The room sat in stunned silence, with glowering faces and bristling tusks where the smooth, baby-like features of esteemed scholars had sat only moments before, unruffled in their carefully mussed clothes and hair, with a few suits scattered here and there as if for decoration, horribly placed. I felt like I had taken a shit in a display toilet with my back to the street, amongst the hallowed stones of Georgetown, DC. In Restoration Hardware. The City of Angels would hardly blink at such a display, so accustomed to the antics of rock stars and people climbing over one another like an army mindless ants, each clamoring for a moment of attention.
The memories of times of confrontation just like this, along with my rabid hatred for bullies, ricocheted around my mind a few times, like a spent bullet, badly aimed. Then they faded. The truth was, I really no longer cared. I had found what I came to seek from the enlightened ones, our modern planetary scientists, the esteemed ones, and I had found them lacking in the ability to find the front door, much less help solve my questions. Their only real care was funding: Who gave it, who had it, and most importantly, what could they do to get it. Real science has mostly dissolved into a quest for money, the greatest evil to any entity in pursuit of knowledge.
The blackboard, normally my salvation when a team of scholars scowled in scorn, seemed undecipherable to me. I suddenly wished for other days, when I was younger, a kid, with only a dog and a miles of forest, abandoned mines and old coal waste piles to explore. I had learned to downplay any attempt to gauge my intelligence by that point, content in not being bullied, called a nerd or getting beaten by the playground monsters, the hulks from grades forward who should no longer be there, left behind in a system that routinely left such grounded in a rapidly deteriorating childhood.
Those days of systematic battle were over, but they left their mark on me. It was to be found in a suddenness of breath when I was verbally assaulted and a painful urge to resort to physical violence. There was nothing to prove in that recourse, with only a dimly lighted cell awaiting my return.
I took several deep breaths, all the way from my abdomen to the top of my skull, holding them until brief lights flashed and steadily gained my composure. Several arguments had broken out in my sudden and temporary absence, all of which appeared to be directed at me. My advisor sat stony-faced, his OCD firmly in charge of his every moment, with hearing aids that appeared as alien sentinels on the sides of his narrow head. He took pride in his disability and broadcasted his lack of hearing with the ostentation of Socrates, proclaiming things must be so, for he enunciated them.
My voice found its own, a gift from my father, the thunderous minister; capable of holding a crowd of restless hypocrites silent and still as though bound. My voice was stronger: Where such a projection of sound would render my Dad nearly mute for days, I had found that I could do the same with no physical ill effects. At least not during the duration. I had to be angry to do that, and anger always did and always will leave its mark on my physical and psychological persona.
I turned back to the calculations, carefully written the night before. Slightly to mostly inebriated, I had stolen into this room out of habit, to see where the exits were, decide who would be sitting where based on my interpretation of their personality and most importantly, find the physical space that I wanted my personal to rest during the trial leading to my academic crucifixion.
Beyond the blackboard, a teaching utensil doomed for extinction, I could see the mountains and wondered where I would go from here. I prepared to bury myself. To burn the bridges and light the prairies with flame, never to return to this shame of higher education.
I turned, underlined a few sentences I felt were key, and figuratively threw myself to the wolves.
“Pride Goes Forward Until A Fall.”
I could almost hear my Dad speaking those words. I departed as arrogantly as I had arrived, but with the sinking feeling that I would no longer be welcome in the halls of academia again. Not in my chosen field anyway, maybe not ever. Like all scientists, my academic world was small, with the same people populating it year after endless year, a parade of white men in wigs, contorting for various branches and government in vain attempts floundering for surplus funds awash in the forgotten bank accounts open in the name of science.
The doors swooshed shut behind me as I grabbed my pack, favorite pens and a few notebooks out of my work area. I puzzled around the room for a moment, wondering what had happened, how I had become so discontent so fast. The last vestiges of a hangover were clearing my brain and I decided to forego my nightly ritual of drinking myself silly and instead drag out some maps and see where I wanted to go.
Bob sat rather desolate on the curb as I finished packing, as it were. My chainsaw, tool boxes, gear and sleeping pad were in their places in the back of the Suburban, a truck that represented all that seemed right to me. My cast iron skillets and old chef’s knife were backed away in their place in the box between the front seats. Rocky leapt over the tailgate as he always did, tongue hung out, but happily puzzled. It hung over the three of us like a sticky cloud of methane, trapped and angry with its release.
I didn’t blame her. For better or for worse, she had spent the majority of her formative young adult years following me like a lost puppy. Her words, not mine. We were both bleary eyed from fighting and lack of sleep, but I was still unbelievably happy inside. I missed her already, but the future once again opened up for me like a lost horizon, something I dreamed of exploring from my perch in the old oak tree on the ridge above my childhood home.
Bob sat forlornly, so small in her sadness that it broke my heart. For better or worse, we had parted ways, for one of the last times. I drove east, arm out the window, Rocky panting happily and pacing madly about the back of the truck. He finally realized that it was to be a long trip and crossed the folded up seat back into the passenger seat, staring forward through the windshield.
Montana was somewhere in the distance, a cold and rather desolate place, from what I had heard. I place to lose yourself for a while, if needs be. I had pulled some strings with connections the night before and found a destination: A working ranch in the middle of nowhere.
We passed through Nevada like ghosts, following the headlights as they pointed the way forward. The diesel engine growled along, comforting in its stability and reliability. Forty gallons of fuel sloshed in the tank and forty more were loaded in old red jerry cans, strapped carefully to the rear of the truck to avoid asphyxiation in the main cab.
The stars were visible once more. Alcohol was, for now, a forgotten crutch. I did swing by a casino for an all you can eat breakfast buffet. It was forgettable. Unless you count the artificial rain forest all around people gorging themselves. I felt eerily cannibalistic.