Phoenix Rising: A “Choose Your Own Adventure” Title For Late Bloomers.

Submitted into Contest #125 in response to: Write a story about a late bloomer.... view prompt

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Latinx Coming of Age Creative Nonfiction

“You are what is known as a “late bloomer, son”


At least, this is what your father tells you when you ask why the other fourth graders mistake you for a girl. It doesn’t help that you’re pale, your hair is past shoulder length, and you’ve got no “bad boy moustache” yet like some of the other boys. Your pecs are also large, but underdeveloped, so you have what the other boys call “bitch tits.”


Of course, you’re also a sensitive soul honing an artistic talent for drawing! And you’re a romantic! How sweet! You watched a ton of soap operas with your mom, and now you’ve seen how intense and mind-blowing love can be. You have a crush on a pretty brunette girl with dimples who sits next to you in class, and you want to dance with her. You want to run away with her. Your heart beats faster when she even comes near you in school. 


But you’re still a “nerd.” At least that’s what your friends tell you she said about you. Ouch!


And kids this age are mean as fuck. You stay away from the other mean kids as often as you can. 


Staying clear of mean kids works for you, until one of them sets you in his crosshairs and won’t leave you alone. Everything you say around him is “stupid.” If other kids are telling a running joke or some silly story, and you chime in with a “nerdy comment,” you’ve “kiiiilllled it” in that way that makes you regret you’re even alive. 


One day, just before class starts, this kid makes a crack about your “girlie hair.” Worse, he says it in front of your crush! 


“You son of a b…” Your ears suddenly feel like they’re on fire as you start to hear a ringing sound somewhere in the background. You raise your hands, glaring at your tormentor as the collective “gasp” of your classmates fills the hallway. 


What will you do now? 


  1. fight the li’l turd blossom. (Keep reading)
  2. Drop the whole thing and get ready for class to start. (Turn to page 3)


** 1. **


So, you’ve decided to fight the jerk. You saw the way your crush looked at you when he made fun of you. She was mortified! Well… okay, she wasn’t even looking your way, but what does that matter? Your honor is at stake, and so (you imagine) is hers.


“For the glory of love!” is your battlecry before you shove your tormentor.


Two things happen in the next instant. The first is that your bully tilts his head slightly, scrunches his brow, blinks and asks “What the fuck?” 


Kids these days!


Secondly, it dawns on you that the “li’l turd-blossom” isn’t so little after all. In fact, you’re looking up at the grimace on his face, the mean glint in his eye, and you surmise he’s a full head taller than you. 


Your mouth suddenly runs dry, your lips cracking under the strain. This might not end well. 


The shoving match escalates into a full on fight that spills from the classroom into the hallway. 


The fight itself doesn’t last long. Somehow, you manage to repel your opponent, then you get pulled away from him long enough to wink at your crush before rushing into round two. You just pulled a classic leading man move. How can you lose now? 


The taller kid ends the fight by making you cry with a straight punch to your face. 


Your crush was watching this time. Awww! 


Don’t despair! You may not be Oscar De La Hoya, but what you have going for you is your oversized brain.


That’s right. A year passes from this loss, and you’ve been singled out as one of the smartest kids in your public elementary school. Random kids from other classes suddenly know your name. Sometimes that means they want to be friends with you. Other times, these kids just make fun of you. Your parents tell you “that’s just jealousy. Don’t pay those mean kids any mind.” You want to believe your parents. You really do. But the remarks still sting, especially when your so-called “friends” make them behind your back and to your face just to fit in with the “cool kids.”


Your standardized test scores, however, are through the roof, and now, outsiders are taking notice. An organization approaches your school and asks your principal to recommend four children to compete for a spot in their new program. Their program puts the smartest public school kids through fourteen months of rigorous education and training that will set them on the path to private school. 


Four kids, including yourself and your former bully are selected to try, yet you’re the only one who makes it into the affirmative action based program.


Way to go! Your parents are thrilled, and you’ve suddenly become the family celebrity after a five year dry spell. 


Suck it, bully! 


But life gets a bit confusing after that. Part of being selected for this program is an agreement you make to spend two back to back summers there. As fifth grade draws to a close for you, this looming prospect suddenly makes you queasy. 


Three weeks into that summer, you are completely overwhelmed, depressed, and unsure of who you really are anymore. Whatever happened to all the drawings you used do at school and at home? And what happened to the awesome book reports you wrote (complete with illustrated covers) for class? When did you write and illustrate the best tall tale in your school?


All that soulful poetry, the sketches of comic book and video game characters, the “tall tales” and short stories have to be put aside suddenly. There’s no time to go and hang out with your cousins or your few neighborhood friends. 


The truth is, nobody in this new program gives a damn about drawing and painting, and the only writing you’re allowed to do is analytical. Essays, lab reports, and complex math projects are your new written currency. And guess what? 


You. Hate. It. 


Your mother pulls you aside after dinner one day and sighs, staring at you. 


“Mijo,” she says. (My son). “What are you crying at the dinner table for?”


That’s when you break down and tell her what you hate and fear about the new program, what you miss most about your old life, and why you’re sad without your art.


Your mother listens, nods, then stands ramrod straight. She looks at you intently and asks you a very direct question. 


“What do you want to do, then?”


It seems another choice is before you. What will you say to your inquisitive mother?


  1. “I want out of this chickenshit outfit.” (Turn to page 14)
  2. “Whatever you want me to.” (Keep reading)
  3. “Some dogs are brown.” (Turn to page 16)


** 1. **


You decide to tell your mother “I want out of this chickenshit outfit,” but there’s no way you’ll say those exact words to her without getting the beating of your life. This is the eighties, afterall. Legal emancipation for kids won’t even be on the national radar until the nineties. Stay sharp!


Despite your best efforts, your mother agrees (at top volume) to disagree. No choice was ever actually on the table for you; she was simply trying to see how hard she would have to push to keep you in the program. 


Oh boy.


You graduate as school valedictorian from your elementary school, and you finish out the fourteenth month of the program so you can “commence” with your classical, private school education. You even make it into your first choice of middle school, and your parents could hardly be more proud of you.


So why do you feel so lost? You don’t breathe as easily as you cry, but you don’t dare tell your parents how miserable you feel. That would be a “selfish” act, inflicted upon them by an “ungrateful” child. 


Right. 


Middle School and High School challenge you in ways that go way beyond academic achievement. Somehow within the pursuit of academic excellence, that fourteen month brain-drain never offered you “education of self.” You’re somewhat ignorant of the race and class issues inherent within the world you just entered until you’re left to mingle with the elite. 


Now you’re speaking with kids whose families are far wealthier than your own. You’re expected to celebrate more Jewish holidays despite complete ignorance of their significance to you. You’re dumbfounded at the very existence of sports like “Lacrosse, water polo or field hockey.” 


The world of competitive sports is open to you for the very first time. However, as a late bloomer, you’re forced to prove your strength and speed in front of others. Intramural sports programming alarms you because you lack the skills, the coordination, the speed and the strength of other far more developed boys. You can’t even do a push up until your junior year in high school, you don’t swim very well, and you never learned to climb that damned rope. 


As adolescence changes your scholastic focus in ways you try and fail to keep from your parents, you grow increasingly aware of cliques, popularity, and the rules of engagement for each. Learning many of these rules seems to require a cruel sort of hazing. The bullying from jocks in particular leaves you feeling angry and helpless, especially as administrators don’t seem inclined to intervene.


By the end of your high school freshman year, you discover that it’s easier, in many ways, to write all these “rules” off as nonsense with which no one should bother. Some of your closest friends are the school outcasts, afterall. 


Still, academic curiosity about human behavior emboldens you. You may opt, as a social experiment, to keep learning and employing these rules of engagement just to see where it takes you.


What will you do? 


  1. Learn the rules of engagement. (Keep reading)
  2. Forget the rules and own your future as a complete outcast. (Turn to page 20)
  3. Kill them all, for you are the “King of Pain!” (Turn to page 25)



** 1. **


At last, a pursuit worthy of both your intellect and creativity! You choose to continue the great social experiment. Though you learn some painful lessons along the way, you become friends with many of the jocks when you help them with their homework. Your academic excellence helps you integrate seamlessly with the kids some of those same jocks call “nerds.” You weave your way through the school’s popular musicians when they discover you have an ear for music. 


What begins to happen, whether by accident or subconscious design, is that more and more girls begin to notice you. You’re not an unattractive young man, but you’ve never felt confident around girls, particularly after a disastrous middle school dance that left you feeling ugly and abnormal. 


You learn to use these rules of engagement so well with your peers, you begin to use the same principles with adults. These particular experiments demand more attention and calculation. However, frustration and your adolescent ego eventually gets the better of you, and you find yourself in the dean’s office one day after calling a male professor an “egomaniacal prick.”


After speaking with your dean, you realize that you’ve given so much attention to academia and to your social experiment, you’ve neglected your artistic pursuits. This has come at great personal cost to you, and is ultimately your biggest source of frustration.


Somehow, the dean hears your plight, and it ends up translating into two summers at a unique art camp. Two very important things happen here. You make several lifelong friends, and you finally begin to hone your prodigious skills as both a writer and a visual artist.


Unfortunately, a final, heart wrenching lesson needs to be learned. The ultimate divisions at your high school are race and class.


By your junior year, you’ve begun to mix more with black and Hispanic kids, many of whom came from similar backgrounds, some of whom even attended the same fourteen-month program you did. You didn’t feel accepted by most of these kids before, especially since many are athletes, and many more initially didn’t recognize you as Hispanic. Not a surprise, really. Some of your old neighborhood friendships ended after you were labelled a sellout or a “wannabe white boy,”and that was enough to make you gun-shy. 


By your senior year, you’ve figured out the key to your own social happiness. At every opportunity, you choose whomever makes good company because you’ve forgotten the true nature of social stratification. 


College visits occur, then applications are filled out, sent in, and the waiting game begins. There are, of course, the Ivy League schools that many of your friends wish to attend. You visit and apply to several yourself. You get “waitlisted” at Princeton, but you get into several of the top colleges in the nation. 


The painful reminder of race and class disparity rears its ugly head. For the first time, your Jewish friends challenge your right to attend the same schools they do. Some express outright resentment at your resounding success, blaming a “system” of “affirmative action” for getting them rejected from their schools of choice in favor of you or your other minority peers. How do you tell them that affirmative action allowed you to be their friend in the first place?


And what does it all matter? Your true path was supposed to lead you elsewhere, and depression hits hard as this notion dawns on you. You no longer care where you end up, because you’ve exhausted yourself impressing others. The denial of self has gotten so bad with your parents that you’ve actually convinced yourself and them that you will be a medical doctor. 


What the hell are you thinking?


Mom and dad are over the moon at your ambition, but so what? None of this matters if you’re busy chasing someone else’s dream of who and what you are. 


This ultimate lesson plays out again and again in more and more destructive ways. You have your first panic attack in college when you finally admit to yourself that you’re on a miserable path. You wrestle with your achievements, your happiness, your very sense of self. 


After hours of trying to calm yourself, you pick up the phone to talk to your parents. Now, you’ve got to decide how to finish this story. Do you:


  1. Change your major and tell your parents? (Turn to page 29)
  2. Keep on the same path until something different happens? (Turn to page 31)
  3. Change your major, but convince your parents you’re not really changing anything at all? (Keep reading)


** 3. **


Okay. Let me ask you this? How well do you think this is going to go for you? 


You’ve got the gift of gab when you need it, but there is one lesson you seem to have missed along the way. 


“To thine own self, be true.”


After some serious sighing, crying, chastising and begrudging acceptance from your parents, you hang up, convinced your plan sort of worked. But the catch 22 is you don’t really wish to change your major to psychology. You don’t want to be a “mind doctor” like “Frasier Crane” any more than you ever desired to be a physician. You yearn to change your major to creative writing. But you think the damage has been done both academically and to your parents’ faith in you, and it’s too late to change everything now.


What a sad decision you’ve made. 


You walk a much darker path than you anticipated. Post college, you move just off campus with your college sweetheart, and that proves to be a confusing and tumultuous ten year period of your life that ends with a nasty breakup. Your professional life proves incredibly unsatisfying. You never pursue the post bachelors education you thought you would. In the early 21st century, the national economy tanks. Lucrative jobs are scarce, and the six-figure promise of higher education seems to have eluded you. The spirit circles with which you run refer to you as “chameleon, shapeshifter,” and “warrior.” Two of those three require you to take on the forms and colors of those with whom you surround yourself. Though a mentor describes this to you as “displaying extreme adaptability,” to you, it ultimately sounds cowardly. 


You’re tired of hiding who you are. You’ve done that for too long. 


Yet hope remains so long as you keep your warrior spirit. By your forty second birthday, you finally begin to understand the importance of being true to yourself. You’ve moved back to your home city, and you’ve returned to school for a career shift that leads you into healthcare. You’re married now to the love of your life, and you have a seven month old son with eyes like yours and hair as red as the fire of a risen phoenix. 


As you hold your baby boy, you stare out your apartment window at the setting sun above a city skyline. You reflect on your father’s words from so long ago. 


“You are what is known as a “late bloomer, son”


At last, you begin to understand the true significance of this profound statement. 


Your son turns out to be every bit as inquisitive, sensitive, and wary as you are. By his thirteenth year, he has also proven to be a gifted and talented youth. With long, unruly red hair and a glint in his large eyes, he turns to you one day and asks you a question for which you hope you’ve prepared yourself. 


“Dad, what should I do with my life?”


What will you tell your son?











December 23, 2021 17:09

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2 comments

Dustin Gillham
01:42 Jan 01, 2022

Angel, this was amazing. Such a refreshing and fun read.

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Deidra Lovegren
21:06 Dec 29, 2021

Angel, this is just brilliant. You've packed so much humanity, humor, and pathos into this short story -- !! We are all this kid (and parent.) Witty, clever, relatable, charming, heartfelt, clever, and satisfying. This needs to be longlisted, then shortlisted, then win. The only suggestion I would add is to italicize lines of internal monologue, but that could just be a me-thing. Your style is unique and perfect. I absolutely need to read more of your work. Well done, sir.

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