Contest #45 winner 🏆

Legacies

Submitted for Contest #45 in response to: Write a story about activism.... view prompt

The demolition is scheduled on a Thursday, during finals, at the exact same time that the only ice cream shop in town is offering free cones. This is deliberate, of course; they’re hoping to get it over and done with quietly, without any fanfare.


But we will not let them take today away from us.


I help my best friend get ready in his room an hour before it is scheduled to happen. He tries to convince me it is not too hot for a suit, and I remind him that if he faints, he’ll make a scene, and not the kind he wants. He makes me turn around while he dresses, more for the element of surprise than modesty. When I turn, he is wearing a blue button-up with short sleeves and a pineapple print.


“Absolutely not,” I say. “Who even are you?”


“It’s non-threatening.”


“Is that what you’re going for?” He shrugs. “They’re literally taking down a statue and tearing down a building because of you. You’re a revolutionary. You really think that pineapples say, ‘hey, I’m a revolutionary?”


“I mean, not really, but maybe the more conservative old men in this town will respect a young Black man they think is ruining their country just a little more if he’s wearing pineapples.”


He’s only half joking, and I remind myself that he’s probably a little scared. Or a lot.


It was one thing for a Black man to run for student council on a platform that promised to finally address our college’s racist, white supremacist history and have honest conversations about the slave owner that founded this place way back in the 1700s. It was another to be elected and decide that such progress would require, at the bare minimum, removing that founder’s statue. Of course, students had been trying to do that for years, decades even (probably not centuries, because let’s be honest, that guy was definitely considered a hero in the 1800s, especially in North Carolina).


But this time was different, because this time, it was Terrence Lawrence’s idea. Some of the students who elected him thought he couldn’t do it, and that he would just establish more student-faculty committees to talk about issues and never actually do anything about them. They were wrong.


The election took place near the end of our sophomore spring. It would be a lie to say that it was exciting, though it was contentious. Terrence was up against the usual suspects: two legacy student athletes, one guy, one girl, both white and blond and beautiful and running as co-presidents, as if that would magically make the entire school fair and equitable.


Terrence did not win easily. He won because he mobilized students who didn’t usually care about these sorts of things. He won because when Terrence speaks, you listen. The words he says are powerful and fact-checked and honest, but mostly, it’s his voice. The other candidates had voices that had turned grating with too much practice being peppy.


So yes, Terrence won. He found out via email, which he read to me with a half-grin, half-grimace on his face. There was no celebration.


Sometimes I wonder if a part of him didn’t want to win at all.


After a whole summer of phone calls and emails with students, faculty, and experts in various fields, he had a plan. There were committees, because there are always committees, but there were also concrete plans and demands and petitions and protests on the quad, and suddenly professors all over campus were throwing away their notes and giving lectures on how colleges are built through violence and racism, on stolen land by men with god complexes. 


It was astounding, to be honest.


When I say it, it all sounds so easy, and I need you to know that it wasn’t. I need you to know that I sat with Terrence until two in the morning on countless occasions while we read the hateful emails and listened to the threatening phone calls, and I hugged him so tightly I thought he would break. He told me about the people glaring at him in class, the notes they passed to him. For months I walked next to him between every class, past groups of jeering students, so close that our shoulders were touching. Once I dodged in front of him just as someone hurled a cup of hot coffee at him.


All that, over the statue of a long-dead guy who planted a house in a field and called it a school.


I’m still thinking of those long, terrible nights, which is why I tell him to wear the pineapple shirt. Who knows? It might do the trick.


We make our way to the south side of campus, where a small crowd has already gathered around the old house. It’s fallen into disrepair, which is probably the real reason they’re demolishing it. The school used it as offices and dorms for a while, until the mold got so bad that they had to evacuate everyone. Since then, there have been vague promises to remodel, clean it up, but with the statue coming down it made little sense to keep the rotting estate. So they rolled everything into one, made a day of it. Like I said, quick and quiet. But of course, the detractors think it’s all Terrence’s fault, that there was somehow still hope for the house if only he hadn’t meddled.


I look at the building, at the vines climbing up and into broken windows, at the hole in the roof, at the vultures keeping watch nearby, and wonder how anyone could want to protect this haunted house straight out of Edgar Allan Poe’s imagination.


As we approach, a few people point at Terrence. Some wave. A little closer to the house, a group of counter demonstrators are grouped together, waving signs like Stop Erasing Our History and All Buildings Matter. I’m serious. And this isn’t even a protest, so I don’t know what they think they’re accomplishing. We had protests, of course. But this isn’t one of them. This is the result of the protests. The people here now came not necessarily because they care, but because people like to watch buildings fall. It’s this primal need for destruction, maybe, or it’s because this town is so boring that even this counts as entertainment.


I grip Terrence’s hand as we stand and wait for it to start. We didn’t need to be here, but he wanted to come. He isn’t making a speech, though he would have liked to; he doesn’t get to personally pick up the statue or throw a ceremonial rock at a window of the house.

 

"Hey, how are you feeling?" I ask.

 

He shrugs. "Underwhelmed."

 

I jab him in the shoulder. "Come on, be proud of yourself." I point to where the crew is fastening ropes around the statue's arms. "You did this. Hundreds of years, thousands of students couldn’t do this. But you did.”

 

We watch as the statue is carried away and the house collapses into a pile of rubble. Or rather, Terrence watches, and I watch Terrence. His arms are crossed, and his mouth is set in a firm line.

 

When it is over, he turns to leave, no doubt to go back to his dark room and start on the next project. But I grab his wrist and say, "No, wait, don't just leave. Let's celebrate.”

 

He shakes his head. “I have to write a paper,” he says.

 

“Come on, Pineapple King. I know it seems small, but a win is a win, right?” He shrugs, and I think fast. “If we hurry, I bet we can still get a free ice cream cone.”

 

“Well,” he says slowly, “Fine. Ice cream sounds good.”

 

I grin and break into a jog, my fingers still clasped around his wrist. He stumbles a bit before he matches my pace, and he laughs as, together, we jog away from the destruction.

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53 likes 38 comments

Beautiful! I love how calm this story is, and that the statue coming down is described in such an everyday way. It's pulled down and carried away (despite the obnoxious counter demonstrators). I don't know what the old ending was like, but this is lovely. There's a definite sense of "this is just the beginning" but also a moment of friendship. And your writing style is amazing!

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Thank you so much! I didn't set out with the intention of writing something calm or soothing, but I really like how it turned out. I loved writing this friendship so much that I'm going to write more about these characters, so I'll probably post about them again!

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" I'm going to write more about these characters." Yes! I particularly liked Terrence. There wasn't too much said about him personally and all the little pieces that are there made him sound tremendous. A beautiful, modest hero. :)

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Thank you! He's a new favorite of mine for sure.

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13:13 Jun 13, 2020

Lovely writing Natalie. Your prose flows beautifully and I must say I do appreciate good use of semi colons! I expected more to happen in the end but I like your voice very much :)

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Thank you so much, Kate! I also didn't love the ending I wrote, so I made some edits. I'm not sure that I'm totally satisfied with it, but if you get a chance to read the edited version I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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19:17 Jun 13, 2020

Vastly improved! New ending is more poignant. Good idea to end with an image of friendship and solidarity

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19:11 Jun 20, 2020

Amazing story.... I love how you describe this experience as underwhelming. You can hear the sadness coming from your characters and I love it.

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Thank you! This means a lot to me.

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18:54 Jun 27, 2020

It's a beautiful story. I like it so much. Fighting....

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Very well written.

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21:55 Jun 23, 2020

It certainly was not the ending I was expecting, but it makes me expect more in the future from Terrence. Great job!

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00:37 Jun 22, 2020

I love Terrence's strength. I just love the character. the way you describe him campaigning brought President Obama to mind -- "... when Terrence speaks, you listen. The words he says are powerful and fact-checked and honest, but mostly, it’s his voice. " So well-written. I feel sympathy for the narrator too, always a rock but always in the shadow. It got off to a bit of a slow start for me, but re-reading, I don't know how I would change it. I think it's well-crafted, and it was just hard to get into at first, knowing nothing about wh... read more

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Hi Brita, thank you so much for reading and for your thoughtful comment! That's an interesting parallel between Terrence and President Obama, one that I wasn't intending, but now that you mention it I can see it too. I have a tendency to write a beginning and not revisit it because I'm so busy trying to figure out an ending, so I will keep your feedback in mind and try to give more attention to my openings. Thanks again!

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02:00 Jun 21, 2020

This was incredible! Loved every sentence!

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Thank you so much Skye!

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20:12 Jun 20, 2020

Was the MC a girl or a boy?

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The narrator's name is Ava and they're non-binary. I thought about saying that in the story itself but decided not to, since the focus here is more on Terrence. Originally the narrator was going to be Terrence's girlfriend, but I decided I wanted to focus on friendship instead of romance. Thanks for reading! :)

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12:39 Jun 20, 2020

Well-written, but as a person who walks through graveyards for fun, the destruction of any history, for good or bad, causes me no end of proverbial sadness.

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13:58 Jun 20, 2020

Stuff just hit the proverbial fan then. 😂

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Hi Scott, thanks for reading! Note that we don't actually know what happened to the statue, other than it being taken away. I wanted to leave that open-ended. And the narrator says that the house was probably going to be destroyed anyway. I think there are also different ways of recognizing history, and on the campus I created, they were finally having honest, educational conversations about their college's history, rather than just blindly celebrating. (I also like to walk through graveyards for fun! I think they're fascinating and I lik... read more

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18:31 Jun 20, 2020

I understand. And I appreciate the small, evolutionary changes done to headstones over the years. Still good writing.

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21:59 Jun 19, 2020

The opening is so intriguing: "But we will not let them take today away from us." You tell the story naturally, yet each sentence is deliberate. I love how they're replacing the past legacy of the statue with a growing legacy of activism and friendship, even if there's little fanfare and tangibility associated with that. Congratulations on the win!!!

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Thank you! I struggled to choose a title but when "legacies" came to me I knew it was perfect. I definitely wanted to focus on moving forward and especially friendship, so I'm glad that came through!

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17:57 Jun 19, 2020

Wow awesome story! Your descriptions of both the characters and their surroundings are so vivid that I can really picture it all happening in my head. You put words together in a way that definitely kept my attention and urged me to read on. I also love the plot line and how the story shows such an impactful moment. You certainly deserved the win, congrats!

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Thank you for your kind words Joanne! I'm so happy you enjoyed it!

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05:14 Jul 01, 2020

I enjoyed reading the story, It rekindled my revolutionary trait at the same time making me value true friendship in a world where everyone one likes you only when you seem accepted by society.

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04:06 Jul 01, 2020

Love it. It has ignited the revolutionary 'me'

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15:13 Jun 26, 2020

This was so refreshing!

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06:22 Jun 25, 2020

Came to read your story after I saw that you are on of the winners. And wow! I am glad I did. It is such a great story. Loved the characters especially Terrence. Every single sentence was written so beautifully. Would you mind to read my story too and share your opinions on it??

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23:03 Jun 24, 2020

Bravo! This story is marvelous. Thank you for writing it, sharing it, and congrats on the win!

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23:10 Jun 23, 2020

Awesome job! The story was amazingly written :)

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08:49 Jun 23, 2020

Just wondering what was the hardest part of this story to come up with other than the ending, I sometimes get trouble in some part of my writing (depending on what I'm writing) and just wanted to know what pasts you struggled with other than the ending because endings aren't always the easiest thing to write. By the way, amazing piece and characters are awesome. Also, if you refer to me ever, just call me Carly.

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Hi Carly, thank you! The hardest part, aside from the ending, was deciding how to describe the actual event. Ultimately I decided on making it underwhelming, but I thought about making it more intense. I decided against that because I wanted to focus on the characters and their friendship, and also show that sometimes the things we work really hard towards turn out to be almost non-events. In something as short as this, I say to myself, "Okay, we can't focus on everything, so what is the main point?" and that's how I got to where I did. Hope... read more

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02:12 Jun 23, 2020

Congratulations Natalie. Thank you for this story. Other comments have captured its winning elements, so I shall refrain. I certainly look forward to you completing those unfinished ones :)

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Thank you! All of these nice comments have definitely inspired me to work on those unfinished pieces (and some new ones) so I'll have more coming soon!

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