‘Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up’ is my coming-of-age novel that I initially drafted in a journal almost 10 years ago after I traveled to Italy my senior year in high school. Click to read the previous teaser ‘Losing My Protagonist’s Virginity’.
Following the death of Robin Williams, I watched ‘Dead Poets Society’ and to my fiance’s chagrin was practically standing on the coffee table belting out Whitman. My Aunt Pat, a tireless teacher in an ungrateful Catholic school, inspired me to become a teacher, but I never realized that I had styled my classroom technique after Williams’s character. But that’s not the point of this mini-blog.
The next day, when I was teaching a summer school class to three students of varying grade and skill levels, I did not bounce around the classroom and try to inspire them with Whitman quotes (even though he is my favorite poet as a native Long Islander myself). It’s summer school, and we both knew that neither of us wanted to be there doing it. The only inspiration either of us had was our respective ends – a paycheck and a grade – but I digress. After watching ‘DPS’ the night before, I had the compulsion to write a new prologue to ‘Knowing When You’re Too Young To Grow Up’.
Once I was done with the kids (or maybe a bit before), I roughed out a draft where I focused on establishing the narrator’s (and protagonist’s voice). My intention was to draw the audience in by revealing the death of the protagonist’s best friend. The circumstances of his death are shrouded in mystery by design; the last thing I wanted was to paraphrase the story the audience is about to get into.
‘DPS’ is the quintessential substitute teacher go-to movie in high school, and it reminded me of the innate sense of rebellion in teenagers that originally inspired (and continues to inspire) ‘Knowing When You’re Too Young To Grow Up.
The book is so much more than bitching and complaining and belly-aching about the plight of a high school kid whose life is devoid of responsibility and privileged in every way; while that’s part of ‘Knowing When’, it’s not the whole story (because then it might as well be called ‘Catcher’ 2). It is the anatomy of teenage angst, from character upbringings to their histories as friends and enemies and sometimes both to their conscious and unconscious choices and the consequences each yields.
This prologue, I believe, provides the reader with a sobering view of the protagonist talking candidly about a situation he actively participated in, one he naively thought he could control. I am actively looking for readers and critiques; see my contact page to reach out. Thanks – AFC
I killed my best friend, not with a gun or a knife or a car or a bomb or a poison, but he died and I lived and it was all the same in the end. He didn’t know until it was too late, and I guess I didn’t either, never once thinking that my actions could so adversely affect him, could eventually destroy him, never once thinking about anyone, anything at all.
It was over a girl like so many ends of friendships were. She had taken him away from me, and I was not ready to let him go. Girls come and girls go, but friends like me and him, we last and endure, through college, graduation parties, weddings, christenings, and Christmases – at least that’s what I thought when I was young and naïve and thought the world reported to me, strove to please me, revolved around me. It was all about me then even though I didn’t know it yet.
We had gone through high school together, my first friend, the only one who had accepted me in the beginning when I was an outcast, a loser, a fag, and whatever else they called me. He had given me credibility; if I was his friend, I couldn’t have been so bad of a guy, which was the reasoning of the “in crowd” who instantaneously acknowledged my existence once I was given clearance to their section of the cafeteria. Then, he met her and life as we knew it changed.
I never meant to hurt him; it didn’t matter. I did, taking from him what he loved the most in the entire world – his Julie – and, without her, the world did not seem to rotate the way it always had. It was stunted. It was shaded. It was a sham. Once the secret was out, they could not be together anyway, but I could not wait for human nature to play itself out in the only way that it could; no, I had played God and, in the process, violated the natural order of things, dictating the terms of their separation through my selfishness, and he, not I, not she, was the one who stood to answer for my malfeasance – not she because she was in chains, not yet.
I was a coward when I took advantage of her, when I forced myself on her, when I tried to teach her a lesson, teach him a lesson – stay away from him; stay away from her; there are repercussions for pervading the world of children, the minds of children; that’s what we were: Children – but I wasn’t thinking. The drink was, and it was angry, burning in torrid jealousy like the vicious vodka it was, unleashing lustful, fiery fury that had lain dormant up until then on an unsympathetic Pandora who had opened a box none of us could ever close.
If I had told someone, at least before I was complicit in it, it might have changed things. She was irredeemable, but he might have been saved. There was something about her, though; she was stunning, an Aphrodite way out of his league, that whole bit, but it was more than that. She was status, she was class, she was an adult; while I was still in the sandbox, he was scaling the jungle gym. It was taboo, and I wanted what I could not have. And I had it; I had it, not to hurt him even though it did, but to hurt her. In reality, looking back, it was never about him or her: It was about me. Even when it came to her, I had to one up him. I did.
And he paid for it with his life. My actions drove him to do what I had contemplated so many times before – whether it was with a penknife, a letter opener, a belt, or a running car and hose in the garage – and could not bring myself to do because I was a coward.
She never told him – she could never tell him – but he knew; something was different between them, between us, between all of us. We were not kids anymore – at least we weren’t after that trip. We had seen too much, we had done too much, too much had been done to us. We weren’t victims, though; we were the victimizers, heartless users and abusers of life who lived in accordance to our own morals, no morals, sucking the marrow out of life like Thoreau, but never appreciating it – only demanding, ravenously, insatiably, unendingly, more, more, more. And it was not enough. It would never be enough.
At that age, there was no end; every day was a birth without the prospect of death. Mortality was not tangible; it wasn’t even an afterthought. Kids didn’t die. Kids didn’t even grow up. We were all Goonies. That’s why there was Neverland, that’s why Brand New sang “We’re gonna stay 18 foreverrrrr,” that’s why Holden Caulfield spoke to us, that’s why we could dream of life like it was Saved By the Bell, that’s why we could stand on desks and call out “O Captain! My Captain!” and that’s why a fart still made us giggle.
We were friends, invincible and untouchable, the graduating Class of 2005, until the end. At least that’s what we thought. At least that’s what we thought.
Copyright (C) 2016 Andrew Chapin