Upon completing his last semester at college, he had moved back into his parents house. He no longer considered it his home - it had lost its feeling of warmth and comfort through his college experience. Every semester or break as he traveled between his college residence and his parents house, he would undergo a sad feeling of disorientation. Wherever he was currently, that was his home, and he could know no other. Now that he settled semi-permanently into one location, he was left with much time to think.
Failure. The word had always left a bitter taste in Bert's mouth, especially when he used it to describe himself. As he considered his life, the realization struck that it could be seen as one long series of failures. Certainly he had failed his parents hopes of an obedient and loving son, like-minded to them. Never could he again be the son that they wanted to raise and had loved. They no longer considered him a fitting role model for any of the younger children in the extended family. He was a rebellious twenty-one year old who had lost his way and was suppressed within the family like an unsightly facial blemish.
The entire chain of events set about by his love for Jen had irrevocably changed him. The years of Christian fundamentalist training were yet kept alive in his perfect memory to forever taunt him. Whenever he made a decision against his parents wishes, he already heard their disappointment and scorn in his head. The illogical belief and ethics systems of his parents were ingrained into his personality. Sometimes he felt himself to be a schizophrenic, as the various parts of his mind would clash. Inevitably he would follow his own logic, forsaking his parents and bearing the pain and guilt that were immediately thrust upon him mentally.
His parents had succeeded in creating a child who knew their version of right and wrong. They had failed in creating one that would follow that system upon knowing it. He was a martyr of their own creation, who would repeatedly destroy the vestiges of his sense of self worth with their correcting wisdom, supplied with the utmost efficiency and effectiveness within his head. External punishment was not necessary - his failing family honor constantly berated his every act of rebellion.
It saddened him that he had sunk so low in their eyes, in more ways than one. Not only had he strayed from their ideological "straight and narrow path," he had failed their expectations of his life. During his college years he had barely managed to finish with just under a 3.0 grade point average. This was a great humiliation to the family, coming from a son who achieved near perfect grades in previous education. Bert knew that he had not worked his hardest during college. He must not have, for his grades were the indisputable evidence.
Many an argument had begun over his poor grades during his college education. For so many years his father had told him that they would always be proud as long as he strove to do his best. Unfortunately what he thought to be his best was not good enough for them, time after time. During college he had struggled with suicide, depression, and so many emotional and physical difficulties that classes were almost too much for him at times. However none of this was visible to his parents - they would not understand, and so he had hidden everything from them.
Still his performance was inexcusable, both to his parents and himself. Learning that he was not the smartest boy, and that many others could easily score better than he had taught him valuable life lessons. Feeling more intelligent than his classmates in earlier schooling had often been the only thing that was able to maintain his failing self-confidence. Now that this last pillar had been pulled from his emotional support, he was functioning with an utterly complete sense of worthlessness.
The trust that had once been given him by his parents was completely retracted. In their eyes he was capable of the vilest act of sin, and they suspicious of his every action. Since he had spent time alone with his now ex-girlfriend, they also believed that he had lost his purity to lust and was no longer a virgin. This realization caused him great pain, knowing how strongly his parents felt concerning abstinence, and that they now counted him a lost cause in this matter, when this was far from the truth. It was no use trying to argue with them, their minds were made up.
His judgement in every area of morality was subject to great skepticism and questioning. Their son had become worldly in their eyes, gone down the slippery road of destruction from Christianity to the secular world. With his growing interest in certain types of music, games, movies, and other amusements not deemed appropriate for his faith, they grew dreadfully silent in their criticism. On occasion they would remind him cuttingly that they were praying for him, leaving unsaid their great shame in his actions and hopes that God would restore their son whom they had once loved.
By this point in his life he was supposed to have found that special someone at college and been laying plans for marriage and a new life together. This was probably the most agonizing failure made blatant to Bert through what his parents said and left unsaid. His entire relationship with Jen and the slow and painful severing of that dependency on his part was nothing but proof to his parents that he had again been wrong and them proven right. They did not see the love that he still held for her or know the suffering he had borne near the end of the relationship, but instead held him accountable for his mistake.
While his friends had been finding the perfect Christian girls to take home to their families, Bert had lost his faith in love entirely. The grueling years of a distance relationship with a girl whose mentality was slowly deteriorating had made him lose any hope that God had planned any lasting happiness for his life. He still maintained a steady belief in a God who had an interest in his life, but he held no whimsical fantasies that everything would turn out well in the end. For all he knew, his life was a tragedy from start to finish, a complete set of failures that had been and always would be his fault.
Often he would lay awake nights in his bed, talking with God. Religion had never been something that occurred at church for Bert. At college he had hardly ever attended, finding no consolation in the strangers who sought to increase the weekly attendance at their church with him as a minor statistic. Bert learned about life and deepened his belief in God through studying his own life and the lives of the multitudes that surrounded him at college. He felt some lingering guilt because he derived no pleasure from praise music or attending church, but found it interesting to study the lives of those that did.
Often he found that the students who sang the loudest and most expressively were the least mentally balanced. They would appear to experience an emotional high at every church service, but were moody and depressed the rest of the week. Bert wanted no part of becoming an emotional addict, instead he learned to speak daily with God about his observations on life and current concerns. He felt that God did answer prayers, but assuredly in His own special way and time schedule. It had taken him almost two years of fervently praying through his tears on a nightly basis for the salvation of the girl that he loved. Eventually to the great furtherance of his personal faith, she had chosen on her own to accept Jesus.
He did not blame God for the painful severance of the relationship that had slowly followed this central victory. If it was not God's will for them to be happy together even after so much time, at least he would know that she would still meet him in Heaven one day. Bert felt that the sacrifice had been worth it for this knowledge alone. Never had he been one to force his religion upon strangers he met in the street, indeed he believed that this rarely succeeded and that evangelization through friendship and example were the only acceptable methods. At least he had brought the only person that he had loved to salvation.
His difficulty now was in deciding what to do with his life, such as it was. After such a string of seemingly unending failures, he was at a loss as to what to do next. First he had defined himself and his feelings of self-worth upon the opinion of his family. Next he had traded that for the unstable love of his girlfriend, destroying his reputation within his family for her sake. Finally he had lost her, and been forced to completely re-evaluate himself and learn to survive without any support but God and friends.
At times he wanted desperately for his hope to be restored. Most of the time he did his best to discourage any hope, since he fully believed that hope only led to disappointment in his life. Hope could keep him alive in the short-run, but over time it would be betrayed and cause him to fall. That was the nature of hope, it could exist on very little, but when it ran in short supply the results were catastrophic. In the argument of some, the absence of hope is complete destruction, but in Bert's opinion it was the only way to ensure his stability.