A D-i-s-s-i-p-a-t-i-n-g Sting

I was climbing in my favorite tree when I heard a ruffle in the bushes. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew there was trouble. I didn’t want to take any chances, so I remained in the tree for two hours until I knew what vicious predator was in the haunted shrubs. It was probably a sabertooth cat, or at least, something like that. I wasn’t sure, but whatever it was, it wanted me. I looked around and saw everything that I was so familiar with. The tree with a white birch trunk, the neon orange berry that had been sitting there for so long. I listened to the babbling river about 300 feet south. I could never find a place quiet enough to listen to water in Philly.

As soon as I had gotten home, I grabbed my bicycle, dropped off my backpack, and headed straight to the woods. I couldn’t take another second in the house. Yesterday, my parents decided to throw away all of my childhood photos, toys, clothes, and everything that I had ever made or constructed when I was a kid. There was one photo that they disposed of that I loved more than any other: the one of my parents and I laughing with each other in the baseball game. But they threw it all in the trash. Instead of my precious childhood bedroom, my parents prioritized a storage room that would most likely go unused.

The river was the only thing that kept me from losing my sanity. The river was the one thing that I could always count on to be there. It put me at ease and was why I kept on going back day after day, week after week.

If I didn’t have that one small stream, I don’t know what I would do. I smelled an aroma that I could never smell in the city. The fragrance of moist dew made me know that I was safe and stress free. Even though I had so much on my plate in terms of school and my family, I liked to go to this one spot in the forest and relax.

But as I felt the rough bark of the maple that I was leaning against, I sensed the ruffling again. A shock went straight through my body as if I had been electrocuted. First my arms began to become stiff, then my legs, and then I froze. Why did it have to be now that I couldn’t move? For all I know, it could be on me right now and injecting poison into my body. After what felt like hours, my arms and legs started to feel fine again and I scampered right down the tree as soon as I could.

This meant one thing that I didn’t want to have to do: go back to my house and my parents. Normally, I would stay in the forest until it got dark after my parents had already left to go to their dumb jobs at the bar. I guess I would just try to avoid them and study for the spelling bee. It’s not like they would come anyways. I took my bike, and rode home intentionally slowly. When I got home I started to sprint up the stairs to my room. My dad stopped me and snapped at me saying, “Hey kid — ”  

I stopped him. “Leroy, my name is Leroy.”

He continued, “Your mother thinks that I should not take full ownership of the bar, but I disagree.” I had already stopped paying attention. I noticed that my mom had also stopped taking him seriously. She knew that whatever she said, her husband would have had some disagreeing retort. He continued, “Life’s about taking risks. I want to do what I want, but she’s holding me back!” He went on to ramble for another five minutes, but I didn’t listen. After about three more minutes of dispute and loud bickering, I couldn’t take it anymore.

“Listen! Both of you have a point, but solve it on your own,” I yelled as I walked away. My dad shot me a cold look of disappointment, which nearly made me tear up. Why did they have to do it? They couldn’t just be like any other parents that I know and get along. They couldn’t go on any trips or vacations, couldn’t go on bike rides, couldn’t go to any of my spelling bees, couldn’t even get me a gift for my birthday. Well actually they got me an “Ericksen’s Bar” baseball hat that was 80 percent off on a dusty shelf in right above the bathroom sign. To me that classifies more as a gift with air quotes.

I spent the day at school feeling agitated, wondering if my parents would ever get along like normal. Normal. It seems so simple, but it’s not. At least for my parents. Whatever. I searched for the sting on my body, although, to be honest, I forgot where it was. I knew it was there, I just couldn’t seem to find it. All of a sudden it came back to me, I felt a small pinch in my arm. I said out loud, “Ow.” I don’t really know why, it just felt sorta good to say it out loud. The next moment, my mom came inside the room and asked me if I was alright. That took me for a surprise. I muttered to her, “Yeah, I’m fine,” even though I wasn’t. Later that night, while I was surfing my dictionary, I kept wondering why my mom showed concern. It could have been for something dumb like maybe to one-up my dad, but whatever it was, I actually enjoyed it.

The next day, something even weirder happened. I was about to walk to school, but she stopped me. She asked me “Leroy, why don’t you come to a couple doctor  appointments  with me and show the doctor your injury?” She didn’t even know what it was, but I accepted nevertheless. Is this what it felt like to have a mother that cared? If so, it seemed like I could get used to it. Apparently, she had made two appointments already which I was willing to skip school to go to.

“Mom, why are you so caring all of a sudden?”

“No reason,” she muttered. I saw her look down in shame. I knew there was a reason, but I didn’t feel like asking her any more questions. I felt the stinging once again. I winced in pain. My mom held me as if I was about to faint. She asked, “Are you alright Leroy?” I nodded a bit nervously.

For the next two weeks everything seemed to fall into place. My mom actually asked me about my homework and made sure that I got it done. She also picked me up from school instead of going home on the filthy bus. I insisted I didn’t need her to do it, but she did not cease, and it felt great. Even my dad, the most stoic person I knew, the person who reads science books every night, had a conversation with me. He actually seemed to enjoy talking to me.

“Hey son.” Son, I found that name delightful. “Do you need any help with your homework?” I thought about my science homework, I didn’t need much help, but I took advantage of the opportunity and let him help me. We worked on physics, and believe it or not, he actually gave me some helpful information.

I asked, “Dad, you know a lot about science and you’re obviously interested in it, why don’t you become a scientist or even a science teacher?”

“Oh, that dream was exterminated as soon as your mom got pregnant.”

I was shocked and decided it was not right to ask him anything more.

“Okay,” I murmured, “I think that I understand the science now, thanks.”

He trudged away. Although I did feel bad, the conversation was an eye-opening discussion and my dad actually talked to me about something besides the dirty bar.

I couldn’t help but follow my dad to his room and stand outside the door. I heard a loud bang on the table and then muttering. My mom, overhearing the anger, tried to placate him. She mentioned, “Karl, I know you have aspired to be a scientist for a long time but now that Leroy is in our lives you must focus on him.” I felt honored in a way. I had never heard my parents speak about me that way. I went back to my room pleasantly. They had finally treated me with value, but this “special treatment” had only lasted about a week so far, I doubted it would carry on.

Finally the day of the Philadelphia spelling bee had arrived. It felt as though there was ice in my veins. I couldn’t wait. Weeks of training had led to this one moment. I saw the crowd, all 30 of them, anticipating the success of their own children. My parents were actually there. I had barely even mentioned the spelling bee to them before, but they showed up, and I couldn’t be more energized. They were even holding each other’s hands as if they were nervous for me. Everyone was practicing spelling as if it would help them. I saw parents holding up flashcards to test their kid’s spelling.  There was a buzz in the air as everyone came to their seats. Chills ran down my back as I approached the lectern. The first word the moderator gave to me was claustrophobia. I spelled out C-L-A-U-S-T-R-O-P-H-O-B-I-A. I heard the noise of approval from the moderator’s table. I felt very relieved. That serene peace of the river ramble flashed in my head and I was ready. All of a sudden, the thought of the stinging and pain came back to me, but this time I was over it, I didn’t let it bother me. I went up to give my next answer. The word was “conservative.” I spelled it wrong but that didn’t matter, I still received applause from my parents. That was all I needed, that was all I wanted.

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