If the dream is big enough, the facts don’t count.
My dad always had big dreams. He wanted to invent something that would not only be useful to others, but help mankind and of course, reap big rewards.
As in millions of dollars in rewards.
He was an inventor, of sorts. I remember he would spend entire weekends, for months on end, making plans, finding materials and then experimenting with various contraptions. All of them failed, but he never gave up.
I never understood that drive, that passion. To me, it seemed like so much work. Why not take the easy road and leave time for more fun things?
Like dating, or hanging with friends, or baseball.
I pretty much live for baseball.
I was never a good student. In fact, if it hadn’t been for Holly Lawson, I wouldn’t even have graduated from high school
I used her. I’ll admit it. I’m not proud of this fact, but there you have it. I knew she had a crush on me and I shamefully used that fact to manipulate her into doing what I wanted her to do.
That’s my gift, manipulating people. I’m quite good at it. I have a knack for honing in on people’s weaknesses and twisting them into something that I can use to benefit me.
At first, this bothered me. I wasn’t particularly proud of using people but it came so easy and people never had a problem trusting everything that I told them that I just sort of fell into the pattern – it was harder not to.
For the most part, I got over the guilt of using people. I mean, people come and go in our lives, in our relationships, they’re just blips on our life’s radar – meaningless really. Why waste time on them when there was so much fun to be had.
I’m not quite sure why I’m like this, maybe it has something to do with my mom, who worked two jobs to give my dad the freedom to do his experiments (that never paid off, by the way, I mentioned that part, right?) and worked herself to death.
Her heart simply gave out when she reached 48.
I was a Sophomore in high school when my mom passed away and it was from that point on that I knew what I wanted, which was to be nothing like my mom. I didn’t want to work my entire life away; life was simply too short.
And yet, I wasn’t willing to do what my dad did either. I can’t tell you the number of times I witnessed his disappointment, his dejection, his rejection all because he had the balls to stick his neck out there and try something different.
No. I was all about taking the easy road.
And of course, taking the easy route can not only be hard, but dangerous, too.
After I graduated from high school, I wasn’t sure what to do with my life. I mean, I could work, but I kept picturing my mother, worn down and bone tired from her two jobs and I didn’t want that for my life. So I decided to put my life on hold for a bit and go to college.
College wasn’t really work, it was more of a structured party with virtually no rules.
Save for the rules I made up along the way.
I quickly discovered that I simply wasn’t smart enough to be a college student. I had relied on Holly’s help, and I use that term loosely, throughout high school so much that in essence, I didn’t learn a freaking thing.
I had cheated my way through high school, so it seemed only natural that I’d cheat my way through college.
The challenge was finding the person who would make that happen.
It started out innocently enough. About halfway through my first semester I knew I needed help. I had failed nearly everything I had tried at that point and that wasn’t much, quite frankly. I was taking a full load, about 15 hours, and every single class was kicking my butt.
But I didn’t give up. I didn’t get discouraged. I got busy working out a four-year plan on how I was going to survive my college years with the least amount of effort on my part as possible.
I knew it could be done, I just wasn’t sure how it would shake out. I needed someone vulnerable, someone who craved attention and perhaps didn’t get it very often, who was sort of a social outcast. I needed someone smart and generous. I needed someone I could string along and manipulate into doing what I needed them to do without questioning my motives or seeing through my deception.
And that person came in the form of my college advisor, Lauren McCormick.
I knew, as soon as I walked into her office, she was the person I was looking for. She had the phone tucked under her chin and was scribbling on the top page of the first stack of papers littering her desk.
She was also chewing on a piece of licorice. The end stuck out from one corner of her mouth and I remember noticing how she was smearing deep red lipstick on the candy with each unconscious bite.
I stirred. I admit, it was sort of a turn on to watch her nibble on that piece of candy. I began fantasizing about what those soft lips felt like … and well, you get the drift, I’m sure.
She wasn’t really attractive, per se, but she exuded loads of intelligent confidence and I’ll be honest, that’s a turn on for me.
“Uh, Ms. McCormick?” I had rapped a few knocks on her office door, her receptionist said to go on in, and she had absently waved me to one of her chairs while she finished her conversation.
I plopped my backpack down on the floor next to me and I assumed a comfortable, and yes, a somewhat cocky pose. I couldn’t allow her to see how nervous I was, right? If I’ve learned anything from chicks, they don’t care for the wimpy, indecisive types.
I hid my smile when I noticed that she did indeed notice me. And it went beyond the advisor notices her student sort of awareness, she saw me as a man.
It was going to be like taking candy from a freaking baby.
She cut her conversation short. Again, a good sign. When she replaced the receiver she made a show out of organizing some papers, I’m assuming papers about me, but I knew she was really checking me out.
If there’s one thing I excel in, it’s women.
“Hi. Troy Wilson, right?” she asked and I watched her nervously lick her lips.
“That would be me,” I said and gave her my most charming smile. It never failed to melt a woman’s heart and it didn’t fail me this time, either.
“So, what can I do for you?” she asked.
I leaned forward, putting my arms on my legs and giving her my full, undivided attention. “I’m having a little trouble adjusting,” I said and nodded toward the paperwork. “I’m sure you can see, I haven’t exactly gotten off to the best start.”
“Well, sometimes it takes a few weeks for students to settle into a routine,” she began.
I interrupted. “True. But I’m afraid that’s not my problem,” I said with a feigned frown. “You see, my mom passed away recently and I’m having trouble concentrating. I just can’t seem to get my shit together.”
Her eyes had widened and I quickly made a mental note – doesn’t appreciate cursing. “I apologize for my crassness, Ms. McCormick, but I’m feeling desperate. This is a big opportunity for me and … well, it was my mother’s dream that I graduate from college.”
Which was true, she had wanted me to graduate from college, just probably not exactly this way.
“I see,” Lauren had said. “Well, I can probably set you up with some tutors …”
I sort of tuned out the rest of what she said as a soft rumbling caught my attention.
Lauren paused in the middle of her speech and clutched her stomach.
I smiled. The gods were certainly smiling down on me that day.
“You’re hungry.” I stated. “Which is understandable, considering it’s lunch time. Tell you what,” I offered, as if the thought had just occurred to me, “let’s talk about this over lunch.”
Her eyes had widened and she immediately began to shake her head no. But I could see it in her eyes, her head might have been saying no, but her heart? Very much wanted to say yes.
It took me a while to charm her, but after fifteen minutes, she caved in and we walked to the student center and had lunch. We talked about my scholastic troubles, but mainly, we talked and got to know one another.
Our relationship progressed very quickly from that point on. By the end of my first semester, we were friends.
By the end of my second semester, we were lovers.
She proved very useful over the course of my college years. Our relationship had to remain a secret of course, she would lose her job if anyone ever found out, which worked out perfectly for me because that allowed me to date other women and there really wasn’t much she could say about it. Lauren was putty in my hand. Whenever I wanted something from her, all I had to do was pour on the charm and smother her with attention.
Lauren intercepted quite a few professors for me and somehow convinced them to pass me. I also used other girls to help me get through classes, but mostly, I just cheated. I got to be quite good at cheating and my methods were legendary. In fact, I taught most of the guys in my fraternity the fine art of “passing” classes.
Did I feel guilty for treating people this way? I’d be lying if I said no. There were times, especially with women who I genuinely liked, that I felt like scum. But I always kept my eye on the ultimate prize – graduation.
My father was insanely proud of me. He often bragged to anyone who would listen about his “prodigal” son. That probably hurt the most, the fact that I was failing to live up to his basic expectations of me.
My life was going as planned. I was on top of the world. I was popular. I knew nearly everyone on campus and was friends with at least half of them. All the girls wanted me, all the guys wanted to be me, and Lauren was obsessed with me. So much so that at times, I felt suffocated, but what could I do? I needed her, at least for a few more semesters.
Everything was golden. I had gotten so used to burying my guilty conscience at the point that I rarely even saw it most days. I had become someone that I didn’t even recognize and my lies and deception soon consumed me.
I didn’t even recognize the person in the mirror anymore. I had become a stranger to myself.
Though I despised myself, I continued to live my charmed life. Everything was going according to plan, until the night of November 2, 2008.
That’s the night that my carefully constructed world came crashing down around my ears.
Her name was Eve.
“I’m not sleeping with you, Troy.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “Funny, I don’t hear women say that much.”
“That’s because the women you hang out with are whores.”
“Whoa. Jealous much?”
Eve rolled her eyes. “Dude, seriously. I’m not sleeping with you. I’ll hang out with you because you make me laugh, but I’m not having sex with you, nor am I going to help you cheat your way through this capstone course.”
“I wouldn’t ask you,” I replied and looked dutifully wounded.
Again, she rolled her eyes.
“I’ve been watching you, Troy. I see what you do. I know what you are. And though I’m not judging you because God knows, these women ALLOW it to happen, I’m not interested in becoming part of your harem.”
“Harem!” I laughed again and then immediately sobered, pretending to give the whole harem thing a deep thought or two. “Hey, I think I like that visual.”
“Yeah, you would. You know what you are, don’t you.”
“No, but I’m sure you’re going to tell me,” I shot back while reaching out to touch her short reddish-brown hair.
“You’re a man whore,” she answered while slapping my hand away.
“What?” I laughed, but somehow, it wasn’t funny.
“You don’t charge, wait, you don’t charge, do you?”
“Just checking. Anyway, you manipulate these women, make them think they’re important to you and then you extract something from them. It’s not money, but it’s something else that’s of value, to you at least. That’s pretty much the definition of being a man-whore.”
I’ll never forget that evening. I mean, I’d had women who had lectured me about my unscrupulous ways in the past, but somehow, they sounded … more real when Eve said them.
Eve and I continued to hang out and she ended up being my best friend. I wanted more from her, but she wouldn’t have anything to do with me in that department. My friendship with Eve drove Lauren nuts. And I mean that in the literal sense. After several ugly, very public, scenes, the university decided enough was enough and they removed Lauren from campus. After that, I never saw Lauren again, though I did hear she ended up in some looney bin.
I feel pretty bad about that, if you want the truth. Hey, I’m a bastard, but I’m not a heartless bastard, okay?
It wasn’t until my senior year in college that I started turning my life around. It started with the late night phone call. I was with Eve, we were actually studying for an upcoming test (yes, I actually studied for that test because Eve would have written me off if I had cheated) when the phone rang.
“Hello?” Eve answered. She was silent so long that I looked up from my books to see what was going on. She had a strange expression on her face.
“It’s for you,” she said.
I reluctantly took it and steeled myself for the bad news that I was sure was coming.
It was the hospital. My dad had had a massive heart attack and it was unlikely he would live through the night.
Eve and I dropped everything and raced to the hospital.
“Dad?” I asked as I entered his room. Though my dad knew Eve, she stayed outside, giving us some time alone.
God, I loved that woman.
My normally robust, hearty dad looked like a shadow of himself. He had lost weight and his skin was gray and sallow. There was a tube coming out of nearly every orifice of his body.
I pulled up a chair and sat down next to the bed. I touched his arm.
My dad tried to lift one shoulder into a shrug, but the movement was awkward and negated by his painful expression.
“Too many cheeseburgers, apparently.”
“Ah dad,” I said and shook my head. “I told you to lay off the junk.”
My dad continued to stare at me for long moments, a tender smile curving his lips.
“Troy,” he croaked. “It’s time to do the right thing.”
I blinked. “What?”
“I know about the cheating, about the women.”
I started to open my mouth to deny it, but he weakly lifted his hand to stop me.
“Lauren called me. She told me everything. In fact, if it wasn’t for her, I’d have no idea what was going on in your life.”
I grit my teeth. Lauren! The bitch.
“Dad, I don’t know what she told you but …”
Again, he stopped me. “Troy. I’d like to think we raised you better than that, but I’ve had time to stop and think about my life, about our life, and I can’t say that. I pretty much ignored you, took advantage of your mother and now look at me, I’m dying and what do I have to show for it?
I don’t have friends. I haven’t kept in touch with family. I’ve isolated myself, shut myself off in my self-serving world because I was convinced,” he coughed, “no, because I was obsessed with inventing something that would make me rich quick. I wasted so much time…” he shook his head. “I’m sorry, son. I failed you.”
I didn’t know what to say. I just sat there and watched him as he grew more and more tired until he finally closed his eyes.
I thought he was sleeping; he wasn’t sleeping. He died and I didn’t take the opportunity to tell him how I much I loved him.
I changed that night. I became … a man, I guess. I started taking life a little more seriously and I completely cut ties with my old life. No more cheating, no more lies, no more women.
My dad gave me what I had been looking for my entire life: permission to succeed.
(The fourth story in this series will be posted soon).