The Freshman Ch. 24


Looking at the collection of people in his house, Jason was able to step back and see his family for the dysfunctional group they truly were. He thought about Cassie, figuring that she was the one detail his grandmother had wrong about his future. How on earth could he ever do anything for her? She was as lost as his mother, wrapped up in a dead-end social life with a clique of very shallow princesses and a pot-head boyfriend. The other two girls got dressed and departed, giving Jason dismissive glances as they walked out the front door.

The underlying tension between Jason and his parents, between Mr. Schmidt and his wife, between Cassie and everyone else, and between Jason's mother and grandmother, seemed to permeate the house when everyone gathered for dinner. On top of the tension between the members of Jason's immediate family was the total contempt Mr. Schmidt directed towards his wife's fat nephew. It was true that his son was a pathetic wimp, but at least he was in good physical shape, unlike that gross blob with the video console. At dinner Mr. Schmidt just couldn't resist digging at that ugly kid, which made him stare sullenly at his plate and elicited furious glances from Jason's aunt.

Mr. Schmidt sat smugly at the head of the table, hoping his sister-in-law would say something so he could get some good sarcastic digs in on her as well. Jason's aunt couldn't say anything however. She was a guest, and knew that her sister would never stand up to her husband on behalf of someone else. As the women sat quietly, Jason's father continued to command the table and the evening, talking loudly and heaping subtle indignities on everyone present. Losers, he thought to himself. They're all a bunch of pathetic, useless losers.

Jason managed to detach himself emotionally from the scene, since for once he was not the target of his father's unpleasantness. He had no desire to rush to his mother's aid, given her venomous treatment of Cecilia, so he just sat watching. Every so often he exchanged glances with his grandmother. Yes, indeed, things in the household could not continue this way much longer. His grandmother was right: something bad was about to happen to his parents.


After the dinner, Jason's grandmother retreated from the house. She called her boyfriend, who showed up within a very short time to extract her in his old restored Chevy. He showed up so quickly that Jason suspected he had been waiting somewhere close by instead of coming all the way from the condo development that was a half an hour away. They were gone, very quickly, and Jason was sorry to see her go.

His aunt and cousin also left very quickly, both in a very sour mood as he waddled after her with his hands full of game paraphernalia. Jason had mixed emotions about his father's treatment of his cousin, because unfortunately, as far as the kid's obesity was concerned, he was right. There was no way that kid should be in that physical state and no way his mother should have allowed it to happen. Jason knew that his cousin lived in a world of video games because his weight made his life on the outside very unpleasant. And, yet, precisely because of his constant effort to escape reality by sitting with his game console, the kid looked the way he did. It was obvious; however, that Mr. Schmidt's critique his wife's nephew had nothing to do with genuine concern over the boy. Instead he simply was taking advantage of an easy target to make the evening as uncomfortable as possible for his wife and his sister-in-law.

Mrs. Schmidt and Cassie retreated to their rooms while the maids cleaned up in the kitchen and talked to each other in Spanish in their usual quiet, secretive manner. Mr. Schmidt went into the room he used as a home office, shut the door, and got on both the Internet and the phone. The family had broken up for the night, with absolutely no cheer or holiday spirit.


Jason decided to put on his coat and step outside, in spite of the bitterly cold weather. It was a clear night with the full Moon casting its light on the recently fallen snow, so Jason had plenty of light as he made his way over the frozen landscape of the empty neighborhood. He walked into a park and up a small hill that overlooked his street, turning back to contemplate his family's house from a distance.

He suspected the house and its contents soon would disappear from his life, if his grandmother's prediction about his parents came true. The house would be gone, and he would not miss it in the least. Knowing that he didn't care about the impending loss of that monstrosity gave him a real feeling of liberation, knowing he was not attached to that horrible property like his mother and his sister. Whenever the foreclosure sign was posted in front, he would just walk away. He would leave this neighborhood and never come back, not even for his high school reunions.

Cecilia had told him that under no circumstances did she want to live in a house like the one Jason's parents had bought. Instead she wanted something smaller and more common sense, just a typical ranch-style house in a typical middle class neighborhood. She had a very clear idea of what daily life in that modest house would be like. She was adamant that there would be no maids and no gardeners; no strangers paid to wander around her property. Whatever work needed to be done to keep the place clean, she and Jason would do themselves and keep their living space private. And her house would be clean; there was no doubt about it. When it came to her living space, Cecilia was immaculate to a fault. She couldn't stand dust, dirt, trash, or any disorder in any area she occupied. She vacuumed the floor of her dorm room and washed her sheets no less than once every three days. She would never even think about wearing an article of clothing more than once without washing it. Any dorm resident caught leaving a mess in the women's bathroom could expect a nasty lecture from the RA and an order to clean up. Jason's dorm room had to be every bit as immaculate as her own, because she expected him to conform to her craving for order and neatness.

Once she assumed control of an entire house she would become even more obsessive about cleaning up. She had insinuated that if they got married she and Jason would evenly divide the work related to their home. They would not exactly share their work, but instead each would have specific responsibilities. She would take care of the inside of the house and he would take care of the outside. He already knew how she would handle the yard work issue. She would tell him what she wanted done and he would do it to her specifications. She then would come out to inspect and tell him what she wanted corrected. However, as he complied with her orders to keep up the yard and the exterior, he knew she would be diligently working on the inside, keeping the interior spotless.

Even more than cleanliness, what Cecilia wanted was peace in her household. After growing up in her noise and conflict infested housing project she wanted a place where she could shut the doors and listen to the silence. It made sense, what she wanted. He realized that she was right. Apart from the swimming pool, was there really anything in that huge house of his parents that brought any pleasure to his life? Was life really any easier with strangers doing all the housework?

As he stood quietly in the cold, Jason caught a glimpse his own future. The vision of the foreclosure sign in front of his father's house returned to his mind, as clearly as if it already had been posted. It was as though someone had handed him a snapshot from the future, but with no explanation of when the picture was taken or what it meant. He wondered how it would happen, what mistake his father would make that would force the family off that property. There were signs all over of the impending crisis, which really could come from any direction. The possibility that his father could be taken down by a business rival was a constant reality, but Jason suspected it was not a rival who was going to destroy him. Mr. Schmidt would self-destruct from something that he did to himself, not something that someone else would do to him. Another scenario played out in Jason's mind, the possibility of his mother's increasingly erratic behavior creating a crisis. What if she did get kicked out of the country club? Yes, that indeed would be a disaster, having her sitting at home, day in and day out, going crazy from boredom. Even Cassie's behavior could bring about a crisis, because she reminded Jason of...she reminded him of Heather Jones. Yes, she was a lot like Heather Jones with both her personality and her social group. He wondered if she already had tried ecstasy. If she hadn't, she would soon enough.


Christmas dinner seemed like it would bring a temporary truce to the household. Jason's parents had said their piece about Cecilia, he had struck back, and there was nothing more to be said about her. Jason had done well academically and had not put on any weight, so there was nothing left for his parents to criticize. The elder Schmidts were not speaking to each other, but that was not particularly unusual. Jason's aunt had decided not to come over for Christmas dinner and would eat with her son alone. Jason's grandmother was the only other relative coming over.

Cassie decided to have her boyfriend over, because she had a vague idea of irritating her parents by forcing them to have dinner with someone they clearly disliked. That was fortunate for Jason, but would be very unfortunate for her. Whatever deficiencies Jason might have, between his accident, his ecstasy use, his nude swimming, and his psychotic criminal girlfriend, tonight was not a night he would feel the brunt of his father's hostility. It was Cassie, or rather her unsavory partner, who was destined to get the full treatment from Mr. Schmidt.

When he sat down with Cassie, the normally arrogant guy seemed a bit out of it, probably from having smoked a joint or two before coming over. He certainly smelled like he had been smoking, a detail not lost on anyone else sitting at the table. That night Mr. Schmidt finally decided he had enough of smelling and looking at the stupid pot-head. As a Christmas present to himself, he would do something about it. He by began telling jokes and stories about stupid marijuana smokers. When Cassie and her boyfriend didn't laugh, he commented:

"Come-on, what's wrong with you two? That was a funny joke. It's not as though you're smoking, right?"

As the two teenagers shifted uncomfortably in their seats, her father talked about his days on the high school football team and how he and his friends used to beat up "pot-heads" and "fags".

"Of course, all the fags were smoking pot, 'cause I guess that's what ass-men like to do. Yeah, we busted them up pretty good. Those pretty boys weren't so pretty when we got done with them."

Both Jason's mother and grandmother signaled his father to shut up, but that was not about to happen. The sight and smell of his daughter's pot-head partner, along with the corrupting influence he was having on her, put him in a belligerent mood. He wanted to pick a fight with his daughter's wasted boyfriend. He would have been perfectly happy to pound that obnoxious punk into a bloody pulp, but he wanted his target to throw the first punch.

"Funny thing, how pot can do something like that, make you into a fag, make you into one of those bitches that runs around with their pants down and their underwear sticking out. You know, in jail that's what the prison bitches do, run around with their pants down, 'cause they're letting everyone know they're waiting for some good dick up their ass."

Cassie snapped. "Dad, shut the fuck up! The only fag in here is you!"

"Aw, come-on, Cassie. What's wrong with a little high school reminiscing? I had fun in high school, and I thought you'd want to hear about it. I mean, it's not like anyone in here is smoking pot, is it? So what's there to get so upset about? Why get so offended?"

Mr. Schmidt had backed Cassie and her boyfriend into a corner. To continue arguing would force her to admit she was smoking marijuana. For her boyfriend to say anything would be to acknowledge Mr. Schmidt's comments were being directed at him. Then he would have to get into a fight with an ex-linebacker that he was sure to lose, continue taking the older man's verbal abuse, or suffer the indignity of having to flee the house.

Mr. Schmidt smiled to himself. He had everyone right where he wanted them. He had all night to bring this to a head. He would get rid of this drug addict, one way or another, and teach Cassie never to try to use a boyfriend as a means to rebel against him. He told several more stories about how he and his teammates beat up pot-heads and fags, insinuating that one group was indistinguishable from the other. He jeered at the fashion trends of the moment, while Cassie's boyfriend shifted in his seat trying to get his pants pulled up. That gesture signaled to Mr. Schmidt that the young punk was not going to stand up for himself. Good. He pushed ahead with even more offensive comments to humiliate him as much as possible.

As rotten a person as Mr. Schmidt might have been, on the issue of Cassie's boyfriend no one in the family was going to argue with him. No one liked the teenager nor approved of the influence he was having on Jason's sister. The guest was on his own, pushed into an impossible situation by his girlfriend's father. The muscles bulging under Mr. Schmidt's sweatshirt and his host's aggressive posture made him realize he was in actual physical danger.

He began sweating, and then, still somewhat incoherent from his most recent joint, panicked. With a jolt that surprised his hosts, he simply jumped up and ran out the front door without saying a word. He jumped in his car and gunned the engine, as Cassie ran out the door after him. It was too late. He drove off, fishtailed on the frozen street, sideswiped the neighbor's parked SUV, swerved around the corner, and disappeared.

Cassie ran upstairs to her room, and slammed the door. She was crying, first alone and later on the phone to one of her friends.

Mr. Schmidt had nothing more to say to the three members of his family still sitting at the table. He simply took his plate to the TV, sat down, and turned on the sports channel to watch a preview of the next day's football games. Cassie had learned her lesson, so he was done for the day. As far as he was concerned, there was nothing he needed to discuss with the others.

Jason's mother quietly got up and went upstairs to her room, carrying a bottle of wine with her.

His grandmother got up as well, and grabbed the phone in the kitchen. She dialed her boyfriend. "Come get me. I need you to get me out of here, right now."

A short while later she left, and with that Christmas at the Schmidts' house drew to a close.

Jason put on his coat and stepped outside, to walk alone in the bitter cold of a clear Wisconsin winter night. He glanced at the huge dent in the side of his neighbor's vehicle, and kept on walking.

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. That night the family had passed yet another milestone.

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