Judgment Day: 1989 A.D.

The effects of shell-shock and how that got me started

The lightning took a photograph of me. It was an evening in June, of 1989. I sat at my desk, staring at the wall. There wasn’t anything particularly interesting about the wall, but I wasn’t in the mood to appreciate more complicated visual stimuli. My mind was preoccupied with something with enormous ramifications for me.

Earlier on that day, I had gone to the mailbox to retrieve the day’s mailings. There was the usual assortment of junk – with a few real letters interspersed in their midst – and among the conglomeration of paper, I found a letter from my university.

I tore open the envelope, and read its contents. Two sentences immediately stood out on the page. The first one reprimanded me on my pathetic academic standings for the past several years, but that was to be expected. I was not a good student. I didn’t finish assignments, didn’t participate in class discussions, and rarely even went to school. But in spite of all my wrongdoings, I was unprepared for the real purpose of that letter, and that was to inform me that for the next year, I was suspended from university!

I was shocked. For a moment, I refused to believe what the letter said. There was no way, in my mind, that I would be caught in such a mess, no way that I would fall to such a dismal low. I had always considered myself intelligent, and lucky. I treated school with a devil-may-care attitude. The thought of me being suspended was inconceivable.

But there it was, written in black on white. The irrefutable evidence of my failure burnt into the paper. As I stared at the wall, I thought back to what I had been doing up until that letter arrived. In retrospect, all the times I spend partying with my friends, instead of staying home and studying, seemed wasted periods in my life. Above all, my tuition fees felt miserably like money down the drains – hard-earned cash that my parents had hoped would allow me to earn a decent education, and find a decent job. As the dreadful reality of the situation sank in, I realised that youthful folly had, indeed, been folly.

I focused on a crack in the ceiling. I knew I didn’t want anyone – especially not my parents – to know what had happened. It seemed that my parents’ worst fears were realised, and they were justified after all, in nagging me to do my homework all those years. I was not only embarrassed, I was totally ashamed of myself. But in the end, the truth had to come out, and I confronted my parents. They listened intently, as I described what had happened, and they didn’t pressure me any further. I was prepared for the end of the world, but they saw how miserable I already was. My mother simply asked me what I was going to do for the next little while, and I told her I would find a job and keep busy.

The worst of it over, I began to feel better again after a few days, and my vivacious side kicked right back into high-gear. Soon, I found myself partying once more with my friends near-oblivious to what had happened. Then my luck ran out, and some company actually wanted to hire me. Without warning, I found myself in the same grim situation as millions of other people around the world: I was employed.

Things turned out to not be as horrible as I anticipated – my employer turned out to have remarkably authentic human characteristics after all. So I worked for most of the year, and while at it, earned quite a lot of money. The remarkable thing during my employment was that I learned how to work under enormous pressure. Our clients were extremely demanding, and I frequently worked overtime just to help the company meet deadlines. But the work was satisfying, and the boss always treated everyone well whenever we pulled through together. We even had a company boat party. I caught fish while my colleagues smoked up. It was a glorious time.

I stopped working near the end of summer the following year, needing to make preparations for returning to school. I was gearing myself for the big challenge that lay ahead. Not only did I have to do well in my classes this time around, but I had to pull my grade average up to a minimal level, otherwise they would kick me out again – this time for three years.

If there is one thing about a lack of alternatives, it’s that nothing else motivates a person quite like it. The horrible possibility of a three-year suspension loomed ominously, and I had difficulty telling the difference between it, and death.

I knew I had to do something about myself. I had to make it really big in school this time. It was boom or bust. Do or die. Like Captain Hernan Cortes, my ships were burnt, and there was no other way to go but forward, and in the final analysis whenever one is confounded by a problem, it always pays to ask an expert for advice.