Bull -- creative nonfiction by Zach Pelzar
One would probably assess my fourteen year old sister’s sleep schedule and my sleep schedule as starkly contrasting. I’m an early riser type, she’s a sleep ‘til I can’t no more type, typically resulting in a four hour difference between wake up times. However we do tend to hit the pillow at around the same time, meaning we usually brush our teeth together. Without much time to converse throughout the day, it’s nice to use this time to talk. It’s not much, but it’s something. And we sure had something that Wednesday night. Trading questions and answers is usually how it goes, just small talk. Rarely do we venture into the spooky eeriness of deep questions. I guess I was feeling a little frisky that night, when I asked my sister if she had any goals. She glanced at me through the mirror. There was a crack that zig-zagged through her forehead. It made her forehead look like a sevenhead. I suppressed a giggle.
“I mean, yeah. I wanna do well in school and stuff. I wanna do well on-”
“You should floss,” I interrupted. It always bothered me how she skipped flossing and went straight to brushing. She gave me an eyeroll. It was a Hailey-special. My mom hates it. Bad habit, she says.
“I wanna do well on the hockey team.”
“I mean big goals,” I pressed. “For the future. None of this small stuff. Big goals.”
She gave it some thought. The silence stood still, the only sounds coming from the television downstairs. I waited.
“Well, I don’t think you should set giant goals for yourself,” she started. Small pause and a sigh. “Because then you’ll just get disappointed.”
“Wait. Wait, what?” I responded.
“Think about it. Say when I was six, I decided that I wanted to go to college for hockey. If I set that goal for myself and I didn’t reach it, I would be disappointed. At the end of the day, you are a tiny thing on a big planet, and if you set your goals too high, I don’t think you can really accomplish them.”
Because having big goals, scary goals even, is a bad thing. Because having big goals means you might not achieve them.
The woods down the street are nice because there's never anybody around. The trails are well kept, yet rarely used. The peacefulness of the chirping birds and overhanging trees is comfortable. It makes for a great place to talk to someone. And that’s what my friend Max and I did for a while. Once a week or so, we just walked and we just talked. It was nice. A nice time to debrief about anything we wanted. One day, we took a stop at a small, deserted pond, home to some fish and loud frogs. It was a hot day, but we didn’t bring water. I sat down on a stump, giving my legs a rest. Max and I had been close friends for a while. We never went to the same school, but we played baseball together growing up, and our families had become close. Still are to this day. So we had always been comfortable talking to each other. Our bond runs deep. However, on this day we ran out of content. Sitting in silence, Max told me to ask him something. Anything. I took this opportunity to inquire about something I had noticed in his behavior.
“Ok,” I started, “why are you so different around other people?”
I had recently begun noticing that around others, Max wasn’t the same Max that I knew. He wasn’t the Max that I grew up with. He was different. He was smug. He talked in a deep voice. He tried to be funny, but often ended up just creating awkward situations. I knew he knew, too.
“Well… I don’t know… man, it’s just different. I can’t explain.”
I knew what was coming. I looked out over the thick lily pads and soft ripples of the pond. I saw two small eyes peeking over a branch. A frog croaked.
“I just don’t want to be weird,” he sighed. “What if people judge me? What if they think I’m crazy, wacky, or freaky? I don’t want strangers to think I’m weird.”
Because you shouldn’t be yourself in fear of others judging you.
Stuffed with turkey and mashed potatoes, I stumbled over to the couch and let my body digest. The Lions were getting clobbered by the Bears late into the third quarter. I loosened my tie and unbuttoned the top button of my shirt. I hate getting dressed up, so naturally I find the assumed attire for holidays quite frustrating. My cousin Becky sat down at the other side of the couch with an “oomph.”
“Not a great game, huh.”
“That’s an understatement. How’s college?” I asked. I’m sure she had gotten that question a few million times that night. She had just gotten home from her first trimester at Carleton, and was getting targeted by nearly everyone in the family.
“It’s fine. Thanks for asking. It’s really fun, but I have to make a big decision by December 1st.”
“Well, I have to pick a major. And I’m not sure which to choose.”
“Cool!” It always fascinated me how a single decision like this would shape the course of somebody's life. The Lions scored a touchdown, making it a three possession game. “What are your options?”
“I’m deciding between two. Economics and astr-”
“DESSERT!!!” screamed my aunt Stacey. The sounds of chairs being pushed in and kids sprinting to the kitchen were immediate. I was too full to move. But that pumpkin pie did smell good in the oven.
“Economics and astrophysics. Astrophysics is cooler, but it's hard. I don’t think I can handle it. I’m just not smart enough. Econ is way easier.”
“Well, can’t you learn…”
“I don’t know… I mean, I’ve never been super smart. You have to be so smart for astrophysics. I’m just no good at math, which is a big part of it. Better safe than sorry.”
Because you should play it safe by avoiding risks in life, especially if you aren’t good at something. Because if you aren’t good at something, you’ll never get better.
College stuff sucks, man. Getting recruited is great until you are spending more time on the recruiting part than the sport part. Looking at colleges is great until you realize that you're only a sophomore. Choosing a college is great until you realize you aren’t the one doing the choosing. It’s a pretty typical argument. Happens way too often. Almost always when we are sending emails. Sending emails to fifty college coaches gets real boring real quick. So tensions tend to rise, just as moods start to fall. All my dad wants is for me to go to a good school. I understand that he only wants what's best for me. But what he thinks is best for me isn’t really best for me. He is only focused on the academics. Sure, he loves golf, and loves the fact that I love it, but all he wants is for me to go to the best school I can. He wants Ivy League. That’s where he went, and he wants me to follow in his footsteps. But what he wants isn’t what I want. I want to go south, I want to play golf. Do I want to go to a good academic school? Sure. But I also want to go to a good golf school. I don’t see a problem sacrificing some academic prestige for doing what I love. But my dad does. And did he ever let me know that afternoon at the kitchen table.
I was pushing back on writing a letter to the Cornell coach. Not my type of school. North, middle of nowhere, bad golf team. Everything about it pushed me away.
“Dad, I do not want to go to Cornell. End of story. So why do I need to write to them?” I resisted firmly. My dad shot me a look of disgust.
“Because it’s one of the best schools in the country. End of story.”
“Not at golf!” This was ridiculous. I had not even a single parcel of interest in the school that is Cornell University. None! But we have to send them an email, because it's a good academic school (eye roll necessary).
“Dude, golf isn’t everything. You really wanna go to Arizona State over Cornell?!?”
So frustrating. I laid my forehead on the edge of the table.
“If you go to Cornell, you can get a good job, make a bunch of money, and then play golf whenever you want!”
Because you should follow the mold and be normal, instead of following your passion and dreams.
As I slurped the final drops of root beer out of my cup, I admired the beauty of the flowing wisps of fescue in the distance. The sun shimmered off the tops of the cars, sending blinding light my way. I could see the heat rising from the pavement. I reached down and grabbed the sunscreen that was sitting to my right. If I ever went home with a sunburn, I would never see the sun again. On a day like this, it was critical to reapply. And so I did. As I rubbed the sticky white substance on my face, Don pulled up a chair next to me. He had been my dad’s best friend since college, and I have become close with him as well. We spend a bunch of time together, especially in the summer. He’s a nice presence and a nice guy. He’s as close to a second dad as I could ask for.
“Cheers,” he said. I raised my empty plastic cup, and tapped it to his can labeled High Noon. “How’s life these days?”
“Can’t complain! School’s almost out, which is sick. I don’t think I could have taken another week. I’m pumped for summer. How ‘bout you?” I asked. A wind gust caught my hat, blowing it backwards. I swung out of my chair and grabbed it. Don chuckled.
“Eh. Fine. My work stinks. Hey, can you pass me that sunscreen? My dome needs a little protection.”
I laughed, and tossed him the suntan lotion. His favorite pastime was making jokes about being bald. They never got old. His ability to laugh at himself is unmatched.
“Why’s it so bad? Seems way better than school. I can’t wait to start working!”
“Gotta love the attitude. It’s hard to explain. You know those weeks in school where all you want to do is make it to the weekend?” I nodded. “Well, it’s like that all the time for me. I’m just trying to get by until my next vacation. Survival has become the goal.”
Because you should settle for average instead of striving to be exceptional.
Stuck in the confines of a 2014 Toyota Prius for numerous hours, conversation is bound to bounce around. And bounce around it did that hot August day. With not much to do except talk and gaze over the endless pines and maples, my grandfather and I covered many topics. Ranging from family, golf, and work, to life. No real consistency, nor a need for one. Time seemed to go by slowly, passing the same shimmering lake and open field, followed by the thick forest of red oaks. A wise man, my grandfather. Old and wise as they say. He explained to me how he ended up in that car with me that day. A whole life story. A pretty damn good one, too. His past was impressive; three years of service in World War II, twenty six years on Wall Street, and twelve years as a restaurant owner. Having been through all of this, surely he had some tips and tricks for how to succeed. Surely he had a mindset that propelled him to these heights. I was interested in the way he approached life, having achieved what he did.
“Did you want to be the best when you were younger?” I questioned. “Like at your job?”
I think I caught him off guard. He didn’t respond for a few seconds. He stared through the car in front of him, then glanced at the dashboard. Fifty seven, it read. Not too shabby for a back road in the middle of Maine. Of course, highways are hard to come by up there.
“Never wanted to be the best, just successful.”
“Well, what’s successful then?”
“What other people think of you,” he explained. “If others judge you as successful, I would say that you have become successful.”
Because your success should be defined by others, not you.
Because you shouldn’t be yourself in fear of others judging you. Because you should settle for average instead of striving to be exceptional. Because you should play it safe by avoiding risks in life, especially if you aren’t good at something. Because if you aren’t good at something, you’ll never get better. Because you should follow the mold and be normal, instead of following your passion and dreams. Because having big goals, scary goals even, is a bad thing. Because your success should be defined by others, not you.
Zach Pelzar is far from a writer. He prefers to spend his time playing sports, like golf and hockey. He loves hanging out with friends and family, and spending time outdoors. He also loves inspiring people, and spends way too much of his time watching motivational videos on YouTube. As a sophomore, this is his first published piece of work.