The Griswolds were an old North-central New York family. Generations ago, somebody must have come into a fortune, or maybe they had brought it over from the Old World; nobody really knew for sure. Whatever the case, the Griswolds had never had to wonder where their next meal was coming from. In fact, they were without doubt one of the most affluent families in their part of the world! Coming from generations of religious leaders, Mr. & Mrs. Griswold no doubt had great expectations of their boys, even though neither Duane nor Joe ( who was technically a little over a minute & a half older ) really wanted to have anything to do with the family religion, if indeed, with any of the family's traditions. They weren't even all that excited about attending the Griswold alma mater in the Fall, except that they would be basically on their own, far away from the watchful eyes of Mom & Dad. Even so, there were still plenty of uncles & aunts in that corner of the world to keep them on the straight & narrow!
On their tenth birthday, Joe & Duane had received the startling news that the family was pulling up roots in their home-state & heading for the warmer climes of Southern California. The boys, though they seemed to enjoy the change of scenery at first, especially those scantily-clad women who seemed to positively litter the beaches, they quickly learned to resent having been uprooted from their relatively simple, though rigid, life back in New York. Joe had begun to follow in his father's footsteps & attended religious training in California, but Duane had shown his latent rebellion right off the bat, refusing to have anything to do with 'those hypocrites'! Duane had always been the more outspoken of the two, voicing his opinion wherever & to whomever he wanted. He still knew of course, to approach his parents with a modicum of respect, especially when it came to questions of religion! Joe was ready to follow in the Family footsteps & planned to take several seminary classes when he got there, but Duane had his own plans. He had a mind like a steel trap & planned to continue his education in Physics: someday, 'who knows?' Maybe the Griswolds would have an astro-physicist in their midst!
To be truthful, even though Duane had his 'head in the stars', in a manner of speaking, his ulterior motive was just to get away from his family. Uprooted from his familiar childhood in New York, he & his slightly older brother had been forced to leave their comfort zone & settle into an area with a much larger & more diverse population. The schools they attended in this 'new land' were a whole 'nother story! Though they still resented the fact that they had been brought so far from the rest of their friends & family, Joe & Duane had both adapted fairly quickly, as far as appearances go, to their new environs. In fact, both boys seemed to excel, despite their obvious distaste for some of their 'neighbors'. Both boys got into sports, something almost unheard of in the Griswold family tree, though Duane was, by far, the most active. Needless to say, by the time graduation came around, it seemed that Mom & Dad's worries were over, for both their boys seemed to have assimilated well, almost as expected, Duane with his sports endeavor & Joe with his religious studies. ( They still weren't real pleased with Duane's choices, but at least he was still with them! )
Unbeknowst to their parents, both boys, however, were struggling, Duane moreso than his brother! The twins had never been really happy with having been dragged all the way out here, all the way across the country, just as he was becoming accustomed to the slower way of life, readier access to Nature & all their childhood friends. On top of that, to make things worse, both Mom & Dad worked most every day, so the boys were forced to attend schools about ten or twenty times the size of the one they were used to, plus, they had to fend for themselves till Mom & Dad got home later in the afternoon or evening. As you can imagine, as they surpassed their early teen-age years, they somewhat enjoyed the bit of freedom afforded them, but even so, these were some of their darkest moments!
As Duane dealt with his demons & fought to escape from his prison, Joe had his own battles to fight! Both boys had chosen different courses, or paths, but to their parents, they seemed happy enough with their lot in life. Joe seemed to be following in the footsteps of generations of Griswold men before him & Duane, well at least he would be attending the family's alma mater!
The closer both graduation & the promised freedom of their 18th birthday got, the worse things seemed to get for the twins ( the parents had no clue ). Drama at school was only intensifying, so that by the time these events rolled around, both boys were ready to pull their hair out. As usual, Mom & Dad had no clue as to what was brewing under the surface & getting ready to boil over, most of all with Duane. Even so, the twins were able to keep it together, at least on the surface, until the party!
The Party! The Day of the Party had arrived, bright & clear, with not a hint of the troubles that were roiling just beneath a calm enough surface. The sunny California weather belied the darkness that had begun to settle in both brothers. Mom & Dad, in a special remittance for their high school buddies, had almost graciously bowed out for the evening, trusting their precious possessions to a bunch of high-schoolers! In after-thought, probably not the wisest choice, but then, at least several of their teachers were on the guest list. They'd be good chaperones, right?! Well, as the case may be, alcohol flowed in abundance & the upstairs bathroom saw more than a few white lines being cut. The drug of choice though, at least on the lower level of the house, was marijuana, although, closer studies later showed that there was a bit more to it than that!
Joe never visited the upstairs bathroom, but Duane, once he followed his favorite giggling cheerleader up that long staircase, was never seen alive again! Joe enjoyed himself that fateful evening, though he felt more than one twinge of guilt & that he should have followed his twin up the stairs that fateful night. Later, after the effects of the party had worn off, he would feel, in full effect, the impact of what their evening of 'freedom' would have on the rest of his life. He would go throughout his new life, castigating himself for his choices that day, but the death of his twin would serve as Joe's wake-up call!
Joe ended up attending that university 'Back East', but he quickly cut all the religious studies classes ( or at least, most of them ) from his schedule. His parents, of course, weren't pleased with his decision, but 'Hey!', his twin, his best friend, had been ripped from his side, in the prime of his life! Plus, they were so bowed with grief that they barely seemed to notice, anyway. As Joe continued his education, he began to understand that Duane had conquered hid demons & broken out of his prison in the only way he knew how. In the process, he had unwittingly freed his brother as well!
Namaste' & Blessed Be!
Charles Haddon Shank