Ah fall break you’ve made it home and can finally relax. You fall back on your couch, prop your feet up on the table, pick up the remote and switch some Netflix onto the TV. Your phone buzzes, and you die just a little bit inside. It’s a message from your one annoying friend from home. You’re pretty sure you can just wait this one out and not respond. A few hours into The Office, and there’s a second message from your friend. You’ll respond in an hour. Just as you finish a season and go to put on 30 Rock, a third one pops up. “the worst possible thing has happened,” you respond, “I have the plague—a strain broke out at Duke”
You wake up on the very same couch with 30 Rock still playing. You have 2 messages. Your dog trots over, drops a ball, and nudges the ball just out of your reach. You get up to throw the ball and sit back down. Your dog sprints back. You get up and throw the ball again. Again, the dog trots back, but you stay seated. The dog lies down upset. You reply to your other two friends that you “lied on my Duke health forms about getting tetanus shots and then contracted tetanus”.
It’s 1pm. You haven’t eaten breakfast and make yourself a PB&J. Your mom asks you to go to the grocery store in two hours. You obviously say no. She begins an epic lecture on how “when you’re away at school she gets no time with you and it’s horrible. The very least you could do is to spend time with her at home,” and she ends it with an epic glare. You explain “I’d love to spend time with you here in the house.” She begins on “the importance of leaving the house to spend time together.”
You’re gonna need to make this sick thing more convincing. You take the car keys and dash out to that seedy lunch shop in town that’s given you food poisoning six times but you kept going to for lunch during high school because you’re incapable of resisting peer pressure. You go and order the fish from the front counter. You think you see your friend that texted you as you’re getting your order. Thank God you know the price by heart. You drop down a $10 and sprint to your car. Inside the car you take the steering wheel with your left hand and stuff your face with fish in your right.
You get home and lie back down on the couch hoping to nap through your mom’s grocery trip.
Next thing you know it’s 11 o’clock and someone you’ve ignored forever and REALLY don’t want to see texts you: “wanna hang ;)” you “can’t I have vertigo and mono.” You’re actually getting dizzy. Your first friend texts you and you go with the “can’t I have mono” excuse again. Wait, you actually sent that to your future whatever the phrase it is when you were obsessed with someone in high school and end up marrying years down the line. No, it’s not “high school sweetheart”. Whatever the phrase is it’s over now.
Why is your vomit green?
You wake up at 1 to a strong headache, but you don’t feel as awful as you did yesterday. Damn it you must have built up a tolerance to that fish. Another friend texts you. This one you can ignore. Your mom asks if you’re okay. “Not 100%,” you say. You’ll at least milk a chicken noodle soup out of this one. Something appears in the corner of your eye. You turn to look out the window and nothing’s there. You lift up a leg a little, and you can feel the sweat gluing you onto the couch. You clearly weren’t meant to get up, so you’ll take a nap to yet another season of 30 rock. You wake up at 7pm to the noise of the front door opening. You go to check it out, but nothing’s there. The cold chicken noodle soup on the table doesn’t look all that appealing. You remember you have Computer Science Homework, but take an Advil PM to forget about all that. You go to sleep in all your sweat and the soft couch and feel the warmth of the couch taking you, entangling you in ropes…
You open your eyes to the feeling of finally being rested. You look around you and you’re being dragged through your old high school in daylight by someone pulling the ropes around you. A bead of sweat trickles down your cheek as you enter panic mode. You start screaming, but it’s Columbus Day no one is around. “bump bump bump”, you’re dragged down the stairs and into the basement. You try to make out the figure in front of you. You’re brought into a dark room in what seems to be a cellar. You thought you’d explored every corner of your high school, but apparently you hadn’t. Your captor turns around and comes to face you. It’s your friend. “You’re going to reminisce with me and you’ll enjoy it.” Nostalgia, that horrifying beast no no no! “Junior Prom was the best night of our lives!” he says and you curl up in pain as you remember each horribly cringeworthy thing. Your once friend deals you 3 lashes.
Fall Break is going to last longer than you had thought.
The lashes of the whip accelerate until you’ve been hit more times than you can count and red rashes cover your body. Even when your ex-friend takes a break, you can still hear your screams echoing through the cellar. Your ex-lab partner who did all the work for you resumes lashing and breaking your skin again and again.
“Say one nice thing about Senior Prom,” says the friend that had set you up with a Prom date, but you refused to speak a word. All you could remember was the silent, awkward discomfort you and your date experienced while taking Prom photos. Your forced buddy from elementary school says, “Don’t make me repeat myself.”
Your lips close even tighter.
“One more chance; just because I’m feeling nice”
The person who you’d once pushed off of a swing set, now throws you against the wall and ties you in chains. A light shines on devices lined up against the opposite wall; devices that you can only assume will be used on you.
This angsty teen begins to waterboard you, and you start to shut down to the pain. It’s all too much. By the time your friend begins to whip out torture techniques that you didn’t even know exist, you can no longer feel pain.
Instead, you slip into a dreamy state between asleep and awake and between Duke and home. The assignments you have over the break, the assignments you had through high school, they all come rushing back to you. You run through the assignment-filled hallways of your memories, and you appreciate that at least you’re not doing any work.
You wake up on the ground to your entire body aching. The friend who you protected from bullies most of the time is gone. You’re no longer in chains, but you have zero desire to test the limits of your freedom in the cellar.. No, wait a second. Your friend is actually sleeping on a bed in the corner. You can actually see the keys to the cellar at the bottom of the steps sitting next to an empty Reese’s wrapper from one of the vending machines upstairs. Shit like this is why your friend went to NC State.
No need to test your limits now. You might as well sleep off the pain and leave in the morning.
You wake up to a loud bell. Your friend is somehow still sleeping. You catch some more Zs only to wake up a bit later. You walk over to the steps, pick up the keys, rejoice that there’s still some Reese’s left, pick up the melted, half-eaten piece, and make your way up the stairs.
You open the door and check the clock in the hall. It’s 12:59. Your flight’s at 4; you’ve got time. You hear a bell.
No, no you don’t. You panic as students bolt out of their classrooms in a massive flood. Sprinting to the nearest exit, you’re practically trampled in the stampede, but you have to keep going. You see someone you know and do the first thing you can think of: throw your hands in front of your face and run faster. Incredibly, you blindly make your way to the exit and can feel the concrete steps of the entrance beneath you. Felt it just a little too late, and you fall down the steps. You get up and start running home only a little more battered and bruised than you were before you fell.
After what feels like an hour of running, you reach your front door and once inside throw yourself onto the couch. Your phone’s still there and 30 Rock’s still going. Thank Gd.
2:30 means it’s really time to get going, so you pick up your backpack and your phone. You tell your mom you need to get to the airport, and in an insane stroke of luck, she decides to take you there no questions asked. In the car, you actually see a text from your ex-friend that says “great hanging with you”. This one you can definitely ignore.
Your mom had gone through 6 yellows and 4 reds on the way there, so you check in to the airport right at 3:15. Your heart’s racing so fast at security that you get pulled aside and fully inspected. At the end of the inspection one of the TSA officers still seems convinced that your heart’s a ticking time bomb, but that’s definitely just the ridiculous amounts of Panda Express you’ve been eating. Finally getting out of there, you sprint to the terminal and onto the plane, both gates closing right behind you. You take your seat, and they start driving onto the runway immediately.
You settle down a little in your seat, and the second you feel fully adjusted, your eyes open wide in horror. You’re suddenly slammed by the massive amount of work you neglected over fall break. Every Computer Science APT, every Essay, every Midterm you hadn’t studied for, every club whose emails you’d ignored, every friend who you hadn’t wished a happy birthday to on Facebook–it all comes rushing back to you. The anxiety of a night out, the packed feeling at Shooters, the fake friends, the pressure of the social ladder, the horrors of the Greek system, the insecurity, the loneliness creep back to haunt you again. A full, crippling pain runs through your entire body as this overwhelming realization that you’re going back to Duke paralyzes you.
And the message of it all hits you the hardest: You should have stayed in the cellar.