The phone buzzed, the number distantly familiar. I instinctively held my breath and took the call. “Ben,” he said… “It’s John, Ben.”
I met John in the fourth grade, and ever since we have been like brothers. A year younger than me, he acted old for his age even when we were both very young. In many ways, we were opposites and maybe that’s what fueled our relationship. I wanted the freedom he had and he wanted the security I took for granted. He watched R-rated films at the age of eleven and played M-rated games throughout fifth grade. I, on the other hand, had Legos, Kumon Math, and, “The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis” (educational software for ages eight and up). My parents kept a close eye on me. Spending time with John just made them worry, especially my mother.
With high school, John’s freedom increased and he got into far worse things than “Saving Private Ryan” at the age of thirteen. It wasn’t long before he started smoking pot and with that came the urge to steal small items from convenience stores. He was constantly in trouble, yet he always knew how to handle himself. He had the confidence and the guts I wanted. Unlike him, I couldn’t lie easily, and I certainly couldn’t stay calm when being addressed by an adult when I was in trouble. He was good at playing the innocent, and he knew how to avoid getting caught. I’d say he was street smart but that implies city living. John was “cul-de-sac” smart, he knew how to manipulate the suburban culture of unlocked doors, sleepovers, wooded trails, and the perks of being the son of divorced parents.
Sophomore and junior year brought police, more drugs, and a growing dependency on cigarettes, and the start of a separation between the two of us. As we grew older, we became more distant from one another – as brothers tend to do when peer groups and polar interests reign over family ties. But still, John’s growing indifference to me, the “younger” brother, hurt. Writing this now, I realize he was protecting me. Health classes always teach you to say no, to prepare for the day when you are offered drugs. John never put me in the position of having to say “no.” He kept me out of trouble as he dove in.
By junior year, John was taken out of school and put into rehab. It was like a member of my family was taken away in the night, without discussion.
In his absence, I was able to put our relationship in perspective.
He helped me grow up. I was and still am somewhat of an uptight person, but he helped me leave my bubble and embrace the world around me. I did things with him that I would not have done on my own – air soft gunfights, midnight bike rides, fireworks in the woods, jumping off roofs into pools, crazy things. Thanks to John, I learned how to let go. I was truly the apprentice to the master of “going with the flow.” He taught me not to judge, to be confident, and to relax sometimes and just let the randomness take me away.
Ever since I met him, I have tried harder to find the good in people. When others saw John, they saw a rebellious teen and a bad influence. But bias and nerves, I realize, often cloud first impressions. Today, I reach out more and make friends easier. There is a student in my high school named Matt. When I first saw him in tenth-grade Art class, he was one of the quietest and strangest kids I’d ever met. Luckily for me, about a week into Art, I decided to talk to him, and, after a semester of talking, we became good friends. Granted I still think he is one of the strangest kids ever, but he is also one of the easiest to get along with and possibly the funniest. If it weren’t for my relationship with John, I don’t know if I would have gotten beyond my “first impression” of Matt to initiate a conversation with him.
Knowing John has had a huge impact on my life. For more than a year now, he has disappeared from view – rehab having evolved into an out-of-state school for troubled teens. Until a late afternoon this December, a part of me thought he might be dead.
"It's me Ben, John,” the voice said on the other end of the phone. "John,” I exhaled, “…I don’t know what to say, I’m just so happy you called.”
How I Stopped Being a Ghost and Started Eating Sambal
Julian, my ten-year old brother, has an irrational dislike of cheese. He will not knowingly eat anything that has cheese, and in fact the simple mention of cheese may very well throw him into a fit. Bizarrely, one of his favorite foods is pizza and he will quite happily eat any dish so long as no one mentions it contains cheese. Julian’s predilection annoys me not only because my favorite thing to eat is cheesecake, but also because it reminds me that as a kid I had an even stranger quirk: I refused to eat Asian food.
A word of background is in order. My mother is Chinese, originally from Malaysia. I straddle two cultures because I am half-Chinese and half-Caucasian. As a child, I would go to Malaysia each summer with my family to see my mother’s relatives. As a child, I did not understand why my Dad would turn heads on the street or how he had the ability to stop people in their tracks. My mother had married a foreigner and in her small hometown of Bahau, an “Orang Puteh,” (white person in Malay), was few and far between. I did not make blending in any easier by refusing to eat Asian food.
One of the most notable aspects of Malaysia is the various cuisines to be found there: Chinese, Thai, Middle Eastern, Malay, and Indian foods are all to be had in great and glorious quantity. As my mother says, Malaysian food was fusion cuisine before fusion was cool. However, while everybody in the family was eating more and more exotic dishes, I would insist on Kentucky Fried Chicken or Happy Meals, no matter how difficult or inconvenient they were to obtain. The irony is that nowadays I actively seek out hotter and spicier dishes.
What caused this change of heart? I suppose a psychologist might say that I had an epiphany one day that my refusal to eat Asian foods reflected some internal subconscious conflict or denial of my true nature. After all, this was not about happily trying to “Super Size” myself, as I played hockey and baseball, sports where speed is essential. Perhaps the true story is more prosaic; the jury is still out. One of my uncles – ironically the biggest foodie in the family – became a very devout Buddhist and a strict vegetarian. So when we stayed with him in Kuala Lumpur, we then needed to find a place that could satisfy the many different tastes and dietary requirements of twenty to thirty relatives. That was when I discovered the food court.
The food court closest to my uncle’s house was literally the size of a football field, with the sidelines and end zones packed with vendors creating every conceivable form of cuisine. This place was wild. Indians were eating next to Malays, Chinese next to Australian ex-pats. Who or what you were mattered little; what was important was what you were ordering. There were stalls serving chicken and rice, seafood, noodles, soups, pastries, vegetables, satay, and even “French” crepes. I got to know the crepes vendor well and he would even start one up as soon as he saw me approach. After two weeks, I finally started sampling small bits of all the dishes being passed around. I was not really eating Asian food, I thought – I was eating French food with a few nibbles on the side.
One summer later, the nibbles got bigger and the crepes smaller until I was finally through the looking glass.
One Chinese expression for white people is "Gwai Lo," which means “ghost man.” I am part ghost; I am part Han Chinese. In many ways, I have been caught between two worlds, American and Asian, New York and Malaysia, listening carefully always but not always understanding where I fit in. However, food has become a bridge between these two parts of myself. In food, I have come to understand myself and am now one of the family’s more adventurous eaters. Crabs in sambal (chili and shrimp paste)? Send them right in.
Yet, for some reason I still cannot get Julian to eat cheese.
The Lord of the Van
It was a dark and stormy afternoon with a howling wind and rain that stung like lemon juice in a paper cut. A beast roared, spat and clicked beneath the hood of our yellow 2003 Ford Ecoline Van (School Bus Edition). Things were turning from bad to worse, but the engine was not turning at all. We were stranded.
Goddard State Park, East Greenwich, Rhode Island: not a happy place for a man, or a cross country team. We came, we ran, we conquered…and stayed. Our van would not start. As minutes turned into more minutes it was clear that our situation was not improving. What was worse, Car Talk could not be reached. We emerged from the safety of the fogged-up van and immediately split into two groups to find aid. One was a hunting party focused on finding sustenance; mine was in search of a jump, or a ride home. No one would help. We attempted to flag down a herd of yellow, steel behemoths as they sped past us, but our efforts were in vain. Their desire for freedom far outweighed their desire to help ten poor, desperate souls.
The hunting party was no more successful. From a distance we could see them throwing a plastic disc amongst themselves; a sure sign they had failed in their quest. Realizing the gravity of our situation and the futility of our efforts to save ourselves, I reflected on my life, and the last thing I had eaten. I remembered my last Oatmeal Raisin Quaker Oats granola bar had been an hour before, along with my last sip of Glacier Freeze Gatorade. My body was barely getting by, and the Quaker Oats man on the granola bar wrapper was glaring at me with those pacifist eyes. Knowing the low probability of my survival, I started thinking of the things I may never get to do. Would I ever break seventeen minutes in the 5K? Would I ever be able to finish my quest to find the food pyramid? Would I ever know where Waldo really is? Would I ever be able to invest in sub-prime loans?
Each member of the Marblehead High School boys cross country team experienced a pre-midlife crisis during those hours together. As we were all deciding who to eat first, a voice was heard coming through the speaker of an AT&T cell phone struggling to raise the bar. The deep, comforting voice of a sage fifty-something male was saying, “It seems clear to me that the car is stuck in gear and the solenoid isn’t able to connect with the hipbone of the Richter scale so what I would do is put the thing in neutral and then try to start it.” Coach put his foot on the break and yanked the shifter into neutral. The van was excruciatingly quiet while we waited for him to try starting it. “Here goes nothing.” He turned the key. Click, click, brrrrroooommmmm. YES! FINALLY!
You could taste the excitement in the van. For all we knew, rainbows were coming out of the exhaust pipe. We were going to survive after all, and Saturday night was not ruined. We pulled out of the parking lot, only a few hours behind schedule, and haded home. I turned on my iPod and fell asleep to the sounds of Guster…until I heard “oh man, what’s that smell?” We still had a two-hour drive home with ten teenage boys.
The Cruel World of Grammar
Ask your average teenager what they use to escape from the hectic life of high school and you’ll get a list of various sports teams, artistic hobbies, and musical instruments. Surprisingly, English class has always been this getaway for me more than anything else. I had trouble with the high school transition and as odd as it may sound, grammar represented a home for me, something stable and straightforward. As a sophomore, I began to play around with grammar; I stretched it, bent it, reshaped it. Last year, I wrote a paper on the role of anti-Semitism in The Merchant of Venice, which, if you had asked me, was fairly well written. To my surprise, I received a B- primarily due to the number of fragments incorporated into my essay. Apparently, I had mistaken AP English for creative writing.
By definition, fragments are sentences that lack either a subject or a verb. These are generally frowned upon and omitted from formal writings. They are taught in schools as the enemy, an incorrect, nonsensical string of words. Students are told to avoid them at all costs and watch out for them; to guard their papers with all of their (mental) strength. I, however, disagree. I stand up to this commonly accepted view of fragments as the “outcasts” of the grammar world. Just as in any social setting, I believe these so-called outcasts are simply underestimated and misunderstood phrases.
I say fragments are beautiful. They are the true keys to any reader’s heart. Fragments allow a writer to convey more spunk and attitude. They made final points and can create playful writing and more intriguing thoughts. They appear everywhere. We read them in novels and see them in newspapers, yet we are forbidden to throw them into our essay in a formal setting. Ridiculous.
We do not shun a dependent clause simply because it would not technically exist on its own. Instead, we just give it a demeaning name and surround it with supportive grammar. So why give fragments a bad reputation because they lack this support? Why introduce them to students as evil in a brainwashing attempt to slowly kill them off? I say embrace fragments; don’t fight them. Let me decide for myself what’s best. Show me a fragment. Explain that it is not necessarily accepted as correct, but that this does not matter. Teach me that it can be a useful tactic in engaging interest in my writing and that I now have a choice. I can conform under the pressure of the high standing grammar world, or I can take a chance and maybe dive into a new thought process; that of the fragment.
Fragments are admirable. They stand up to logic and prove grammar wrong everyday. Nearly every magazine article and newspaper column can capture fragments at their best. Short and sweet, choppy and funky. It’s what keeps the Average Joe reading, so why are we discouraged from taking on the challenge and capturing fragments ourselves? I don’t like the idea of limiting something that has often been my own personal getaway. Last time I checked, it was immoral to shove bias into the faces of students. I saw my English teacher as doing more than editing my paper and grading it by her sacred rubric’s standards. She was restricting the diversity of my writing and she, of all people, should be aware of the impact reading and writing have on an individual.
So don’t thank grammar practice sheets for raising modern day’s most successful writers. Instead, thank the open mindedness of these authors and journalists for they have accepted fragments into the family. They have learned what really creates a story and brings in the crowds. Fragments are just the beginning of this grammatical revolution and my teacher is not the only one fighting against the cause. Even while I was writing this, Microsoft Word made sure to identify all of my fragments as mistakes. Case and point.
I stare deeply into its red glowing eyes. 5:57 it blinks. I wait for it to come. 5:58. It never misses its cue. 5:59 I close my eyes as the inevitable happens. 6:00. AARRGG! And off he goes. Being awakened every morning by my little brother's punctual scream and my grandmother's response, "Jacob! Tranquilisate!" is a typical morning in my life. For a while now, I have stopped asking myself why he has to scream every morning. I've accepted that it's part of who he is and he has no control of it. When it comes to Jacob there are many things I have had to get accustomed to. It's easy to turn around and pretend he is perfectly normal six year old, but the fact is he is not. Living with an autistic brother is far from easy, but his life has become mine as well.
Growing up, I was an only child and loved it. I had the full attention of both my mother and grandmother. There was no sharing, no babysitting and I kept all the toys to myself. However, all that changed when I was ten and my mother became pregnant with Jacob. To be honest, there were times when I felt the cold stab of jealousy; nevertheless I was excited to have a younger sibling. After his birth I had to accept the fact I wasn't the only person my mother had to care for. Her main focus now was Jacob, but I loved the new found "freedom" that came with having a little brother. As he grew older, we started to notice his detachment from the family and the world around him. Instead of giving me hugs and kisses, he would distance himself from me. Was I doing something wrong as an older sister? Questions swirled around in my mind, but I received no answer from anyone which added to my lack of confidence. It wasn't until he was three that the doctors informed us he was autistic. Since then my life has changed completely.
I used to conceal from my friends the fact that my brother was an autistic child. I told myself I was doing my family a greater good by avoiding the questions that would eventually come from my friends. When distant relatives asked what was wrong with him I simply answered, "He is just going through a phase." But by lying to them I realized I was lying to myself; I felt ashamed of my own brother. Why did my family have to get stuck with an autistic member? It was hard not to notice the bruises on his arm when he came from school. It was even harder knowing he couldn't tell us who would hit him. It was difficult to sometimes watch him wet his pants because he didn't understand the concept of the bathroom. Why couldn't I accept him for who he was? Then it hit me. I was too worried about what the outside world "thought" of me. I was focused more on what others thought than on my job as a big sister to help my brother progress.
It was during the countless train rides that Jacob and I took to a speech therapist that I realized that it takes patience, support and understanding to deal with my brother. When I saw his lack of communication with children, I knew that I had to gently push him into the world. I knew I had to stop treating him as if he were a child with a disability. The path to recovery is full of bumps and Jacob will sometimes fall on his face. It's my goal to teach him to rise and keep going instead of staying down. As time goes on and I get closer to going off to college, I have come to appreciate Jacob. Never in my life have I loved someone as much as I love my brother - even when he wakes me up at 6 o'clock on a Saturday morning.
Not reveille, but the thunderous crack of a head colliding with wood woke me one early July morning. Big Mike, an eight-year old, overweight, asthmatic ball of energy had shot up like a catapult, only to receive a face full of top bunk from the overlying bed. With glossy eyes and a contused forehead, Big Mike incoherently shifted his weight and rose to his feet. I watched curiously as the class clown of my cabin unconsciously staggered over to his seedy secondhand suitcase at the foot of his bed. The frigid air coated Big Mike's skin with a layer of goose bumps as he defied all convention by dropping his boxers and turning his open suitcase into a portable urinal. The nine glasses of bug juice he drank during lunch evacuated his body and soaked the suitcase's contents. I froze, mystified and yet thoroughly amused. Should I wake him and risk his embarrassment? Or should I let him finish and deal with the situation in the morning? I decided to wait. Big Mike hoisted his boxers and dreamily returned to his bunk.
Cool morning dew blended unceremoniously with the warm stench radiating off of the musty suitcase. The aroma wafted towards my bed and hit me harder than Big Mike had hit the top bunk. As I attempted to fall back to sleep, the bugle echoed throughout camp. Morning music blared and kids were getting dressed when Big Mike shouted, "Yo Dane, somebody peed in my suitcase!" I told Big Mike and the other guys how I had mistakenly left the cabin door open over night. "A raccoon must've got in; I'm sorry dude, that's my fault. "Big Mike and the rest of my oblivious campers ate breakfast as I spent the morning doing laundry.
Eight years ago I joined my second family. At Camp Minikani I, too, wet the bed and idolized wacky counselors I only dreamt of one day becoming. Now I am that wacky counselor, an unexplainable role model in worn out tennis shoes and a beat up baseball cap. I am an extraordinary combination of doctor, lawyer and teacher. Each week of the summer eighteen parents - some doubtful, others relieved - leave their most prized possessions with me: a liable, loud, long haired lunatic. I am a blender full of coach, referee and teammate. I build trust between ten complete strangers, myself included. I help reveal hidden confidence at the rock wall. I am a guide in social adjustment while I undergo my own self-discovery. Together we construct unforgettable memories just as my counselors once did for me.
Minikani's effect on me has expanded far beyond just the summer camp. It has molded me into an outgoing, mature, and effective leader year round. The positive atmosphere at camp has inspired me to give back to my own community through peer tutoring and freshman advisory. My group presence and style of creative encouragement have made me an inspiring team captain both on the soccer field and on the ice rink. I have learned to take challenging risks in school in terms of which classes I enroll in and projects I undertake. I am eager to meet new people and learn as much from them as they have to offer; I have learned that a cabin of eight year-olds can enlighten me with imaginative ideas about outer space as much as a physics teacher can. I know I would be an asset to your school because I am a well-rounded leader who thrives in a community environment. I look forward to the incredible learning opportunities as well as giving back to the campus through my extracurricular involvement and leadership.
Big Mike, my other campers, and the rest of my Minikani family have influenced my life as much as I hope to have impacted theirs. Our learning together has helped me develop into the person I am today. Camp Minikani has taught me many life skills. I have learned to trust, to respect, to receive, to give back, to love, and of course, how to do laundry.
Teenagers with cell phones: Kyocera, Motorola, Nextel, Nokia and Siemens. For some reason, the ability to stay in touch has created not an increase in awareness, but a rise in pointless banter. My classmates clutch their cell phones as life lines to their security, proof to themselves that they have fit into their niches. They give speeches to their phones; they lecture for everyone to hear. They stare at tiny screens, scrolling through their lengthy contact lists or games. Cell phones allow us always to be in touch, in demand and never alone. We avoid branching out to the stranger next to us when we isolate ourselves to our circuitry. We could take a small risk by putting the phone down and watching the scrolling world. Instead, we would rather be thoroughly immersed in our own security and contrived illusions of popularity.
My contact list is bound with glue and thread. It has a cover. I must be an old-fashioned 17 year old. Caricatures line the margins, and its members are listed as I choose, without automation. It is not lengthy or meaningless, rather it is very personal. My reason for this is certainly a result of what I value, but it is probably more related to the fact that I am severely hearing impaired. I was born with almost no hearing, but enough to function with the use of hearing aids.
When I was little, I did not view my disability as something that detrimentally affected me; however, I also did not realize that brewing in the subtext of my personality, this ailment would create an immeasurable benefit. I have gone through life observing my surroundings and watching cues carefully, noticing subtle interactions and understanding people beyond their words. I have been forced to rely on face-to-face relationships and come to realize that communicating with people is not something we do on the phone; it is something we do in person. Human contact never falters in revealing a person's true feelings. The telephone has only emulated these feelings to a lesser extent, even if sometimes fairly accurately. Still, people should meet; they should notice the swagger that one uses when happy or withdrawn posture when sad or shy.
Of course, it takes risk to leave yourself exposed in person. Life is about risk. It's about wrestling when you're 96 pounds and can't hear the whistle; it's about dancing when you can't hear the music; it's about being vocal even when you sound different. As I have learned, it's not about hearing. It's telling yourself that the obstacle isn't the whistle, or music, or inability to talk on the phone. It's about realizing that sometimes life's problem is a gift.
You can make almost anything out of LEGOs. You can build miniature spaceships, colorful forts, or cities of blocky skyscrapers that span the basement floor. My favorite was constructing ancient, booby-trapped temples like the ones from Indiana Jones.
In elementary school, I was fanatical about my LEGOs. I would build the medieval castle, complete with the moat and the drawbridge and guard stations and the throne room for the king and queen and their royal dog, Patches. (Coincidentally, Patches was also the name of my dog.) I would kneel for hours, hunched over the hundreds of blocks spread over the carpet, to select just the right piece for each part of the structure.
Once the castle walls were erected and the knights on horseback were set to approach from the other side of the moat, I was done. I didn't really play with the castle afterward. I moved it to the corner so that my sister's Barbie convertible wouldn't crash into it and ruin my little "Ages 3 and Up" masterpiece.
Looking back on my childhood, I was a bizarrely obsessive little kid. For days after building a fort or a spaceship, I would stop and examine that every plastic block was still in place. It's strange to think that between the age of riding a tricycle and the age of driving a car, I am, in some ways, exactly the same. I don't play with LEGOs anymore, but I am a construction worker of types. Now I write essays and stories and newspaper articles, and I approach it with the same compulsion.
Every word is painstakingly selected with the same intensity I exerted as a child choosing the right color block. Every phrase is turned around and around in my head like arranging the walls of the castle gate. Every sentence is examined for its structural quality. At my desk — like kneeling over my rug — I craft meticulously.
By writing, I hope to create the grand and intricate images in my mind, to give them some physical incarnation. Inked on a page, a nebulous mass of related thoughts can be forged into something real. A story or essay can be erected as the fulfillment of a single concept. My gratification comes from being able to perfectly embody an idea. This can be frustrating because I've never written anything close to perfect. For as much as I agonize over my words and methodically rework every draft, my ideal eludes me. Still, I return to my desk and keep writing, editing, and rewriting because if I don't return to my desk, I'm sure I'll never write the essays, stories, and newspaper articles that I know I want to write.
You can make almost anything out of words. You can build planet-sized spaceships, long-lost medieval castles, or cities of glass structures that pierce the clouds. If my construction work is solid enough, I believe I will be able to make these worlds — real and imaginary — come alive on paper the way they did on the rug of my basement. So I continue to build — block by block, word by word, sentence by sentence — in the hope that I will end up with something I can put to the side of my desk and examine every once in a while to see that every word fits in place.
Do you remember how kindergarten was? Everyone would play together. Sometimes you didn't even know the person's name, but if she was in the sandbox too, you were friends. I don't know when, but somewhere along the way we begin to change. We start noticing each other's differences. People react to the varying personalities and upbringings they encounter in others. Some don't notice them; some notice them but accept them. Others fear them and some ridicule them. I think most children ridicule because it's easy and instinctive. Whatever the reason, when it starts to happen, that happy classroom full of bubbly little kindergartners playing together is destroyed, and the magic doesn't come back. . .
The old rust from the porch swing rubbed steadily as we sat there, motionless. I didn't know what to say and neither did he. It was a long, sultry day in the middle of May and the irritating gnats were buzzing, while my long brown ponytail stuck to the nape of my neck. But as far as we were concerned, our worlds had come to an end. And it wasn't the gnats, nor was it my brown ponytail. "Can't you think of anything reasonable to say?" I thought to myself, "You've been best friends forever, and you knew her death was inevitable. She'd been battling the cancer for two years." But, of course, no words formed on my tongue, so nothing came out. And he just sat there, void of any facial expression or emotion -- I couldn't blame him. She wasn't just his mother; she was also mine. She read me Goodnight Moon when I slept over, and she made me peanut butter and jelly sandwiches just the way I like them -- with chunky peanut butter, not smooth. So, we sat there, the two of us, for the rest of the afternoon and into the night listening to our silence -- the loudest sound of all. Just like it had always been -- Sarah and Michael.
"Saraaaaah. . .," he whined into the receiver, "I'm sorry, but I really can't. She asked me out," he stated, as though she having asked him somehow made the blow less severe.
"Listen," I replied, "it's fine, really. I'll just find someone else to give the ticket to. Everyone is dying to see the concert. I'm sure it'll be cake finding someone else to go. Have a good time with her," I said as I hung up the receiver. I stood there, shocked. I couldn't believe that he was ditching me and the Counting Crows for a date with some bimbo who spends her time shopping, weighing herself and having deep, intellectual conversations about Prada purses and Steve Madden shoes. The real issue at hand, though, was that these girls knew who I was: "Miss I-Have-An-Opinion-About-Everything." I had beliefs and was never afraid to voice them. No, not opinions on the ideal weight for a 5'7" model, but opinions on abortion, our role in the Middle East and why Sylvia Plath's literature far supercedes that of Ernest Hemingway. As one can see, this slight disparity between ideal weights and Israel was enough for "the girls" and myself to never really converse -- which was precisely why I had no idea what they wanted from Michael. He and I shared this love for all issues regarding the world. We spent countless nights on his rooftop drinking vanilla milkshakes and arguing over the validity of religion, not the validity of Kate Spade purses. So what were these girls plotting? I didn't know it at the time, partly because I was so young and na?ve, and partly because I was late for the Counting Crows, but this was only the beginning.
Less than a month later, everything had changed. Michael had dated every girl in that clique and got "cooler" as each day went by, but he drifted farther and farther away from me.
"Eww . . .look who it is; it's the book-worm!" they would shout, with Michael standing right beside them, his head down looking at the ground, his hands fidgeting in his pockets. One day when the routine teasing had stopped, one girl turned to Michael and said, "She is a loser! Don't you think, Michael?" And without looking up at me, he mumbled, "Yes."
Of course, as time progressed, the hassling dwindled. They realized it wasn't bothering me, and I wasn't submitting to their pettiness. But never again did Michael and I get to add another page to our book of life-altering moments. He wasn't the Michael who sat on my porch. He wasn't the Michael who shared my childhood. He had become someone I no longer knew.
Now, when I pass Michael in the school hallways, we don't so much as glance at each other. That portion of our lives is long over. But if I'm working at the library, shelving books, and come upon Goodnight Moon, or if I'm babysitting and making Cameron his favorite -- a peanut butter sandwich -- or if I'm in my car listening to the Counting Crows -- still my favorite, I'll think of Michael. My memories are nothing but good -- why wouldn't they be? Here is the boy who gave me friendship, showed me fun and taught me how to be my own person and always do things for myself. Yes, people do change. Michael showed me that people value different things, and people want different things out of life. He helped me to discover my true ideas and beliefs, two things I've never had to question. I still argue over abortion, religion and politics with my own opinionated friends, but I will never live life according to anyone's rules except my own. While what he became hurts, what he once was makes me smile -- over Goodnight Moon, chunky peanut butter or the Counting Crows.