Googling Fred

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
An assessment of success in the Information Age.

Submitted: September 30, 2018

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Submitted: September 30, 2018

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I clicked on the link.

Was it him?

I read the bio and with each bit of information became more certain. Three masters degrees, the first from M.I.T. where I knew he attended after high school, and of course the picture. Undoubtedly Fred, with his smile--not too wide to show any affection but wide enough to feel warm--and a twinkle in his eye that could have meant and has come to mean so many different things.

The bio went on. PHD. in Philosophy of Electronics and Physical Sciences. I had no idea that such a thing existed but here it was written in this bio of a once-friend who I hadn't seen in over 40 years.

A kind of nameless terror began to emerge in my chest. Trapped behind my ribs it sought to escape and I had to breath deeply, stop reading until it settled into dormancy again. What the hell was that?

I continued to read about Fred's time in the U.S. Airforce, no surprise there. He had been a relocated military base kid, entered and took our school by storm in his senior year blowing Becky O. off her promised perch of Valedictorian with his untainted 100%s and a natural ability to write and make speeches. His father was a general in the Air Force and they enjoyed off-base housing only offered to the few elite who came to MacGuire Air Force Base in Cookstown, N.J..

I discovered that Fred currently acted as Director of a government institution (not NASA) that dealt with space issues. The final sentence of the bio, and here the terror reasserted itself fresh and powerful, stated that Fred had served as a space advisor to the president until 2017.

My vision swayed and that fear I had mentioned enveloped me in a sudden ambush on my senses. I closed my eyes and bent over myself trying to ignore the black thoughts circling around my head.

Has my life been a waste?

It is so unfair to say this, my argumentative side countered. He began at a higher place than you. He chose a different path. He was Valedictorian for Christ's sake. But something smelled fishy to me here and I dug deep into my memories to decide whether this argument held up. We'd instantly become friends. He introduced me to Orson Scott Card and chess, while I opened up an instant social network of friends and lavished him with my attention and, if I might admit, a little admiration and puppy-love mixed in. His mother introduced me to pineapple. They had come to NJ from a two year station in Hawaii and she had friends who would priority mail her fruit from the islands which she would serve sometimes when I stayed for dinner. Look, of course you could buy pineapples in NJ during the 1980s, but my mother wasn't the type to bring home such an exotic fruit.

There it is! My thoughts pounced. The pineapple, the Hawaiian friends. I told you. He'd already had a greater boost than you, right from the beginning.

But I wasn't so sure that these revelations meant much.

After he'd taught me to play chess, I was able to beat him from time to time. I was not less intelligent than him. The chess games proved that, didn't they. I was simply less determined and...

Before I go any further I should explain that at that time I dreamed of becoming a Broadway actor. I know, such a trite and overdone one, however the dream did shift and reshape as I grew a little older. What I really wanted was to explore the art of theatre. I wanted to experience and play, delve deeply into the mastery of acting, directing and playwriting. I reveled in every moment of my BFA theatre major. It wasn't some going to NY and getting discovered dream, but a dream of adventure and exploration.. but that is a different story and only relevant here to show myself that Fred and I, at 17 were very much at the same level. Yes, he had better grades than me and ate fresh pineapple, but he had no more experience under his belt than I did, no secret astronaut training. We both stood at the start of our futures and we both heard the same gunshot that marked the beginning of the race.

Can seeing an old friend's success make one redefine their own? If not Fred, than some other science minded go getter would have been the president's advisor. Was it just because I knew him, that I had shared a year of my life with him that made his success shadow my own life? If it had been some nameless other I would not even care, would think my life a good one, would think what I have done in it worthy on some level. But now, having read Fred's bio, I am not so sure.

I am not even going to try to end this essay in some finessed and poignant way. Because I actually do not know the answer. I do not know why the discovery of Fred and his life requires. me to belittle my own.

If I had only worked harder, I tell myself. If I had only done more.

I guess my question is this: Does Fred feel it too? Does he imagine the greater things he could have done if he had only worked harder for them? Or do his accomplishments make him immune to self-doubt?

Would his contemplation of what I've accomplished, so much quieter than what he has done, lead him to wonder if he has done enough?

And I guess that is the end of this though.

Have I done enough?


© Copyright 2019 Kevin Michael Smith. All rights reserved.

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