Contest #100 shortlist ⭐️

The Other Sides Of Your Life

Submitted into Contest #100 in response to: Start or end your story with two characters sitting down for a meal.... view prompt

41 comments

Sad Drama Contemporary

(Content Warning: mentions of drug use and self-harm)


We hear the pump, pump, pump of your rapid heartbeat amplified by the Doppler. Your mom and I are nervous. The doctor’s gaze is focused on the monitor; your garish, fuzzy body seems to pique her interest.


Something’s wrong. I know it.


Your mom’s hand tightens around mine, her fearful clutch squeezing my fingers. Her face is frozen, her eyes wide, a stretched-out expression that could easily be confused for awe.


I look to the screen, note how you seem to be sitting, legs crossed like a tiny Buddha. The doctor still hasn’t said a single thing which ends up being very revealing, answering the one question that I already know the answer to.


“Joana?” Our doctor’s a high school friend of your mom's. “Is everything okay?”


She looks to us, gives us the rundown of your current situation in the same tone one offers their condolences. Your doctor tells us not to worry.


“Your baby is healthy,” she says.


“Tommy. His name is Tommy,” your mom returns while nearly sobbing.


The doctor rambles on, and I feel it, the pressure, a wretched tug coming from the center of my chest.


In a couple of weeks from now, they’ll wheel your mom over to the surgical wing for a c-section. I’ll scurry down the halls by her side up until the designated painted line.


“Sorry, sir,” one of the nurses will say, “we can’t let you go any further.”


They’ll take your mom away past the double doors, and I’ll catch a glimpse of her, nervously crying, shortly before you're born. I imagine the doctor will have some difficulty reaching into your mother’s cavity and pulling you out into the world, that it’ll be a complicated process made for delicate, nimble hands.


The first time I’ll see you will be from a distance, behind a glass panel in a sea of crowded newborns. Your leg will be wrapped up, layered in a series of overlapping ribbons, supported by a splint. You won’t move as much as the other babies, but I’ll look to your chest, and I’ll notice that you’re breathing.


“Do you want to pick up your son or daughter?” one of the nurses will ask me while I’m hovering outside the nursery. “Which one are they?”


I’ll point to you, the distinctively different child from the rest of the herd; the baby boy with a twisted leg, with stiffened joints who’ll need to go through several surgeries during the first years of his life.


“I don’t know if that’s a good idea. Maybe I shouldn’t?” I’ll respond.


“If you want, I can help?” the nurse will offer. “Do you and your wife already have a diagnosis?”


“She’s not my wife,” I’ll return while nodding in affirmation. “Minor Arthrogy-something.”


“Just a fancy word for problems in a few joints and limbs. He should be fine.”


“Should?”


“Well, he’s still just a newborn,” she’ll answer with a chuckle. “Life can be tough for anyone. In fact, all the babies in there should be fine.”


“And what if they’re not fine? What if they have a problem?”


“Then I guess that’s just another side of life.”


*


You said that you’ll be coming over today for dinner, so I had to make a run to the store. I grab some of your favorite things, bright red raspberries, Twizzlers, whipped cream, and strawberry ice cream. I think on a menu for tonight while pushing the cart down the aisles, remembering everything you loved to eat from when you were a child.


You thought my vegetarian lasagna was the bomb —a family recipe passed down to me from your grandma— but now I really don’t know what I should cook. I see portobello mushrooms, Parmesan, short-grain rice. I think of crafting a risotto, something different to entice you.


Part of me wonders if your resurgence will end with you asking me for money. Get the fuck out, I’ll shout if that’s the case because I’ll help you, Tommy, but not with that, I can’t sustain, I won’t sustain you throwing your life away.


Throughout the day and all through dinner, I’ll think about asking you to come back. I can offer you your old room, a place to sleep and eat, comfort. I’ll wake up early to prepare you breakfast, —so I guess I should buy pancake batter and bananas?— I’ll take you to physical therapy, find you a psych, throw the idea of you going back to school around. I’ll tell you stories about when you were a child, talk about your mother, plan vacations that one day in the future —a very distant future— we’ll one day take. We’ll do all of this together, you and I, for a couple weeks.


I’ll fight it, Tommy, your urges. I'll support you against your demons. We’ll struggle, have subsequent moments of peace, you'll possibly relapse again, then sneak into my room, take all the money I have in my wallet, and leave.


On the drive back home from the store, I can’t help but peer into every alley. I look beside every dumpster or pile of garbage bags. Sometimes I imagine finding you out here on the streets, limping with your arm out, holding yourself up against brick walls. Other times when my eyes skim through the newspaper, I’ll avoid the obituary, divert my gaze from the heading and images of a newly found body, terrified that it’ll be you lying dead.


*


When you were a boy, you had a curiosity with your own leg, observing it like a creature, something unsettling or sleeping, merely bound to your skin. By then, your mom and I hadn’t talked in months, and she would soon dissipate, blend into the background of your family history, leaving you behind with me.


The first time I started noticing your self-destructive habits was when you were seven. How you balled up your fist while in your bedroom and bashed it several times against the side of your thigh. I intervened when I heard the knocking, treated your self-inflicted wounds as if they were mine. 


When you were ten, you told me about the bullies, how they mocked you by taping make-shift peg legs to the side of their jeans and slurring their words like pirates. They wouldn’t choose you for kickball —not leaving you last, just not choosing you at all— and at recess, you’d be left alone, sitting on the bleachers.


The counselors suggested sports, something you could do that wouldn’t require running. Swimming, they said, unbeknownst that you feared water after a near-drowning incident one summer.


“I’m sure we can find him something to do,” your last counselor said. “A hobby, something to distract him, occupy his time.”


At sixteen, the bleachers became crowded, drenched in boys and girls who smoked. One of them offered you a cigarette, I bet; one of them probably soon after offered you a joint. You made a few friends, and that made me happy. I didn’t necessarily like your crew, but they did stand beside you, walking at a slower pace for you to follow —Tommy, I hate every one of them because I’m sure they got you into using, that they contributed to your having problems.


*


The interphone’s ringing, so I stop chopping the scallions and dart to the panel by the entrance.


“Hello?”


“Dad, it’s Tommy. I have a problem.”


The first thing I want to do is run down the stairs, the second thing is to ignore you, the third is to cry. I head down a mental spiral of what could be happening, thinking your outside with bloodshot eyes, yellow teeth, and a sugary substance over your gums.


“The building’s elevator isn’t working. I need help getting up the stairs.”


I let out a deep sigh of relief.


“Don't you ever scare me like that again,” I return. “Don’t move. I’m coming.”


*


A year after I found the first pack of Marlboros in your room was when I became sure of your addiction. At that time, you weren’t hiding your smoking anymore, and the scent of nicotine stained our apartment’s walls. One day I encountered a half-full box of cigarettes —I was surprised by the fact there was still half the amount— and as I looked into the pack like a telescope, I noticed a small white clump wrapped in tissue paper in the form of a pebble.


You arrived home shortly after, sweating profusely, claiming you had to walk due to missing the bus. I told you to shut up, so blinded by my rage that even if you were telling the truth, I couldn’t believe you.


I pointed to the table and asked you to explain.


“It’s not mine. I’m just holding it for a friend,” you answered, laughing.


You tried to cut through the living room, but I grabbed your arm in a craze. You pushed back, set yourself free, and fell to the floor, spraining your wrist in the process.


I hunched forward to give you my hand, and that’s when I saw it, the fabric of your pants slightly elevated, showing me dashes and seams etched into your skin, layered on top of your surgical scars.


“What the fuck is that, Tommy?”


“Nothing,” you said, tugging down the cuff of your pants. 


“Tommy…”


“It’s nothing,” you returned, agitated. “Get away from me!”


*


I’m using up all the stove's burners; one to saute the mushrooms, one that’s cooking down the rice, another one for the raspberry sauce I’ll spoon over our dessert, and the last burner keeping the stock warm.


The gurgle from the pots and pans wards off the silence. You’re leaning against the kitchen’s doorway, watching me chop the parsley, the knife running close to my knuckles, nearly grazing the top of my fingers.


Does this trigger you? I think to myself.


“Do you need help, Dad?”


I divert my eyes to glance at you, the beautiful boy you’ve become. Tall —though a bit too skinny—, with a laid-back rockstar demeanor and so strong.


I look to the knife, to the cutting board, hoping that I’ll find the answer on the kitchen counter.


“No, I think everything is okay,” I answer. “Wait, how about you help me out and set up the table?”


“Alright.”


Part of me wants to keep you busy but away from the sharp objects. I want to make sure you’re safe, sleeping okay, eating, and away from the drugs too.


“Call me if you need help with anything,” I say.


“Chill out, Dad. I’m not a baby.”


I’ll always see you as that newborn, that child wired and incubated on the other side of the glass. I’ll look at you, standing tall like a tower, and wonder just how long it’ll take before you start crumbling down.


*


I once woke up in the middle of the night, in August or September. I felt the need to simply stand up and go to the bathroom —I sometimes think it was divine intervention. I didn’t know you were there, that you had overdosed, that you needed saving.


The door wouldn’t open all the way back, its edge smacking, pushing against your defected limb. I squeezed through the opening and rushed to your side.


Your lips were dry, crusted, and dirty with a mixture of murky dribble and dust from the bathroom floor. There was a puddle, running from the base of the stall down to your clothes, a peach-colored pool that smelled so vile that almost caused me to hurl.


I tapped your cheek, forced open your mouth, slid my thumb and index finger under your lips like retractors, noticing your flared gums. You wouldn’t open your eyes. You didn’t twitch or say a single thing.


I repositioned your body, opened the bathroom door, left you lying there for a few seconds while I ran to the phone.


“How long has he been down, sir?” the person on the other line asked.


“I don’t know. Please, I just found...”


“Turn him to his side. We’re on our way.”


“Please, hurry. I don’t want my son to die.”


*


The table is set quite nicely, with two plates, forks, spoons, and paper napkins —and no knives.


You see me darting to the dining room and back to the kitchen, trying to place everything I’ve made for dinner.


“Here, let me help, Dad.”


“No, Tommy, I’m fine. Just sit right there and take a load off. You must be tired from walking up those stairs.”


“I’m good. After all, you did basically carry me,” you say in a mocking tone.


“Are you still going to PT?” I ask, making my way back into the dining area with a salad bowl.


“Yep, still going. Gotta keep the leg limber.”


“Good, that’s good.”


I think about asking you to move back in. I want to ask for the details of where you're currently staying. I think about getting myself a glass of wine, but I’m not sure if I should —if I could even offer you any.


Maybe I’ll ask about your love life, are you seeing anybody? We could talk about the news, the weather, anything.


“So, what have you been up to lately?”


“Nothing much, same old.”


What’s the same? Are you still getting high, using drugs, cutting yourself?


“You know, trying to find a job, hanging out with the gang. Oh, and I…”


Here it comes.


“…’m thinking about taking my college entrance exams.”


“That’s great, son!” I return smiling.


If I ask you to stay, will you? You don’t have to live here; just stay the night, have breakfast with me?


I look at you, how you’re wearing a long-sleeved jacket despite the lack of a nightly chill. I notice how it’s buttoned to the cuff, going way past your inner wrist.


“Are you sure I can’t help out with anything?” you ask as I run back to the kitchen.


I hear the sound of you dragging back your chair against the hardwood. “No, I’m fine, just getting us something to drink. What will you have?”


Don’t say a beer, don’t say a beer, don’t say a beer…


“Got any coke?”


“What?” I blurt out.


“Some coke, Dad! If you don’t have any, some juice or any other soda will do.”


I grab two glasses, a carton of juice, and a bottle of root beer that was left abandoned at the back of the fridge. I wrap everything around my arms and chest and make my way back to the table.


“Man, everything looks great, Dad.”


“Thanks, Tommy. I made it just for you.”


“Well, ain’t I special? This way I’m going to have to show up more often,” you say, spooning the risotto, mounting it into a small dune over your plate.


I’ll scooch my chair closer to the edge of the table. I’ll watch you roll your eyes back exaggeratingly as you savor each chew. I’ll fill both of our cups while you eat and compliment my cooking.


We’ll keep up this routine during most of our dinner. We’ll talk, we’ll maybe laugh. By the end, I’ll say I’ve missed you, and you’ll reply with your routinely me too. I’ll serve you dessert, three large scoops, and you’ll say that you shouldn't eat, that you’re super full.


Our dinner will be a success, and I’ll be nervous just like that first day. I’ll tell you that you really need to call more often, and you’ll explain that you’ve lost your phone. I won’t ask any questions, I’ll let your answer slide. I’ll hint that you should maybe stay the night, and you’ll refuse, using some half-baked excuse.


“What’s up? Why are you looking at me like that?”


“Nothing,” I say, pulling the chair back before I sit. “Dig in! I hope it tastes okay.”


June 26, 2021 20:00

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41 comments

K. Antonio
10:56 Jul 09, 2021

I'M SO HAPPY! Wow, just woke up and saw this got shortlisted. Really, I'm chuffed. Tommy was just another particle of my being that I'm happy was well-received. I also got to give a shout out my social circle on Reedsy (you are all wonderful and supportive and CONTINUOUSLY make me a better writer). I also got to give a shout out to Ted Chiang for poking my brain with his writing (if you ever see this Ted, thanks 😂).

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A.G. Scott
13:41 Jul 09, 2021

🥳

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Rayhan Hidayat
14:37 Jul 09, 2021

Almost forgot to congratulate you! Well done, looks like we’re both in the 1 win, 2 shortlists club 😁

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Shea West
16:40 Jun 27, 2021

I thoroughly enjoy the way you write father/son relationships. They are rich and demonstrate the vulnerability I hope more men can see as normal. Don't hate me here, but I work as a Doula and I have some feedback on the birth part. When a person gives birth via Cesarean, if they are sedated under general anesthesia no one except medical staff can be present in the room. Which sucks so bad. So in this case you could say that Tommy's mother had a spinal block or an epidural etc. Not sure how accurate you'd like it to be, but that would make ...

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K. Antonio
17:33 Jun 27, 2021

I was hoping for your reply on this one, because I knew you'd catch any medical slip up on the birth part. So I'm happy cuz I can edit it accordingly! Thanks for the info!!

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Shea West
17:36 Jun 27, 2021

I can't tell you a damn thing about semicolons, but birth- I got your back ;)

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H L Mc Quaid
12:21 Jun 29, 2021

A really well-observed story, and as others have said, great use of verb tenses. The Dad's love for his son, his protective instinct is so real and heartbreaking. Well done. :) a few minor things... think you can say 'mom' here rather than "mom's": "Our doctor’s a high school friend of your mom’s." do you mean 'hands' here instead of 'heads'? : that it’ll be a complicated process made for delicate, nimble heads. at the back of fridge?: abandoned at the end of the fridge Great job.

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K. Antonio
12:58 Jun 29, 2021

Sometimes I ask myself where my mind goes when I'm reading that I don't notice a typo such as "heads" over "hands". I still need to line edit this piece before the end of the week and finish a semester of school, BUT I'm glad the piece isn't a disaster and that the use over verb tenses ended up understandable. I'm chuffed that this piece was well-received.

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H L Mc Quaid
13:54 Jun 29, 2021

good luck with finishing the semester! Hope it's not too stressful. :)

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Kristin Neubauer
16:42 Jun 27, 2021

This is such an impressive story. Like everyone else said, how masterfully you handled that first/second person narration. But I also loved how you opened it with the birth of Tommy. I didn't know where it was going but the perspective you used caught me up and I needed to keep reading. I also liked the short paragraphs. It suited this story so well and kept me engaged in the flow. I really learn from stories like this where it's not a flashy plot yet still so encompassing. It draws the reader in and that is something I am trying to d...

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Shea West
13:20 Jul 09, 2021

I read your newest story last night and professed my prediction of a win, and here we are seeing last week's story as an incredible shortlist!!!! You took a chance on this one, so glad you did and it was worth it. I feel so lucky to read your new stories every week K. You have such a brilliant way with words!

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H L Mc Quaid
10:47 Jul 09, 2021

Woohoo, another shortlist. 💃🎉🎉💃 Well done, hurrah!

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K. Antonio
13:46 Jul 09, 2021

I woke up, saw that I shortlisted, did a little dance while in bed. Now I'm here skipping around my house like a young school girl xD

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H L Mc Quaid
14:29 Jul 09, 2021

I also danced when I saw that Ray won AND you were shortlisted. Seriously, I did a little (bad) salsa down my hallway.

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Rayhan Hidayat
21:32 Jun 28, 2021

“Then I guess that’s just another side of life.” This line struck me. It seems a little blunt for a nurse to say but at the same time it kickstarts all the themes you explore in the remainder of the story. I love playing around with time skips so as you can imagine I was very enamored by this tale. The use of future tense was also very intruiging--it makes it seem like the narrator is detaching himself from the events every now and then, floating behind his own body like a ghost. i thought it was well done. All the emotions and hardships yo...

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K. Antonio
23:25 Jun 28, 2021

It was a risk, but I'm glad it did pay off. This comment makes me happy!

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Beth Connor
06:15 Jun 27, 2021

This was such an intriguing story- I wouldn't dare to try and pull off that blend of past-present-future tense, but somehow you pull it off. As always, I now feel a little sad, but you capture these bittersweet relationships so authentically.

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Shea West
16:47 Jun 27, 2021

But what if we dared you???? ;)

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Beth Connor
17:05 Jun 27, 2021

I am not there- but I AM working on a second person-directed that maybe I can attempt a little craziness.

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Shea West
17:14 Jun 27, 2021

Can't wait!

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Beth Connor
03:57 Jun 29, 2021

It's a bit clunky- but I did it.

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Shea West
04:02 Jun 29, 2021

YAY! I'll check it out.....

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Alexander Katz
00:00 Jun 27, 2021

First-person and time-skips scare the hell out of me, but you pulled it off. And through the lens of addiction, too. Getting in someone's head like this is damn impressive, and staying there for years is awesome. Loved it.

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K. Antonio
00:13 Jun 27, 2021

I can definitely attest to the fact that they are scary sometimes, BUT they can be super fun! I do think though that they are more often seen in contemporary works of fiction, literary fiction, and other branches of writing that don't really have "action" or "flashy" aspects. I super recommend giving them a try. Full disclosure though: I'm not as well versed in third person 😐😐

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Marissa Flores
23:18 Jun 26, 2021

Great story, man. I really like the parent child dynamic. You captured the narrator’s protective nature and love for their kid really well. In the sentence “They’ll take your mom away past the double doors, and I’ll catch a glimpse of her, nervously crying shortly before your born.” I think you meant to say “you’re”. Really enjoyed reading, thanks for posting!

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K. Antonio
23:26 Jun 26, 2021

Totally my fault, cuz I'm a spaz and mistake my your('re)s all throughout writing! Thanks for catching this! You're welcome and thanks for reading!!

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A.G. Scott
22:23 Jun 26, 2021

I've been in the opposite situation. You do a great job articulating the push and pull. Your stories make me sad every week but I forgive you. Quick fixes: "Joana?" our(Our)... 'I'll fast walk' (scurry, scamper, etc.) 'We’ll struggle, then have a moment of peace, possibly before you relapse again before you sneak into my room, take all the money I have from my wallet, and leave.' (you only need one of the phrases that comes after before; I would remove 'before you relapse again'). the paragraph starting with 'on the drive back home'; I ha...

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K. Antonio
22:45 Jun 26, 2021

I'd love to say that I didn't have personal experience when writing this, but oh well. Thanks for this feedback, these are all pretty easy fixes that will end up bettering the story! I was worried about the future tense so I'm glad it's being understood. I really do need to move on a bit and not write so many sad pieces. 😂🙃 ALSO!! Congrats on the shortlist, ABOUT FREAKING TIME!! Happy for you!

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K. Antonio
20:32 Jun 26, 2021

There's a story called: "The Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang. And though it's science-fiction it inspired me. I've been wanting to put something together that could use future tense in an interesting way, but also blend both past and present. So, here it is! Stay safe guys!

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Shea West
16:46 Jun 27, 2021

I think this was a great use of future tense! It's so rad to watch you play with your writing and share what inspires you.

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Mary Sheehan
20:18 Jun 26, 2021

Phenomenal story; I was instantly hooked. Your talent for capturing human emotions really shines through. You did a fantastic job of showing us how much pain is caused by having a family member with addiction issues. The themes remind me of the movie "Beautiful Boy". I caught one grammar issue: "and you’ll reply with you’re routinely me too" - I think this was intended as "your routine". I absolutely loved it!

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K. Antonio
22:06 Jun 26, 2021

Oh thanks for catching that. I sent the story in and was editing while you were most likely commenting, but I still missed that mistake. 😂🙃 Thanks for commenting and I'm glad you enjoyed the piece! The fact that this story caught your eye as soon as I posted it, and received such praise so early, makes me happy!

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Mary Sheehan
12:26 Jul 09, 2021

Congratulations on getting shortlisted! I'm so happy that this story was recognised, I think it's really wonderful

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K. Antonio
13:45 Jul 09, 2021

I'm honestly at a bit of a loss, didn't think I'd get a second shortlist this soon! I'm so excited that I'm skipping around the house.

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00:16 Jul 12, 2021

One thing that continued to wounder and press at my mind while I was reading, was the possibility of Tommy dying. I have to tell you, I was SO freaking SCARED, and I'm honestly glad it didn't happen because that saved me a heart attack. Aforementioned before by other commenters, you capture emotion so adequately here. I felt like was slowly melting. The play with the different tenses was very ingenious and I also enjoyed the bit of character development that occurred. Foreshadowing was a very cool way to tell what happened to Tommy's mother ...

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Christina Marie
23:11 Jun 28, 2021

Wow - this was so powerful. Absolutely wonderful work crafting this with the tense and time shifts. The way you've structured it highlights all the highs and lows of their relationship so perfectly. Great job!

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Bubu Moses
12:14 Aug 05, 2021

I'm new here and still trying to anchor my feet. This is a really nice story.

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17:51 Jul 12, 2021

Aweaome!

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Natania Kurien
13:24 Jul 12, 2021

This was a beautifully written story! I think you did such an amazing job of encapsulating the relationship between father and son and depicting the endless stream of concern that barrages parents. The time jumps are well-placed and don't feel clunky at all - they actually give the story an interesting flow that I think worked really well here. Great job and congratulations on the shortlist!

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Ramona Taylor
03:44 Jul 10, 2021

Excellent storytelling, that made my heart ache and my eyes tear. Congratulations,

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Amanda Lieser
18:27 Jul 09, 2021

Oh my gosh! This was such a great story. I thought you did a fantastic job of capturing the fear and pain experienced by the father while balancing the son’s desire for independence. I also liked how you wove the memories of the son as a child with the present version of him. I’m intrigued to know more about the mother. Thank you for writing this story and congratulations on getting shortlisted.

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