The prologue to the first draft of my manuscript-in-the-works, "Forward Lateral"
Liberation was her goal, and no Western school could provide it for her. She plucked the golden crucifix that hung limp above her nightstand and surveyed it for a while with white, bony fingertips.
“Garbage!” Sybil cried, snapping it in half in the way that some sadistic surgeon would fracture the femur of an unsuspecting patient. “Utter garbage!”
Sybil sank into the linoleum tiles below, her legs hidden beneath a bloodstained cocktail dress. In her mind, she could hear the blasphemous thought forming: Where is my God now? He was not here.
But who needed a man? Sibyl’s rosy cheeks and voluptuous figure had all but disappeared as part of the stale anathema that heralds death...
There is nothing in this world I hate more than embellishing. It is the classic plague that haunts the darkest corners of the human mind, forcing out words that, loosely translated, mean, “I’m better than you.”
Miranda Avery, one of my high school classmates, was a champion word-weaver. She was consistently decorated with awards for her literary feats, which always included some aspect of her less-than-normal life. According to the stories she often told about herself, Miranda had lived and studied all over the world— with yogis in India, Buddhist monks in Tibet, and African tribesmen in Kenya. The passage above is from her work.
I wanted what she had. For a time, I wished that I could write like she did, wrapping gold lace around the edges of my letters and accenting every word with some esoteric literary allusion. Most importantly, I wanted to be able to generate experiences like she could, but I found it difficult due to the provincial, and often monotonous life I led.
I soon realized, however, that her epic scenes and obscure cultural references did not add to her pieces, but rather, they made them virtually inaccessible to the average reader. Her introduction of Sybil, an aging, wealthy housewife who kills her abusive husband, is already a shaky foundation for the writings of a girl who had not yet seen her eighteenth birthday. This is only extenuated by Sibyl’s eventual communication with the Hindu goddess Parvati.
This said, I still have to provide Miranda with a certain amount of gratitude, not only because she served as a prime example of somebody who thoughtfully chooses their words, but also because her writing forced me to question everything I had been taught.
Throughout my career at Thurston Acadmey, a private school in the seaside town of Kingsport, Massachusetts, I was led to believe that creating such inaccessible literature was the only way to have the legitimacy of my work realized.
I have accepted the fact that I will probably not meet the Dalai Lama anytime soon, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that I and many of my classmates have something to say.
The following story is one that shaped the latter portion of my high school years in almost every respect. The premise for this tale was among the greatest personal risks that I have ever taken, but had I not reached out and grabbed what Miranda would have proclaimed “the beating wings of fate,” I would have been a greatly diminished version of myself.
American football is not one of the most illustrious topics that a writer can choose, but if Miranda Avery is going to compose fictional sonatas melodically floating between her lives in foreign lands, I have a right to do the same.
Inevitably, anything labeled “Prologue” or “Introduction” will be mistaken by some readers for the words “Skip this,” but it is impossible to tell any story without first crafting some sort of background. In my case, that background is relatively simple and straightforward. I was, at my core, one-dimensional.
I spent virtually every afternoon prancing around Thurston’s arts center, listening in on loose, throwaway conversations about theater and how irritating everybody except the person across from me was. The was no allegiance in this atmosphere. It was generally accepted that anything that was said in privacy would eventually surface in some public forum.
After three years of this routine, I grew tired of those around me and somewhat indignant about my position. At Thurston, to succeed in theater, you either need to participate in every dramatic activity that arises over the course of the year or have parents that can donate an abundant amount of money or time to the program. Since I come from a middle-class family where both my parents work and my very presence at Thurston was an annual financial struggle, I had to rely on the prior option as my only means for upward mobility.
Still, in order to get anything of substance, you needed to kiss up to the directors and find a way to get on their good side. For whatever reason, I was never able to do this. Near the end of the spring during my junior year, I was called into the office of Thurston’s Head of Performing Arts Department for a dialogue that served as the final nail in the coffin on my sickly camel’s back. It went as follows:
“Hey, Charlie,” he said gingerly.
“I have some news.”
“Good news or bad news?” I asked.
“Just news. You know we have a summer intensive, right?”
“Well there was a kid there this year. He was amazing, and he’s coming back this summer. He got accepted.”
“Yeah. Yeah,” he looked away from me as he spoke. “Hey! I saw that you had signed up to audition for the fall main-stage next year.”
“Yup. Now that I’ve fulfilled my physical activity requirement, I want to give three seasons of acting a try.”
“Good, glad to hear that,” he said with a profound amount of distance and apathy, “Well, actually. Okay. Here’s the deal. You remember that kid I was talking about?”
“Yes,” I nodded.
“Good. Well, here’s the thing. We only have three guy parts this year and we have about six signed up,” he smiled at me as if I didn’t know where he was going, “Look, you’re a great kid, Charlie, but in all honesty, three or four of these kids have been more devoted to the program than you have. You know what I mean.”
“Not really. What do you mean?”
“You’ve never once come to a summer intensive.”
“I was working,” I said as calmly as I could, as not to upset the power that sat across from me with my desired tone.
“Yeah, I know. But a lot of other kids find ways to work around it. You didn’t.”
“I couldn’t have.”
“I’m not here to argue,” he said, opening his mouth as if to yawn, but he waved me off along the incoming air, “This is a cut-throat program, Charlie. I just felt like it would be easier if I told you now that we will not be able to offer you a part this fall.”
He continued as if I hadn’t spoken, “Just look at this as a positive opportunity to try something new. You know, like maybe tech crew?”
I would have never been content being a faceless engineer behind some show, but I nodded quietly to avoid giving off any air of discontent, “Sure.”
“Don’t feel bad. We cast these things beforehand all the time. You could still try out if you think you could surprise us,” he said with a transient smile, “but I wouldn’t bother.”
“Can I ask you something?”
“Why didn’t I make the cut?”
“Well,” he floundered for a second, “you just didn’t really fit any particular role. Plus, we need big actors. You’re always trying to make things ‘real.’ Theater shouldn’t be ‘real’ most of the time. That’s why people go to see it. They want suicides and musical numbers.”
“Thanks,” I said, getting up from the swivel chair I was in.
“Make sense?” he asked, cupping his hands together then moving the tips of his fingers towards his nose and mouth.
“Yeah. Everything seems to be making sense now.”
I’m not going to try to analyze this interaction too much because while he may have been immature and unprofessional in both his approach and his dialogue, our Performing Arts Head was right about a few things.
I have, or rather I had, a hard time taking criticism. Whether it was a director, an editor, or a coach, I would often write off certain information because I was too stubborn to change my own work. I also tended to try to imitate real life too closely and wound up producing some saccharine commodity.
Most importantly, the old cliché states that when God closes a door, he opens a window rang truer than ever. In my case, God, fate, Parvati, or whatever else dictates the universe did just that; it locked a doggie door and threw wide some enormous French windows.
In Kingsport, Massachusetts, football is not life; however, it is a big enough part of life at a school like Thurston Academy, with over three centuries of history hanging on the backs of each student that passes through the halls, to bring cheering fans from current classes and those who are there to relive an earlier time in this country’s history when prep school football mirrored, if not surpassed, the intensity that it so happily enjoys in states like Texas. More importantly, I saw the individual passion that it inspires even in a world of networking, big cities, and privilege.
A few years before I decided to step on the gridiron, Thurston had halted its usual recruiting efforts in place of filling a newly constructed arts center. If my timing had not been what it was, I would have not had the same willingness to move out of the footlights and into a pair of grass-stained cleats.
I used to roll my eyes, if not openly criticize every sentimental reflection on high school football, but even after graduating only a short time ago, I realized that these comments are not the product of embellishing or melodrama. They are as real as the spirit, beauty, and brotherhood that inspire and are inspired by the sport.