“A Need for Control” – Essay from Oct. 2000

I wrote this narrative 17 years ago for an undergrad class on communication writing, but it feels quite relevant today. There’s some #metoo and an appeal to normalize counseling. It’s also 22 years since three band friends died in a car accident.

Devon Donohue

CO 201 Davis C1

October 10, 2000


A Need for Control


The hot Dallas air rushed into the hallway as I opened the door to collect the mail. Norm sniffed around and wagged his shaved tail, lightly brushing my leg. “Jury duty? In Massachusetts? Look, this was originally sent to my freshman year address, Norm.” Two pointy ears pricked up at the mention of his name. “The Roxbury Court expects me to serve as a juror a full week and a half before the dorms open.” Sure, I had the option to postpone the summons, but who wants to sit in a cramped room worrying about missing class? The state sets the replacement date; I would inevitably be summoned the week before exams. So I changed my plane ticket and arranged to stay at my friend, Snick’s apartment.

My bags were oversized the day I left for Boston, although they had passed airline inspection on four previous moves to and from school. Upon arrival, Snick and I wandered the dark, wet airport parking lots for an hour, searching for his car. “It’s around here somewhere!” he lamented as we pushed my cart of bags through corridor after lonely corridor of Logan airport. “Hey Snick, it’s all good,” I replied. “I’m in no hurry.” And I wasn’t. This was a new school year, at a university where I knew people, places, traditions. I knew what to expect. I was in control of my life.

The mandatory jury duty came and went, so I had some time to kill. Snick worked long hours during my stay with him, but I kept myself busy. I continued with my summer reading. One day while engrossed in an Arthurian fantasy novel, Snick’s roommate, Alan, struck up a conversation with me. “Hey, if you like that kind of book, I have a few you should read.” We had never talked much before because he usually kept to himself and his computer. The next few days, I decided to make an effort to get to know Alan.

I had the best time that week with my friend, George. We met in marching band last year, his freshman year. He was the quietest person in the drumline until the infamous “yass” comment at a practice. Stacey: “Man, I didn’t want to get my white ass out of bed this morning.” Devon: “Your white ass? As opposed to a purple or a yellow ass?” George: “Hey, some of us have a yellow ass!” Everyone froze in a moment of political incorrectness until George broke into laughter, showing both his comfort with his Chinese heritage and with us as his friends.

The night of Survivor’s final episode, George came over to cook dinner with me. The aroma of steak and cheese quesadillas mixed with that of chocolate chip cookies and wafted through the living room as we sat down to watch. The premise of the show was that CBS dropped a random group of people onto a deserted island and videotaped their interactions. This show was something of a guilty pleasure; it presented an interesting group dynamic, but had a voyeuristic nature. “But hey,” I justified, “they decided to come on a show in which they knew cameras would be constantly monitoring their actions.” But we agreed that there was still something inherently twisted in the whole setup.

The next morning was like any other. I woke up on the living room futon to the sounds of Alan puttering around in the kitchen. I stayed tangled in warm covers for another few minutes, and then pulled myself up as he briskly walked to the door. “See you later, Alan,” I called after him. I gathered my toiletries in preparation for the morning wake-up routine of face washing and showering. The apartment seemed unusually quiet, until I noticed a noise in the bathroom.

Have you ever played a cassette tape to the very end? You should hear a faint whirring noise when the music is finished, but the tape is still playing. I heard a similar noise in the bathroom that morning. I looked around, or rather, listened around, attempting to find the source of this odd sound. It grew louder as I moved toward a shelf over the toilet.


A camera lens stared out into space toward the shower.


In retrospect, I should have looked for a tape, or smashed the camera. None of those things occurred to me at the time. I wanted to get out of there. I wanted to tell Snick what his creepy roommate did. I wanted to tell the whole world, because I knew I couldn’t keep this to myself; the image of that cold lens would gnaw at my soul. This violation completely shattered my sense of control. Feelings from another time rushed back from within my subconscious, from a time where I felt helpless in a situation beyond my control.


Thursday, November 2, 1995. The Dallas sky was dismally overcast; it was a gray autumn morning with a damp chill in the air. The leaves were finally giving up their desperate grip on the branches, and down they fell in a mass of brown decay. My high school band was en route by a caravan of student-driven cars to an elementary school to warn children against the dangers of drug use. We never made it.

Tripp looked as if he was asleep. His head rested softly against his crimson shirt. His eyes were lightly closed. His dark hair fanned across his shoulders. His legs were crushed between slabs of metal, no longer recognizable as his car. I didn’t know what was going on until Doug came to me, cheerful, levelheaded Doug, his face wet with tears. Even then, I couldn’t admit that this was really happening. “The white sheet is to protect him from debris, right?” But instinctively, I knew. The trunk of this Titanic, the old ’68 Chevy that his Auntie Jean gave him, looked like a coffin.

There was so much that I wanted to tell him. “When you chivalrously kiss my hand, or smell my hair and pretend to swoon, I melt inside. Do you remember the time when you sang Nirvana songs to me? I know you were doing it in fun, but I fell in love with your voice, your smile, your melodrama, your you. Your crazy antics gave me the courage to act with passion and without a care to what others may think. Before you died, did I ever express how much I love you?” But it’s too late. I can’t bring him back. I can never tell him what he means to me and how he impacted my life. I have no control.


Herbal extracts spice the small office covered with inspirational posters. The fountain of a Zen rock garden gurgles its smooth, wet song. I exchange a friendly “hello” with Dr. Pierson and sink into a cushy chair. “Devon, we all go through periods in our lives in which we feel we have no control. When you’re placed in a traumatic situation, your daily routine is crushed and your view of the world changes. But you can regain control by actively dealing with the resulting feelings.”

This year I decided to seek counseling. I decided. These events are bigger than myself; I need a professional to help me sort out my emotions and reactions. While I cannot always control the situations that occur, I can control how I deal with them. I can decide not to bottle up my rage, my sadness, my longing. I can decide to talk and to try to make sense of the situations that chance throws my way. I can decide to heal.

“He was very special to you, wasn’t he?” Dr. Pierson asks in her calming and compassionate voice. “Tell me more about Tripp.”




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