I spent a great deal of time hating myself.
I’d been told a thousand times over that my condition wasn’t my fault, it was just a bad mix of blood, a freak accident in my genetic code, but I’d heard it enough times that it didn’t make any difference anymore. It didn’t wipe out the burning anger and thirst for bloodshed that didn’t belong to me. It didn’t ease the guilt and shame when I left Nox limping away from a scuffle. The fact that it wasn’t my fault didn’t change anything.
So I was left hating myself.
On the other hand, I loved Nox, but I envied him more than anything. He had taken for granted everything I was deprived of: a social life, mental security, the ability to go to school or leave the house at all unsupervised. People terrified me, and the knowledge that I could hurt them without any consent on my part was even more horrifying, but I still longed for the life that Nox had. The ability to text my dad and tell him I was staying at a friend’s house for the weekend or just having a friend to visit in general. Being able to gossip about weird teachers and complain about how much homework I had for the weekend. I wanted nothing but to live his normal life.
Nox had no difficulty hiding his wolf spirit. He would come home and whatever time he wasn’t doing homework or hanging out with his friends, he would spend in his wolf form, romping through the woods or snoozing on the back porch. I couldn’t even explore that part of myself either; it was too dangerous to allow it to take control.
And so my life was a prison and I was its humble prisoner, forced into a lifetime of locked doors and shameful violence and a partial consciousness I couldn’t control. By what the time I should’ve been in high school, I spent more time in my room than anywhere else and most of that time was spent sleeping.
Even my room held solemn reminders, implications of what I really was: holes in the walls that had been patched time and time again, scratches that had been painted over on the walls but not the back of the door, new bedding and pillows when they were torn apart time and time again, and a padlock I’d installed myself to make sure the wolf didn’t get out.
I wanted to leave desperately, but everything beyond the walls of my room could be dangerous. Lives were at stake, mine and others. If I were to attack anyone beyond my own family, that would be the end of everything. Even if I didn’t do them much harm, if I wasn’t admitted into some science lab for testing, I would be admitted to prison. The world didn’t come equipped to deal with young hormonal high school boys who happened to turn into bloodthirsty wolves and attack at random.
And sometimes it wasn’t at random. My parents could never understand what it felt like to have another creature inside my head, twisting my emotions and attempting to rewire my brain. If I let myself go to any emotion, that was a lapse in control, a perfect opportunity for it to slip in and take over.
I was disgusted at how easy it was for me to lose control to the wolf. I spent my whole life fighting it and yet I still couldn’t stifle it the way I should have been able to. Sure, I could hold it back a little now. If I was at my peak, I could smother it deep inside for several days before it forced its way out, but it always did make it out. It would never tire of fighting me.
I think my parents had planned to pass down the family inheritance to me rather than Nox not because I was deserving of it, but because they expected I’d spend the rest of my life safe and sound, padlocked in my room like a beast in a cage. But hey, at least it kept everyone safe right?
The wolf wasn’t the only one who grew restless. I longed to be free, to lack this weight that constantly reminded me that it could all end in a moment’s notice. Nothing would change me, though. And nothing would change where I was.
And yet it didn’t stop me from opening my laptop and searching up universities near Sunset Valley. I didn’t know what I was thinking. Someone like me couldn’t go to college. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like sending me off to live in a confined space with some randomly assigned human, trapped on the campus with nothing but me to keep my wolf back. It was an accident waiting to happen.
I shut my laptop with a sigh, running my fingers through my shaggy blond hair. The sky was riddled with dark clouds that were just beginning to clear up and I wondered what it would be like if I could just decide to go outside and go for a run in the puddles left by the rain, what that kind of freedom would feel like. I shut the blinds and turned away; it didn’t matter anyway. I would never have that freedom.
I sat on the bed and opened my laptop again, pulling up a word document on which I’d compiled a list of universities with highly acclaimed programs in computer science and photography, both of which I was interested in pursuing. I stared at the list, having narrowed it down to a top three that were highlighted. It felt like staring at a list of deaths, a possible life that would never be. I couldn’t expect to be able to go to these colleges. I hardly left the house and if I did, I was usually back within the hour and accompanied by someone. I didn’t trust myself to be gone for two hours; I could never trust myself to leave for a whole year.
None of these colleges were in the area. One was in Bridgeport, one in Twinbrook, and another in a suburban city less than an hour from Riverview called Oakhill. I was most interested in the Oakhill one, which was about four hours from Sunset Valley. It was called Norrington West University and specialized in film and photography. It boasted small class sizes and professors who cared about their students. I’d sifted through every corner of their website and had filled out the Common App but hadn’t sent it to them yet. I had yet to discuss this with my parents. I would never be able to afford it without their help, but I was terrified of being told I couldn’t go.
I had told myself it would never be possible for me to even leave this house for more than a day, but when I thought about going to a university, I remembered I hadn’t had any accidents with my wolf in years. I’d kept it well under control on my own. I was even able to go into the woods on my own to release some of the wolf’s energy and regain enough control to bring myself back when it had tired itself out. I no longer needed supervision like I used to. That was progress, right?
I constantly bounced back and forth, contemplating whether or not I could survive in the wild jungle of professors and students, dining halls and dorm rooms, with the wolf as a constant unwelcome companion. It would be so new for me and on my good days I was sure I could handle it. On my bad days, I was sure I would accidentally attack someone. In the end, however, all that really mattered was my parents’ final verdict. I decided to go to them and voice my plea about a month before applications were due, giving me plenty of time to string out the debate if things weren’t going my way.
They were both sitting in the living room watching television when I walked in. Nox was curled up on the floor as he watched too. His classes were all in the morning and since he was currently going to the Sunset Valley community college, he was still living at home. I sat down on a chair and glanced at my parents. My father glanced back.
“Did you need something, Oliver?” he asked.
I felt my face lose its color as I lost my nerve. I wrung my hands together and looked away and suddenly I realized the whole room was staring at me while the tension seemed to raise like the temperature. I realized my nervous behavior seemed threatening, even to my family. I was a time bomb and they knew that I could explode without warning.
I cleared my throat and gave an awkward smile just to turn the tension levels down a bit.
“I wanted to talk to you guys about something important.”
The tension went back up. Nox hopped off his seat and left the room, not wanting to be a part of “something important.”
I cleared my throat again and my mom bit her lip, clearly on edge.
“I want to go to college,” I said. If I had been expecting some dramatic response, then their reaction came as a complete surprise.
“Alright,” my dad said, as if this was completely normal. “We had been planning to talk to you about this soon anyway. I guess first thing’s first. Did you have some places in mind? How about Sunset North University? Or maybe you could take some classes at your brother’s college? You don’t need to take a full time student’s load of classes. We can start off small, maybe two or three courses a semester.”
The hopefulness that my dad’s initial response had given me was immediately snuffed out. He wasn’t talking about a university to benefit my field of choice; he just wanted me to take some courses so maybe I wouldn’t be trapped in the house all day. He figured I’d be coming home every single day and locking myself in my room again for the rest of my life. He didn’t trust me to function.
I tried to work up my confidence and act like this realization wasn’t adding to my burdens.
“No, I was actually looking into Norrington West. It’s in Oakhill, about four hours away from here. They’ve got a really great photography program that I want to join.”
“Four hours away?” he said, and I could tell on his face that he was starting to watch his words carefully. He didn’t want to set me off. I awaited the denial. “Oliver, I don’t know if that’s the best idea for you. Are you sure you really want to live four hours away from home?”
I looked away. What he really meant was Are you sure you won’t kill anyone if you’re not locked in your room?
“I’ll be fine, Dad. I’m eighteen. It’s about time I get out of the house anyway.”
“Right, of course. I understand your desire to get out a little, but don’t you think going to a university four hours away and living in a dorm is a little too much for you?”
“No, Dad. I actually think I’ll be fine,” I said, starting to feel a little irritated that he was trying to bring me down. I was going to make progress in my life and I couldn’t let my father stop me.
He raised up his hands in surrender; I could tell he was walking on eggshells to keep me appeased. It made me feel disgusting so I tried to rephrase.
“Dad, please understand. I know I’ve been at home for a long time, but I can’t stay locked in here forever. I haven’t had an accident in years. I can control myself really well now. I haven’t needed any help keeping the wolf in check since I was in middle school! I really think I’m ready for this, don’t you?”
I was trying to keep everything as positive as possible. If my father refused now, he’d look like he didn’t believe in his own son’s ability to control himself despite the evidence otherwise. I smiled at him encouragingly. If I got angry, that would defeat the entire purpose.
“You’re a strong boy, Oliver. I know you are and I couldn’t be prouder. It’s just that… you’ve been homeschooled, bud. You haven’t been exposed to any of the stuff that a University contains. You’re smart, plenty smart enough to make it in your classes I know, but being in a dorm…”
“You just have to trust me! Please, Dad. Believe me, I know I can do this.”
My dad nervously rubbed the back of his neck and sighed. “Your mom and I will talk this over. How about we finish this discussion tomorrow?”
I knew that was my cue to leave and I sighed and nodded, standing up slowly and leaving the room while my parents offered half-hearted ‘goodnight’s to my back. I went back upstairs and flopped on the bed with a dramatic sigh, feeling as though that hadn’t gone as well as I’d wanted it to. I knew my parents would argue about it now and I didn’t know which one was on my side and which one wasn’t. I had lost control of the situation entirely, which wasn’t exactly a new experience. My future was once again in the hands of my parents. I depended entirely on them to make this vision of college a reality. The only other way to get there was to take out a student loan and pay myself through, but I couldn’t hold a job let alone pay of a student loan. I’d just become a debt slave and never pay anything off. That wasn’t the life I wanted.
I rolled on my side. Once again I felt horribly envious of Nox. If he’d come to my parents asking to go to a university four hours away, they would’ve packed his bags and sent him off with their blessing, but he’d chosen to stay behind in Sunset Valley with his friends. I didn’t even have friends to stay behind with. This was my chance to go and have a new life, to escape this loneliness for the first time since early elementary school. I needed this, but it wasn’t up to me. All I could do was wait for the verdict that would change my future.