Recently the school newspaper passed around those slips that ask you to tell where you are going to college and what not.
When I got my slip I thought about throwing it away. I'm not big on telling people anything, let alone something that's supposedly important. So I scribbled some melodramatic nonsense that meant basically nothing and handed the slip in.
A few days later I was confronted by a Griffin staff member who requested that I change the slip or write something explaining my reasoning for not filling it out "properly." I shrugged my shoulders and walked away, sneering at the thought of me spending time writing something for the school newspaper.
My teachers, parents and even some of my friends often complain about my introverted and iconoclastic tendencies. It drives a lot of people crazy when I refuse to disclose where I am going to college. It's a funny thing, I know most of these people could care less about me. Yet, they seem to have a genuine interest in that one aspect of my life.
It seems the more secretive I am, the more incensed the questioning multitudes become. So I've decided to sell another piece of my withering soul, and provide an explanation . . . so that maybe some of the questions will go away.
The questions come from everywhere, and they have started to scare me. I have traveled quite a bit lately, and consequently have frequented the terminals of many an airport.
Airports depress me more than any other place on earth, except for maybe funeral homes. Funeral homes are places for dead people. I think airports are places for people who are waiting to die.
You can notice things about people if you go to airports. I tend to notice the depressing things.
In Atlanta, I was trudging along with my luggage and I observed an ailing old lady in a wheelchair staring off into space. All she had was this beaten-up old purse that no one would ever want. It was strange how tightly she held onto it.
In Miami, I was getting off a plane, and for a moment or two I watched these two stewardesses. Their faces were caked with make-up and their eyes seemed to have sunk back into their heads. They spoke listlessly about a motel room and drinks. Evidently, the loss of innocence is somewhat synonymous with the loss of youth.
In Milwaukee, I was watching a business-type guy. He was starting to get fat, and he had a receding hairline. He had the blankest facial expression I've ever seen. He was standing by the exit with his luggage. He just stood there and stared, as if he were waiting for something.
The lives of these people are terribly empty. I found myself imagining the dark highways and lonely rooms that awaited them. They reeked of the mechanisms they used to fill the emptiness. Alcohol, cigarette smoke and cheap perfume emanates from them. I don't think any of it works; you can tell by their sunken eyes and their blank expressions. Airports scare me.
I have ways to get over the fear, habits that keep me going when I'm traveling. For instance, I always bring something to read. On my most recent trip, to Wisconsin, I brought "The Catcher in the Rye." It's a good book, and I kind of identify with the protagonist, Holden Caulfield. He goes around New York City feeling depressed about everything. At one point, he dreams of spending his days preventing children from falling off a cliff that lies at the edge of field of rye.
When I was in Wisconsin, I was feeling pretty depressed. So I started to think about my life at home. I'd think about things that made me smile, that make my life fulfilling. I'd think about how two friends can make a trying calculus class a lot of fun. I'd think about a playground called Warren where I can go any time of the day, week or year and find a game or some good trouble.
I'd think about long nights out with people who understand each other, who know how to make each other laugh. I'd think about yelling random things at the top of my lungs out a car window and having nobody call me immature. I'd think about wide eyes and coy smiles. I'd think about my mom's food, my two sisters yelling, and my dad acting stupid. I'd think of a black dog who's going to be happy to see me whether I'm going to Harvard or to hell.
That's why I don't want anything about my future printed in black and white. Life right now is intriguing. When I'm coming home from some place late at night, the road is never too dark. Life is filled with bright eyes and exuberant faces. The problem is, the future and reality tend to extinguish a lot. Innocence is lost and youth decays.
When I was in Wisconsin, I tried to envision my own future. There'd be no more coy smiles -- none for me anyway. It would be a pretty lonely place. I'd drive down some distant road under a gray sky and wind up at Warren. I'd walk around straining to hear my friends screaming and carrying on. Then I'd get a lump in my throat and drive to the airport -- to stare into space. I don't ever want to acknowledge that day, not to the school newspaper, not to myself, not to anyone.
I don't mean to bring anyone down by saying these things. I think the future is really a bigger problem for me than it is for most people. I'm in kind of an elite category. It's me, Peter Pan and Holden Caulfield. We all hate the future. The future and reality hold nothing for us. There is no such place as "never-never land." If there was, I'd go there.
And I don't think there are any catchers in the rye out there either. At least none that are any good. People are too hard to catch. They're falling every day. I wish someone would catch me.
Michael Musika graduated from Dulaney High School this week. This article is reprinted from the school newspaper, The Griffin.