$12,000 Loan
Author: Jay Molina

Chapter 1
The Epiphany

The Epiphany

"Open your eyes & look within, are you satisfied with the life you living?"  

– from Exodus by Bob Marley

Campus is dead.  There is no movement in the center of campus at the moment, yet in approximately 10 minutes hundreds of students will leave their dorms and make the miserable 200-yard walk to class.  This part of campus, “the Green” as the students call it, is a lawn the size of a football field boxed in by the various buildings of campus.  The dining hall borders the west part of the green, the library the east portion.  There are a few trees sprinkled on the Green, some bigger than others, that were spared when the woods were cleared to make room for the college. In the spring time the Green can be one of the more beautiful places on this earth, or at least that’s what it seems like to the college students.  The grass is green, the trees are lush with leaves, freshly planted flowers bloom along the concrete walking paths not far from beautiful college girls working on their tans.  But on this morning there is none of that.  A layer of snow and ice covers the ground, steam rises from the several manholes that lie on the recently shoveled paths.  It’s ironic that it’s called the Green, because it’s only green for a couple months of the school year.  Just like how Greenland is actually very icy.  All the tree branches are covered with snow and icicles hang from the roofs of the buildings…

            The default ring of the cell phone begins to sound.  This is generally the first thing someone changes when they get a new cell phone.  It is a very annoying, simple ring tone, but listen to it a few times and it will get stuck in your head for days.  For this reason most can not wait to pick out their very own ring tone, whether it’s their favorite song or an adorable series of beeps.  Something that tells everyone, “I’m unique but still cool by society’s standards, and now I’m so popular someone’s calling me.”  But the owner of this phone was too lazy to change his ring.  

            The hand of the owner blindly reaches for the table and feels around desiring to mute the terrible sound.  On the first attempt the hand finds a beer can.  Second attempt, beer can.  The third time at first seems to be the charm, but after picking up the unknown object and holding it to his ear for a second he realizes that this device is not the source of the annoying sound.  So he finally realizes what he must do, a last resort.  He opens his eyes.  Now he sees the phone flashing on the table, nowhere near where his hand was grasping.  He picks it up, looks at it.  There is a little alarm clock dancing on the front screen of the phone, mocking him.  “I hate you”, he says to the phone as he hits the snooze…

            Within a matter of seconds the Green is crawling with kids aged 18-22.  Students frantically pace along the walking paths toward class trying to make it on time.  Most are not concerned about missing anything the professor says, but just want to avoid the embarrassment of walking in late and having everyone stare at them.  Some have bulking backpacks weighing them down, some make meaningless small talk with their colleagues, but most avoid eye contact.  The walking pace is fast because the air is frigid, and class offers a warmth that can be misconstrued as a sanctuary.  Other students have iPods in an attempt to distract their minds from the harsh reality that for the next 80 minutes they will be stuck in a room without windows, listening to something they do not care about and will never use in the remainder of their lives…

           

            The default ring of the cell phone begins to sound.  This time the owner can easily find the phone without opening his eyes because he placed it down exactly five minutes before.  “We go through this charade every morning.  You ring, I hit snooze, over and over again.  Let’s call a truce, whadya say?”  The phone offers no response, other than its annoying little ring.

            Five minutes later it goes off again.  The owner of the phone opens his eyes and sits up this time.  Before he is fully upright an electric pain shoots from the back of his head to the front.  It feels as though someone or something has a mining camp in his skull.  The dancing alarm clock still mocks him, it reads 8:30 a.m.  He picks up his phone and opens it, but instead of hitting snooze, this time he turns the alarm off.  “You win.  You always do,” he mutters at the inanimate object.

            There is a sound of aluminum cans clinging against one another coming from behind him, a sound that has come to be a white nose for him.  It takes him a moment to take in his surroundings and realize where he is.  He’s on the couch of his living room, one of the two spots where he’s accustomed to waking up.  It’s been a long time since he can remember consciously deciding to go to sleep, or even remember going to sleep.  The nights of drinking and smoking marijuana just blend into the annoying wake-up call of his cell phone.  The table in his living room where his cell phone rested is completely covered.  About 80 percent of the table is covered with empty beer cans, no surprise.  The rest of the space is taken up by obscure things like magazines, an ash tray, a bottle of hot sauce, a couple of Playstation controllers, a couple of coffee table books.  There is a can of Lysol air freshener, a tin of chewing tobacco, and a family-size jug of trail mix in the center of the table.  A small metallic bong teeters on the corner of the table, a gentle nudge away from falling to its peril.

            The sound of the cans clinging is coming from Miles Stewart.  He is standing over the table in the “dining area” clearing empty beer cans into a garbage bag.  This part of the downstairs is intended to be the dining room for students to eat their meals, but no one has sat down to eat there in a long time.  The table is sticky thanks to its coating of dried beer.  Miles is the rare college student who is a morning person, shown by his ambitious cleaning so early in the morning, although his mild OCD probably has more to do with that.  Any attempt to describe Miles with a brief character overview in this space would be futile.  He is the definition of a character.  You can learn about him as you read this story.

            The dude from the couch, JMo they call him (no one uses his real name), is up and moving around now.  You can tell he’s making an effort to do whatever it is he’s supposed to do.  He makes a lap around the downstairs; through the kitchen, around the “dining room”, back to his couch on the den.  He’s looking for something, finally he spots it.  It’s his right shoe tucked underneath the couch.  In an attempt to get himself ready faster, JMo tries to balance on one leg and slip his shoe on in one motion.  This would normally work without a problem for a person under normal conditions, but JMo just awoke after a long night of heavy alcohol consumption and only 4 hours of lying on a 15-year old couch in a drunken stupor.  Down goes the champ!  He falls in a slow, rigid manner, still trying to get the old, scuffed boot on as gravity does its thing.  It is as if he were a tree, and a dwarfed lumberjack had just delivered the deciding blow of the ax into his thick, muscular leg.  Timber!  Right onto his ass.  But JMo pops up very quickly in hope that Miles didn’t notice.  JMo’s great at popping up onto his feet from all the times this was practiced during high school football.  Miles chuckles to himself, seeing what happened, but his reaction is tempered, for this is just a typical morning in their small college apartment.  JMo is under the impression no one saw his topple, and now his boots are on.  He’s onto his next mission, locating his iPod.  JMo never walks to class without his tunes.  On the rare occasion his iPod is missing JMo just decides not to go to class.  “Life is just better with music,” is always his response when people comment on how he’s always got his headphones on.

            Now JMo’s got on his favorite hooded jacket, the one he won’t leave home without.   After several attempts to zip up the jacket he finally gets it zipped.  The zipper’s broken and usually comes undone from the bottom up the first couple tries.  It’s all black with a pattern of dark grey skulls covering the entire fabric.  Black synthetic fur lines the entire inside.  It’s the kind of jacket only a “dark” person would wear, yet JMo is by no means “dark”, although it didn’t help his case that his shaggy hair was as close as you could get to black.  In fact, it took him a week of wearing the jacket before closely examining the pattern and realizing it was completely covered in skulls.  Because of the jacket’s appearance he got a lot of questions from teachers and faculty who thought he had depression.  JMo’s comeback was always, “I got it ‘cause it was cheap and comfortable as fuck!...and it looks cool.”  Once when JMo was getting his mandatory school physical one of the nurses felt she should give him a depression questionnaire.  JMo got a high score, which wasn’t good in this case.  It was a stupid survey.  JMo vividly remembers filling it out:

            Q:        Do you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning?

            A:        Yes.  I’m not a morning person.

            Q:        Do you have trouble focusing in class?

            A:        Yea, class sucks.

Q:        Do you find you have a lack of motivation when it comes to doing your schoolwork?

A:        Yea, schoolwork sucks.

Q:        Do you have any substance abuse?

A:        I’m a pothead, is that a yes?

JMo is a lot smarter than he seems.  He knew that with every yes he gave the nurse would think he was more and more depressed, but he knowingly did it anyways refusing to be embarrassed of who he was.

            The nurse came in and looked at the results, JMo had his gap-toothed smile on his face.  She unwillingly let out an “Oh my.”  JMo knew she had just read the pothead part.  The nurse paused to collect her thoughts before sitting down beside the kid wearing the black, skull-covered jacket.  In a very calm but caring voice she said, “We have counselors who can help you.  Your answers to the survey are cause for concern.”

            “Thanks, but no thanks,” he replied cheerfully, still smiling.

            “This is a serious matter, depression is a big problem.”

            “Oh it’s cool, I’m not depressed,” as he was beginning to leave the check-up room.  “Have a nice day,” and he was out.  As he was leaving he wondered to himself, “Is it that people who are depressed abuse substances, or do substance ‘abusers’ become depressed because society tells them it is wrong?”  JMo didn’t think he abused marijuana, it was one of his hobbies, something he did for fun.  No different than watching television or listening to music. He was well aware that smoking had some negative health consequences, but so did drinking, so did being a couch potato, so did eating fast food, and most wouldn’t consider there being anything ‘wrong’ with those things.  According to that questionnaire 80% of college kids would be considered depressed if they answered it truthfully.

            JMo is ready to go.  Jacket on, backpack loosely hanging from his shoulders, iPod in pocket, both shoes on (the correct feet, not a given).  Large headphones were covering his ears.  The headphones he had stolen from one of the computer labs on campus.  They weren’t even intended to be iPod headphones, they were made for computers.  The cord was 10 feet long, meaning he had to bunch up all of the excess cord so it wouldn’t drag along the ground.  But they did have great sound quality.  JMo’s rationale was that since school tuition was 47,000 dollars a year he should be entitled to take things from the college if he pleases.  As long as the stolen object’s absence didn’t affect a specific person JMo had no problem taking it.  Headphones, clothing, food, textbooks, coffee mugs, anything he could get his hands on at the college.  He felt like he was Robin Hood, taking from the rich giving to the poor.  Except JMo was the poor in this case.  Most would disagree with that philosophy since he is attending a private college.

            Fully equipped for his day JMo had one last thing to do.  He turns back to the table next to the couch on which he slept, picks up his small, metallic bong and closely examines the slidepiece to see if there is any marijuana left over from the night before.  There wasn’t, as usual.  When a bowl of marijuana is packed in this house, as in most college houses, it is attacked like wolves going after steak.  Some people come out of the woodwork when marijuana smoke is in the air.  On a lucky morning there will be a few remnants of ganja available to be smoked.  That’s when JMo knows it’ll be a good day.

            JMo opens the back door, ready for his treacherous journey.  It’s only a 5 minute walk (normally takes him 10), but it is by far the worst part of his day.  Immediately the bright sunshine hits his eyes, making his hangover headache worse.  He was not prepared for the sun.  It is very cold this time of year at the college, and JMo routinely forgets that the sun can still shine bright at this low temperature.  No problem for JMo though, he takes out his aviator sunglasses and places them over his squinted brown eyes.  Not including his iPod and his bong, the aviators are his prized possession.  He likes to wear them even when it’s not sunny out because it makes him feel safer, as if he’s hiding behind the large shades.

            He’s still yet to leave his house, he’s merely opened up the door.  Before he can start walking any there must be some music.  He scrolls down all the different artists on his iPod.  JMo’s iPod is as eclectic as can be, mainly because he’s so lazy that instead of downloading his own songs he just gets them from other people.  As a result he’s got country songs from Miles, some spiritual hippie songs from his own younger brother, punk rock from his old high school friends.  When asked what kind of music he listens to JMo says dead seriously, “Good music.”  Today he puts on a reggae song, Exodus by the “Big Gong”, Bob Marley.

            A few cooked steps into his walk and JMo realizes he’s still a little drunk.  The freezing air has already hit his body.  His jacket is not intended to be worn at temperatures this low, but JMo sacrifices warmth for the look.  Now that he’s moving around his head starts to hurt a little more, accompanied by feelings of nausea. With each step there is a loud crunching of snow beneath his boots, but he can’t hear that because Bob Marley is singing in his ear.  JMo is the slowest walker in the world.  Half of the reason is that he feels there’s no rush to go anywhere, half is just pure laziness. Thus, JMo’s always late to class. 20 steps more into the walk the iPod battery dies.  Not a good start to the day.  A minute later (5 minutes late for class at the moment) JMo gets to his arch-nemesis, The Stairs.

            The apartment where JMo and Miles live is on campus not far from the class buildings, but their apartment house is located in a valley, some 200 feet below.  So while the walk to class is not far, it’s like getting on the fucking Stairmaster.  The Stairs are imposing.  It’s a makeshift staircase about 200 steps in total, but they’re by no means normal steps.  Each step has a larger gap than the typical staircase forcing you to step higher than you normally would, so in reality it feels like 400 steps.  A great workout if that’s what you’re looking for.  Most of the staircase is concrete, fine.  But there is a section in the middle where the steps are very narrow and made of creaky old wood, a terrible idea to have at a college where there is snow on the ground for most of the year.  This portion of The Stairs has caused a countless number of drunken college kids (JMo many times) to have quite the tumble, and to wake up the next morning with bruises all over their body.  Although, JMo might be the only one to ever slip and fall going up The Stairs.  There is an intercom console on the stairs with an emergency button in case an injured or distressed individual needs immediate assistance.  Ironically, it is located at the top of the staircase, meaning someone who fell down the Stairs and sprained their ankle would then have to hobble back up in order to receive help.  Making it to the top of the stairs is enough to make even the physically fit breathe a little harder, but for hungover college kids in the early morning The Stairs might as well be Mount Everest.  It is not uncommon in the early morning to see someone leaning over the side railing throwing up beer from the night before.  Regardless of physical condition and time of day JMo has to stop and catch his breath whenever he makes it to the top.  JMo stops at the base of his enemy and looks up.  At that instant, whether it’s a moment of true clarity or just being slightly high from the night before, perhaps both, he realizes that no one is forcing him to do this.  He shakes his head and turns around.

 

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