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Writing Sample

It has been a long time since I’ve seen Jules. I miss him. After Lenny died, my parents didn’t let me go there after school. They said that death was contagious. But of all the things in this world, I have found that death is the least infectious. You can’t catch it even if you’ve stayed in the same house. You can’t catch it even though you’ve touched the same things or played the same games. You can’t even catch it from thinking about dead people. Believe me – you can’t no matter how hard you try.

Instead of playing at Jules’s house I had no choice but to stay at home. There was nowhere else for me to go, and my mom insisted that I be close enough for her to yell for me. She promised to teach me to cook dinner for the family. But she was always distracted by the phone. And besides, no one was hungry in that house anyway.

I found myself with too much free time. It wasn’t free, really, so much as empty. I had spent so many hours of my day away from home that I had forgotten what it was like, or why I had been avoiding it in the first place. Mom and dad had grown worse, had drifted further away from each other. And the more distant they felt, the more isolated I became. Because I was in the middle. You can’t move away from someone you love (or loved) without moving away from everyone. Love is not a lonely thing. People are.

Dad sat me down a couple weeks after Lenny died. He hadn’t been home in awhile so he didn’t know what had happened at first. My mom yelled the news into him when he returned. I had thought that mom didn’t care much about Lenny’s death, the way she ended any conversation as soon as I brought it up. "You don’t go near that house, you hear me?" That’s all she had to say about Lenny.

Dad on the other hand had many things to say about the subject. He talked to me for almost an hour, the longest conversation we’d had in a long time. He told me that life was very short. "Just look at your friend Lenny. Who knew his time would come so quickly?" He pressed my shoulder so that I’d pay attention really well. "You’ve got to live your life to fullest. Each minute. Each day. You can’t let anyone keep you in a closet. No one should be allowed to keep you from doing what you really want."

It was then I realized that dad wasn’t talking about Lenny at all. He was talking about himself.

"Your mother and I don’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things," he explained. "I have to go."

Dad moved out that very night. Mom stayed in her room all evening while he packed and left. I offered to go with dad, just for awhile until he got settled somewhere else. I would learn to cook him dinner for sure. But he said in his new life he had to be free of every responsibility. It’s not his fault, though. I probably wouldn’t have been a good enough cook anyway. I don’t even know my dad’s favorite food.

I moved into my dad’s room. He said he would come visit when he could, but I knew that he wouldn’t sleep in our house anymore. He had taken the bed, so I moved the couch into his room. School got out not too long after that. The last few weeks were really quiet ones. The teacher made us write letters to Lenny, wherever he was. I was embarrassed there in the classroom to write what I really wanted to, though. I asked the teacher for Lenny’s address and promised I would mail mine from home. She wouldn’t give it to me, but said I didn’t have to write a letter after all. She didn’t understand. I hope Lenny did though. I just wanted to tell him why I wasn’t allowed to go to his house.

The summer vacation seemed to drag on and on. I wanted to go visit Jules really badly because he was the only one who would understand. But I knew my mom would get angry and she seemed angry enough as it was. I think with dad gone she needed me in the house to fill up space.

I did see Jules just one time after Lenny died, though. Jules came to my house. He didn’t know he wasn’t allowed to. But when we started playing in the living room my mom came out and saw us. She heard us laughing and said that we should be ashamed of ourselves. She grabbed Jules by the ear and pushed him out the door. He didn’t cry or anything. Maybe he didn’t even mind. That was the last time I saw Jules.

During that summer, that time just after Lenny died, I took up drawing again. I hadn’t done it in years. In the last couple of years my school had freed us from electives like art and music and sharing. Those classes had at one time seemed the most important. But there is some grade in school where math and science distract the teachers from all the other subjects they used to teach you. And the books you read don’t have pictures in them anymore.

I can’t say that I ever became as good at drawing as Jules was, but I tried. I think I drew more pictures in that short time than Jules had in all his years. Honest. But the drawings were never successful. Mom said that they were all the same, but what did she know? Even if I was drawing the same thing, every picture was different. If only I could have drawn it right, just once, I would have stopped. That’s all I wanted – to get the picture right. I wanted to hang that perfect picture on my wall – that picture that could make everyone happy. Me and Jules. Mom and dad. Even Lenny, wherever he was.

Dad did come by to visit occasionally. Mom told him that I was sick, even though I’m sure I was the healthiest one in the family. I hadn’t been to a doctor in a long time. Mom and dad both told me to stop drawing pictures. It was the one thing they agreed on. At first I listened to them, but I realized how useless it is to keep from the things you love just because someone tells you to. Isn’t that what mom and dad were fighting about anyway? They are very confused. I think selfishness must be contagious – not death.

They took away my pad, but I started drawing on the walls. So they took away my pens, but I started carving the floor with a knife. And they tried to take away my knife, too. But I started drawing in blood.

So they took me away.

Here I am in a very different place than my mom’s home. I have my own room and I don’t have to sleep on a couch anymore. But I cannot go to any other room without someone to chaperone me. There is rarely anyone around for such a purpose. They keep my room locked, and I haven’t yet found the key. I will search their socks when I’m given the chance. But there is no use in leaving my room anyway because all the rooms are filled with other children. I can hear them. None of them do anything at all but yell for their moms and dads. And none of them draw pictures like I do. I don’t have anything in common with such kids.

The other thing about this place is that they have me write down my thoughts like this, like I could ever explain what they want me to say with a bunch of letters and sounds. If I could write to anyone, I would write to Lenny. But I still don’t have his address.

Because of this writing program they’ve got me on, I’m given the two most important things in the world. Pen and paper. So I’ve been able to draw again. This place is surely better than home, at least in that one way.

They talk about me behind the door. They don’t know that I’m used to hearing things behind doors because of my mom. Often I can hear what they say. "He’s obsessed," they insist. I’ve heard them say that muffled through the walls when they have meetings about me. I can almost hear them shaking their heads. "It’s still the same picture." But what’s the use in my listening through doorways? Really, I can’t much understand words anymore. Maybe I never did. That’s why I didn’t know that mom and dad were so angry.

I just wish they’d look at the pictures. All the world wants are words, though. I try to tell people that words don’t mean anything, but they don’t listen. The doctors tell me that I’m not getting any better. But believe me I’m trying. I’m not even sick and I’m trying to get better! None of the pictures I’ve drawn is perfect yet. I’ll admit that. I still need to draw the one that will make everyone smile again. But I haven’t yet succeeded. Mom and dad come visit me sometimes, but they still come separately, of course.

So I keep at it, in secret, drawing more pictures in the corners and behind my bed. The spiders can see it, I know. The ghosts can, too. The ghosts know me well. I just wish Jules could see. I know he would understand best.

But Jules, you were wrong. Jules, I hope you never come to know this. Keep them locked up, every one. Jules, Jules, keep them safe. I found out the hard way, but you don’t have to. Jules, you were wrong. Because they do have meetings about rainbows.


© 2002 by b.z.