Well here I am folks. The kid whose teachers "expect great things from". Sitting in a treehouse he built with his dad at eleven years old. Nothing to be done about it I suppose, my mom kicked me out while I was researching. There are so many places I can go, but I can only attend one college. I look around myself and take in everything. The handles on the ladder that long since broke off, resulting in a broken arm. The fence, falling apart. The tree which splits in two, resulting in two holes in the ceiling. I've spent countless hours staring at the ceiling, annoyed to no end by the complete lack of symmetry. To be fair I've spent countless hours here period. I don't know where I'm going, but I do know that wherever I go, I'll have to leave this place behind.
That thought sends me spiraling into memories. I can see myself everywhere. I see myself at 11 first, finishing the last board of the ceiling and looking up at my father. "Good job Josh!" He said, giving me a smile that made me feel like I'd just won a prize. I remember I'd do anything to make him proud. I see myself at twelve with my best friend Brandon, playing with rolly pollies and plotting about ways to make money. None of them worked and most of them were forgotten by the best morning, still we had good times here. I don't have any memories from thirteen here. That was the year my dad died in the construction incident and it was just too much.
I do see myself at fourteen though, climbing the ladder for the first time since his death. I stop on the last rung and break down crying. I see myself at fifteen, that was the first time a girl was up here, other than my mom. I felt vulnerable, showing her a place that's so special to me, but I knew that if I was going to show it to someone I was glad it was Steph. That was also the day of my first kiss. I see myself doing homework at sixteen, when Paul, a man I had learned to tolerate, ask me for my blessing in marrying my mother. After he went inside, leaving me speechless with time to think I stood and yelled into the void about this man who dared to try and replace my father. I broke a toe and a small part of the wall with that anger. In retrospect I should've been grateful that he asked me in the first place. I wish I had come around sooner.
I see myself at seventeen with Stephanie, slow dancing to our favorite song for our two year anniversary. She looked stunning that night. Finally I see myself last month, my legs dangling from the side with one arm on the floor and the other around Stephanie, watching our high school graduation party. She kissed me on the cheek, put her chin on my shoulder and said to me, "Decided where you're going yet, genius?" I only laughed, but she could tell that I was worried. She'd made her opinion clear, she would support any decision I made but would refuse to give advice on such a life-changing choice.
I suppose that's the best thing for her to do but it's completely unhelpful to me. I feel like I'm in a room without windows but overflowing with doors. And I know that each door sets me on a different path. This choice could be the difference between a successful life and a job in accounting at McDonald's if that. I wish there were windows, a way for me to see what's ahead. But the only indications are the constant flows of information trying to get my attention.
I need to clear my head, I see a rolly polly crawling around and almost instinctively I call Brandon. I'm not sure why, we haven't talked since he moved away in eleventh grade. Heck, I don't even know if this is his number anymore. But right as I think it's going to go to voicemail I hear Brandon's familiar voice saying, "Josh? Man it's been forever! How've you been?" Somehow just that calms me down.
We catch up, which takes hours. He somehow managed to get himself kicked out of a homeschool co-op run by soccer moms and had to finish his year alone. He's made good friends and I'm happy for him. He's awesome, but he needs good influences. I tell him about my life. He's not even a little bit surprised that Steph and I are still together, he thinks we're meant to be and I'm starting to agree. I ask him about my problem, and I hear him take a deep breath and sigh. He pauses, thinking it over, then finally says, "Man as long as I've known you you've always been one to make the best decision if you have all the information. Get all the information before making a decision, but don't forget you're human, take a break now and then and go with your gut too." Say what you will about Brandon, but he's got a different kind of smarts. Thanks man, I'm gonna go get some information, then I'm going to surprise Steph and ask her to come over. He laughed, "Alright, sounds good man, I'll see you later!" Within an hour I have it narrowed down to two options, and my brain needs a break. I drive to Steph's house which doesn't take long, I've been down these roads a million times, I consider my two options, both prestigious schools, one is slightly better academically but the other has a more social atmosphere. I pull up and text Steph.
"Hey, I'm outside your house, wanna come over and hang?"
"Lol, you're crazy genius, I'll be right out, you gotta give a girl time to get ready!"
"Will do, see you soon"
She comes out looking perfect as usual, and gets in the car, we talk about how she's been and what her friend told her about her new school. When we get home I feel a little hungry so I make us toast while she laughs and teases me about how I'm a master chef.
We sit down and I tell her about my decision. She listens carefully, then between bites of toast says, "I know I said I'd stay out of this but Josh you won't be able to function without friends, you're not a robot." Hearing her say it I know at some point I never had much of a choice, I need a place where I can have friends, even if it means a slightly less glamorous resume. I pause for a moment then lean over and kiss her, she laughs at the breadcrumbs caught in the kiss but kisses me back and I know I'll be just fine.