Friday, June 28, 2013

Writing Sampler: When He Was Twelve

           In an attempt to add to this website a short sampler of my writing, I have posted below my Scholastic Art and Writing submission from 2012. I hope you enjoy, and let me know what you think: 

        When Gregs was twelve years old, three older boys approached him on 
the playground. Was that Jorge? No, Julian. He couldnʼt remember their names 
exactly, but he had seen them before. They were the cool boys, the boys you 
wouldnʼt mind being seen with. Did they really want to talk to him? Their shadows 
preceded their arrival—growing darker and more intimidating with every step. 
Gregs twitched his brown mop of hair nervously. His shoulders tightened to hold 
his short frame as tall as he could; the shadow that fell behind him seemed puny 
compared to those that were approaching. He stared out at the world with all the 
dignity and height he could muster, wondering if they would notice that silly 
pimple on the end of his nose. Something like pride filled his inner being, but it 
didnʼt stay long; it was accompanied by fear. Was it Gregsʼ imagination, or were 
the shadows slowing considerably?  The boys werenʼt far away, but their 
movements were slowed by the accelerating swiftness of Gregsʼ own thoughts 
pounding around in his head. Should he run away? That seemed silly; he stood 
tall once again. Should he turn around? They might hurt him or they might help 
him. They might laugh or they might scoff. He stood tall, wondering if it were 
possible, they wanted to talk: to him! The world behind those three big boys 
slowly vanished into an unimportant mist.

  When Gregs was seventeen, a haze enshrouded him. There she was, smiling 
into his eyes. A leaf had fallen into her hair, he gently flipped it away and watched 
it flutter down into the short space between their feet. She smiled and moved her 
hand to her head abruptly, bashfully re-pinning a stray hair behind her ear. 
   “Thanks for helping me out back there, I really appreciate you standing up for 
me like that.” Her voice was just as beautiful as he had imagined it would be. He 
slowly turned around, left to right, wishing some perfect word would be 
teleprompted from the low hanging willow tree behind her. 
  “Oh, it was my pleasure...I mean not that they were bothering you, I donʼt like to 
see that. But, um...I am glad you, I mean... I. I am glad I could help out.” He 
looked up from his feet, red and searching for response. 
  “I know what you mean.” She was smiling comfortably now; he loved her 
comfortable smile. How long had he waited to introduce himself? She was finally 
standing there. How could he think of anything else? There was nothing else so 
real. Did he know this feeling? Had he ever felt it before—the feeling of being 
with exactly who you are meant to be with? No, this was unchartered territory, a 
cloud of joy in its purest form—unmixed with pride or self or fear. 
  “Iʼm Gregory but people call me Gregs” he blurted, holding out his hand.  He 
would never forget the pulse of energy that shot through him as she accepted his 
handshake and replied,
 “My name is Ellie.” 

     When Gregs was twelve, three big boys started talking to him. 
“Awesome” “special stuff,” all words he heard and yet did not listen to. 
He listened to their breath between whispers of promises; he heard betrayal 
amongst the sounds of beginning friendships. Standing a little straighter, he 
looked them in the eyes for the first time—desperately attempting to imagine 
kindness where he saw only empty brown eyes. He reopened his ears to what he 
wished to hear, and having fortified them with sufficient screens against reason— 
he heard it: 
   “We think your pretty cool stuff, yeah - and we have an idea of how you can 
make us real happy. You in?” 
   This must be great, they told him so. 
   When Gregs was nineteen, he knew what happiness was. Happiness was 
standing in front of her on their first date, on their wedding day, on any dayas 
long as he was with her. 
   “This means weʼll be together forever; you ready for that?” Ellie whispered to 
him under the droning tone of the preacherʼs nuptial sermon. 
He grinned, not listening to her words but to her heart:
  “Youʼre beautiful!” - it was all he could see. 
     “But I wonʼt always be. And weʼll always be together. Always! You ready for 
that?” She was concerned and it shone through her deep green eyes that would 
never fade, not even with age. 
   “Yes baby, Iʼm ready.” Ellie smiled and he knew: she was the kind of beautiful 
that doesnʼt fade with shrinking shoulders and thinning hair. Those little laughter 
lines would turn into wrinkles, and he would still love her.  He thought of them 
together, side by side in rocking chairs, grey and wrinkly and holding hands. He 
would always love her. Sheʼd see; heʼd make sure of it. 

     When Gregs was twelve, he knew he was making a decision that might mean 
ridicule or acceptance. He may not have had the words to say it, but he knew.  
   “Itʼs great man.” 
   “Have we got some good stuff for you.” 
“Think you could help us out... bro?” 
     They said they had something truly wonderful. Gregs knew what was right, but 
another feeling was creeping into his conciousness: what did he want? Maybe 
this was best; it certainly seemed pretty good while those three big boys were 
half smiling, half smirking down on him. And if it wasnʼt the best, did it matter? He 
was only twelve—he could make mistakes. 

             When Gregs was twenty, he stared down at his beautiful firstborn and 
wondered if the warmth he felt was the feeling of heroes. As an unbelievably tiny 
hand closed around his finger, he felt another flood of love shoot through him. 
How could he have been part of making something so perfect? He expected it 
would always be this way: their baby would always be tiny, she would always 
belong to him, he would always be there to hold her little hand. There could be 
nothing more fulfilling than just being there for that tiny baby girl. 
   “Darling” Ellie looked up and smiled weakly. He squeezed her hand with his 
empty one and then continued to hold on firmly. 
  “We started a family, can you believe it?” Ellieʼs voice had regained a bit of 
strength; she had wanted this for a long time. He had too, he just hadnʼt known 
how truly wonderful it would be. 
“Sheʼs beautiful...just like her mother” Ellie giggled, but he turned serious: 
   “Iʼm going to get that second job.” 
“Honey? But you didnʼt want...” 
  “No my angel - you rest. I do want. I want what is best for our family” 
   There was something special about that word—family. If the nurse hadnʼt been 
buzzing around the room making tests of everything, he may have repeated it to 
himself aloud one or two or seventeen more times: family. He could make 
sacrifices for these people who meant more than the world to him. No, it wasnʼt 
even a sacrifice. 
     When Gregs was twelve, big boys looked scary. The initial honor he had felt 
upon being approached was shrinking under their enormous shadows. Gregs 
blinked. Was it his imagination or was one of them foaming a little at the corner of 
his mouth? They seemed to be growing taller as every silent second slogged by. 
What was he supposed to say? He knew what they wanted him to say - 
something restricted him. He could hear his motherʼs voice ringing in the 
distance, all those warnings she had thrust on him throughout the years. Had she 
been preparing him for this moment? Perhaps she would expect him to run away, 
but he couldnʼt do that. His mother didnʼt understand what it meant to be a man— 
twelve years old. His mother didnʼt understand that he could not run away. 
    What would his father have said? Gregs shrugged away these thoughts as 
quickly as they formed. His father didnʼt care and Gregs didnʼt want to think about 
that. His mother didnʼt understand, his father was an unknown antagonist in the 
annals of his prehistory, and now all that he could see were three big boys—they 
were all that mattered. It may have been his imagination, but as they edged 
forward, their shadows seemed to form a dark wall closing in. 
    When Gregs was twenty-eight, he went to his sonʼs first soccer game. 
   “You need to stop crying. I saw you do your best out there, and I was proud of 
“But we didnʼt win!” This was heartbreak as deep as a six year old can feel. 
  “That doesnʼt matter. You tried your best tonight. You keep trying your best and 
you will get better. You have lots and lots and lots more games. What matters is 
that every time you try your best it makes you a bigger winner.” 
   He said other things; somehow wisdom seemed to flow freely that evening. 
Encouraged by his sonʼs big eyes and respectful silence, he continued to speak. 
His son was listening; his son believed every word he said. What a responsibility 
and privilege it is to be a father. 
   “You canʼt always believe what the other boys tell you.” 
   “Just take it man.” They must know what they are talking about, after all these 
are the big kids, these are the older kids, these are the cool kids. Yes, these are 
the cool kids. 
     The dimness of the hospital room perturbed him. Somewhere he could hear a 
strange voice:
   “Only family is allowed - Oh, it is the room at the end of the hall and on the 
right, the one with the white rose on the door.” Lights and beeps and hospital 
monotony faded behind three beautiful faces. 
     “I love you,” he told his wife. He meant it too, but did she believe him? 
Through everything he had dealt with, she had been by his side. He wished he 
could assure her. He wished he could be there holding hands at the end when 
their faces were covered in wrinkles and their hair was grey. But his hair was 
brown and his skin was smooth, and the end had already come. 
  “I love you,” he told his daughter. How could she be so tall? Had it really been 
fourteen years since he had held her tiny hand for the first time and proclaimed 
himself her protector. He had meant to be there for her—through everything. He 
had meant to give up everything for his family, but there was one thing he could 
not sacrifice: an addiction that was not even him. Now he could give nothing, he 
could only smile in despair. 
   “I love you,” he told his son. Gregsʼ son didnʼt cry; he would stand strong for his 
mother and sister. He was twelve, and he was a man—who had taught him? 
Who would be there for him when the pressure came? 
   “We won the game on Saturday Dad.” Gregs showed his pride by a exerting a 
halfway smile, he no longer had he strength for words. “It means we are going to 
the state finals...” 
      Gregs stared wildly into the faces of his beloved family, trying desperately to 
communicate all the years worth of words he would never get a chance to speak. 
   “Iʼm sorry” was all he could utter. 
   When he was twelve he wanted to be a cool. When he was thirty-four that 
didnʼt matter anymore. He just wanted to grow old with his precious wife, be there 
rooting at his sonʼs big game, and walk his daughter down the aisle on her 
wedding day. 
  But it was too late - because when he was twelve he took the big kids alcohol, 
and when he was thirty-four he died of liver failure. 
   His wife is a widow. 
   His son played without his support. 
   His daughter had no one to hold her hand down the aisle. 
   As the four boys strode confidently off the playground together, their shaddows 
blended into one behind them. “Finally,” Gregs thought, “I am with the cool kids, 
and I am cool”. 

    (Any thoughts, comments, suggestions?)

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