can’t be completely invisible to them, after all they’ve never forgotten that their only child is a son, and in all seriousness a car for your 17th birthday is a pretty damn sweet deal.”
“They’ve never forgotten my name, they know I have a birthday in the last six months of the year,” Devlin contemplated over a mouthful of chocolate goodness, “and they did give me two thousand dollars to blow, which I could put into our ‘getting the hell out of this’ joint fund.”
“Exactly. See, when you think of it, they come in quite handy sometimes.”
Devlin snorted in agreement and tucked into his dessert with pleasure. We sat in silence then until Mrs. Jacobs came back to clear our plates away.
“Well Sean we have the weekend to finish the assignment, so I guess it’s time to start hey?”
“Yeah, I suppose so,” I replied, thinking wistfully of cruising around in the new car, whilst Devlin began to list what he had managed to piece together for the assignment.
“So I got heaps on the stereotypes of the schizophrenic, from articles to reports and even television police shows. I’ve put together about a thousand words about the disease and of course society’s misconceptions, so now it’s up to your part.”
At this I reached into my bag and pulled out a stack of papers, which included notes, my part of the essay and photocopies of articles from every newspaper that my brother had ever appeared in.
“Well I have done about three thousand words about the case, from what happened before as well as the recent situation. Um… I’ve included people’s opinions that were written to the editors of several papers as well as interviews that some of the residents gave to the media. I have mentioned how being only eight, my brother wasn’t charged as an adult and how the whole scenario was covered up and pushed aside because he was undergoing tests on his mental state. Apparently the deaths were ruled as accidental murder by this Judge Michaels who is only now undergoing criticism for his judgment, and of course about this Dr Fiddler that allowed T.R back into society, well the accusations are flying around him fast and furiously, and he is having to defend his own assessment of my brother just to keep his job. I’ve also researched into child and youth mental problems and how schizophrenia is rarely diagnosed as a problem until the age of 16 or something. Then there is the issue of it being an hereditary disease, which there is no substantial proof of to date, but statistics have shown that it isn’t rare to find multiple cases in a family tree. I haven’t put that part in yet, because I’m still gathering information about it, but I have discussed the unlikelihood of the disease being cured, even though it can be treated quite effectively with the right medication.”
“Ah, Sean, are you sure all that is necessary?” Devlin inquired as I finally took a breath and stopped to confer with my notes.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you know, while you have done well getting all that information, surely you realise that not all of it is relevant to our assignment.”
“What do you mean?” I repeated myself.
“I mean Sean, that it is only a 2500 word assignment for year twelve students, not a thesis for a postgraduate! Think, Sean. The assignment is mostly about the misconceptions of stereotyping groups, which we are to prove by using examples. And examples aren’t supposed to be longer than the assignment itself.”
“I, ah, um…” I stammered as I felt the redness of embarrassment creep up my neck and into my cheeks.
“What I am trying to say Sean is, this assignment isn’t just an essay to you anymore, in fact I don’t think it ever was. I know that this is personal Sean, and I understand that you are taking it personally, but this is becoming an obsession.” Devlin stated.
I sat there for a moment stunned, annoyed and embarrassed that Devlin had seen right through me. When the anger crept in I pushed myself up from the table and took a leaf out of Devlin’s book by pacing up and down the room. I clenched my fists because the more I thought about it the more Devlin was right. It was personal, too damn personal, and there was something that was gnawing away at me that needed to be said. I took a deep breath and turned my back on Devlin, choosing to look aimlessly at the still life painting on the wall.
“It’s just that I’m worried. I can’t help it. I keep searching for an answer, because there has got to be one you know, and the more I search the more frustrated I get, but I can’t stop. It’s like a disease or something. I don’t know what he wants from me.”
“What? Oh nobody, don’t worry,” I said, flustered.
I heard the chair scrape across the floor as Devlin rose from his seat, and I closed my eyes as I heard his footsteps come closer towards me. When I felt his hand on my shoulder turning me around to face him, I winced and fought to keep the redness from my face.
“Sean, I have known you almost all my life, and we have always been there for each other. I know when something is bothering you, and for the last couple of weeks you have been more moody and unapproachable than you have ever been in your life. I am supposed to be your best friend mate, the person you could talk to about anything. So what has changed Sean?”
I flinched as I heard the hurt biting through his concern. I didn’t want to tell Devlin what was going on, because I didn’t want him to think that I was losing my mind. I didn’t want anyone to confirm what I already feared. I looked down into his questioning eyes and felt a bubble of guilt rising in my throat.
“I think I’m crazy,” I blurted out. When I saw Devlin’s startled reaction, I rushed on to explain. “I dream of my brother almost every night, and he tells me things, about what happened, but they don’t add up to the facts! He wants me to find out the truth, but I don’t know how to. I don’t know if I should believe him or not, but I want to. I want him to be right, cause then it would make sense you know. And I’m worried, really worried Dev, because people aren’t supposed to dream about dead brothers’ they never met! And it’s not like it’s only a dream, because it seems real to me Dev, I really think that I’m having conversations with a dead relative! But that’s crazy, right? It can’t possibly be true can it? And no matter how much I try to reason with myself that I’m being stupid and that I should stop, I can’t. I feel as if something is inside me that my rational self can’t control anymore, and that’s why I think Dev, that I could be like my brother.”
Devlin let out a short bark of laughter before he grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me firmly. “For God’s sake Sean, listen to yourself! You have found out that all your life your parents have been lying to you. Of course you are questioning what’s going on; there is nothing strange about that Sean. Maybe it is strange to see your brother in your dreams, but dreams are just your unconscious self trying to tell you something. If your dreams are telling you that you need to find the answers, perhaps that’s what you need to do. All you need to remember Sean is to not let this control your life. Because that is what it is doing at the moment.”
“You don’t think I’m crazy?”
“No I don’t think you’re crazy.”
Relief washed over me like a wave crashing over you in the surf, and I felt as if a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders for the first time in two weeks. So we turned back to the table then in silent agreement, and went to work.
* * *
We handed in our assignment on the 25th August, and then we were confronted with the first week of September, which had us waiting in terror to begin, what our teachers informed us, were the most important exams of our life, the QCST (Queensland Core Skills Test). The whole of our year twelve class were panicking, because this was the test that decided our future. If you didn’t get a good result on your QCST, you could not be guaranteed the course you had picked out to attend at university, not that I had picked out anything yet mind you, I still had no idea what I wanted to do.
The test began, with teachers from other schools supervising the class. So strict was this test that a teacher had to accompany you to the toilet should your bladder need to be emptied before time. Why such measures were taken was beyond me, because everyone knew the security measures that were taken with this test. The test would arrive in metal boxes in an armoured car, (just try to get through that security), and these boxes could only be opened with three keys. These keys were in the possession of the representative teacher of your school, a representative teacher from a neighboring school and an official QCST representative. It was obvious therefore; that it was extremely unlikely that anyone would know what was on the test.
In the weeks leading up to the test we had been given practice tests to prepare in a way for what was to come, and anyone who did these practice tests would realise that every test was different. Some years they had focused on mathematics, other years it was art, and sometimes it was science orientated. It didn’t take a brilliant mind to figure out that you couldn’t hide all the knowledge you had learnt at school on your person!
Two days of these draining tests and I was ready to just lie down and die, but not Devlin. Oh no he proceeded to dance around the classroom as if he had just consumed several gallons of red cordial.
“Wasn’t that excellent? So bloody easy! They called that test hard, ha!”
“Are you insane?” I screeched at him. “That was horrible. My life is now officially over.”
“Why? You still don’t even know what university course you want to do anyway.”
“Oh yeah sure, rub it in why don’t you,” I retorted grumpily.
“I told you to go and see that school counselor so you can discuss your options.”
“What, are you crazy? Go and see that stupid old maid about my future, not on your life! I can’t stand her in social studies class let alone seeing her about the most important decision of my life!” I ranted, as I began to walk round and round in a circle biting my fingernails.
“It was just a suggestion,” Devlin defended himself before flopping down on the floor and stretching out comfortably.
“Yeah well it’s the worst one you have ever come up with,” I snapped.
“Oh bite me,” I grumbled before sitting down on the floor beside him.
“What you need is a course where you can do a diversity of topics so you can see what you are good at,” Devlin stated.
“Yeah, but what course would let me do that?”
Devlin shrugged and then pulled the booklet we had received two months ago about the university courses offered from his bag. While he perused the pages I took my badge off my tie and opened the clasp. I then used my badge to unpick the tiny white threads of my tie, allowing the black material underneath to stand out.
“What about a bachelor of arts degree?”
“Oh sure, like I won’t get teased about that!” I muttered
“Well it covers everything from journalism to criminal justice in here, and it has the added benefit of not requiring a brilliant OP.”
Curiosity got the better of me and I took the book from his lap to read. “Where could I do it?”
“But you are going to Queensland University of Technology aren’t you?”
“Yeah, but like, even if we went to the same uni I doubt we’d get to see each other much there anyway. Break out Sean, do something on your own for a change. You never know you might actually enjoy it.”
“You sound like my father.”
“God forbid!” Devlin declared in anguished tones.
“Anyway I was just wondering in relation to where we would live if we rented a place together.”
“Details, details, Sean. Let’s worry about that when we get to them, and for the moment just concentrate on getting the OP we need.”
* * *
Our assignment was given back to us on the 15th September and sported the highest mark in the class, which managed to shock the shit out of both Devlin and I, especially since old ‘horrid forehead’ made no bones about how much she despised us.
Of course, thinking back, Devlin and I should have realised that my parents were not going to tell me anything, even after they read my paper. Their faces had gone deathly pale, when they had realised what the assignment had been about. Stricken I had watched as they put it down without even bothering to read it. When I had tried to bring up the subject, they snapped at me to leave well enough alone, and we lived together for the rest of the year barely talking to each other, regarding each other with mutual distrust. My parents stopped waking me up early for exercise in the morning, and they started leaving for work early so that every morning I would wake up to find a post-it note and some money for the bus and lunches waiting on the hall table. My dirty clothes began to pile up in my room, to the point where I had to learn how to use the washing machine, and dinner at night became a microwave meal eaten on my bed. It got to the stage that I hated coming home at night, because I couldn’t bear the knife edged tension that awaited me. I dreaded the onset of the September holidays and spent most of my time at Devlin’s, and by October I had managed to call up the nerve to spend the weekend at Devlin’s house without telling my parents. I had never been able to stay over at anyone’s house before, and my worry and guilt over this turned out to be irrelevant, because they didn’t say a word about it when I saw them next. And even through all this, or maybe because of it, finding everything I could about my family was still an obsession for me, so much so that even after we handed in our assignment, I never gave up trying to find out more.
On the day I graduated from high school Devlin and I made our way back to my house with no level of enthusiasm. In the beginning of the year my parents had made it plain to me that I was not allowed to attend ‘Schoolies’ week, and Devlin had given up his plans to stay back with me, despite my constant pleading that he should go without me. When we arrived home my parents were waiting for us in the family room.
They informed me that my grandmother had offered to help pay my rent should I choose to leave home, and Devlin’s parents were only too keen to follow that example. Devlin’s parents came over that weekend to speak to my parents about the move, and they had all agreed that they would choose the place we would move into. Devlin and I objected to this idea and subsequently within a fortnight we moved into an old house within walking distance of public transport. And for the first time in our lives, we felt free.