tagNovels and NovellasThe Freshman Ch. 24

The Freshman Ch. 24


Chapter 24 - Jason's Christmas Vacation

Jason spent what he hoped would be his final Christmas vacation separated from Cecilia.

As he rode with his father across the open lands of southern Wisconsin to their final destination in his wealthy neighborhood, he was able to reflect on how his first college semester had changed him. He thought about how much he was moving away from the rest of his family in his values, ambitions, and what he wanted from his life. He knew that most certainly he had no desire to follow in his father's footsteps nor in any way associate himself with the world his father was a part of. His life would have to follow a different path, but still needed to determine what that path would be.

Once he found out Jason's final grades for the semester, Mr. Schmidt had very little to say to his son. Jason's performance in college spoke for itself. He had passed one of the most difficult freshman classes on the first try with a "B", which removed a major obstacle blocking his continued progress. He now could take several classes that had Burnside's Theory of Economics as a prerequisite and had decided on a rather ambitious spring semester. It was quite clear to Mr. Schmidt that Jason had no intention of wasting time in college. He had performed much better than anyone in his family could have anticipated, assuring that he would be returning for a second semester in school.

The silence in the car on the journey northward was fortunate, because Jason needed the time to reflect on his relationship with Cecilia. Already he missed her tremendously. Three weeks without her would seem like an eternity, because the truth was that he needed her to be in charge of his daily life. However intimidated he might be of her strong character and temper, she had saved him by giving his life a purpose and a sense of direction. In her absence, even for a few weeks, he felt adrift and unfocused.

His thoughts wandered to questioning why Cecilia's role in his life was so crucial for his success. Why did he need her? Not just want her; but actually need her? He fully understood that it was not college that had changed him, but Cecilia. He now realized what would have happened to him that first semester, had he not met her. He would have taken a few easy classes, put forth a minimal effort to pass, and probably would have barely managed to stay enrolled for the spring. He had no ambitions, nothing he planned to pursue, other than living from day to day with as little effort as possible. He had entered college with a fatalistic attitude, simply taking for granted that he was a failure as a human being, and thus could not expect much from his time in college.

To Cecilia, living like that was unacceptable. As soon as she became interested in him, she ensured that Jason's lack of direction and his subconscious desire to drift into obscurity came to an abrupt stop. She had absolutely no qualms about imposing what she wanted into Jason's life and mercilessly controlling him and his activities. However, not once had she ever been wrong about something she wanted him to do. Even the blow-up over the tattoo...yes, even about that she had been right. Did he really need to permanently mark up his body just because it was fashionable at the time to do so? Wouldn't it be better to save himself for the future and stand his ground against the whims of the moment?

Jason's musings wandered to the next question: why did she need him so badly? As the semester drew to a close he came to realize that she needed him every bit as much as he needed her. He came to understand that what Cecilia needed was a partner she could both control and trust, because in reality she was extremely vulnerable. As tough and bossy as she seemed on the outside, he knew that she actually was quite scared of her secret weaknesses, every bit as much as he was scared of his own.

Jason remembered the Eastern concept of Yin and Yang from one of his high school classes, the idea of the two parts that made a full circle. They fit together, neither able to exist without the other. Yin and Yang each left a gap that the other had to fill. Perhaps that concept explained his life with Cecilia. Jason's soul was only partially formed and had pieces missing. However, Cecilia's soul also was only partially formed and had pieces missing. If that were true, then perhaps there was the answer to Jason's question. Together he and Cecilia complimented each other to make a whole, but each of them, separated from the other, was incomplete.


Mr. Schmidt and his son returned to their over-sized house and their empty neighborhood. There was a slight whiff of carpet cleaning solution and insecticide in the residence; a sign that true to her word, Mrs. Schmidt had the place fumigated after Cecilia left the Saturday following Thanksgiving.

Jason's mother was in the kitchen working on a holiday cooking project and issuing commands to the two maids. As always, a wall of hostility poisoned the atmosphere as soon as Jason's parents found themselves in the same room. As always, Mrs. Schmidt vented her hostility, not at the man who paid her bills, but at another convenient target.

"So, where's the little gang-banger, Jason? Slinging crack back in the 'Hood?"

Jason walked up to his mother, slapped his grade sheet on the countertop, and walked toward the kitchen door.

"Hey, I'm talking to you...I asked you a question! Where's your little gang-banger?"

Jason kept walking, desperate to avoid exploding at his mother.


"Mom, she's staying to watch over Huntington Hall, if you really gotta know. That's where she is."

"Well I hope they fumigate before the students..."

With that comment, Jason snapped, less than a minute being back in his family's house. He might have held his tongue had she accused his girlfriend of anything else, but the hypocrisy of that comment pushed him over the edge. How dare she, a woman who never did a moment of cleaning in her life, say such a thing?

"Mom, the only thing that needs to be fumigated is your fucking mouth! Cecilia's a better woman than you'll ever be, and you know why? Because she doesn't play fucking tennis! She's got a hell of a lot better things to do than play friggin' tennis all day and bitch about everyone else!"

The kitchen exploded into a savage shouting match between Jason and his parents. He caught them off-guard, because never had he stood up to them. The only time he even hinted at standing up for himself was at Thanksgiving when he snapped at his mother to "just let it go" when she was about to lay into Cecilia. This, however, was different because not only had he yelled at his mother, he had sworn at her. As much as he hated his wife, there was no way Mr. Schmidt would allow one of his children go as far as swearing at her. He snarled at Jason to apologize, but Jason retorted that she needed to apologize for her treatment of Cecilia and the fumigation comments.

To that Mrs. Schmidt snarled: "I did have to have this place fumigated Jason, and I don't appreciate the inconvenience..."

Jason snapped again, repeating his line that it was Mrs. Schmidt's mouth that needed to be fumigated. Mr. Schmidt again jumped into the fray, falling back on reminding Jason about his own worthlessness and how it resulted in the deaths of three people the year before.

"Maybe it's true that your mother's worthless, but at least she never got anyone killed, not like some worthless people in this room."

Mrs. Schmidt did not take kindly to being called worthless by her husband. "Well, at least I'm not screwing a bunch of diseased wetbacks and coffee shop whores like you two."

"Of course not, 'cause you're too busy banging those god-damned fag tennis instructors instead!"

Jason's mother went white, the blood draining from her face. It was obvious her husband knew more about her life than she had realized. She gave him a hostile, frightened look, then, not knowing what else to do, picked up a pot and slammed it into the expensive set of copper pans hanging above the stove. There was a loud clatter as several of the metal utensils fell onto the stove and then onto the floor. The maids backed away in fright, never having seen their bosses raise their voices at each other before.

For the first time in quite a while, the sullen silence between Jason's parents had broken into open hostility. However, instead of continuing to battle, the three members of the Schmidt family quickly withdrew from the kitchen to nurse their grudges alone. The Schmidts were not used to openly fighting, so once the explosion took place they really did not know how to continue.

The behavior of Jason's parents contrasted with the behavior of Cecilia's family during fights. No one in the Sanchez household ever walked away from a confrontation. The family frequently remained in the kitchen screaming at each other all night until they became exhausted or ran out of things to say. They fought, but then, the next day continued on with their lives as though nothing had happened. The difference was significant, because in Cecilia's family the constant fights didn't lead to any worsening of the over-all relationship between her relatives. The Sanchez's did not really like or get along with each other, but things in the household never got any worse regardless of whatever unpleasantness there might be at any given moment.

An open fight among Jason's family was a much less frequent matter, but much more serious in its consequences. When the Schmidts had an open fight there was tense silence for weeks afterwards. When they finally did start speaking again, the emotional residue from the confrontation never disappeared. Every open fight was an event for Jason's family, a milestone in the slow but steady decay of the relationship each family member had with the others. The Schmidts stored their grievances, ready to use in the future for the constant digs and quiet insults that characterized their comments towards each other.

Jason retreated to the pool and tore off his clothes. It was the first time he would go skinny-dipping while his parents were in the house and not asleep; but he thought to himself, screw them. I'm going to swim, and I'm going to swim the way I want. If they don't like it, then they can just stay out of the pool area until I'm done. For a very long time he did laps: back and forth...back and forth...trying to swim himself into exhaustion.

Much later that night he got dressed and picked up his grade slip from the kitchen countertop, right where he had left it. What he had accomplished that semester in his studies meant nothing to his mother. That much was obvious because she had not even bothered to look at his grades.


The next day Jason decided to go to his grandmother's condo to get a sane perspective on the ugly homecoming he had endured the night before. He stayed in bed until his father went to work and his mother departed to the country club, then called the elder Mrs. Schmidt to see if her boyfriend could come over to pick him up. Oddly enough, Jason's grandmother seemed to know ahead of time that he would be calling her and would need to get out of the house. He wondered how she could have known that, because immediately after he hung up the phone his grandmother's friend was on his way to retrieve him.

Jason spent the trip back to his grandmother's house talking to the older man about his semester. It struck him as very odd that a person who was not a blood relative took more interest in his life than did his own parents.

When he entered his grandmother's residence she had several interesting items of news for him. She was not at all surprised about the blow-up in the kitchen the night before. Apparently things were not going well at all between Jason's parents, because their excesses were beginning to catch up with them.

His father was spending ever more time with his job and his mistresses, and working on some sinister project related to Mega-Town Associates. Cassie was running wild and smoking pot. Meanwhile, Jason's mother was relieving her stress by having affairs with various staff members at the country club. Although she had been conducting her affairs for several years, her recent behavior had become much less discreet. In fact, her activities had become a source of gossip and already had cost her the trust of several of her friends. She had been involved a couple of scandals, including getting at least one physical instructor fired.

"If she doesn't watch herself she's going to get expelled from that club, because she's a bit of a headache for the management. God help us all when she gets kicked out and winds up sitting at home...God help us when that happens. She'll go crazy and take everyone down with her."

He learned his father had faced a sexual harassment suit from a waitress during the fall and decided to settle out of court. Unfortunately Jason's mother learned about the suit and its result, which encouraged her to pursue her own affairs at the club and become more abusive to the maids.

"I'm very worried about your parents, Jason. I can see what's going to happen and there's nothing I can do to stop it. They're killing themselves, and if you and Cassie don't watch yourselves, you're going to go down with them."

Jason wasn't sure how to respond, so his grandmother continued.

"Actually, on that, I'm a lot more worried about Cassie than about you. I think you're going to come out OK, but I don't know about Cassie. Your mom has her so tightly wound up in all that country club nonsense that I don't know if she can handle losing all that."

"But what do you think is going to happen? Do you think Dad's gonna lose his job?"

"No, not the job. It'd be a blessing if he did, because I'm not proud of what he's become or what he's doing. I wish he'd lose his job, because it's that job that's destroying him. And now he's about to destroy everyone else around him. He's already destroyed your mother."

"Don't you think you're being a bit hard on him? Do you really think he's that bad?"

"I'm not being hard on him at all. I always wanted him to be happy, and he's not. He refuses to be. He's the most miserable person I know, and he can't figure out why. I think I do know why. He's so consumed with himself that he can't experience any joy out of life, and if you can't experience any joy, you're already dead. Already dead. That's how I see your parents, both of them. No joy and no love, just greed and selfishness, so what do they have to live for?"

"But what makes you so stressed out about them now? They really haven't changed."

"They've changed. It's just you haven't noticed it because you're too close to them to see what's going on. I can sit back, and watch them from a distance. I've been watching them for 22 years, so I think I can put their lives into perspective. They're sinking, and it won't be much longer..."

"Much longer?"

"They don't have much longer. I just have...this feeling. I can sense it, but I can't explain it. I can tell you that something very bad is going to happen to them. When it does, you'll need to be as far away from here as you can. Later, I'll need you to come back, to help your sister. It's going to be a lot harder on her than it will be on you. I think you'll be OK. Her, I don't know about."

"But...what is it? What do you think's gonna happen?"

"That's what I don't know, but I can sense it. All I can tell you is that your parents are going to destroy themselves. It's too late for me to do anything for them. All I can do is try to be here for you and Cassie."


The topic of conversation changed, and the two talked at length about Mr. Schmidt as a child. Then Jason's grandmother talked about her own childhood. She went even further back in time as she talked about their distant relatives. Jason spent the next several hours listening to his grandmother's detailed account of the Schmidt family history. For the first time in his life he was ready to look back into the past and assess where he had come from, following the family story clear back to the 1840's, when several ancestors passed through New York and settled on the frontier. He spent a very long time looking through old photo albums and trying to understand what had made the Schmidts the way they were.

That afternoon he learned another interesting fact. When his parents decided to replace the old family furniture with the expensive items currently decorating their house, his grandmother secretly rented a storage unit to keep the heirlooms his father had planned to throw out. Mr. Schmidt was unaware that the old family furniture had not been hauled to the dump, but instead was safely sitting in storage, waiting for Jason or Cassie to retrieve at some point in the distant future.

Jason had never really thought about the old family furniture before, but suddenly realized he was enormously relieved to know it had not been thrown out after all. It had been saved for him, the family's past, which was being kept to be part of his own future. He did indeed have a future, one in which he would salvage whatever was left over from the disaster that was being predicted by his grandmother, and one in which he and Cecilia would continue to share. Once again he realized how much he missed her and how glad he would be to see her in January.

Somehow Jason's grandmother perceived that her grandson's thoughts had drifted to his girlfriend. She decided to find out a bit more about the fiery little Dominican, which in turn gave Jason the chance to express his most recent thoughts about the relationship. He confided that it had been Cecilia who had pushed him to do his coursework and pass his classes, although he decided to leave out the detail that she had been disciplining him. He talked about her obsession that everyone on her floor do well and the fact that she had enlisted Jason and his friends to help several other floor residents with their studies at the end of the semester.

He talked about his recent wardrobe changes, and then mentioned Cecilia's aversion to tattoos. He admitted that she had been the reason he had not gotten one like almost everyone else on his floor that semester. Knowing that Jason's girlfriend had stood between her grandson and a tattoo boosted the older woman's already high opinion of her.

Jason went on to discuss his thoughts about the possibility of their personalities being incomplete and thus complementing each other. His grandmother responded with the following observation:

"I think I know what's going on with that. Her problem is that she had to mature too quickly. When she was 15 she was thinking like an adult, and maybe, deep down, she wasn't ready. She matured too fast, and some things got left out. And you...since we're being honest here, never really had the chance to mature at all. You were never really challenged with life in school, and then it hit you all at once, last year with the accident. But I don't think the accident matured you, all it did was make you hate yourself and get everyone to point their fingers at you. So I think you're right. You and Cecilia do complement each other. She had to grow up too fast, and you didn't grow up fast enough, so each of you has something the other is missing."

Finally Jason sat down to dinner with his grandmother and her boyfriend, dreading the thought of returning to his parents' house as soon as the meal was over. He was hugely relieved when she mentioned that the living room sofa was a sleeper-sofa that folded out, and...would he like to spend the night instead of going home?

He gladly accepted the offer. He slept soundly in the living room, happy to be in a household free from tension and hostility.


The next day Jason returned with his grandmother to his father's house. Cassie was in the back with a couple of her bitchy friends, the three of them hanging out in the pool area in rather revealing swimsuits. Jason's aunt on his mother's side also was present, along with her very over-weight son who was sitting in the family room playing video games.

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