A Stranger at the Door

We all know college is hard. We also know some people are pressured harder by their parents than others.

I was also thinking about the Prodigy before writing this quick piece. With their front man Keith Flint’s untimely passing, and now the recent death of their minder, Con, it’s hard not to think about the effect pressure has on us. In a lot of cases, it doesn’t create diamonds. In a lot of cases, it creates tragedy.

Just look out for your friends and family. If you see them working too hard, or see them stressing out about deadlines, or finances, or anything at all, reach out. You really just never know…



There they are with that music again, cranked so loudly the walls vibrate. It’s 1 p.m. Are they planning on partying all day?

This never used to happen. We had a very cordial, neighborly relationship before. An unspoken accord: you let me be me, I let you be you. It worked rather nicely. A courteous nod in the hallway, a quick word about how their gran was doing, and we’d go about our days in peace and quiet. No synthesized digeridoo or drops that border on the brown note. No Prodigy. No problem.

Normally, I wouldn’t mind. It’s just I have a huge test in a few days. A test that will determine my future, the rest of my life, and everything in between. Three long years. I’ve been struggling through law school for three… long… years. Well, twenty-five if you count the fact Daddy has been preparing me for this moment since I was born.

“You’re from a proud heritage of lawyers and judges, Caroline,” he’d say. “Do not bring shame upon our family through failure. You’re better than that. You’re a Callahan.”

Sure, Daddy. No problem. I’ll hop myself up on enough caffeine to start a cadaver and make you proud. Don’t worry about the heart palpitations or the panic attacks. “Those are only the side effects of greatness,” after all. I can hear it now…

Or I could, if not for this GOD. DAMN. MUSIC.

Okay, I have to say something. There’s no sense in getting myself worked up. They probably don’t even realize how disruptive they’re being. Besides, they seem reasonable enough.

As I reach for the doorknob, I change my tune. It’s not so bad. There’s only so much drum and bass someone can listen to before going off the deep end. Maybe I’ll give it some time. A small headache might be worth avoiding the confrontation.

I dance. I sing. I bang on my pots and pans.

“I think I’m losing my mind,” I say to Tom-Tom, whose calico fur is sticking straight up, his already bushy tail exploded like a puffer fish. He hisses when I try to scratch his chin, as if my inaction is, in effect, neglect for his well-being. “Okay, okay. I’ll go over and say something.”

I’m standing in front of their door, trying to figure how I got there. The snow is falling in swirls around me. There’s a haze to the air, a thickness I’ve never felt before. And it’s cold. So cold. Not mid-January cold, but surreally cold. Like, if I put on every coat in the complex and lit myself on fire, my teeth would still chatter.

So cold, when my knuckles rap on their door, I can’t even feel it. I can’t hear it, either. All I hear is the boom, boom, tsst, boom boom resonating from within. I wait, hands resting snuggly between my armpits. Nothing but the muffled sounds of Firestarter.

I knock again. And again and again. Despondent, I scream and kick the door, before throwing myself in a tantrum on the snow.

Then, I see Daddy. Him and his new floozy, walking down the lane toward my apartment. He’s wearing his black trench coat and his fedora. The last time I saw him wearing those was at Mom’s funeral.

“Daddy!” I yell, picking myself up and trying to collect the remainder of my dignity. “Daddy, could you please help me get these people to turn down their music? They’re ignoring me.” I give him my best pouty lips. If you ask me, I deserve an Oscar for this one.

He walks right through me. Right through me? Wait, what? That doesn’t make any sense. But, nonetheless, it happens. He stops shy of my door, fumbling in his coat pockets for his extra key to my place. I had it cut with the Cleveland Browns logo specially for him.

“I’ve got it, Daddy.” But I can’t turn the doorknob. It’s frozen shut. A few winters ago, when Hell practically froze over, I had gotten frozen out of my car, but this was ridiculous. “It’s stuck,” I say.

There he goes again, standing where I’m standing like I’m not even here. He unlocks the door, opens it to a darkened apartment, and I wonder if the power lines snapped again. They tend to do that when it gets this cold, and the power people like to wait until we’re all icicles before coming out to fix it. I follow him and the flat-footed floozy with floy floy into my apartment, feeling as if I were an uninvited guest.

There’s an emptiness to it. My couch and T.V. are gone. All the posters on my wall. Even Tom-Tom, the smell of Arm and Hammer cat litter replaced with… nothing.

“Daddy? What’s going on?”

I smile when he turns around to face me, but realize he’s not looking at me. He’s looking at his awful, horrible girlfriend.

“It feels so wrong being here,” he says, “without her.”

Without me? I’m right here, Daddy! Look, it’s me. Hello!

“I know, honey. It’s been hard on everyone.” Hard on everyone?! You’re a professional model, honey. The hardest thing you’ve had to do your entire life is pick out which bagel to throw up later. “But it’s time to move on. It’s time to say goodbye.”

Daddy is crying. I’ve never seen my dad cry. “I know. You’re right. But my girls… to lose them both in the same year is just… it’s too much.”

Her eyes—her big, blue, too-far-apart eyes draw together. Her lips purse and her nose crinkles. “Uh, but you still have me, duh. This awful ‘music’ is starting to give me a headache.”

He forces a half-assed smile. “You’re right. I’m sorry. We should go.”

No, wait! Don’t leave me. Who’s going to help me pick out new furniture?

“Maybe we never should have come back in the first place.”

“Dr. Blithe did warn you, honey, but hopefully this will help bring you closure.”

Before they leave, he tosses the apartment key on the counter, takes one last look around, and closes the door to my apartment forever, trapping me inside.

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