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Coming of Age Creative Nonfiction Drama

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

I blew it. Like a clockwork demolition, in a matter of seconds, I destroyed my life.

Sitting in the darkness, on the curb outside my parent’s home, I contemplated my bleak future. Did I have one? Homelessness? Prison? My carefully plotted, bright dreams had gone. Poof! Could I ever return to the house I grew up in? The only home I’d ever known?

I miscalculated and took a high dive into a shallow pool. Dread clung to my bones. I hoped it was worth it. Were those distant sirens coming for me? Did he call them? Wouldn’t anyone?

Never rash or reckless, I was known for methodical planning. I did my homework and achieved results beyond expectations. Others envied me, having no idea what it took to gain what I had. Yesterday, everything lay perfectly placed. Today, my perfect house of cards, scattered.

On the cusp of my new, independent life. Mere hours before flying to my brave, new tomorrow, free from his control, I harpooned it. Guess I showed him.

I imagined the news. ‘Golden Boy Gone Bad.’ Lurid headlines sell more papers. Did I flatter myself? My fifteen minutes ticked by.

Always intending to learn from my mistakes, I somehow, never could. I had my father to thank for that. Mistakes weren’t an option for him. Failure was not accepted. His sense of worth depended on sparkling success in all my endeavors. Even if it meant I took no part in them.

I fooled him. Boy, was he surprised. Dashed his dreams to hell. I finally failed on my own terms.

And who did I hurt? I transformed myself into one more punk awaiting the fall of a gavel.

My first step onto the long slide out of paradise came when I was ten. I came home from school. Summer was beginning. No worries.

My dog, Sparks, did not run to greet me, as he always had. He didn’t come bounding at the sound of my call. His familiar bark had gone missing. I found my mother.

“Mom… Where’s Sparks?”

She said, “Oh, Daddy gave him to a farmer.”

“What!”

“Honey, he felt it was time.”

Oh. Case closed. All understood, Sparks was never mentioned again. Not once. What could I say? Tears weren’t a thing in our house.

My constant companion and best friend, Sparks meant everything. I couldn’t even say ‘good-bye.’ Severing my hand would have hurt less. Meant less. I felt friendless.

After that, no objective observer would suspect Sparks ever existed. If I’d never asked about him, would his absence ever been mentioned? Maybe someday, my parents will tell a rollicking story to my kids.

“Your father had a dog, long ago. He was just a kid.”

“What happened to him, Grandpa?”

“I don’t recollect. Guess he must’ve run away.”

Ho, ho, ho.

What lesson was I supposed to learn from Sparks’ extraction from my life? To be more responsible? How? To care less? To love less? To toughen up?

So much wisdom to be had. How to choose?

Life continued with nightly family dinners, followed with favorite TV shows. After homework, of course. They provided and fulfilled my every need. Or so they thought. Their love was a given, until taken away.

What else might go missing? Would they move without telling me? I needed to move first.

Years passed, but I had changed. My idyllic existence had been summarily cancelled. Where I’d once been an integral member of this family, I now felt cast out and alone. A disposable guest. Why?

The pattern of my father’s dominance grew clearer. With so much left unsaid, I knew I hated him.

Was this what fathers do? Act without regard for those they father? Cool. Can’t wait. Sign me up.

Of course, I had survival instincts. I continued the act of dutiful son. But actions inevitably betray true feelings. Little by little, I undermined his authority over me, at least in my perceptions. No open defiance. But my attitude had changed.

A later example sums it up. In the spring of my senior year, a major science project. Thirty percent of my class grade. My Dad ‘offered’ ‘help.’ He said we’d be a ‘team.’ Which meant he’d do it and I’d watch. Fifty-fifty.

For the assignment, I was to build a self-propelled watercraft. Others devised rubber-band powered paddle-wheel boats, and radio-controlled speed boats. One student made a mini jet ski, powered by carbon dioxide cartridges. Some projects worked better than others.

Dad’s design was original. Created from scratch, he worked for hours. He made the process look effortless. Only an observer, I would reap the benefits of his expertise.

The result was beautiful. It looked like a mythical cloud yacht. Everyone stared as I carried it to the pool. The sleek, two foot, aluminum hull shone brightly beneath the square, Mylar sail. The double outrigger floats provided stability regardless the wind conditions.

But ‘my’ silver outrigger sailboat proved a magnificent failure. Not being ‘self-propelled,’ it didn’t fulfill the assignment. The enclosed pool had no wind. My project sat listlessly, inert. The limp silver sail hung without a flutter. Dad produced an electric leaf-blower. But locating an outlet proved too time consuming.  The lack of the required ‘self’ became painfully obvious. The doldrums won.

Inelegant as the other projects were, they performed better than my shiny failure. Catcalls and whistles from classmates said it all. My project. My grade. I felt set up. An imposter.

Once more, I’d trusted him. Trusted in nothing. For the last time.      

But I survived. And I remembered. Graduation loomed. No better time to respond to years of humiliation and pain. My future could not include my father. He’d never change. I’d deliver an unforgettable message to him. I’d never look back.

My plan in place, I only needed to focus, and take each step in turn. But seething emotions overwhelmed me. I became a tool of something uncontrolled.

So, tonight, wanting to celebrate my pending graduation, my parents took me out to a nice restaurant.

“Get anything you want.”

They suspected nothing. Barely keeping my emotions checked, I got sullen. ‘Stick to the plan.’

They glanced at each other. My Dad asked, “You okay, kid? You seem tense.”

I forced laughter. “You’re kidding, right? Everything’s fine. Couldn’t be better. Big day tomorrow. A new start. Fine. I’m fine…”

They didn’t buy it. Mom said, “Drew’s right. Big day tomorrow. He’s tired.” They spent the rest of the meal raving about the tender asparagus sprouts. We rode home in silence.

Dad and I adjourned to the living room while Mom did her thing. The tension was palpable. He struggled to make sense of my mood. And walked straight into my trap.

“What’s up, Drew? We took you for a nice dinner and all we got was attitude.”

Always reasonable, he couldn’t comprehend the wreckage he’d strewn behind. My snarky responses drew him in. I escalated things perfectly. Not used to push back, his agitation grew.

Finally fed up, he said, “Go to hell!”

“You go to hell, idiot!”

Enraged, he stood. Now or never, I jumped up, moved in and punched. Gave it to him good. Two quick jabs to his face. Like watching a movie. Got him! Felt so good.

His head snapped back. He toppled onto the couch and covered his face with his hands. Didn’t even try to fight back. Blood ran between his fingers.

He swore at me, got up and strode into the bathroom. I’d never seen so much blood.

Mom screamed. Dad sounded like a snarling dog. Time to go. I left them to figure it out for once.

By the time I reached the street, I’d sobered. And the realization of my terrible error took hold. My single focus had blinded me to reality. To truth. To everything.

I sat on the curb, contemplating the damage I wreaked on myself, my family, and my life.

I destroyed the precious future I worked so hard for. What now? Jail? Prison?

As carefully as I’d planned slipping from my father’s control. I hadn’t considered the ‘what then?’

Missing graduation didn’t matter. But who would want me now? What college take me? A profession? What? With a record?

What had I done? Were the police coming? No surprise there. Why the delay? Should I run? Where to? I had no one. All on me.

Footsteps. He stood nearby. Waiting for the kick to my head, I couldn’t look at him.

Almost whispering, “You can’t stay here…”

Through tears, I blurted, “Yeah... Be out tonight.”

“Your Mom’s taking me to the ER.”

I nodded. He walked away. I heard car doors slam. They drove off.

I couldn’t move. I had nowhere. Time and space dissolved.

My phone rang. It was Dad.

I said, “You okay?”

“Hope so. Shattered the orbital… uhm, something. Working to save the eye. Won’t be at your…”

“Dad, I’m so… I can’t exp…”

“Drew, listen to me… You there?”

“Yeah…”

“Don’t despair, kid. I don’t get what… but… Look… We’ll get through this.”

‘What? We’ll get through this? We…?

He said, “Talk in a few days… Let’s move forward.”

I couldn’t respond. No way, I expected this.

“You there…?”

“Yeah. Still here… Thanks, Dad.”

“Love you…”

There was some hospital noise, and the line went dead.

My life wasn’t over.

June 15, 2023 01:36

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12 comments

Martin Ross
02:45 Jun 22, 2023

Great opener, and honest, raw portrait of family dysfunction and conflict. I was lucky to have a dad who loved and respected me unconditionally, but I grew up seeing how toxic parents can breed depressed, self-doubting, even bullying or self-destructive kids. Well done, and an important subject.

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John K Adams
03:55 Jun 22, 2023

Thank you, Martin. This was a tough one to write. I've gotten many comments on it with deep understanding of what I aimed for. Thanks for reading and your comments.

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Delbert Griffith
11:21 Jun 16, 2023

Powerful story, John. Very powerful. You made me feel the kid's angst, the anger and helplessness of not being able to live up to a father's standards. This is fine writing, my friend. Cheers!

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John K Adams
13:50 Jun 16, 2023

Thanks, Delbert, Your words mean a lot to me. Cheers!

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John K Adams
13:50 Jun 16, 2023

Thanks, Delbert, Your words mean a lot to me. Cheers!

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Mary Bendickson
13:58 Jun 15, 2023

Growing pains.

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John K Adams
14:55 Jun 15, 2023

Yup...

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Bonnie Clarkson
03:16 Jun 28, 2023

Strong opening. Good job reaching the climax. From the comments, I'd say you reached home to the readers. It made me think of my dad who ignored me. He shot our pet dog. The ending surprised me. I didn't see a change coming in the dad. I have a hard time believing violence would do that.

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John K Adams
14:46 Jun 28, 2023

Thanks, Bonnie, for your comments. Sorry for your dog. Seems like lots of people have fathers who can't communicate. I'll look at your criticism. Try to find a middle ground between the father and the unreliable narrator.

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Amanda Lieser
16:59 Jun 19, 2023

Hi John, This piece was a stunning portrayal of toxic family, cycles, and a character who is lost in anger and pain. You did an amazing job of introducing your protagonist with the story about the dog, and I like how you added the second story of the father figures dog as well. I think that it adds to the nature of history repeats itself. While the story didn’t end the way that I thought it would, my sincere hope for this protagonist is that he will be able to rebuild his life and perhaps through work with professionals like a therapist, he ...

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John K Adams
17:34 Jun 19, 2023

Thank you, Amanda. I love your in-depth analyses of my stories. Always like people to read, but comments, and detailed comments keep the conversation going.

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John K Adams
17:36 Jun 19, 2023

Thank you, Amanda, for reading and delivering such in-depth comments. Any response is appreciated, but you keep the conversation going with your analysis. Thanks!

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