Thursday, February 19, 2009

Today's Big Challenge.

Today's post is a short story I wrote. This was the first story I have written, but felt like sharing it with you. It may not be great, but I enjoyed writing it. I hope you enjoy reading it.

Today’s Big Challenge.

Joey was an eleven year old and although he kept up with the age of his peers, it always seemed as though he was a few steps behind; more like a few feet. As everyone at school continued to grow, Joey seemed to stay the same. From grade to grade, Joey quickly became the shortest kid in all of his classes; even shorter than the girls. Everyone poked fun off of Joey day after day. They would shout at him, “hey Joey can you tie my shoes while your down there!” Laughter filled the room as the red rush of shame filled his face. Height wasn’t the only area Joey fell behind, actually, not even close to it. When Kevin, next door, got a new bike, Joey was still using his Dad’s old bike from when he was young. Kevin, next door, of course, made fun of Joey. After years of the similar scenario, Joey learned to grow numb against the negative words of others. If he were the trash can and their words the rubbish, he put a lid on and let their hatred pollute their own reputations. However, this survivor-like attitude is a lot easier to say than do. Joey saw it happen quickly. Kevin, the one man army, became a legion of young followers who loved the same antics as their beach blonde and blue-eyed leader. When Joey was minding his own business out in the driveway, they were ruining his time by throwing things and screaming false truths. Joey quickly grew smaller in more ways than just his height.

It was still the early weeks of school and the weather was still suitable for some after school fresh air. By four o’clock, most of the time, the kids of Royal Wood Acres rode their fancy bikes down the gravel road, by Mr. and Mrs. Delpot’s house, even though they were all afraid of the old couple. The sides of the rocky road were in surplus of dandelions and the little thorny plants that they all referred to has crab leaves. Rough terrain aside, they would all meet up. The girls would all stand around and gawk as they saw all the boys from class that they had crushes on. Quiet whispers of the daily gossip floated along the wind as though the mouths they fell from wanted to broadcast every little secret harvesting in the school hallways. Of course, no one was ever staring at Joey. Joey still showed up every day, even though no one was really all too fond of him. Joey would play games with everyone, but he would always be picked last. When his unlucky team needed him to pull through at the last minute, the sun seemed to strike a little brighter and blind Joey and the ball fell right through his reach. Needless to say, Joey had a lot of work to do to salvage his reputation.

Down the road further, was Dales Hill. Down Dales Hill was the neighborhood monster. They called it just that; Monster Tree. Monster Tree was a tall and rigid tree that seemed built just for climbing. Pretty much all of the “cool kids” have conquered the climb at some point, thus the reason they are considered the popular kids. Once someone reached the top, one of the little girls from their class suddenly formed a crush on him. Joey tried to climb the tree. His naturally small size and weak body prevented him from getting past the second branch. He’d almost get there every try and fall, usually skimming his knee. This time as tears filled his eyes, he would fight off the emotion and ride home as quick as his old 1-gear would allow. He cried; not because of the bloody knees or inadequate bike, but because of the laughter that haunted him every time he just tried to fit in.

Joey’s dad was a business man and he always seemed a little too busy to pay full attention to Joey. However, with enough hassling from his over protective wife, Joey’s dad’s schedule seemed to disappear with the slamming of his youngest son’s bedroom door. As he made the climb up the 13 stairs that separated him from an awkward conversation with his son, he thought about what could possibly have happened in an hour with his “friends.” Knock, Knock! The knock startled Joey and his tears started pouring a little quicker. “Go away,” Joey yelled as he was too embarrassed to be crying; after all, he was an eleven year old and that meant he was too old to cry according to his standards. Completely ignoring his son’s weak demands, Stephen opened the door and made way to the side of the bed, where Joey was buried in his safety net of blankets. “Hey buddy, what’s wrong,” he asked. No response, just heavy breathing and a clear and desperate effort to stop crying. His dad, hoping to grow absent in this situation, got up and headed for the door. “Wait,” Joey exclaimed. Like a rubber ball hitting a concrete block, Stephen was back on the side of the bed, eagerly awaiting the story.

“Dad,” he said, “why can’t I be like the other kids?” Extremely shocked and concerned, his dad stuttered, “What do you mean buddy? You fit in just fine? What makes you think you don’t?” “Everything, my grades, no girls have crushes on me (he blushed in shock that he actually revealed this to his father), all the kids say that I am a midget and think I am a loser because I cannot climb Monster Tree, Joey said” Stephen, almost heartbroken for his ignorance to his son’s situation wrapped his son up in a concerned stare and said, “Your size means nothing and you are just as good as everyone else, don’t let me hear you sell yourself short again.” Joey’s bloody knees almost seemed highlighted at this point as Joey peeked to see how bad the cut was this time. Joey’s dad quickly realized that climbing that tree meant more than climbing a tree to Joey, and apparently all the other kids in the neighborhood too. At a loss for words, Stephen provided a cliché for his son, but had a plan of action to make it worthwhile advice. “Joe, listen, you can climb that tree. You just need a little bit of practice, what do you say, I’ll take you to that tree and make sure you get a hang of climbing?” Half-shocked at his dad’s willingness, Joey dried his face and sat up in agreement.

As Joey and his father walked down the familiar path to his usual embarrassment, they shared, for the first time, small talk. Stephen never knew his son’s favorite color was blue or that he really liked to read. As they approached monster tree, Stephen looked a little bit confused- it was a lot smaller than he imagined. Of course, it was enormous to Joey who immediately was swarmed with anxiety at the sight of the tree. Stephen shouted to Joey, who was walking ahead of him, “You got this buddy, let me see you try.” Joey picked up his pace and started to climb the tree. He got to his usual checkpoint and he slid right down. Stephen was there to catch him. Through his observations Stephen had a list of what his son could do better and wasn’t short of advice while telling Joey. “Focus more; slow down, reach just a little further and you’ll get it.” Joey took all this advice, happily, and started climbing. Up, up…and he reached a new level of the tree. In his excitement Joey lost balance and slid to the bottom of the trunk. “It worked, Joey shouted!” Stephen satisfied with the progress he produced, gave his son a sign of approval and encouraged him to continue trying. Each time Joey tried, he climbed higher and higher. He felt that he was ready to prove his abilities to his classmates and tomorrow was the day.

He woke up a little bit earlier today. The sun was shining and the heat grabbed for him through the window. For the first time he realized how the light blue curtains flowing in the breeze looked like the clouds he would reach for today. The butterflies seemed as though they were fluttering around, making his finger tips wiggle about. He paid no mind to what he put on, as long as he could move about freely, he knew he was suited up to go. The denim shorts bunched up on his floor quickly became the uniform he would wear to feat this journey. Faded grass stains acted as proof of many previous attempts. Faded grass stains and wounded spirits would act as no weight today. Today was going to be the day. He was going to reach the top, regardless of what the other kids would say. Today, he would not let the fact that he was a wee bit shorter than everyone else stop him. Sure, he may get scrutinized, made fun of, but he wouldn’t let the words of other people shorten his reach. He would climb, flowing, like a river that isn’t burdened by any stone. Nope, “Today I am going to get to the top,” he said with so much confidence as he headed towards today’s big challenge. He was going to climb the locally famous tree on Dales Hill.

Each class went by very slow today, slower than usual. Although Joey felt like he knew everything, his grades would, as always, suggest otherwise. However, none of that mattered today. Joey did not wake up this morning and say “I am going to overcome my scholarly hardships.” He woke up knowing that he was going to prove himself to his peers. The final bell rang and Joey ran out into the school parking lot searching for his mom’s SUV. He ran to it, hopped in and encouraged her to drive a little bit faster today. As she pulled into the driveway, Joey opened his door before the car even seemed to stop. He hopped on his bike and headed for Dales Hill. Kevin and his friends were already there, armed with insults and brutality towards Joey. Joey didn’t care; he was going to drop their jaws today. When one of his classmates called upon him to climb the tree, Joey approached it, both nervously and confidently. Now was the time.

As the rigid bark of the tree first touched Joey’s skin, a rush of adrenaline surpassed the knots in his stomach. He gripped the first branch as tightly as he could, knowing that he had to get past it. Joey used his entire mite and climbed that tree. At the time in which Joey passed his usual drop spot, the mutters of mockery silenced at the fact that Joey got as far as he did. Out of breath, Joey solidified his spot and caught his breath. Kevin, annoyed with his progress screamed “Hey look, he is stuck; he’ll never climb this tree. He is just a twerp.” Anger took over Joey and in the mood to prove him wrong he climbed higher and higher. He had about four more branches until he reached the top. One, two…stop. Joey had to catch his breath and stomach, yet again. As he reached for the next branch something went wrong. Joey missed his target and slipped a little. In his ultimate journey to defeat, one ounce of fear ruined what he had built up and Joey quickly wanted down from the tree. Rather than falling and injuring himself as usual, Joey regressed down the tree, branch by branch. Humiliation stung Joey as much as the splinters in his hand, but he wouldn’t let it show. When he got back down to the ground, Joey didn’t do what he usually did. No tears, no emotions, he hopped on his bike and road home.

Something hit Joey when he hit the soil this time. He didn’t see himself as a failure; quite honestly, he was too excited about how high he got this time. He was more concerned with running home to tell his Dad, than to feel sorry for himself. The lesson here is that although Joey didn’t reach the top, he practiced and made improvements. Also, he was proud of himself so it didn’t matter what anyone else thought. Life isn’t about reaching the same points as everyone else; rather, it is about reaching your own destinations and finding beauty in those surroundings. Today’s big challenge was not overcome, but challenges down the road have become much easier for Joey now that he learned all of this.

**Picture credit goes to:


Louis said...

Very interesting story. The challenge is to put this into practice...

Anonymous said...

"As he made the climb up the 13 stairs that separated him from an awkward conversation with his son"--brilliant positioning here.

"In his ultimate journey to defeat, one ounce of fear ruined what he had built up and Joey quickly wanted down from the tree."--I understand that feeling...Many people can relate to this statement.

So've been holding out on us eh? Splendid work!

Nick James said...

Louis- Thank you and I agree!

Clay- You mean it? I wasn't sure how this would be you have like a million pointers for me? Haha.

Natalie said...

Well as a mother, my heart was aching.

I think the dad (Stephen) was excellent in the teaching of a larger lesson, you know the one 'about giving a man food - or teaching him how to fish?' Helping our hapless hero gain confidence on the tree, was a great gift and a great moral in itself. Don't pat him on the head, give him the skills to succeed. Well done.x

Nick James said...

Natalie, thank you! It is cool to know that, from a parent's opinion, that I've captured some part of a childhood hurt. Thank you for getting my story!