A Descent into Adulthood

“Is this reality?” Wes Fargo didn’t exactly know how to answer this question. His inability to answer was partially due to the fact that the man asking this question, David Tosh, was currently two hours into a psychedelic trip of mushrooms. This would make any serious response improbable, especially because Tosh would be spending the next six hours walking the fraternity halls in a naked delirium. But Wes’s lack of a response was inevitable, because he couldn’t have honestly answered this question had it been asked in an entirely sober situation.

As a senior two days removed from graduation at the University, one would have hoped that Wes would maybe have a more definite answer for such inane questions. A logical response would have been, “Of course! After two months off from school, I’ll enroll in grad school at Columbia, get my master’s degree, find a beautiful wife, buy a house, get my PhD, have two children named Annabel Smith and Jameson Sutter, teach at the local university and do independent research on the side, and grow into retirement a happy man. Is that what you meant by reality?” Maybe even “Sure, Toshie, this is reality, but I am still looking for an escape. Are you sharing the rest of your stuff?” Or, how about, “What do you think you high baller? Why don’t you just go to sleep? Or would you rather keep asking me stupid, insignificant nubbins?”

Those would have worked fine, considering the circumstances. But Wes chose not to answer. Instead, he drained his beer, left the party, and went for a walk on that curiously cold May night. Usually, the weather that time of the year for any normal environment is somewhere around low 60’s, but as every native Carolinian knows, there is no conceivable way to predict the weather, even for the following day. It could be forty degrees or it could be eighty. Wes’s mother always used to joke that “North Carolina is the only place where you can get all four seasons in one week!” She was right, per usual.

And so on this curiously cold May night Wes walked and thought, and thought and walked, all the time considering ‘reality.’ The trails snaked around the University’s campus, almost forming a barrier between the neighboring townie community and the campus activities. Wes knew all of these trails from four years of running daily. The runs provided him with a means of escape from the struggles of a short life that hadn’t quite spun the way the yarn predicted. What had happened to the time? The friendships left behind? The knowledge crammed in hours before a test, only to be dumped out hours afterwards in an attempt to make room for the next round of assessments? What had happened to his faith? His ideals? His dreams entering a four year university deemed “the public ivy?” Had he matured intellectually? Arguably. Socially? Certainly. Emotionally? Doubtful.

So, was this reality? That seemed to currently be his most pertinent question, and as Wes was feeling slightly buzzed from a frat party, him with one foot falling in front of the other on this dark, curiously cold May night, on trails hardened by the impact of step after step, why not think deeply for once? He had never really thought of himself as an intellectual … but tonight seemed a good night to start.

What is reality? Wes had never thought of college as ‘real,’ but more of an awkward stage slammed between youth and manhood, an ideal situation placed upon a pedestal by parents looking for their children to hitch up their britches and make something out of themselves. College is the imperative, the MUST for any youth wanting to not live at home, not wanting to work at the local McDonald’s, and not wanting to Skype with college friends living a happier, richer lifestyle. It’s what is branded into the minds of every child from the ripe age of six: “Go to college, and you will be happy.”

Why? Because college is a spring board into adulthood. Get that degree, and you’ve got a job. If you’ve got a job, then you’re going to be happy. Period. It seems simple enough. So the question was “Why wasn’t Wes happy?” He had jumped through all of the hoops, made all of the grades, majored with the intent to cash large checks, but he still was unsatisfied.

Depression wasn’t an adequate solution to his problem. That would have been too easy, like attempting to shove a square into a circled hole. The feelings would still be there, regardless of how hard one attempted to make it work. And to Wes, that seemed to be the fundamental problem with college.

In an attempt to accommodate all 16,458 undergraduate students, the university is forced to place some students where they don’t want to be, whether by the weed-eater classes like Chemistry 101 and Two-Variable Calculus, or by poor academic advisors who scheduled too many appointments for one day. Maybe it’s by social pressures bearing upon the backs of these young and impressionable students, whispering nasty phrases of “English? What good is English? Is it practical today? No. Do you know what’s practical? Computer programming,” or “Yes, yes, yes. Biology major is a great step towards pre-med,” and “The business school is fantastic, but an economics double major looks even better. That’s what you want, isn’t it? To stand out?”

It’s not fair to say that Wes was denied the pursuit of his dreams, but it is safe to say that college inhibited his quest “to change the world.” Wes had no problem thinking this, because he reasoned that it happens to every single student, starting the moment they step onto campus. The opportunities to grow and expand as an individual, to explore new thoughts, to pursue new experiences, well … they get overwhelming. There is so much going on that it can be hard to remember why one goes to college to begin with. It’s not for the parties, or the sex, or the drugs, but for an opportunity to figure out what makes you tick. It’s what really gets you revved up and excited for classes. It’s what brings you to office hours, to the library, to a community of like-minded individuals. That thirst for knowledge outweighs any worries about GPA or what comes after graduation date.

And, unfortunately, it’s what Wes missed in four years at this “public ivy league university.” Not to say that he wasn’t looking at a promising future: Columbia University, then the bar exam, followed by the opening of his own practice. But was he going to be happy?

That seemed to be a corollary in his search for the answer to reality. Can Wes be happy in this reality that he has carved for himself? The feelings could be repressed. The emotions … internalized. But deep down, in the pit of his stomach, it seemed unlikely.

That chilling thought jarred Wes from his musings. It was getting very cold now, and his buzz was wearing off. The trail had ended and light led past the football stadium and back to campus, but Wes stood there, breathing in the crisp air. A wind rustled the budding leaves. What am I doing with my life?