Two Hours On | Two Hours Off
PODIUM. The Netherlands
If even the most callow of his fraternity brothers could see Robert's heart, they'd know that he would never let these men down.
Party Animal Turns Captain
When Gijs told them Robert was going to be captain, the frat brothers couldn't believe it. Two of them laughed so hard, their beer sloshed out of their mugs and splattered on the floor.
Was Robert a strong rower? Sure. Super strong. But the guy was a maniac! Get him drunk and he'd do anything. How could he be captain?
Robert just shook his head. Four years under the same roof and these guys didn't know him at all. Robert Who Liked to Drink and Chase Girls, Robert Who Never Said "No" to a Party--was that all they'd seen this whole time?
Robert could've tried to set them straight, but nothing inside him urged him to try. Max and Gijs and Maarten and Jaap had each accepted him as captain. And he knew he was up to it. That was good enough for him.
How could the frat brothers see who he was anyway? They had no point of reference.
Bright-eyed boys from wealthy families whose worlds till now had been so charmed, so small, that they casually assumed everything they saw was just a variation of what they'd seen before.
Life was not a mystery. Its template had been laid out for them and funded, long before they were born. And since nothing unexpected--of any magnitude--had ever happened to them by this time, it was easy to assume that nothing ever would.
Life had already gone off-book for Robert. In high school, he had shared their expectations, but the starkness of his father's death had cast a pale, unflattering light on everything around him for awhile.
Now he knew that something unthinkable and completely unacceptable could happen, there was no going back.
When some boys lose fathers they love, the injustice and brutality is crippling. Even those who go on stagger beneath the weight. But Robert had to look out for his brothers and his mom, who was falling apart. Not yet a man, yet the man of the family now--it was up to him.
The boy looking out of Robert's eyes when he first arrived at the frat house was not the same boy who once learned his father was dying.
In two short, but interminable, years, any whiff of carefree innocence had been lost. If his basic urge toward playfulness and joy was still intact, after what he'd been through, it could only mean he was strong.
And that was the difference. The hard-partying frat boys, licking the salt from their fists and chugging down tequila shots beside him, were just enjoying the next stage of life: getting shit-faced on a Friday night, clubbing till dawn, then waking up in the afternoon beside some pretty girl you'd swear you've never seen before.
It was the next stage for Robert too and he loved it--maybe even more than they did--because he'd had a detour.
To get to oblivion now, he had to learn to leave something else behind, not to dwell on something, not to mourn. For Robert, it wasn't just oblivion, it was a reprieve--from two interminable years.
Once he was back on his own, away from home, Robert raised such a ruckus as a freshman that, even if he'd sworn off alcohol and become a celibate monk the next year, he would've still been known as a party animal to his peers. In fact, he did tone it down the next year, but the reputation stuck. "Once they form an opinion of you," Robert said, "it's impossible to change it." That may have been true, but it was also true he didn't really try.
When the upper classmen at the frat house accused him of being a careless party boy who didn't take life seriously, Robert's eyelids lowered slightly as he took them in. He didn't say anything. What would be the point? The words didn't even form in his head. He knew what he felt.
Whether he summoned it or not, a quiet self-sufficiency filled him up inside, whenever he was faced with this kind of judgment. In a few years time, that self-sufficiency would make it possible for him to uproot his life and move to Asia, starting a business from scratch with a Vietnamese friend in Ho Chi Minh.
The sense of aloneness that arrived with the death of a father would accompany him. And he was content to feel it. He wouldn't always say it was apart of him, but it always came along.
He feels it again on the ocean now, rowing with these men he's come to love like brothers, far more deeply than he ever expected.
His desire to prove himself worthy in this effort is, in part, an athletic ambition, but it's also a sense of pure loyalty and dedication to his friends. We are in this together and I will do my part. If even the most callow of his fraternity brothers could see his heart, they'd know that he would never let these men down.
And once again unexpectedly, he finds himself with new responsibilities. As Captain.
Only this time, when he hears the list of requirements, he feels such relief, he nearly sighs. This isn't like trying to be the man of the family in desperate straits when you're too young.
It's easier than that. It's rowing.