Make your own free website on Tripod.com

Old at 21

 

Bert leaned over the computer, checking the various connections and preparing to boot it up again. It was fashioned of old parts, but still much faster than the last one he had made for his younger cousin. He couldn't wait to see the look on the kid's face as he got to play all his games that much faster. He stood back for a moment, enjoying the symphonic remix of an old video game playing on his computer's sound system at the other end of the room. He glanced across the room and happened to catch a glimpse of himself in his mirrored closet doors. He looked old. Not in his thick, medium height body, but in the face - his eyes.

He paused a moment to reflect on the sight of himself. "Look at you… trying to earn the love of a child. Pity that's the best you'll ever do." He sighed and looked around his immaculate, organized room. It was too perfect, revealing just how much time he spent in it. He was lonely. Despite all the time spent in that state, he never seemed to be able to grow accustomed to it. He wanted sons of his own one day; that is, he wanted them at times. Mostly he was satisfied with spending time with his younger cousins.

He had decided awhile back that he would accept the fact he would likely be alone for the duration of his life. While other friends were agonizing over when and where they would meet the right person (or how to convince someone that they were the right person) he sought peace. Worrying over things never helped them anyway, so why not accept that it wouldn't happen? Unfortunately hope had a pesky way of cropping up from time to time, though he believed hope only set himself up for further disappointment.

His parents were avoiding him again. The loud Japanese rock music and the presence of intimidating electronics in his room served to keep them away. They always said they were proud of their son, but whenever he displayed his tastes, they managed to give him a wide berth. It was probably better that way. He felt like Windows running in safe mode around them - no personality, no extra parts of him loaded or running that might cause conflict with them. It was amusing in a bitter way - they were supposed to be his all-accepting, all-loving parents. In reality he had to give them the only version of him they could handle. It hadn't always been that way.

The farthest memories that still stuck with him were from when he was too young to attend kindergarten. He had been a good kid, a ridiculously good kid. He could remember his mother nursing his younger sister with his two-year-old self playing nearby. His sister had shocked him by biting his mother. He couldn’t comprehend why someone would cause someone else pain when they were trying to help. For a good while afterwards, he had thought his sister was evil - perhaps he was partially right. He was a sensitive child, and extremely obedient. His mother only had to firmly grasp his hand and say "No!" and he would burst into tears.

This attitude served him well as he started school. There were no major problems in kindergarten, in fact he enjoyed playing with the other children, writing, watching puppet shows, and collecting stickers. He remembered the moral drilling that the school counselor gave with his puppets, meaningfully named "Can Do" and "Will Do." He remembered the aged overhead projector machines that were hauled around on rolling carts to display transparencies on walls for their benefit. Every morning the puppets shaped like letters of the alphabet that were brought out for them to ogle with wondering minds.

Overall he was happy during this time in his life. He was an apt pupil, getting only S's for Satisfactory on his report card. The only U for Unsatisfactory he received was for tickling a cute girl named Amy from under the desk adjoining hers and making her laugh during teacher's time. This was later changed to an S after considering his overall performance, and he was spared the shadow on his resume later in life.

The rest of his Elementary school education followed this pattern. He practiced no rebellion, full acceptance of authority, and extreme guilt at the thought of such misdemeanors. First grade sailed by much as kindergarten had. By second grade, some problems began to develop to overtax his virtually nonexistent coping skills. His teacher believed in yelling at the entire class for ten minutes at a time to punish the few miscreants actually causing the trouble. Little Bert was no hypocrite - on the contrary, he took every criticism to heart, believing that it was directed at him.

Life was hell at this point. He began to learn the incredible physical effect stress could have upon a 7-year-old. He suffered frequently from diarrhea, nausea, headaches, stomachaches, and all the suffering his mind could inflict on his body. Even his metabolism revolted against the chaos in his spirit and slowed, making him chubby while before he had been skinny. Peer pressure added to the problems with his teacher, as his classmates now had plenty of aesthetic ammunition with which to mock him.

Bert stopped reminiscing at this point and snapped back to the present. His reflection still mocked him with all the failures that he could never seem to alter. His stocky body had stuck with him since that terrible year in elementary school. He never wore shorts out of the shame he felt whenever he saw his thick legs. He never went shirtless due to the extreme whiteness of his geek complexioned skin, and the chunkiness that he could never shed. His feet had never grown past an unimpressive men's size 8, and with the lack of support his height stopped at 5"8.

His weight had always bothered him a great deal. It wasn't until he went away to college his freshman year that his eating disorder had finally become apparent to him. Once there was no one to monitor what he ate - he stopped. To begin with he settled for eating very little at every meal. If he was depressed or upset, which happened often during the college years, he often walked out of the cafeteria without taking more than a few bites. One semester his lack of eating was coupled with his fitness and wellness class, otherwise known as running sadistically around a track repeatedly at an ungodly hour of the morning with other sweating teenagers. That semester he lost his stomach completely, but was still not satisfied with his physique.

Even that did not improve things. His stomach slowly came back as his lack of physical activity counteracted the lack of food. By his last semester he never ate breakfast, and usually ate one small meal a day or nothing. Many days he wouldn't eat until he developed a headache, and if the headache did not come, he didn't bother to correct the situation. His record was four days without eating, limiting himself to liquids until his will power gave out. His roommates never seemed to notice his strange eating habits, and if they did, they were not concerned.

Third grade had been a good year for him, in contrast to the previous year. His teacher was one of his best ever - a middle-aged single lady from Pittsburgh who enjoyed kids. She tried her best to make school fun and keep her charges behaving properly through a reward system. Slips of colored paper she called 'coupons' were awarded at various points during the day when kids were acting properly. She fashioned her own 'bank' where coupons could be exchanged for any number of desirable trinkets. This was also the year that Bert had developed a need for glasses to correct his distance vision. Though many classmates again mocked him for being a "four-eyes," his teacher and his true friends never even noticed.

Sports had never been terribly high in Bert's interests. He began playing soccer for a six-year run starting around second grade, which was the sole exception. He had played T-Ball and some children's baseball leagues for a year or two, but never had much interest. As in most areas of his life, he was not particularly skilled - just average. Sometimes he would daydream about being more than average in sports. He would suddenly be able to accomplish physical feats that would cause his entire gym class to marvel at him. Of course these always remained the elusive daydreams that they were.

Being more than average was a constant deep-seated desire in Bert's heart as a child. He wanted doctors to perform some test, and discover some incredibly powerful and as yet well-hidden skill in his body or mind. Perhaps it stemmed from the way his classmates treated him. He was never part of any group, never a close friend with anyone. He was always the funny guy ™ that everyone liked but no one especially liked. He would never stay with any one group of friends, but migrate freely between the class, telling the odd joke here and the amusing witticism there.

With girls the case was much the same - friends with many, close to none. He always wanted to be noticed by one girl, and have special attention paid him that the other boys did not receive. He was shy, quiet, reserved, and everything that worked to get him ignored by the fairer sex. His contact with them was extremely limited due to his parents' beliefs on the subject. Girls and boys were not to be allowed near each other, especially after age 6 when the hormones began to kick in. He had a few male friends who were allowed over to spend the night, but female companionship of any kind was thought to be inherently sinful.

His grades throughout elementary school were the only thing noteworthy about him. He had no trouble in achieving straight A's almost without fail every year. This was nothing out of the ordinary for Bert's family. In fact, they quickly came to expect it and never rewarded his intelligence and diligence. Schoolwork came easily to him, and he was stunned when he heard the bribes other parents would give their children when they earned above average grades. Bert had always been an avid reader and tinkered with electronics, so he excelled in reading and science and gained from his study in solitude at home.

The degree of his separation from other kids slowly grew over the years. In fourth grade he was part of the only extra-curricular activity in which he would ever participate - the fourth grade chorus. Try-outs were administered in Miss Neighbour's music class, where they would individually sing such intricate harmonic weavings such as the birthday song. Apparently his pre-pubescent voice failed to screech too loudly, and he was accepted. By some miracle he decided to join the group, which met on a weekly basis after school. His graduation from fourth grade was his first memorable school ceremony, during which the chorus performed 'we are the young' and other touching songs of hope, love, and incurable optimism.

Enter the middle school. Cue dark, forbidding music and raise curtain on a hapless, awkward, chubby adolescent male. Bert hated going to school with a passion at this point. He had visited the fifth grade for a day during the previous grade, as part of a program designed to make it a less frightening transition. That time had been an exciting one, as an older boy named Adam showed him the wonders of a locker and various classes which you were expected to find and attend on your own. When he actually entered the grade for himself, the wondrous time went awry for him.

His classmates were no longer jovial and appreciative of his sensitive brand of humor and quiet exterior. He was now four-eyes, dork, geek, nerd, dweeb, and any number of other terms which were quite meaningless in any other context but held terrific punch in the new society. He learned the horror that is gym class, in which he must learn to strip to his unmentionables in the locker room in full view of his oppressive companions, and attempt to quickly clothe himself again in small, porous shorts and tee shirt. The trick was to wait until some other chunkier or more dorky kid was already stripping and being shoved and tripped while he undressed, and then while attention was elsewhere, to quickly change and leave. This strategy failed him on quite a few occasions, stripping away a great deal of his sense of self worth.

The popular crowd was always quite beyond his understanding, though never his envy. The gorgeous girls who never lacked in boys at their table attracted his furtive glances. The muscular boys who could start a clothing revolution simply by wearing a new style also gained a purchase on his interest. He could normally estimate the popularity of a person simply by the way they carried themselves and interacted with others. Those who seemed sure of themselves were well above him in social rank. He was friend to the misfits, and often tried to advise them on avoiding further abuse.

As Bert relived his past in his mind, he suddenly remembered something and touched his stomach. Then he touched his forehead, tracing the sideways curve of his skull to rest just above his ears. He could remember the physical suffering of his middle school experiences, and wondered that he failed too appreciate the relatively painless years since then. Every day of he had attended middle school, without exception, he would have nausea and constant pain in his stomach and a splitting headache. Starting from the moment he stepped onto the bus, his suffering lasted until hours after he had returned home.

His parents could not understand the reason behind his suffering. Apparently he possessed a complete inability to cope with the emotional stress inflicted upon him by his peers. Reminiscent of his daily difficulties in second grade, this new level of stress in turn caused a new level of chaos to wrack his adolescent body. Rushing to classes he would feel the anxiety in the pit of his stomach and concentrate on relieving it before the aching would begin and threaten to make him vomit. At lunchtime he would be forced to make an embarrassed trip to the school office to pick up his daily medication pills. These did much to calm his stomach, but he feared the attention of the perceptive kids in his class who noticed his daily pilgrimage.

His lifelong affection for video games as well as his tendency to be lonely began to worsen during this time. He had received an original 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System a few years earlier and grown quite fond of it. Spending long hours in front of it, eventually he grew skilled and able to beat the most difficult game after a few days work. In his own world apart from everyone else, he was an accomplish professional. He was good at something, and this actually gained him a few friends who shared his interest. One new 'friend' used him for his skill. Invited to the friend's house, Bert would help him with a certain Nintendo game, and end up doing little else. As he realized he was only being used, resentment grew in him and he separated from the 'friend.'

Hours after school each day were spent watching television and playing Nintendo. The "Disney Afternoon" had recently been introduced, and he would watch each show as it aired in order for hours. Dark wing Duck, Goof Troop, Duck Tales, Chip 'N Dale Rescue Rangers, and many others ranked among his daily regiment. His headaches sometimes took the entire afternoon lying on the couch until dinner to gently lift and let him move about freely without pain. His daily life became a pattern to be followed with little deviation. Wake, eat, bus, school, eat, school, bus, rest, eat, relax, sleep and repeat were the only settings on his life. He never attended any of the after school dances or other activities that would force him to feel awkward and shunned by his peers more than already necessary.

There were some children in the neighborhood that eventually encouraged him to spend time outdoors. His next door neighbor was often at their house as an alternative to daycare, and there were younger children at the other end of his street. His parents did not trust any of the children on his street or their households. Bert was rarely allowed in anyone else's house on his road, so much time was spent biking or climbing trees in the woody neighborhood. He was the oldest of the neighborhood kids who had any interest in playing - everyone else avoided the group and occasionally harassed them with drive-by super-soaker dousings.

As the end neared of his second year spent in middle school, Bert was in poor condition mentally and physically. The doctor warned his parents that if nothing were done to change the situation, their 11 year old son would have an ulcer in a matter of months. This finally prodded them to take action and remove him from public school. Several private schools were examined, and his mother applied for teaching positions since she had been an occasional substitute teacher at his public school. Finally it became apparent that the best course of action was to home school both Bert and his sister.

Bert again dropped out of his reverie and transferred his train of thought to his only sibling. She was only a few years younger than him, but worlds apart. Whereas he was quiet and reserved, she was outgoing, and often loud. Their interests also shared nothing in common - his being all things electronic and hers being music and group activities. Other greater differences existed because of the way their parents treated them. His sister was clearly his father's favorite and she often achieved her way over his despite the irrationality of the situation.

He remembered once during elementary school when he had been especially depressed. His mother had called the school counselor and asked if Bert might see him that day to talk things over. Despite his shame at being made to speak to a psychiatrist of sorts and let him invade his innermost conflicts, the skilled tactician was able to pull his feelings on his sister and father out of him within minutes. He could remember a carefree summer's day playing in his parents garden as they worked nearby. His sister had fallen down and was crying over some minor injury that she had caused herself. Bert walked over to check that she was alright despite her loud outburst of tears. His father rushed up, glanced at his son standing over his younger apparently helpless sister, and with a bellow of rage struck Bert on the thigh so hard that he fell to the ground. Bert was shocked into silence as he cradled his wounded limb and wondered why his father apparently hated him so much and loved his sister.

He did not hold it against his sister or his father. They were the way they were. Dad had always wanted a girl and he had gotten her. His sister was only too happy to take advantage of the situation and quickly became spoiled and undisciplined. His mother seemed to favor her son over her daughter due to his obedience, but this rarely showed as visibly as his father's favoritism towards his daughter. Even now his sister was a bit of a brat, so used to getting her way through force and argument, while he had learned to be more tactfully quiet and persuasive.

The ulcer never came. As soon as Bert knew he would never have to go to public school again, he felt overwhelming peace. The stress medication was no longer necessary, nor the many doctor visits to monitor his condition. He would spend the remainder of his schooling until college in the restrictive yet comforting walls of his own home. Friends from public school slowly ceased all contact with him. On occasion he would call one to invite them over after school one day, but more often than not they would have an excuse.

The final break from his public school friends occurred during the last year that he played soccer. For the first time, he was on a winning team. Unfortunately the team was not composed of friends with whom he could relax and enjoy himself and just play the sport. They were all athletes, the father of one of the team was their coach, and had garnered some say in choosing the kids who would play on his team. Bert had clearly not been one of his choices. He was the misfit of the group, who ran laps on the field with the rest but felt more pain as his lungs burned for air and his legs ached.

Coach was unlike any leader that Bert had played under previously. Foul-mouthed, arrogant, and loud, Bert could not help but dislike the man. When he complained to his parents of his problems fitting in with the team and coach, they were completely unsympathetic. "We paid good money for you to be on this team and play soccer again" were the only words of encouragement his Dad offered. Showering after a stressful practice and ensuing argument with his parents, Bert uttered the first curses ever in his life. As the tears streamed down his face with the water, he profaned his situation with every foul word he had ever learned, promising his parents that if they wanted him to fit in, he would do whatever necessary.

In reality he meant none of this and could not bring himself to be like the others on the team. They gave him strange looks and asked why he had left school. Apparently many rumors had circulated the school after his lack of appearance on the first day. Bert was surprised that anyone at the school had even noticed that he had gone, but quickly muttered some response as to his preference of being home-schooled. Practice that day was a scrimmage - a mock game of half of the team versus the other half.

To his terror and utter embarrassment, he was selected to be on the 'skins' half. He failed in trying to divert attention from his now shirtless, white-chest and was teased for the remainder of the game. His parents would still not agree to let him leave the team, unhappy as he was. He finally agreed to submit to the remainder of the practices and to play the first game to see how he felt then. Bert actually enjoyed the first game to some extent as he felt the familiar excitement of the sport. Rather than risk agreeing to play the season through with team mates he feared, he quit soccer for the rest of his life.

Now his time was spent almost entirely with his mother and sister at home. They found a group of other home-schooled kids and began meeting together on a regular basis. Pathetic as it was, these meetings were the highlight of his week. It was no coincident that the meetings were also the only time he was around girls his own age. He formed close friendships with another boy who began home-schooling a year or two after him, named Martin. The two shared common interests and were often at each other's houses.

Eventually another weekly ritual established itself in his life - the ice rink. During hockey season, the local ice-skating rink would offer public skating time as well as figure-skating lessons. At first to his chagrin, Bert and his sister were quickly signed up and began attending faithfully. They spent the entire morning every Thursday at the rink, skating with friends and taking one lesson that lasted less than an hour. Ice-skating was not new to him, but he had never been able to practice nearly as much on a regular basis. Soon he was able to maintain speed without falling, and stop whenever necessary.

His friend Martin began taking lessons with him eventually, so he never lacked for company. In addition he made many other friends who came back season after season. He met a younger home-schooling girl named Maureen who caught his interest with her friendliness. They would skate around the rink talking, occasionally teased by other boys who were jealous. Bert did not mind the attention in the least. After a time Maureen's family was forced to move, and he never saw her again.

Larissa was another friend that Bert met at the ice rink. She was almost exactly his age, and his mother immediately tried to arouse his interest in her. She was everything his mother wanted for a daughter-in-law; a pretty girl of good Christian stock, the daughter of a pastor. As usual, his mother's interest in his welfare was selfish, shallow, and ignorant. Larissa was actually in growing rebellion towards her parents, but Bert was not interested in her in any case. She was tall and gorgeous with long blond hair and blue eyes - and he knew she was well above his grasp even if she did interest him.

Besides, there were other interests involved that outweighed his. His friend Martin was quite taken with Larissa. It began when their skating instructor paired up the group and had Martin and Larissa skate together in a form of mock waltzing on ice. They were they same height and length of leg, so the two seemed a natural choice. Martin always wanted to practice skating with Larissa after that, during lessons or out. When not skating together, he would skate beside her talking, and Bert learned to let his friend follow his own interests, understanding his preference of company.

Eventually other weekly home school group organized activities began to come and go in his life. One such activity was the wood working group, which met weekly in Bert's garage led by his father and a friend's father. He enjoyed the time enough, though enjoyed it more when they were free to pursue their own projects. He had always been handy in any kind of crafts, and had the most fun when he was allowed to design and built his own model of a robot from one of his computer games. The projects that they were forced to create were not nearly as enjoyable, partially because they present no challenge to him.

He had never liked working in close proximity to his father in any situation. His father was prone to bursts of uncontrolled rage, and Bert feared these occasions greatly. He could remember when he and his sister had been only a few years old and bathing together, playing with colorful water toys. They had begun arguing over something minor, when their father came into the bathroom to quiet them. He quickly lost his temper over the affair and struck a plastic back scrubber onto the edge of the tub less than a foot from Bert's arm. The force had been such that the tub's metallic finishing had shattered and a small chip flown into the air. The mark remained on the tub from then on, a grim reminder to his father's temper.

During his early teenage years, his father apparently went crazy. Constantly nervous, verbally abusive, and especially quick to anger, they wondered what was wrong with him. Eventually through repeated testing it was found that his father had a thyroid condition causing the changes of temperament. He and his father designed and built floor to ceiling shelving for their garage and his grandfather's during this time. It was a nightmarish experience, as Bert learned that his father could not accept good ideas until he came up with them himself. He learned to keep his mouth closed, after his father flew into a rage over a broken screw and threw his heavy drill across the room into the wall.

Bert lost a great deal of respect for his father during this time. Always had he made great allowances for his father's many flaws, but his complete lack of self-control was pathetic in his eyes. After spending so many years learning to master his own emotions, his father's complete failure in the matter of his temper seemed utter weakness. Yet he still loved his father, despite seeing him for the tired, high-strung man that he was. Worse yet, Bert saw much of his father in himself. He knew he tended to be nervous and have a fearsome temper, and worked harder to combat that part of himself.

As he reached the middle of his teenage years, a depression fell upon him. For the first time in his life, his life felt decidedly empty. Despite his regular meetings with his few friends, something was missing in his life. The feeling first hit him when he called a friend to ask if he wished to play a computer game with him over the phone lines. This was in the time before the Internet and Online Gaming had gotten its start, and connecting directly to another computer via phone lines to play games was normal. He had played many such games with several friends before, as they all shared common gaming tastes.

This time however, his friend could not play - he was busy. He had a friend over, and his older sister had a friend over as well. The others could be heard clearly, arguing in the background over which movie they were to watch first, and all trying to get his friend off of the phone. Bert joked with one of them when they picked up another phone and tried to get rid of him so they might continue with other activities. After several minutes of joking around, his friend was finally forced to hang up on him after saying a hasty goodbye and goodnight.

A feeling of completely emptiness and loneliness encompassed Bert as he held the silent phone. He felt cut off from all friends, all activities, all life, and any promise of the situation changing anytime soon. He tried to understand how he had reached this point of abandonment. He had never been much of a people person, but he had always had his friends. Often he would have a friend over to spend the night, enjoying late hours of playing computer and video games and enjoying other shared interests.

He realized that none of his friends were female. For years his parents had hindered any attempts to become closer friends with a female by severely limiting his time with the opposite sex. They fully expected him to marry someday and find the fabled fulfillment therein, but were apparently ignorant of the steps necessary to reach their desired conclusion. Never had he been allowed to invite female friends to his house, or to visit them at theirs. Friendships between the opposite sex were not normal to his family - on the contrary, they were an extremely serious and suspect matter.

Finally he had arrived at the mid-adolescent years of his life as a home schooled boy. He felt desolate. He spent almost every night in the same lonely electronic amusements that he had learned over the years as a geek. Trained in the hypocritical art of knowing but one mindset and suspecting all others, his parents had separated him from the vast majority of his age mates. His family did not approve of dating, or youth groups, or any kind of activity involving the opposite sex that lacked a proper chaperone. Since they were the only adults who fulfilled their definition of 'proper chaperone', he almost never spent any time around females.

Good books had always played a great part in the formation of Bert's mind. He had read many books considered classical literature by his early teenage years, such as the stories of Sherlock Holmes, Tom Sawyer, The Iliad and the Odyssey, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and others. A deep interest in science fiction writing awoke in him with his longing to escape his depressing reality. As he began reading of more fantastic worlds that tempted his imagination, a hunger to write and create his own world arose in him. A world where he was someone special appealed to him, someone vastly different than who he was in his present reality.

Computer games also aided in his pursuit of alternate realities. He especially enjoyed quest games, where he could create his own character and make him everything which he himself longed to become. He began to play role-playing games for his Nintendo, spending hours developing his character and relishing the feeling of accomplishment. If only his real life boasted such progress as becoming stronger and able to battle fiercer monsters, cast powerful spells, and buy costlier equipment in which to array himself. Hours would fly by as his mind was freed from his reality and journeyed to distant lands and became a hero.

As usual, his parents did not approve of his interests. His father was not brave enough to degrade such pursuits outright, but dropped many hints and comments that stung just as badly. While walking past he would glance at his son's computer and question out loud "does that say spells?" Bert would mutter a muted affirmative and his father would walk off shaking his head and muttering at the evil creature his son had become. While playing his Nintendo for hours his Dad would lean in only long enough to greet his son and remind him "Don't overdose on that stuff, ok?"

He landed his first real job at Radio Shack when he was sixteen. He had held previous minor jobs as a janitor, gardener, and typist in previous years, but this was his first official job. The job seemed attractive enough, with all of the electronics close at hand in the store. His parents felt he would never succeed as a salesperson, jokingly saying to him, "you do realize that you will have to talk with people at this job, right?" Talk with people he did, as he learned to wear a tie daily (usually a goofy Veggie Tales one) and dress in a button-down shirt and slacks.

Spending so much time out of his parents sheltering grasp was good for him. His co-worker Kate was a veteran of the job, and good-natured. She also swore like a sailor at times - at least to his sensitive virgin ears it sounded as though she did. His boss was a likable grandfatherly man, who tried for weeks to get the well-mannered new employee to call him Chuck instead of by his last name or sir. He told Kate that he was a Christian, and she merely commented "Oh, Ron went through a stage like that - stopped cussing, stopped fornicating, stopped drinking - he's over it now."

The idea was unsettling to him, as he had always been taught that Christianity was a truth that changed people forever. He was beginning to become accustomed to being around people different from him by this time. The local community college offered a dual-enrollment program that allowed him to attend college classes for half price while still home-schooling. It was strange to pick up such trivia from the public-schooled youths such as how to mix a bloody Mary and how to keep policeman from smelling alcohol on your breath when pulled over.

His schedule was kept busy, but community college was the easiest part for him. The math courses of the past few years had been strict and more than prepared him for the easy community college math. On the first placement test he had taken, he had scored perfectly - and pointed out a mistake on the test answers. The counselor had given him a strange look when he mentioned the error on the test, and could not seem to understand why he bothered telling him, since he had scored well on the rest. At this point he had become a perfectionist, and little inconsistencies such as this one seriously bothered him.

After only a few months he was fired from Radio Shack. The irony was that it was no fault of his, but his employer wanted someone who could work longer hours. Between home school and college, Bert could only manage twenty hours a week. Losing his job was somewhat of a relief to his aching legs and tired body. For his last hour at work he simply played games on the demo computer - his boss had already fired him, so there was no sense in doing work any longer.

Part of the relief was also due to his difficulty in fitting in with the other workers. At sixteen, he was the youngest company worker in the state - possibly the region. There was also an incongruous difference in their personal values. At the Cellular One Conference that he had attended this became painfully apparent, when the company had hired cheerleaders to dance for the mostly-male workers. As the Washington Bullettes bounced and his male co-workers howled, Bert sat in his sit and quietly observed the amusements of his fellow workers. He felt little loss that he did not share their methods of amusement.