41 comments

American Coming of Age Adventure

The path to the tree was just as long as always. This trip, however, was unlike the countless ones Keegan, Tommy and I had made as boys. We walked those in 30 minutes or so, whereas this one took twelve years. The turn off to the trail was still hidden, but I didn’t mind, that’s what made it secret. There were places that had grown over and the debris of the forest littered the way, but, like Ebenezer Scrooge, I felt I could have walked it blindfolded.


As I entered the clearing at the end of the path the tree stood majestically—just as we had left it. It had grown quite a bit in 20 years, so had I. Yet, standing there, looking up at the familiar limbs, I felt like a little boy again and smiled, and remembered.


We didn’t know we were different at the time. We all liked frogs and didn’t like girls, and that’s pretty much all that mattered. Still, the real reason we became friends was probably the result of a statistical anomaly: we were all born on October 1st. What are the chances of that in a town of less than 500 people? It seemed as if our friendship was destiny.  


Keegan was an old soul, organized to a fault and with everything he owned always in its assigned place. He was also a meticulous planner and the de facto leader of our little group. Tommy was the rich kid who didn’t know it. He wore Toughskins and Keds and always looked like he needed a haircut. He was a fearless defender of the downtrodden and the unquestioned heart of JTK, as we called ourselves. The “J” was for Jason, that’s me.


I was average, so much so that even I don’t even remember what I was known for, but I fit in with Keegan and Tommy, and on our 10th birthday we found the tree.


It was a perfect day for exploring the woods, sunny but with a crisp breeze. The leaves had started to turn bright orange and red and those that were already on the ground made the crinkling sound of fall. Sticks we found became swords and we pretended to be pirates.


We spent many a day in those woods, so much so we considered ourselves experts, but we had never seen the trail that led to the tree, not until that day. Being young and fearless we did as boys usually do, we investigated.


When we came to a clearing at the end of the path Keegan and I ran into the opening as if we were trying to win a race. Tommy, who walked in more slowly to take in this new secret place, saw the tree first, and in a flash, navigated up the perfectly placed branches. Where others might have seen a challenge, Tommy saw an opportunity. He was always reaching higher and the tree seemed as if it was made for him to climb.


Keegan, as he was wont to do, decided we should build a fort and began barking orders. He had it all worked out, we could use the boughs and branches that were plentiful in the field to create the shell of what would become our hangout. We never minded when he took charge as he was a benevolent dictator and always did the most work and did it well.  


We didn’t get very far when Tommy yelled, “Oh my gosh! You guys won’t believe this!” Within seconds Keegan and I made our way up the tree to Tommy. To our surprise, right there carved in the tree, twenty feet above ground were the initials “JTK 1901.” I’m sure it was just a terrific coincidence, but to us it was a sign that this was our tree, our woods, and our secret place.  


The rest of that day was adolescent boy perfection. We built a makeshift fort, one we improved over time. Throughout the years, boughs and branches would be replaced with boards, nails, and an old windowpane Keegan had “borrowed” from his dad. That day we stayed much later than we should’ve, but we were able to sit together and watch the sunset while drinking grape juice boxes. It was Tommy who came up with the idea just before we started back. “Let’s spend every birthday here together!” 


“It’s a deal!” I agreed instantly.

“I’m in,” Keegan added.

“It has to be a promise,” Tommy insisted.

“I promise,” I responded, holding my hand up like a witness in court.

“I promise, too,” Keegan joined in, with conviction and the covenant was complete.


Young boys make and break promises easily, but we were true to our word for the next eight years. There was one time we practically had to carry Keegan to the tree because he’d broken his leg playing football and another where Tommy dragged me there three weeks after my dad died. I was inconsolable and isolated. That birthday, at the tree, was the beginning of my healing. Tommy knew I needed to be there even if I didn’t. It was an act of love, not common at our age, and one I’ll never forget. Yes, we were always there on our birthday with grape juice boxes at sunset.


Then real life happened. Keegan left for college in California, becoming an electrical engineer. Tommy joined the army spending almost two full tours in Iraq. He had a servant's heart and a hero’s soul, though we always heard of his selfless deeds second hand. I wasn’t made for college or the military, so I stayed in town and worked at my family's hardware store. We made one last promise on our 18th birthday. We’d meet at the tree on our 30th birthday, watch the sunset and drink one more juice box together. It was a promise between best friends and a commitment to stay that way.


When Keegan called me last week, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Like I said, he’s always been the planner. I thought it would be impossible to keep our promise, but Keegan would have none of it. He would drive cross country to be there on October 1st, and he intended to pick up Tommy on the way.  


I had just one job, to bring the juice boxes, grape as always. 


I was there early. I wanted time to reflect, but I soon heard footsteps coming through the paths we had explored as children. I turned to see Keegan walking towards me, reverently holding Tommy’s urn.  


No words were spoken. Keegan and I sat down and stuck our straws in our grape juice boxes. Then the three of us watched the sunset together, just as we had promised.   


April 18, 2021 22:06

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41 comments

Julie Ward
16:54 Apr 21, 2021

This is a Thom story through and through and I loved it. It's compact, full of heart and feeling and it packs your signature emotional punch. There is so much beauty in this simple story of three boys and a tree. It's good as is, but I think you could make it even better by doing a couple of small things. First of all, the initials carved into the tree nagged at me a little bit. Cool coincidence yes, but kind of random too. I kept wondering if we were going to get a little aside about the initials. Maybe if it wasn't so specific - J...

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Thom Brodkin
17:18 Apr 21, 2021

Both suggestions make absolute sense. I was struggling with the carving, I wanted it in there but had gotten some other feedback that it was too much of a coincidence. I love the idea of the initials and the year, it's a perfect solution. I am also going to think about reworking the beginning I like the idea of maybe a sentence about the the trip to the tree. Thanks for crystalizing things I was having trouble seeing.

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Thom Brodkin
23:23 Apr 21, 2021

Would you do me a huge favor and take a gander at the new opening and see if it sets the tone more accurately. 😀

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Julie Ward
19:43 Apr 22, 2021

I LOVE IT! Yes, it drew me right in!!

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Thom Brodkin
19:59 Apr 22, 2021

Your advice was brilliant and my story is much better for it. Thank you!!!!

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Kristin Neubauer
20:28 Apr 19, 2021

Chills! I literally felt chills running through me at the last sentence. When you mentioned that Tommy went off to Iraq, I had a suspicion he would die, but that not impact the ending in the least. Such strong writing, especially as you built up the boys’ childhood. I loved this line: “We didn’t know we were different at the time. We all liked frogs and didn’t like girls, and that’s pretty much all that mattered.” There was only one moment that felt a little off to me was the “JTK 1901” inscription on the tree. That felt a little too ...

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Thom Brodkin
20:35 Apr 19, 2021

Kristin, feedback like this is one of the biggest reasons I write. I can't draw or paint or write music so this is my way to connect with people. Thank you. I struggled a little bit with the inscription. I know it's a little contrived but there was something almost spiritual about the connection these boys felt so I left it in. I still thank you for pointing it out. I have big blind spots and I need my friends to care enough to say where I might have missed the mark, even a little.

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Kristin Neubauer
20:56 Apr 19, 2021

I tend to take a big picture view of the stories I read, so I don’t usually focus on the odd word or punctuation when I critique. I judge a story based on how I feel reading it. Am I caught up in it? Does it flow? Does it feel fulfilling, satisfying? Am I interested in the characters? if something distracts from all that, I’ll definitely say something. But I’ve never found that with your stories. The JTK sign was the first thing that had me raise my eyebrows. But, like I said, it’s a great idea. Just something that seems a little mo...

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Kristin Neubauer
12:07 Apr 23, 2021

Hi Thom - I posted a new story if you could take a look when you have a chance. I played around with timelines which I don’t often do, and I can’t tell if it worked or is confusing. I really enjoyed exploring this story, and it was very clear in my head. But I’m not sure if the clarity in my own mind translated to the execution of the story. Would appreciate your thoughts whenever you have time. Thanks!

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Thom Brodkin
13:03 Apr 23, 2021

I'd be happy to. I always enjoy your stories. I'll be over to check it out today and let you know what I think.

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Willow Byrd
19:38 Apr 19, 2021

Oh, Thom, this was simply gorgeous from start to finish. Your writing displayed the simple charm of boyhood. Even after your characters had grown up, you could still feel the childhood bond between the three. And the ending was sad and beautiful, but really quite perfect. Gosh, there was just certain undeniable magic in this one Thom. I don't know how to describe it but this was really one of your best. One thing I might suggest is to work on showing, rather than telling ( something I struggle with). It might help your story to flow just a...

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Thom Brodkin
19:48 Apr 19, 2021

I've been writing on Reedsy for almost a year and I think that really moving into showing not telling is the thing that eludes me most. I don't know if I don't trust myself or the reader or both but I feel if I don't get better at it I will always be limited. Still your comments were so sweet and generous. I thank you for being a great Reedsy friend. Someone who I can count on.

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Willow Byrd
19:52 Apr 19, 2021

Showing and not telling it hard for a lot of authors! Don't despair, I promise you'll get better at it. That's why we're all here, right? :) Thanks for being such a great friend!

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Claire Lewis
18:35 Apr 19, 2021

He’s back! I loved this story, there’s so much unspoken but it’s clear that these three characters have a very deep bond. As always, your style doesn’t mince words and I really enjoy that concision. You focus on the essentials and fill in only what you have to. The whole piece has this nostalgic magic to it which I loved. It brought me right back to building forts in the woods with my siblings as a kid. Critique-wise, this sentence threw me off a bit: “They also wouldn’t be Keegan or Tommy or me because we practically lived in these wood...

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Thom Brodkin
18:45 Apr 19, 2021

I look forward to you reading my stories and giving me your feedback and help. I reworked the sentence in the beginning. I think it's less clunky now. I'm toying with the idea of giving the 18th birthday party more play. I'm not sure on that though. The length of this story seems to work although I see real value in highlighting the last goodbye. It would make the end even more significant. Thank you. Really, thank you.

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Rachel Loughran
12:44 Apr 19, 2021

Beautifully written - you are able to say so much in so few words, which is a true gift. The pacing was wonderful and the ending bittersweet - lovely work on this one.

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Thom Brodkin
13:17 Apr 19, 2021

Thank you so much. We men are just little boys who just got bigger. This was a tribute to the friends of my youth. I'm glad you found it and took the time to let me know your thoughts.

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H L Mc Quaid
09:14 Apr 19, 2021

Hi Thom, These descriptions remind me of my childhood (running through the forest, splashing through streams, climbing trees), so thanks for that. :) The structure of the story is good, though I think the use of the past perfect (had started to turn, had spent, had never seen) interrupt the flow a bit. The friendship between the boys was believable, and there were some nice recurring themes (the tree, the sunset, the grape juice boxes). You do well with describing how things look, but I think you could make the story even more evocative ...

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Thom Brodkin
20:38 Apr 19, 2021

I very much appreciate the detailed feedback and the suggestions. I've already incorporated some and am thinking about the others. It's the fine tuning at the end that's the hardest. Kind of like the last 10 pounds. At least I think because I still haven't got to the last 10 pounds. 😊

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H L Mc Quaid
20:54 Apr 19, 2021

man there are ALWAYS 10 more pounds to go. 😂

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Zilla Babbitt
22:37 Apr 18, 2021

Oh, I like this one. It seems typical to your style and choice of themes to write about and yet I mean that as a huge compliment. This was beautiful and sweet and I really liked it. A fourth-wall break could be appropriate in this story. You could have the narrator talking to the reader, like "you might not be able to understand but this is the tree." I love the ending and I like how you never really explicitly say that Tommy died. You just mention his urn and things like this are what make your writing so magical. You tell somewhat th...

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Thom Brodkin
23:23 Apr 18, 2021

This was a labor of love. It was the little boy in me telling a fictionalized version of how I remember my childhood and my childhood friends. I can’t really take out too much because I made the minimum by only a few words but I will take your other advice to heart and see if there are ways to make it even better. Thanks, for everything.

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Zilla Babbitt
14:19 Apr 20, 2021

Stories that are based in real life are always the hardest to write. I love to read your work, no charge :)

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22:35 Apr 18, 2021

Wow, this is amazing and so heartfelt. The ending was so beautiful, yet so sad. I loved the fact that these boys bonded over sharing the same birthday, and the time-lapse that progressed was perfect for the story and the way the tree got introduced to it. I'm so glad their friendship stayed strong over the ages. True friendships like that are rare to come by. Great job on this story!

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Thom Brodkin
19:23 Apr 19, 2021

Thank you so much. I wrote this as a tribute to my childhood friends a few who I've lost but they always live on through the memories we've shared and the trees we've climbed.

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19:27 Apr 19, 2021

No problem! That's so sweet :) Your writing is always amazing

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Shea West
20:22 Apr 28, 2021

How did I know you were gonna off someone?! This sweet and concise story gave me the feeling I have when I watch The Sandlot or Now and Then. You showed the simplicity of a friend connection, and how little they all needed to be connected to one another. The innocence of finding initials in the tree as a sense of confirmation bias that the tree did belong to all 3 of them was reflective of childhood bliss.

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17:39 Apr 28, 2021

Damn it, you always make me cry.

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17:40 Apr 28, 2021

The Long Walk Home goes live tomorrow.

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Thom Brodkin
17:48 Apr 28, 2021

The whole book?!!!!! Yay!!!!! Is it on your website? Do I need to purchase it? I will. 😀😀😀

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18:31 Apr 28, 2021

It's on Amazon.

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Thom Brodkin
18:34 Apr 28, 2021

I'll be your first customer. I'm stoked. Congrats!!!! You deserve it.

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20:10 Apr 28, 2021

Thank you so much! I've stayed off of here for a few weeks to make myself finish. lol

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Karen Kinley
00:50 Apr 19, 2021

Love this! The magic is back! You say so much with so few words. Dialogue is sprinkled in very meaningfully. Such a sweet story based on reminiscing. A few comments: in paragraph 3, you wrote "...with everything he owned always in it’s assigned place." It should be "its." In a later paragraph, "Then real life happened." Make this a sentence by itself. I find the very last sentence a little odd since an urn can't "watch" the sunset. Might I suggest something like: "Then the three of us sat together in our tree, the sun setting before us...

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Thom Brodkin
01:01 Apr 19, 2021

Thank you so much and I know it’s the not picky edits that transform a story. It’s also how to fix blind spots. Please nit pick every time. Again thank you.

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Anna Mosqueda
12:05 May 10, 2021

The ending completely stopped me in my tracks...which is a GREAT thing. Wow, I loved this story so much. It was so raw and full of emotion, which I can see came straight from your heart. Great job with the introduction of the boys, it was very well thought out. I especially loved when you said Keegan was the "de facto leader of our little group." Overall, amazing job. I'm moving on to the next story after this!

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David Gottfried
16:20 May 03, 2021

This is really well crafted. You accomplish a lot with very few words. Nice foreshadowing with the "almost two full tours." And the end was heartbreaking.

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Jane Andrews
13:47 May 01, 2021

Sorry it's taken so long to comment on this one. Straight away, I knew I was back in familiar 'Thom' territory with this one - it's the sort of story you do so well. There's a lovely, wholesome vibe to this - and that makes the ending even more poignant - but what a wonderful way to keep their promise. Work is crazy right now, but I will log in as often as I can and whenever I see a new story of yours, I'll read it and post a comment.

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Zilla Babbitt
01:06 Apr 26, 2021

Hola! I just posted a new one after a long break. I'd love to get your thoughts on it should you have the time.

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Thom Brodkin
01:17 Apr 26, 2021

You snuck it in on me. I’ve been checking your page periodically to see if you’ve posted. I’d be happy to give it a read. I may get to it tonight. If not, tomorrow for sure. Yay!!!!! I’m excited to see it.

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17:19 Apr 23, 2021

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