This is about the pitfalls of a superstar athlete who is trying to remain true to himself.
| A.J. Smith was born on July 28, 1985 to Hope & Chappy Smith and was their only child. To say his mom’s pregnancy was troublesome would be the most extreme case of stating the obvious. Hope Sunshine Smith was a petite blonde woman who weighed less than a feather. She stood just a hair taller than the sign at the fair that always said,” You must be this high to ride”. Even though she ate nonstop, she found it impossible to gain the pounds needed to allow the fetus to develop properly. The doctors placed her on bed rest in the 4th month and then she labored for 27 hours to deliver little A.J. And he was little - at 4 lbs 3.6 oz. and only 17” long he was one of the smallest ever born at Devine Faith Memorial Hospital.
As an infant, A.J. was constantly sick due to his smaller bodies’ underdeveloped immune system. His mom spent the first six months traveling back and forth to the doctor’s office and his dad had to work inhumane hours to compensate for the bills. Despite all the problems the Smiths loved their son more than anything. His mom would go to church whenever possible and give praise to God for blessing her with an angel. His dad was similar in his actions - he would brag to anyone who would listen about how great his son would be when he grew up. His father’s 2 favorite comments were 1st - my boy is going to grow up and become a world famous doctor or 2nd - wait until you see my son in the Hall of Fame.
As A.J. got older his health improved and he grew into a normal young boy. He would play outside, have skinned knees and elbows and of course a good portion of his time was spent on the beach. Now A.J. was always smaller than most other kids and he tended to shy away from new people. He didn’t mind playing by himself and often spent hours in seclusion.
This continued until a week before his 5th birthday. A new family moved in across the street and they had a little boy the same age as A.J. The family’s name was Wilcox and their sons’ name was Teddy. Teddy was already 5 years old but due to a pudgy stomach he looked as if he was six.
When Mrs. Smith took a welcome to the neighborhood casserole to the Wilcox’s house she invited Teddy to A.J.’s birthday party. The party was a cookout at the beach and Mrs. Wilcox graciously accepted on Teddy’s behalf.
The party was small, mostly just family, but Teddy made it seem like Christmas and New Year’s rolled into one. Teddy was a happy and energetic young boy. Some people even questioned if he might have ADHD or some other chemical imbalance but his parents swore he was just being a kid. Now one would think that Teddy’s boisterous personality and A.J.’s passive shyness would clash and they would hate one another but just the opposite took place.
The two became joined at the hip morning, noon and night. They would play, go swimming and one always ate diner at the other’s house. They would have sleepover parties and stay up late into the night making up horror stories or producing farting noises with their body parts.
The families also grew close and often barbequed and went on family excursions together. As they turned six Teddy started playing football but A.J. was not allowed. His mom felt that he was too small and would get hurt after the slightest contact. A.J. was disappointed at first but that changed when he got to go to every game that Teddy played. A.J. and his mom would sit in the stands with Teddy’s parents and cheer him on. Even though he was small in stature, A.J. could be heard over the entire stadium when Teddy made a play or came onto the field. He was Teddy’s biggest fan.
The boys spent the better part of the next 2 years acting like Siamese twins. When you saw one boy the other was certainly not far behind. One would start a sentence and of course the other finished the thought. The boys acted so similar that you would swear they were twins.
The young friends were as happy as pigs in mud on a hot summer day until….a miserable day in late June of 1993. A.J. woke up excited to see his best friend and ready to enjoy another summer on the beach but fate had other plans. It was storming harder than A.J. could ever recall seeing in his young life. That was okay though because he and Teddy had spent other gloomy days indoors concocting make believe military forts or pirate ships in the living room. But when he went next door A.J. was shocked at what he learned. Teddy’s dad was being given a promotion at work but the catch was they had to move to Florida. A.J. was devastated and didn’t know what to say. To make it worse the move was to happen in just a short time. In fact Teddy’s family was leaving after the fireworks display on the 4th of July.
If it was possible the boys spent even more time together over the next couple of weeks and on their last day together they were inseparable from sun up to sun down. They went down to the beach for one last swim and after about an hour in the ocean they took a break. While they were sitting on their towels Teddy pulled a steak knife from his bag and showed A.J.
"Where did you get that"?
"I grabbed it when my mom was packing the kitchen. She got distracted on the phone and I nabbed it without a problem".
What are you going to do with it?
Not me - but what we’re gonna do with it. I thought we could become blood brothers.
Does it hurt?
Naw it is just a small cut and it will seal us as friends and brothers for the rest of our lives.
Okay but you go first.
Sure thing buddy.
And with that Teddy pushed the point of the blade into the palm of his right hand. A.J. saw a grimace of pain on Teddy’s face as the point broke the skin but it quickly dissipated. Blood started dripping from Teddy’s palm and he handed the knife to A.J.
Hurry up before I bleed to death!
A.J. laughed at the drama displayed by his friend as he took hold of the knife. A.J. inhaled deeply and started to slice his palm but hesitated at the last moment.
Are you sure this won’t hurt?
Just do it ya wimp! Do it or I will stop being your friend and I will move away.
The boys broke out in laughter and then A.J. poked the knife into his skin. His hand immediately started to bleed and the friends quickly clasped their hands together in a firm handshake. Teddy spoke up and said, “From this day forward we shall be bonded together. We swear to support each other and always be available when the other needs help. We are brothers in blood from this point on and anyone who challenges this will feel our wrath”.
Teddy handed A.J. a band aide and he fastened one on his hand as well. A.J. then passed his new found brother a sandwich from the sack that his mother prepared this morning before they left. The boys ate in silence and when they were finished they put their trash back in the bag. Once the trash was collected Teddy stood up and stared down at his friend. He giggled uncontrollably as he popped A.J. in the back of the head. “You’re it!” Teddy said over his shoulder as he sprinted down the beach. A.J. leaped to his feet and darted after his prey. The boys played without a care in the world and for the afternoon forgot that this time tomorrow Teddy would be gone.
The moving trucks had arrived the day before and set out for their destination early on the fourth. Chappy Smith prepared a barbeque feast fit for a king and the two families laughed and celebrated as if there was no tomorrow. As dusk turned to night the boys roasted marshmallows and everyone waited for the light show to commence.
Blankets were laid on the freshly cut grass of the back yard and you could smell the approaching summer in the air. Even the boys were settled on their own pallet gazing up at the blanket of stars that covered the sky. When the fireworks began A.J. looked around at the people gathered in his backyard and he envied the joy being displayed on their happy faces. A.J. wanted desperately to share in the joyous occasion but he couldn’t help the overwhelming feeling that washed over him - as if this was the last time he would see his best friend!
Approximately 45 minutes after the first firecracker was ignited Teddy’s family was preparing to begin the journey to Florida. The two families said their good byes; they climbed into the already packed Ford Explorer and started driving off into the night. A.J. tried to chase the weighed down S.U.V. through the neighborhood but his little feet just wouldn’t keep up. He lost sight of the vehicle as it turned onto Elm Street. The last memory A.J. had was Teddy’s chubby face plastered against the back window and his hand waving so long.
A.J. was shy before he met Teddy but without his comrade by his side it became worse. He spent the entire summer inside and didn’t even go to the beach. A.J. closed himself off to everybody like a frightened turtle cowering in his shell.
Throughout the entire summer and next school year A.J. turned into a hermit. He never really went out to play and he did not have any friends. He rarely talked to the kids in his class and spent most of his time reading.
Mrs. Smith was always impressed at her son’s intelligence. He walked and talked early and the doctor’s told Mrs. Smith she might want to have him tested to see if he is gifted. She told them that her son most certainly special but she just wanted to be normal like the other kids in the neighborhood.
A.J. had tried to stay in touch with Teddy over the years but his family moved several times and they simply lost track of one another. Hope Smith had begun to worry about her son. She feared that he might be depressed and decided to take him to see a therapist. The doctor concluded that A.J. was just a normal shy young boy who has trouble making friends.
Hope wanted to encourage her son to make friends so at the end of the 1994 school year she signed him up in a summer camp program at the Y.M.C.A. She only prayed that A.J. would break out of his shell before getting tragically maimed. She called the center and spoke to the director who’s name was Kevin Jackson.
Two days later A.J. woke up at 10:00 am and accompanied his mother to the local recreational center. Now A.J. was scared but he didn’t want to let it show. So when his mom stopped the car in front of the gymnasium he leaned over and kissed her cheek. Then he said, “I love you mom! See you at 3:00 pm”. Then he jumped out of the passenger’s seat and ran up the steps and disappeared into the bowels of the cement playpen.
A.J. was greeted by a man named Kevin who looked like he belonged on a football field. Kevin politely introduced himself and escorted A.J. into the locker room. He showed him a locker to store his athletic equipment, which seemed funny to A.J. because he wasn’t very athletic, and most importantly where the showers were located. Kevin stressed that “a clean athlete is a successful athlete” and appearance is vital to who you are in life.
A.J. didn’t know if he believed the philosophies that Kevin was spouting but hey he was just here to appease his mother. His dad thought this was a waist of time. He believed that A.J. was simply a late bloomer and would be fine on his own.
When Kevin inquired as to what sports A.J. liked he responded in an uncertain tone - my friend used to play football.
The youth director looked at him puzzled and said, "Okay but what about you"?
A.J. shrugged his shoulders so
the director wrapped his tree trunk of an arm around him and led him into the gym.
Don’t worry we’ll find something in your ability range and then have some fun.
A.J. still wasn’t sure but for his mother’s peace of mind he followed the instructor and silently prayed that no one laughed at him.
As they entered the gym, the sound of basketballs bouncing and sneakers squeaking on the linoleum floor echoed through A.J.’s head. The smell of sweat filled his nostrils and upset his stomach momentarily. Maintaining his tough exterior A.J. inhaled deeply and quickly grew accustomed to the stale odor.
The gym had kids of all ages playing on the court but the 2 main goals were dominated by teenagers in a 4 on 4 pickup game. Kevin looked down at A.J. and explained, without being asked, you don’t look like the b-ball type but that’s okay cause I have something else in mind.
Through the years A.J. had grown taller but never really put on size. He had very long legs and arms but was so skinny he almost looked malnourished. As they roamed the halls, Kevin told A.J. that his body type was completely normal. He told him that some people are born with higher metabolism and it could take a lifetime for them to ever gain any serious weight. But this could be perfect for track. Your long legs should allow you to be very successful if you have the discipline to train your heart and lungs.
They circumvented the court and passed the bleachers where other youth sat, some watching the game while others talked and cut wisecracks on each other. During the stroll through the massive building Kevin told A.J. that he opened the door at 7:30 am and closed them at 2130. When he saw A.J. hadn’t a clue Kevin quickly explained 2130 is 9:30 pm in military time? Kevin also told him that is was an old habit from being in the Marines for several years back in the 80’s. Don’t worry you’ll catch on to the lingo in no time.
They exited a set of double doors at the other end of the gym, walked down a short path, descended a large flight of stairs and found themselves on the outside of a fenced in track. Kevin barked out some orders and several runners picked up their pace. One young boy darted through the infield grass and stopped just in front of Kevin.
The boy was introduced as Matty, an 11 year old who had been coming to the Y for 3 years now. Kevin explained that Matty came to stay with him when his mom died of cancer and he was much like A.J. in the fact that he didn’t have a lick of athletic skill.
Matty interrupted and said, “Yeah but now I can outrun almost everyone here…even you”!
Kevin chuckled lightly and told Matty that he would make an example of him if he didn’t have so much work to do.
There is always an excuse was Matty’s response, you’ve been ducking my challenge for months. Kevin got serious and asked him to show A.J. what running was about and see if he was interested in joining the team.
Kevin left the two boys standing on the outskirts of the track in an awkward silence. Sorry to hear about your mom. That’s okay. It was a long time ago and I know she is with God in heaven so that makes it easier on days that I miss her more than usual. Matty extended his hand and said pleased to meet ya.
A.J. returned the gesture and said yeah me too.
In A.J.‘s eyes Matty seemed older than his age revealed. He was very lean but extremely toned for his size and his demeanor was that of a more mature teenager.
So you ready to get started, Matty asked in a way that it wasn’t really a question.
The boys stretched briefly and then began running sprints. To A.J.‘s surprise he was pretty fast in the short distances. His biggest setback was endurance but Matty said that builds with time. A.J. continued following Matty’s lead but when they took a breather he heard a sound off in the distance but couldn’t tell where it originated. Matty explained that the baseball field was in the next clearing past the trees to their right and the sound was the aluminum bats making contact with the ball.
They must be having batting practice, either that or the worst pitcher ever, Skippy Peterson, was on the mound. Matty explained that Skippy couldn’t throw one strike to a 1st grader that didn’t clear the fence. But hey it’s not all about being the best all the time, it’s also about having fun and making friends.
A.J. looked at him nervously and softly said I’m not too good at that.
Don’t worry kid you’ll be fine. You have a good running style for someone with no experience and I like you. We’ll get you introduced to some of the other guys tomorrow but for now let’s get a few more laps in.
The boys ran their sprints and towards the end A.J. could feel his breathing growing stronger. He wasn’t where he would need to be to challenge Matty to a race but it was a good start. Matty headed to the showers and told A.J. he hoped to see him again tomorrow.
A.J. walked to the entrance, turned to look at the track and thought to himself, I just might come back. Now since he didn’t bring any gear A.J. skipped the showers and sat on the front steps for 5 minutes or so and waited for his mom to arrive.
When she asked if he had fun A.J. responded, “It was okay, I guess I could go back tomorrow”. This brought a smile to his mother’s face which in turn warmed his heart causing him to smile too.
On the trip home A.J. became aware of a few incites he had not experienced before. First of all he smelled. Tomorrow he would have to bring a change of clothes, a bar of soap and a towel to keep in his locker. Second was the fact that his legs were stiff and sore but not necessarily in a bad way. Although they burned, his muscles felt bigger and stronger if that was possible. Third and probably the most unusual - he was starving. Normally he would eat a sandwich at lunch and then one helping at dinner. But today A.J. felt as if he could eat all night long and still not be full. He just didn’t realize how much energy was burned by running back and forth on a track.
Mom what’s for dinner?
I was thinking of making pork chops and mashed potatoes. Why are you hungry?
I sure am! I worked up an appetite today!
Hope was ecstatic to hear this for 2 reasons. One it gave her an excuse to ask about his day without giving the impression that she was worried about him. And plus it eased her heart to see the once happy boy start to break out of his shell as he did when Teddy moved next door.
Do you want to tell me about it, she asked excitedly?
Yeah, I met these 2 great guys and 1 of them is gonna teach me to run faster than everyone else! A.J. then went on to describe his day and the people he met. He didn’t leave a single detail out and even included going more description about the smells than hope thought was needed.
When they got to the house A.J. ran into the house and headed straight for the shower. Hope entered the kitchen and started cooking dinner. She had already peeled a healthy portion of potatoes and they were set to boil on the stove. While she was finishing the meal she had to pause at the sound of running water. She chuckled lightly when she realized that her little boy had just grown up in the smallest way and it almost slipped right under her nose. Her son was taking his first shower.
A.J. came bouncing down the stairs in a t-shirt and pajama bottoms just as his mom was putting the steaming hot food on the dining room table. They sat across from each other, said their prayers and then A.J. pigged out. He ate until he was ready to puke and then asked to be excused from the table. As he was walking into the living room he asked, is dad gonna be home soon?
Hope could only reply like she did every night, As soon as possible.
Chappy Smith had been with the same company for the past ten years. When he got hired it was as a general laborer. He didn’t have any skills when he started but over the last decade he became one of the premier minds in his profession. He now headed the entire plant but the downside to this extra responsibility came the longer hours. And this unfortunately equaled less time with his family.
A.J. tried desperately to stay awake until his dad came home but he was snoring before 8:00 pm. In the morning A.J. woke up surprisingly early considering how tired he was the night before. He began tossing and turning around 6:30 am and then crawled out of bed at 7:00 am. His legs were a lot stiffer than when he had left the center. They felt rubbery and it took a few minutes for him to fully regain his balance.
A.J. had dug in his closet the night before and found a duffel bag. After he showered and got dressed for bed, he put an extra towel, a bar of soap and a change of clothes in the duffel bag and set it by his door. He grabbed the bag and headed downstairs for a little breakfast. He found himself extremely hungry again just like he was after his running session.
On his way down to the kitchen he paused at his parent’s bedroom. Their door was open and his mom and dad were both asleep. He wanted to wake his dad and share his wonderful experience from the day before but he knew how important his dad’s sleep was to him so he just accepted that he would have to wait and then went downstairs. When he got to the kitchen he ate a banana and drank a glass of milk. He also grabbed an apple and a bottle of water and placed them in his bag. He then left a note to his folks on the dry erase board hanging beside the refrigerator. The note read, “Went to the YMCA and will be back for dinner. Love you, A.J. “. With that completed he went out the door, collected his bike from the garage and started the mile ride to the rec center.
When he got there Kevin was just removing the chains from the front door. Kevin saw A.J. and a smile covered his face from ear to ear. Glad to see you again son! Does this mean you had a good time yesterday?
Sure did! What time does Matty usually get here?
On a normal day he beats me here but he overslept today. Then Kevin explained that Matty is his son and said but he should be along soon.
Kevin opened the door and the two entered the main building. Kevin opened his office and set his briefcase on the desk. Then he began maneuvering through the maze of hallways unlocking doors and setting up for the day’s activities. A.J. helped where he could and at the end Kevin thanked him for his assistance.
As they walked back to the main hall he told A.J. that the morning was his favorite time of the day. He explained that the morning was the start of a new day and it was his time to reflect on life. He said that the empty center was his church and it was where he thanked God for all that he had. Then he would put in a monster workout on the basketball court and in the weight room.
When they returned to the office Matty was waiting for them and they all went into the locker room and changed. Kevin hit the weights and the boys walked out to the track. On their short trip down to the track Matty asked how he was feeling and A.J. said alright.
My legs were a little stiff when I woke up but they feel better now.
Good well let’s have some fun!
They performed the same stretching routine from the day before and when they finished A.J. thought to himself - yeah this is fun. They started out slow with a short jog around the track to warm up their bodies and then got into the sprints and longer distance running.
At 11:30 am they stopped and Matty said let’s get some lunch. That sounded good to A.J. cause he was starving again. The boys went in Kevin’s office and sat on the floor where A.J. pulled out his apple and dug his teeth deep into the skin and bit off a large chunk.
Is that all you brought?
Yeah I didn’t want to eat too much and get sick.
That was smart thinking but you’ll need more energy for the rest of the day. And with that Matty pulled a couple of sandwiches from his brown paper bag and handed them to A.J.
I can’t take your lunch.
Relax I made extra in case you came back today. A.J. hesitated momentarily and then took the sandwiches and said thanks.
Ham and cheese is my favorite!
This is wonderful! Matty agreed and the boys devoured their meals. At about 1:00 pm they went back to the track and mimicked their workout exactly as they had this morning and yesterday afternoon. As they walked a cool down lap around the track A.J. heard that unique sound from the day before. He asked if they could go check out the ball field and Matty said sure.
They walked over and sat on the bleachers. The ball players were fielding grounders, turning double plays and shagging pop flies. Now A.J. didn’t know what any of these terms meant but they are ones he would become very familiar with in the near future. After a few minutes Matty excused himself and said he would see A.J. later.
A.J. sat and stared at the guys on the diamond shaped field. He was mesmerized by their skill level and thought they played like a major league team. Well at least they looked as is they could. Before he knew it the time had slipped away and it was 4:00 pm. Mom served Sunday dinner promptly at 5 and you did not want to feel her wrath if you were late.
A.J. ran up to the locker room, showered, changed and began his ride back to his house. When he got home his dad was watching the news in the living room and mom was in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on another delicious meal. A.J. sat beside his dad and waited for a commercial before interrupting his dad’s relaxation time.
Dad, can I talk to you?
Of course son, what’s going on?
I just wanted to tell you about the Y and the great people I met.
His dad turned the T.V. off and said I’m all yours! He proceeded to tell his dad about the past 2 days and the wonderful boy and his dad who had been so nice to him.
He then said in a confident voice, “and I’m getting faster all the time and one day I’ll be able to beat you in a race!”
I look forward to the challenge! And with that they were called to the dinner table. They all bowed their heads, prayed for their blessings and then A.J. pigged out just as he had done the day before.
A.J. began spending all his free time down at the rec center with Matty and Kevin. As soon as the sun was out he would ride to the center and change into his running clothes. He met coach Jackson and Matty on the front steps and helped them set up for the day. He didn’t really do much work but coach Jackson made him feel like his work was of the highest national security.
When finished the boys would go their way and coach would finish his morning rituals alone. The two would stretch and begin a strict regime that was designed by Matty’s dad. They would start slow with light jogging and short wind sprints. When their cardiovascular system and muscles were warmed up they would begin an intricate set of races. The races were longer at first and then shortened towards the end of the session - 2 x 100 yards, 4 x 50 yards and 6 x 40 yards. They would run hard but smart in the first few races making sure not to overexert themselves. Then as the distance decreased all bets were off and it was max speed from start to finish.
These races were set up in this fashion to allow the boys to build their stamina and control during the longer races and their speed and determination during the sprints. After this exhausting workout the boys would catch their breath and have one final race that wasn’t in the training session custom built by Mr. Jackson. This last race was just for fun or was it? It was a final 100 yard dash - full speed, no mercy, blow your opponent away gut check sprint to see who wants bragging rights the most.
At first there wasn’t even a contest; Matty always destroyed A.J. from start to finish. This made sense of course because Matty was older, bigger and stronger. The problem for Matty was that A.J. developed too quickly. Within a couple of weeks Matty could still beat A.J. but he really had to work at it. Somehow A.J. was able to fly down the track without wasting a breath. After 6 weeks he was barely winded and able to beat Matty on a few of the longer races but he couldn’t compete with the long swift legs of his new pal Matty in the sprints. On the final race it was always a nail biter. A.J. would run neck and neck with Matty for a better part of 80 yards but then Matty’s longer legs and superior size would kick in and he would pull away from his counterpart. He would win the race by 8 - 10 yards but A.J. would never slow down until he passed the finish line.
When A.J. ran he gave it everything he had every time out no matter how bad he was losing. He kept his legs churning away at the asphalt, held his head up and kept his eye on the target - the finish line. To Matty, A.J. was the ultimate competitor. He was in awe of this younger boy who ran as if he was born to it. He didn’t gloat when he won and pouting simply wasn’t in A.J.‘s vocabulary. At the end of the race, either win or lose, he would catch his breath swig a bit of water in his mouth and then be back on line ready for another heat. And at the end of the days running they would walk off the track side by side complementing each other for a hard days work - and play of course.
Matty went straight to the showers after their meets because he had to help his dad close up at the end of the day and do his regular chores when he got home. It was usually 9:30 before he and his dad would squat at the kitchen table for a late night dinner. By 10:00 pm they would be changed into their night clothes, sitting on the couch saying a prayer of thanks for the previous day, watch the day’s highlights on Sports Center and in bed asleep by 10:30 pm.
When A.J. finished his workout he did not go straight to the locker room like Matty. A.J. would walk over to the baseball field and watch practice. He would sit in the bleachers and watch as the boys shagged pop flies, turned double plays and took their turn at batting practice. He was amazed at how easy the boys made it look. A.J. would stare in a dreamlike state for what seemed to be days but was more like 30 - 45 minutes. But when the boys left for the day A.J. knew it was time to head home.
When he got home dinner would be waiting on the stove and he would shovel the food in faster than a Hoover vacuum set on high speed. His mom would be sitting in the living room reading her bible and listening to Tom Brokaw on the evening news.
After he ate A.J. would go upstairs and get ready for bed. Before he went to sleep A.J. would sit on the floor and tell his mom and dad if he made it home in time, about the day’s events. He would briefly touch on what happened in school but mainly focused on how he nearly won a race today and how he would get him tomorrow.
He never told his parents about the other part of his day though - the part where he was entranced by some guys hitting a ball with a stick and catching it in a glove. It wasn’t as if they would be upset that he watched the practice - in fact they would probably encourage A.J. to be around as many good young boys as possible. There was just something about his time at the ball field that was magical and he could not explain it to anyone - not even himself.
His parents were very happy that A.J. had found a healthy hobby instead of sulking in his room everyday. His mom even noticed that he was starting to develop a physic.
She took a double take one evening when A.J. came into the living room for his nightly report. A.J. had been wearing a pair of shorts and she noticed that her son’s leg muscles were ripped. They were still small on his little frame but they were chiseled like bodybuilders’ who had been training for years! When she asked him what happened to his legs A.J. looked down at them, smiled and said it must be a bug bite.
Pretty big bug wouldn’t you say kiddo? They smiled at one another and then A.J. went on up to bed. At around 1:30 am A.J. was startled from his sleep by the sound of the phone ringing. A few moments later his dad came into his room and simply said, get dressed and pack a bag for a trip. While he was packing he heard his dad talking on the phone but he couldn’t make out the conversation.
At 2:15 am his dad opened his door and said you ready to go kiddo?
Yeah I guess but where we going?
You and your mom have to fly Connecticut for a few weeks.
Why what’s wrong with grandma?
She’s not feeling well and your mom has to go tend to her. I can’t go because I have to work.
Can’t you take time off and go with us?
I wish I could son. I wish I could!
They piled in the car and no one spoke a work all the way to the airport. The 3 of them rode the train to the American Airlines terminal and then walked some more until they reached gate 27.
While they waited Hope gave her husband the rundown on how the house was run and what bills he needed to pay. She didn’t really need to tell Chappy anything but it kept her mind busy and that prevented her from becoming overwhelmed and breaking down in tears.
Don’t’ worry sweetheart. I can handle things on this end. You just go ahead and tend to your mom. I’m sure she could use your help right about know.
Hope hugged her husband so tight that he thought she might not let go. Chappy patted his son on the head. Take care of your mom understand?
No problem dad!
They said their good byes and then inched down the ramp to the plane. I’ll call you in the morning when there is more information. I LOVE YOU, Chappy!
I LOVE YOU TOO, my sweet angel!
Chappy waited until the plane taxied out of site before leaving the gateway. He strolled to the parking deck, got in his car and drove home. As he was leaving the airport he couldn’t help but look up into the sky and try to find the plane that contained his family.
He was sitting at a red light and Chappy closed his eyes briefly. He prayed to the lord above that the plane arrives at its destination without incident. He also prayed that his wife have the strength to control her emotions and due what’s best for her mom.
A horn blew from behind him and when he opened his eyes the light was green and everyone was waiting for him to go. He drove through the intersection and said one last prayer out loud - Lord please watch over my family! I couldn’t live without them!
By the time he got home it was too late to go back to bed - not that he thought he could sleep right now anyway. He thought about calling in to work but if he didn’t stay occupied today his mind would have its way with him. He couldn’t imagine being away from his family for more than a few hours but for the first time in his life that’s just what he had to do.
Chappy made the decision to accomplish as much as possible today so he went into the basement and put in a good hour and a half workout. When he finished his muscles were exhausted but he felt cleansed. For a short while he was able to put his fears out of his mind.
Chappy transcended the stairs and entered the master bathroom. He turned the shower on and while the water warmed up he started shaving. Normally Chappy was in and out of the shower within ten minutes but today he took almost an hour. When he stepped out of the shower the mirror was steamed over, the air was stuffy but he felt revived and ready for a full days work.
He went down to the kitchen, drank a glass of milk and grabbed an apple from the basket on the counter. He went to the garage, backed his Chevy Blazer into the driveway and stopped short of the road to pick up the newspaper. He pressed the garage door opener and the door descended as he drove down the road and headed into the city. As he drove his mind wandered but to no particular place. Before he knew it he had arrived at work and was sitting in his parking space.
Chappy entered the building and went straight to his office just like any other day. Throughout the day, Chappy casually looked around the office at his co-workers. He pondered what kind of lives they led when they weren’t at work. Surely some had families and of course some were members of the party crowd. But how many of them dreaded going home to an empty house? How many stayed late at work solely to avoid another lonely night of frozen dinners and bland television?
When he got home that evening he tried to act surprised at the emptiness of the house but he knew he would be alone tonight. He fixed himself some dinner and then sat in his recliner and turned on the evening news. A wave of revelation washed over him like a wave crashing on a deserted beach. He was one of the lonely people he tried to pick out at work. Sure he had a family and friends but his daily routine was nothing short of monotone. He did the same thing day in and day out. Even when he spent time with his family each night he took it for granted. He never imagined being without them but in a way he always had been. They had their own lives and he was merely a minor part of them.
At that moment Chappy stood up and turned off the TV. He kneeled on the carpet in front of his recliner and prayed to God. He prayed that he would be successful in his attempt to reconnect with his family and cherish every moment they have together! Chappy felt God’s presence wash over him and he knew everything would be fine. He then heard God speak to him and was startled for this was the first time this had ever happened.
Rest my son! Though I am with you always you have a long road in front of you. Be strong in your convictions and abilities and your dreams will soon transform into reality.
Chappy opened his eyes and looked around. He was by himself just as he had been when he began praying. However now he was not alone! He rose from the floor and went off to bed.
After the plane took off Hope told her son that he could go and ask to visit the cockpit. A.J.’s face lit up as he walked up the aisle towards the front of the plane. As soon as he was out of site Hope buried her head in her hands and began to cry. An elderly stewardess walked by and said, “don’t worry dear this plane isn’t gonna crash”.
It’s not that. I received a horrible call earlier tonight.
Do you want to talk about it?
I’m not sure if I can just open up to a complete stranger. No offense, I just don’t know if I can trust you.
Well no offense taken. Tell ya what I’ll finish serving the snack and then come back. If you feel up to a chat then I’ll be all ears.
At that A.J. returned from his visit with the pilots and his life was all a glow. Mom it was so cool! All the knobs and switches and I even got to fly the plane! Maybe I day I will become a pilot!
You can do anything you put your mind to son.
The plane was maybe half full and A.J. asked permission to sit in the empty row in front of his mom’s. After the snack, A.J. spread out on two seats and drifted off to sleep.Thirty minutes later the stewardess returned and Hope asked her to sit down if she was allowed of course.
I got a call from my sister tonight. She said she found our mom collapsed in the living room and now she is in the hospital. What could have happened? I don’t know how I will survive if she dies!
Well just remember to trust in the lord and all will be fine.
You’re right but I am still scared of losing her. We had a very special relationship. She loved both me and my sister but there was a connection that we shared and to this day I can’t explain it.
I’ll keep both you and your family in my prayers dear.
Thank you that is very kind of you. God bless you!
And you as well!
The plane landed in New Haven and when Hope and her son exited the gate she saw her younger sister Amber standing against a wall. She had a hollow look in her eyes and paleness to her skin that made her appear to be a ghost.
The ladies embraced and it was all they could do not to let the water works commence.Hey sis. How’s mom?
I’m not sure but we can talk about that in the car. Do you have any bags?
Just the ones we brought on the plane.
And who is this handsome stud you have by your side? It can’t be A.J. can it?
It sure is me Auntie Amber.
You did some growing since the last time I saw ya kiddo. You’re sprouting like a weed.
How far is it to your place from here sis?
Only 20 minutes or so but it should take no time at this hour. Let’s get going so we can rest before we go to the hospital.
When they got to the hospital A.J. wasn’t sure he wanted to go in the room. He hadn’t seen his grandma in a few years and didn’t know what to expect. They entered the room just as the doctor had finished his examination. How’s our mom Hope asked.
To be honest your mother isn’t doing as well as we would like. She had a stroke that left her in a comma. Her heart is damaged but not significantly. Your mom’s biggest obstacle right now is the comma. When your sister found your mom she had been unconscious for an extended period of time. Now our concern is brain damage.
With that Amber gasped loudly. Is it that serious doctor?
All we can do right now is what and see.
The doctor exited the room and left the sisters sitting with their mother. Neither said a word and the only sound you heard was the monitor letting you know that their mother was still alive.
A.J. found it difficult to visit so he mostly sat in the lounge just down the hall from the intensive care unit where his grandma lay in a comma. A nurse turned on a TV to keep him from getting bored but A.J. never really watched it. He stared at the screen but if asked he couldn’t tell you what show was on or what it was about.
It wasn’t the hospital itself that scared A.J. it was seeing a loved one attached to all the wires and tubes. It was the clear plastic tube, sticking out of his grandmother’s mouth that was the only thing preventing her chest from falling for the last time.
Each day they performed the same routine. Get up at the crack of dawn, eat breakfast and head for the hospital. A.J. wished he could stay at his aunt’s house by himself but his mom refused. She said he was just too young to be by himself for such a long stretch of time.
When they got to the hospital A.J. went to the lounge and turned on the TV. His mom and aunt went to room 324 and sat with their ill mother. The doctor’s would come in around 9:00 am and report still no change. They would eat lunch in the cafeteria and then return to the room for another afternoon of daydreaming.
A.J. was getting restless. He understood that the situation was grave but he couldn’t help thinking how unfair it was that he was there. After all he hadn’t run in 8 days and he was petrified with the thought of loosing his form and speed. So on the 9th day he went into see his grandma even if it was for selfish reasons.
He stepped through the doorway and then paused briefly to catch his breath. At the sight of his grandma he was forced to choke down the feeling of nausea that washed over him. He stepped into the room and startled his mom when he asked, “How’s grandma”?
The same as yesterday I’m afraid.
Can I visit with her?
Can I be alone with her?
I guess but can you tell me why?
I just want to talk with her and I would feel weird if other people saw me.
Are you sure you can handle being in here all by yourself?
I think so.
And with that A.J. ‘s mom and aunt left the room
on the guise of getting a cup of coffee in the cafeteria. When they were gone A.J. sat on the edge of the bed and gripped his grandma’s hand with his right hand and covered it with his left. Grandma if you can hear me please wake up. Mom and Auntie Amber are sad and they think you might not ever wake up. I know you are just resting so that your body has a chance to heal but we need you to come back to us. We all miss your warm smile and engaging personality. Please God! Please make my grandma better! With that A.J. felt a tear roll down his cheek and he closed his eyes and began to cry.
A.J. had no idea what he was going to say when he sat down but apparently it worked. A moment later he was startled back into reality by the sound of alarms springing to life. When he opened his eyes so did his grandma!
A nurse walked in and looked on in amazement. This elderly woman was only given a 20% chance of regaining consciousness and that was being optimistic. She paged the doctor and he came to examine the miracle. When he was satisfied that the patient was able to sustain her own breathing he removed the tube from her throat.
It was hard for her to talk at first but the staff wasn’t expecting her to say much anyways. They feared that her brain had been deprived of oxygen for too long and that there was irreversible damage.
A.J. ‘s mom and aunt walked in and both almost fainted at the sight of their mother not only awake but having a conversation with the doctor. Hope - Amber it is so good to see you! Come and give your momma a hug! They embraced their mom and all 3 females started crying. Doctor how is this possible?
To be honest ma’am we don’t know. Your mother isn’t showing any signs of long term disabilities. She will still need some extensive therapy but everything points to her making a full recovery. It really is quit astounding!
Mom how is this possible?
Her speech was slow and choppy but you could understand what she was saying. I’m not sure darling. I’ll I know is I heard A.J. asking me to wake up so I did.
Two days later Hope and Amber took their mother home from the hospital. They went back to Amber’s house and a nurse came in once a day to help with the physical therapy. The rest of the time the sisters would take turn reading to their mother and helping her recoup her memory skills.
A.J. began to have the time of his life. His grandma was better and now he could spend his days outside instead of cooped up in the hospital. This enabled him to go running and recover anything he lost over the past ten days, not that there was anything to recover.