Chase Your Dream

by Chad Carpenter

“Do you want to run in the rat race or chase your dream?” Mrs. Kettleman asked from her desk at the front of the classroom.

        Kenneth, slumped over with all the spinal support of a slime mold, raised himself just enough to rest his chin on the well-graphittied desk. He was alone for this particular detention – the only one that got caught. “Huh?” he asked.

        Mrs. Kettleman repeated the question. Kenneth blinked at her uncomprehendingly. “It’s your decision,” Mrs. Kettleman added by way of clarification.

        Kenneth’s eyes dropped. “I don’t have a dream to chase,” he said. Though it didn’t seem possible, the boy squished even lower in his chair.

        “Nonsense,” the teacher scolded. “Everyone has desires. Even if they’re not particularly admirable.” She leaned back, and her chair squawked. “What do you like? What do you want?”

        Kenneth rotated his face down to the desk so that his nose squashed up to the side. Then he wrapped his arms protectively around his head and disappeared like an ostrich.

        “Kenneth,” the teacher warned.

        A muffled rebuke sounded from the depths of the boy’s hiding place. Mrs. Kettleman changed her tone slightly so that when she called him again it was clear that, while she had of course been joking earlier, she was now quite seriously requesting his attention.

        The boy reappeared, sitting up briefly and then slumping backwards so that his lolling head stared up at the pock marked ceiling. Finally, his spinal muscles regained control, and he made eye contact with the harsh mistress at the front of the room.

        “What do you like to do, Kenneth?”

        Kenneth exhaled as if trying to refill an airless room with the contents of his lungs. “Video games, Doritos, not going to school, ping pong.”

        “Oh, good,” Mrs. Kettleman feigned relief. “So there are things you enjoy.” Her chair protested as she abandoned it to take a seat closer to Kenneth. “There’s an unfortunate requirement that goes along with all desires, you know.” Kenneth stared blankly, so she continued. “It’s that you have to work in order to achieve them.”

        Kenneth’s eyes flicked upwards before he caught himself. He knew from experience that Mrs. Kettleman did not appreciate eye-rolling. “I don’t have to do jack to play video games and eat Doritos,” he said, hoping to distract her from his ocular transgression.

        “Maybe not now. Your parents handle most of that for you. But at some point you’ll move out, and then you’ll have to pay for the video games, the electricity, the rent, the Doritos, the doctor bills that come from doing nothing but playing video games and eating Doritos.”

        “I’ll get a job.”

        “Mmm hmm. At McDonald’s maybe?”

        “Maybe. A job’s a job.”

“No, I disagree with you on that point,” Mrs. Kettleman said. “There are jobs, which you go to to make some money – usually not very much. And they’re usually not very interesting or enjoyable. Then there are jobs, where you work towards something bigger. Towards something meaningful to you. What’s great about those jobs is that you tend to actually enjoy them. And they tend to pay more, of course.”

Kenneth dutifully paid attention, and he dutifully held his eyes in check.

“The thing is, Kenneth, that, unless you’re going to be a bum – in which case you won’t get video games and Doritos at all, – you need income to do the things you actually want to do. So, you can either get a miserable job that you have to spend a lot of time at because it pays so little, or you can spend your working time on something you do enjoy and also make more money so you can afford more video games and Doritos in your spare time.”

Kenneth sighed again. It may have been impatience or lack of interest. Or it may have been a sudden insight into the deeper workings of life. He didn’t let on either way. But Mrs. Kettleman didn’t continue, and it was clear to him that it was his turn to speak. He tried to come up with something and decided on, “Well, unless I can find a job playing video games or eating Doritos, I think I’m stuck with McDonald’s.”

“That needn’t be the case. School is here to prepare you for something greater than McDonald’s.”

“Yeah, so I work harder now so that I can work harder for the rest of my life? I don’t care about any of this stuff school has to teach me. It’s stupid and boring. I don’t care.” Kenneth’s voice rose as he talked. They were entering emotional territory.

“Kenneth,” Mrs. Kettleman started, then paused. She seemed to be struggling with something internally. “Life is work, one way or another. It’s long hours flipping burgers and dealing with rude customers, or it’s putting up with selfish children who don’t care what you have to say.” Mrs. Kettleman had a wistful look as she said that last bit. “Or it’s days and nights searching through dumpsters for a meal and shivering under bridges. One way or another, you’re going to have to work to get the things you want. But a little work now, in school, will set you up for more fulfilling work later that will allow you--”

And then he did it. He couldn’t help himself – it came so naturally. Kenneth’s eyes circled, of their own volition, up and around before returning to a less-than-impressed looking Mrs. Kettleman. He’d done it now, Kenneth thought. More detention.

But instead she let him go early. Kenneth slunk guiltily from the classroom but was in full sprint by the time he reached the school’s front doors. As he ran home, Mrs. Kettleman’s question repeated in his brain. What did he want? What did he want?

The answer, of course, was video games and Doritos. Definitely. And that’s what awaited Kenneth when he arrived at the empty house. He had a very enjoyable afternoon, with all his dreams fulfilled.