Writing Catalog

Gabe Ewen

Grade: 10

University School - Hunting Valley

Instructor: Peter Millett

Stupid Thoughts, Better Choices

Personal Essay & Memoir

Stupid Thoughts, Better Choices

This story does not begin with a pool. But perhaps it is best to focus on the pool first—not the chair, or the way its back two legs had hung, unsupported, over the edge of the front porch of the house on Kingsbury Boulevard just two weeks before the pool, nor how the chair wound up not on the porch but instead on top of a young boy, toppled on its side and laying upon the ground. Rather, the pool presents a more calming image, and maybe we can take peace in the fact that even when the stillness of the water is disrupted by a flurry of splashes, it is not because peace has been broken, or done away with altogether. No, it is because peace has transformed to joy. It is the joy of a family—and other families like them—plop-plop-plopping down from a long, twisting water slide that empties into the pool, their laughter mixing with the resounding crashes of excited bodies tumbling into the water behind them. Yes, it is best to begin with this image. Because maybe, if you can feel happy for these people, you won't have to feel sorry for the young boy sitting alone underneath the shade of a tent positioned not too far from the edge of the pool. He plays floor hockey against himself, maneuvering a small, handheld plastic hockey stick about the floor, using just his right hand. His left arm is in a cast. And he is me.

I had not been, I must admit, completely distraught regarding my situation that summer, sitting at the side of the pool and under the tent rather than in the water for the better part of a week. The cast stayed on longer, of course, but this wasn't so bad either. In fact, it was a fine excuse to go about wearing my number-19 Chicago Blackhawks jersey, seeing as the cast fortified my arm well past the crook of my right elbow. And besides, the tent under which I spent the vast majority of my days that week was rigged with a small television set complete with the basic necessities of an 8-year-old: Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and both the NBC and NBC Sports Network channels, which the 2015 Stanley Cup Final between the Blackhawks and the Tampa Bay Lightning was being aired on. Still, my disappointment was unmistakable. I had never been to a water park before, let alone a water park inside a resort, which I had at the time referred to as a "fancy hotel." I have never been back to a water park, and my trips to resorts have been made just as often. So this particular vacation—which we had taken alongside my father's sister and her family—was an unusual instance of personal expense. And I was missing out.

Two weeks before the pool, our landline rang. My friend was on the other end, his voice crackling with energy as he shouted into the phone's transmitter. He had just gotten a new pair of roller blades, he told me, and was planning to give them a test run in the empty lot by the playground two blocks east of my house in twenty minutes. He would swing by my house on the way there if I was available. I told him I was and that I would bring my own blades as well as the set of two Mylec street hockey sticks and goals I had received for my birthday the year before. Then I set about lacing my blades, gathering my sticks. In those days, during the summer months, I often found myself waiting upon my front porch (elevated above the ground, as you will come to learn) for friends to swing by on their roller blades, street hockey sticks in hand and plastic playing balls contained within the drawstring bags slung about their shoulders. This particular day was no different. There I was, on the porch, in my blades. Beside me was my sister, younger in age. She was planning on tagging along to the park since she wasn't allowed to cross the street alone. I can't remember if this development annoyed me or not. Either way, it had been her who had sat on the chair first, which had at the time only one of its back two legs hanging off the edge of the porch. When she sat down, the chair began to tip backwards. For a moment, she hung suspended over the porch edge, gravity just seconds away from plunging both her and chair into the depths beside the porch. I held my breath. Then she jumped up, frightened, and the chair came with her, returning to the porch. And as it did so, an idea popped into my head. I was going to sit on the chair as well. It was brilliant. Afterall, my sister had survived. And wasn't I older, faster, stronger? More daring? To escape from the near death of careening off a cliff face in a runaway mine cart was certainly a fitting venture for a man of action, or a superhero. The chair was my mine cart. Only now it had shifted so that both its back legs hung over the edge of the porch. And so, when I sat down and leaned back, my sister looking on in awe, I did not jump up and safely return myself to the porch. Instead, I flipped over backwards and landed hard on the dirt below. The chair came down, forcefully, on my left arm. Two weeks later I was in Cheboygan, Michigan at a resort with a water park in a tent by the pool, alone and with a floor hockey stick clasped only in my free hand.

This story does not end on the beach. It continues to play out until my cast is removed a month or so before my third grade school year begins. And it still plays out to this day, each time a thought pops into my head and I stop, rather than act, to ask myself what the consequences of such an action would be. But with respect to your time—and with acknowledgement to all that I still have to do—perhaps it would be best that this story does end on the beach, the sun low in the sky so that it seems to be partially submerged in the still waters of Lake Michigan. Like before, at the pool, a family can be seen in the water, splashing each other and dancing underneath the setting sun. The young boy does not. Instead, he stands with his mother on the sidewalk outside a resort, his toes inches from the sand. She is telling him about how she had once, as a child, broken her own arm climbing a tree. But he doesn't listen. Rather, he thinks about the stupid thoughts he had that had landed him here. And he vows never to act on them again.

Boy with Anchor


Boy with Anchor

Boy with anchor
On viewing Winslow Homer's "Boy with Anchor," watercolor, 1873

The boy sits with his back toward me, his hands braced against the bill of a fallen anchor,
arms straight and torso tipped backward,
so that his gaze may crest the spires of the rocky shore, built upward like a fortress wall.
Beyond the beach, he can see the sails of his father's ship,
yellowed by the ocean's salty spit,
and I know he wonders of the fish, snatched from his father's nets, perhaps,
by the three foam-white seagulls which circle in the sky above him.
If only this were the case, he thinks. Then the boy could be of use,
and buy a gun in town,
and bring it to the beach.
Then the boy would shoot the seagulls, and,
I think,
he'd smile,
once he saw his father's yellowed sails,
and smelled the fresh-caught fish. But this is not the case. Instead,

some day the boy will steer his father's ships,
through waves both still and stirred,
and contest with the quaking of the heavens and the seagulls in the sky.
And his son, too, I know,
will sit upon the fallen anchor,
and wonder of the fish,
snatched from our boy's nets, perhaps,
by the three foam-white seagulls which circle in the sky above him.
And the boy's son, too, will wish this true. But this is not the case. Instead,

some day,
when the boy lives only within moth-stained bed and woven chair,
his son will steer the ship our boy once manned. And one day, too,
the boy's grandson will sit upon the fallen anchor,
and walk with bare feet on a beach scattered with pebbles,
cast down by the cloud-wrought sky.