Burgess: An honest bildungsroman

“A novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character.”

My dorm room has an stand-alone air conditioning unit, and I am convinced that it is alive.

During the night, it is in the habit of making terrifying, rhythmic clanks that sound like a jet engine groaning to life inside a factory. After I’ve thrown off my blankets and walked across the room, I’ll usually cock back a hand to blindly strike at it (a strategy that works approximately 50 percent of the time), only to witness the racket’s cessation due to what I assume is some deity’s idea of a cruel and hilarious prank. In 50 year’s time, I doubt I’ll remember many details from my sophomore year of college; however, I am sure the nights I fought with that hellish machine will stay burned into my mind until my deathbed.

Coincidentally, this is not the first lasting impression an air conditioner has made on my brain. A decade ago found me on vacation in the Appalachian Mountains with my family, shut in a rustic cottage next to an abandoned stretch of highway. I woke in the night to the pulse of a similarly noisy air conditioner. For reasons that made little sense to my 8-year-old self, I was gripped by a pervasive sort of existential terror. Initially stimulated by unknown threats lurking in the rural Appalachian wilderness just outside my window, my mind raced on to deeper concerns: what if I were to die tonight? what would happen to me? is there a heaven my detached spirit would drift on toward? will my parents always protect me? what will happen when they are gone? will they ever abandon me?

Overwhelmed, I left the bedroom and found my father still awake, unperturbed and reading by the warm fire. I cried in distress and sat in his lap, where he calmly assuaged my fears: he promised he and my mother wouldn’t leave me for a long, long time and told me that I was far too young to be bothered with death. That would come in time.

Several years later, I felt stronger; I was more independent in attitude, yet entirely reliant on my parents for the fulfillment of my tangible needs. Fully absorbed in this state of mind, I took a walk with my father through the dense Florida woods one spring afternoon, observing the wildlife and abundant green sprouting from the marshy ground.

Noon sunlight streamed through the treetops; a small white moth inexplicably floated across our path. My father watched it disappear around a bend. “Have you ever seen a Luna Moth, Taylor?”

“No,” I said, likely distracted by my phone or some insignificant teenage thought.

“I always wanted to find one when I was younger. They’re huge; about the size of a small bird, with bright greens and stuff all over.” He thought for a moment, looking down. “My brother told me about them, but I never saw one.”

I latched onto that feeling. Despite my scant concern for anyone but myself during that phase of development, I empathized and connected with my father in that moment. I sensed that the fulfillment of his childhood ambition was more important than anything; while seemingly trivial, just a mild interest in some unusual species, it seemed indicative of a deeper, mystical human truth at the core of our existence and relationships. I’ve reflected on this experience ever since.

Oh, and somewhere between the two air conditioner incidents, I went on a first date, graduated from high school, found a job, enrolled in college. You know, the meaningful, important stuff.

Taylor Alan Burgess is a sophomore English major from Tallahassee, Fla. He can be reached at tburges1@samford.edu.

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