Not What You Think, Part 2
Last time Eddie tried to explain away his drinking. This time Theo’s getting to the real reasons.
Eddie was still looking at me. I looked back. A few seconds passed.
“What is it that you think I should tell your parents?”, I asked.
“I don’t want you to talk to them at all.”
“Then what do you think I shouldn’t tell them?”
“That I’m drinking too much and I’m close to flunking out.”
“If you flunked out, wouldn’t they find out about the drinking anyway?”
He didn’t answer, so I changed the question.
“Do you want to flunk out?”
He shifted in his chair. “What kind of question is that?”
“Just what it sounds like. Do you want to flunk out?”
“Why would I want to flunk out?”
“I didn’t say you wanted to; I only asked. It’s just that hardly anyone does flunk out, unless he wants to.”
“I don’t think I want to flunk out. I like it here. The classes and stuff.” He paused. “At least I used to like it here.”
“When did you stop liking it?”
“Halfway through my second semester.”
“Funny how things fade.”
“Yeah.” He looked puzzled. I knew he was wondering where I was going with that.
“You like novels?”
“Science fiction and fantasy. Mostly fantasy.”
“Read anything good lately?”
“I don’t seem to read much any more.”
“There’s a fantasy novel by a writer named MacDonald. He’s dead now.”
When I didn’t continue, he said “Um … what about?”
“The character is named Anodos. In one incident he meets a shadow. After that it never leaves him. Every time he comes near something he used to like, the shadow passes across it, and it seems different than before.”
I stopped again. He asked “Like how?”
“Sunshine turned dark. Pretty girls seemed plain. Interesting people seemed dull. Smiles didn’t look right. Even music sounded different.”
I stopped again.
“I sort of feel like that Anodos guy.”
“Yeah. It’s like I’ve got a shadow.”
“Like I told you. Halfway through last semester.”
He didn’t say anything more. I changed the subject. “I guess you and those other guys know each other pretty well.”
“Who, Jocko and them?”
“Yeah.” He let out his air.
“Old high school friends, I guess.”
“Naw. I met Jocko here. He introduced me to the other guys.”
“When was that?”
“I guess around the beginning of my second semester.”
“Say, that’s —”
“Maybe it’s just a coincidence.”
“What’s a coincidence?”
“Maybe nothing. I just thought for a moment that something might be.”
“Why? What else happened that semester that would … oh.”
“What’s the matter?”
“Jocko. It’s him.”
“What about him?”
“He’s my shadow.”
“How do you mean?”
“Everything seems different when he’s around. That’s how it started.”
“All that stuff I used to do freshman year. Glee club. Bicycling. That time we did a dramatic reading of Milton. He made it all seem like little-kid stuff. You know?”
“I’ve never heard a little kid read Milton.”
“Actually, me neither.”
“So what made those things seem so little-kid?”
He didn’t answer right away. “I guess because my parents would have approved of them.”
“And Jocko? What made him seem so grown-up?”
“I guess because my parents wouldn’t have approved of him.”
“So you wanted to —”
“— cut loose. Does that sound really dumb?”
“What do you think?”
“Me too. Why was it so important?”
“You don’t get it. My parents are good people. Like, perfect. You know what I’m saying? They go to a really strict church. They had it all taped for me. See, I was going to be perfect too. My brother went to school first. They figured I’d be Success Number Two.”
He shifted in his seat and continued. “That time I came to talk with you … you remember?”
“Sure. First day of freshman orientation.”
“It wasn’t my idea.”
“Whose was it?”
“Theirs. Like I said, they had it all laid out for me. Find a church. Find a student fellowship group. Find a Christian faculty mentor. It’s your fault, sort of.”
“Sort of, how?”
“I think they’d read something like that in your Nounless or Groundless or whatever you call it.”
“I see.” I tried to look grave.
“So when I looked at the orientation schedule and saw your name, I looked you up. Like my parents wanted.”
“So you followed the parental plan.”
“For the first semester.”
“Then met Jocko and the other guys.”
“Then cut loose.”
“Why do you call cutting loose?”
Eddie looked at me strangely. “Why not?”
“You weren’t really cutting loose from your parents, were you?”
“Sure I was.”
“But you still charted your course according to their expectations.”
“How do you mean?”
“Whatever they would have approved, you did the opposite. You were just as tied up with them as ever.”
“I never looked at it that way.”
“Another thing. You still tried to live up to someone’s expectations. Just not theirs.”
“You mean Jocko and the other guys?”
“Sure. Eddie, didn’t all that drinking get old sometimes?”
“You mean like when we got kicked out of clubs?”
“That. And when you were bending over the toilet at 2 a.m. And when you were hung over.”
“I’m wish you wouldn’t talk so much. I’m sort of hung over right now.”
“You got any aspirin?”
“The university would kill me if I started dispensing medicine. Help yourself to coffee. There are mugs in the corner.”
I gave him a few minutes to pour a cup and sit back down.
“No.” His mood seemed to have changed, and he gave me a sullen glance. “I saw you drinking at the Molto Alimento.”
“With a woman.”
I smiled. “That woman and I were having a glass of wine to toast our 31st wedding anniversary.”
“It’s all the same. You can get drunk on wine just as well as boilermakers. It just takes longer.”
“Did you see us drunk?”
“No, but my Dad says a drop is three drinks from a drunk. He ought to know. He was a drunk when he was young, before he got saved.”
I began to see why Eddie’s parents were so protective.
“Eddie, if your Dad finds that the best way for him to avoid getting drunk is to avoid the first drop, then that’s what he should do, and I honor him. But the purpose is to avoid getting drunk.”
He shifted his line of attack. “What’s wrong with going on a little bender when I want to?”
I laughed. “For starters, it makes you sick, kills you young, turns you into an addict, and converts your car into a lethal weapon. Do you mean what else is wrong with it?”
His face was an odd blend of truculence and sheepishness. “Yeah.”
“Anyone can die at any time.”
He gave me a funny look.
“Do you want to come drunk before God?”
“There’s no God,” he muttered.
“I don’t think you believe that. And you didn’t answer my question. Do you want to come drunk before the Sapphire Throne?”
He paused. “No.”
“I’d be ashamed.”
“That’s a good answer. An image of God ought to be sober when he faces the one in whose image he’s made. But then why aren’t you ashamed every day?”
“You mean —”
“Right. You just don’t see Him.”
After a few seconds, he said “Maybe I am ashamed every day.”
“Can you stop drinking, Eddie?”
“I don’t know. I sort of depend on it. Are you … are you going to call my parents?”
“I couldn’t if I wanted to. I don’t know your last name.”
He stared at me.
“Are you going to call your parents?”
“Well … I don’t know. Maybe I should.”
I breathed a prayer before speaking.
“There’s the phone.”
Copyright 2003 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Professor J. Budziszewski is the author of more than a dozen books, including How to Stay Christian in College, Ask Me Anything, Ask Me Anything 2, What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide, and The Line Through the Heart. He teaches government and philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin.