Realizing - Chapter 3

Okay, for those of you who have been flooding my inbox with requests for chapter 3 - here you are. Again, please excuse the lack of formatting as I'm copying and pasting. As always, feedback of any kind is welcome.


September 1993
Nathan survived his final year of elementary school. He, along with his classmates, even survived the experience of playing on the seventh grade football team. Of course, that they did survive and some might add, thrive, inflated the egos of a few of his peers. They slated themselves as being the next best thing to happen to Bentwood – in their eyes, they would be the ones to bring home the next state championship. Nathan was just glad he made it out alive, but he also learned that he really did enjoy playing football and decided to continue to play the next year.
The first day of seventh grade was much less stressful than sixth grade, which seems counterintuitive. To Nathan, the start of sixth grade had been so nerve-racking because of the ambiguity surrounding the new experience of playing football and of course the early onset of puberty. These things were still present as he began seventh grade, but he knew more about what to expect from them. He had even grown to like football. It was something he no longer dreaded, he was genuinely excited. And although not all of the boys had started puberty yet – he was no longer the only one anymore.

Nathan and his classmates were assigned their lockers, this was a new and exciting concept and they all seemed to feel pretty cool as they decorated their lockers with posters and filled with them with their notebooks and other supplies. The biggest challenge was figuring out how to work the lock. Turn to the right, then the other direction and pass the second number once; Nathan thought that someone could have made a simpler way to open those things. After a few tries it became easier and they all, well most of them, got the hang of it eventually.
Waiting for the bell to ring, there was a group of guys congregating around David’s locker. Nathan collected the necessary supplies he thought he would need for his first hour science class, a notebook and pen, and made the walk past about a dozen lockers to join the gang. David was holding something in his locker and Aaron and Greg were looking on with fascination.
“Hey guys. What’s up?” Nathan asked.
“Check it out man,” David instructed as he motioned with his head for Nathan to move closer to the locker.
Nathan leaned in to see David holding a Cosmopolitan magazine opened to a full-page spread of a super model wearing a red bikini. He briefly looked at the picture, moved back to his original position, and looked from side to side, at Greg and then Aaron, “What is it?”
“Dude, she’s hot, look at her,” Greg noted as he gave Nathan a shot to the gut.
“Oh…well, yeah. But…I mean…what’s new about it? I’ve already seen that,” Nathan lied trying to cover up his lack of interest.
“Who cares, I could look at her all day and never get sick of it,” Aaron added.
Nathan stepped closer to get a better look at the picture, not to admire it, but to feign some sort of investment in this thing that had captured the attention of his friends.
Again he fibbed, “Yeah, I can’t wait for the next issue. I heard they got a super hot chick.” He hoped they couldn’t sense the unnatural nature of his delivery.
“There’s no way the new chick could have bigger boobs than this one,” Aaron claimed.
“Well…we’ll have to wait and see,” Nathan realized how lame his words must have sounded and wondered why he felt so strange around these friends he had known for years.
The bell rang. It might have been the first time since kindergarten Nathan had been thankful that it was time to go to class. It was the first day of seventh grade and he was excited to go to class – this was good. Too bad it was only to get away from a most peculiar feeling.
Nathan found himself feeling awkward around his friends that morning. He couldn’t find anything to add the conversations. It was almost as if he was nervous, stuttering and everything. Nervous to talk to the guys he had known since kindergarten – some before that. It made no sense; he chalked it up to being in a weird mood and forged ahead.
One class down, he was back at his locker, feeling impressively smooth as he opened his lock with one hand. He put his newly distributed science book on the shelf. Phy-ed was next on his schedule. Nathan was looking forward to it. Mr. Henry was the teacher; Nathan got along really well with him and found himself to be extremely at ease around him. Mr. Henry had been Nathan’s phy-ed teacher for several years in elementary school as well as his football coach, so his class was not uncharted territory. Mr. Henry was very tall and well built with dark hair. He must have been in his early thirties. One could assume that he was an athlete in college and maintained some of his residual muscle mass from his glory days.
All of the seventh graders gathered in the gym and sat on the floor as Mr. Henry came out of the locker room…with Mrs. Sanstad, Tom’s mom.
Nathan thought this was odd. Two teachers? As they approached, Mr. Henry told the boys to go to one side of the gym, while the girls were to go to the other side with Mrs. Sanstad. Nathan was thoroughly confused and quickly realized that this in fact was uncharted territory. They all quickly learned that in seventh grade the girls had Mrs. Sanstad for phy-ed and the boys had Mr. Henry. No one ever told them why; they just went their separate ways when directed like trained animals. As they were going to their separate sides of the gym, Nathan, trying to figure out the reason for this segregation, wondered if they thought their hormones were getting too out of control to have them all in one spot at the same time. Were there all of a sudden too many of them for one teacher to handle?
All he knew for sure was that it was strange and he didn’t like it. Many of his close friends were girls and he didn’t like the idea of not being able to have them around him.
After going through all of that first day of class stuff, they ended up having open gym (boys and girls together for that day) for the rest of the hour. Some students played basketball, others volleyball. And then there were the kids who just sat in the bleachers and contemplated their dismal existence. That’s what a lot of people thought kids were supposed to do in junior high – so they did. With about fifteen minutes remaining in the class period, three words come out of Mr. Henry’s mouth that would set Nathan on a path of confusion, “Alright, shower up.”
Time in Bentwood seemed to freeze as Nathan tried to process what Mr. Henry had said. His internal dialogue started right in: Did he just say shower up? Meaning go in the locker room, strip naked, and stand around in the shower with all of the guys?
He was stopped dead in his tracks. He tried to convince himself that this shouldn’t be a problem, he had seen his friends naked plenty of times and they had seen him naked. They all had lived on lakes their entire lives and had gone skinny-dipping together on more than one occasion. But for some reason, there was something different about this. The thought of both being naked and seeing his friends naked elicited a strange feeling within Nathan that he hadn’t experienced before. He became light-headed and his skin began to tingle. He convinced himself that the uncomfortableness stemmed from the fact that he was one of the few guys that had gone through puberty, and therefore felt fairly insecure about his body. If Aaron were so fascinated with the hair on Nathan’s legs, how would he react to seeing hair in other places on his body? Nathan wasn’t interested in finding out.
As slowly as he could, Nathan made his way into the locker room. He got the sense that he was not the only one who felt a little odd about the situation; maybe he was just hoping he wasn’t the only one. He went over to his locker and slowly got undressed. He noticed that there were other guys that appeared to be purposefully taking their time. Nathan began to strategize. His thought was that if he got in the shower before them, maybe no one would realize how much he was freaking out about the whole thing. They would look like the weird kids since it was taking them so long to shower. They would look like the kids who had issues with being naked around everyone. It made sense in his head.
Nathan grabbed a towel and walked over to the showers where there was a flurry of activity - lots of laughing and screaming boys. The closer he got, the more he wanted to turn around and go back to his locker. He also was realizing, from the sound of things, that others no longer seemed as uncomfortable as he first thought. He had an overwhelming urge to look up and stare at everyone, but his neck acted as if it were paralyzed and stayed bent down, his eyes fixated on the floor.
Tom walked out of the showers, “You okay?”
“Yeah, my stomach kind of hurts,” Nathan responded without looking up. It was the best excuse he could think of on the spot.
“Maybe you should go to the nurse,” Tom offered his concerned advice while drying off with his towel.
“Yeah, maybe. I’ll see how I feel later.”
Tom seemed to accept that answer and walked back to his locker to get dressed.
Nathan reached the doorway to the showers, took a look inside, and all he saw was a mass of ill-defined body parts in a collage of steam and flesh. His stomach was instantly filled with miles of roller coasters – that sensation came back that he experienced in the gym when Mr. Henry first made the announcement to shower. It was a rush of excitement and guilt. He put his head down, went back to his locker, and got dressed.
Nathan’s thoughts for the rest of the day were consumed with what had happened in the locker room during phy-ed. The same thought kept cycling through his mind: what was wrong with him?
First, he couldn’t hardly carry on a conversation with his friends that he had known forever and now all of sudden he felt weird about being naked in front of them. He had been in very similar situations before and had never reacted in such an unnerving way. There was a physical response within Nathan’s body, one that he had never experienced before. It wasn’t that it was all that unpleasant even, it was just new, and he wasn’t sure what to make of it.


Realizing - Chapter 2

Hello, reader. Once again, it's been quite some time since my last post; this is becoming a theme! Anyway, I've received several requests for more chapters of my manuscript. Ask and you shall receive! Here's chapter 2. Again, keep in mind the the formatting gets weird after copy/pasting from Word. Hopefully it's not too distracting, because I don't want to go through and fix it all!

Enjoy - and as always, I would look forward to your feedback!


September 1992

It was the first day of sixth grade. Everyone showed in his or her new clothes and shoes. As Nathan looked around admiring everyone’s spotless shoes and freshly pressed shirts, he wondered if they all went through the same painful production of school shopping as he did. He liked getting new clothes, but did not enjoy the process. Trying on jeans at JC Penny - having to parade around in the store while a bunch of strangers watched on as his mother checked the waistline of the pants to see how well they fit – this was not his idea of a good time. But as he sat, proudly, in his desk wearing his new Levi shorts and Nike polo shirt, it somehow made all of that pain worth the struggle.
So, the first day of sixth grade was underway. The students went through the normal first-day-of-school routines. They got their desks and books and learned whom it was they would be sitting by, like it or not.
Mrs. Hoskinson was Nathan’s teacher. She was fairly young compared to the rest of the teachers at Bentwood Elementary. She was a tall, slender woman with long, dark wavy hair. She wore dark, wired rimmed glasses and spoke with a slight lisp. Mrs. Hoskinson had a lot of energy and seemed very excited to kick off another year of teaching sixth grade – greeting each student as they entered the elaborately decorated classroom.
Every color of the rainbow was represented, and then some. Bulletin boards covered most of the brick walls; chalkboards took care of the rest. A massive calendar outlining the entire school year was the center of the south wall. Nathan found it daunting to look at; they were only on the first day – there were several boxes to check off before it would be time for another summer vacation.
The beginning of this school year was a little different than what other years had been like. Nathan was more nervous than usual, not only because he didn’t know what to expect or make of the idea of playing on the seventh grade football team, but also because something had changed. He had changed and frankly, he didn’t really understand what it was all about or if he liked it.
Something had happened to him over the summer, something that comes into a young person’s life and does things to the mind and body that, up to that point, seem unimaginable. It was puberty. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been all that bad, but when school started that fall Nathan began to get the impression that he was the only boy in his class that had received a visit from puberty.
Nathan noticed that the world appeared different at the onset of puberty. A person starts to care about things that hadn’t even mattered before – like what he looked like to others. Nathan’s sense of his relation to others in the world had heightened. It seemed he couldn’t go anywhere without wondering what everyone around him was thinking – especially if it might be about him – and he usually assumed it was.
Nathan’s class was standing in the hallway on a bathroom break. They had spent about an hour listening to and reciting classroom rules and were excited at the opportunity to stretch their legs, bathroom or not.
Nathan patiently leaned up against the wall next to David and Aaron. Aaron Lender was a short, spiky-haired kid who had moved to Bentwood a couple years prior to sixth grade. He would never be the brightest one in the class, but he was a funny kid who everyone seemed to like. Aaron had a sort of childish curiosity about him that gave the impression the he might never go through puberty.
While David was trying to contain his excitement for what would come later in the day, Aaron hollered out while pointing at Nathan, “Whoa! Dude, look at your legs!”
“What?” Nathan was kind of worried wondering what Aaron was talking about.
“They are so hairy!” Aaron was ecstatic.
Nathan instantly regretted wearing shorts. He didn’t know what to say, “Oh…well…yeah…”
“That’s so crazy,” Aaron said with a chuckle of disbelief.
Nathan realized that Aaron seemed to actually wish he had as much hair on his legs, but Nathan didn’t feel special at all. He just felt different.
“Whatever, you have some too,” Nathan tried to take the attention away from his own legs.
“But not even close to what you have. You look like a wolf with all that hair, dude!” Aaron exclaimed.
“Alright, let’s head back to the room,” Mrs. Hoskinson announced.
Nathan was the first to make a move. He wanted to get out of that uncomfortable situation. During the quick walk back to the classroom his mind was a constant stream of worries.
Why did he have to be the different one? There was hair growing in unspeakable places and worst of all – on his face. Over the summer he had come to learn that he was not a fan of this fur that, if left to grow too long, made his face look like the back of a duckling. However, it seemed that several of the other boys in his class appeared to be jealous. They seemed to obsess over the new hair on his face and legs.
Nathan sat at his desk and pretended to enjoy being the circus display, throwing in an occasional half-smile and even a forced chuckle from time to time, always attempting to change the subject in the hopes that his body hair wouldn’t continue to be the topic of the hour. Until someone would pull the hair – then he had to put a stop to it. Nathan didn’t want to have hairy legs – he wanted to be like the rest of the boys in his class. There were beginning to be lots of things he didn’t understand. Why this puberty thing was happening to him and no one else was just one of those things. Aaron spent most of the first day of school comparing the amount of hair on Nathan’s legs to his own, while these comparisons were going on Nathan felt fairly uncomfortable. Not because of the attention, but because he was getting attention for being different.

So, the desks and books had been assigned, and they had recited the classroom rules so many times they no longer needed to look at the bulletin board to know them. It seemed all that was left of the day was to wait for the minutes to tick away until it was time for Nathan to kiss his childhood goodbye. Gone were the days of going home after school, turning on Duck Tales and enjoying a snack while he debriefed his mother on the events of the day - his days would no longer end at 3:10 p.m. That day truly did seem like an eternity for Nathan. He had no idea what to expect when Mrs. Hoskinson bid his class farewell and he belonged to the seventh grade football team.
He would soon find out and so would his fellow sixth grade comrades. They huddled up outside of their classroom while the girls and the boys who elected not to play football made their way to the buses. Nathan watched them in envy thinking about how lucky they were to know what the next few hours of their lives had in store for them.
While his envy of those students grew, he was again second-guessing his decision. Why was he doing this? Why was he joining this team that, at the end of the day, he really had no desire to be a part of? The truth was that he didn’t think he had much of a choice. There was an overwhelming expectation from his father (albeit unspoken) and from his friends, and frankly from the people of Bentwood - that this is what Nathan and his friends were supposed to do. After all, they were the cool kids, they were the jocks in their class. It was up to them to play football and suffice the needs of their fathers. Nathan knew that if he did not play football he would forever be a failure in the eyes of his father. And he didn’t want to even think of what his friends might think of him. So, he hid every ounce of hesitation, put on his I-can’t-wait-to-play-football-face, and joined his friends.
Once they were all ready, they made their way through the hallway from the elementary wing to the junior high/high school wing of Bentwood school. They all seemed a bit nervous, but none of them were willing to admit it. They proceeded in silence, some with a blank stare that evaded consciousness. Nathan had no idea what to expect – all he knew was that he was supposed to be excited and feel privileged that he was allowed to join the seventh grade team as a sixth grader.
They continued in their herd, down the hallway to the boys’ locker room. This was a small school, so the locker room was for all boys in grades seven through twelve. Now, Nathan had been in the locker room several times before, it was connected to the gym which he was in everyday for physical education class. Mr. Henry, the physical education teacher would, from time to time, ask one of the boys to go in the locker room to get something from his office or some sort of equipment from a storage room. Nathan was often called upon to go by himself or with a friend and so he was very familiar with the space and didn’t find it intimidating at all.
The locker room itself was a massive room. Well, Nathan thought it was massive at the time, but as he got older he realized it wasn’t that big. The walls were lined with caged lockers – floor to ceiling for senior high and half the size on the junior high side. There were benches in front of the lockers as well as rows of benches in the center of the room for team meetings. The shower room was off of the east wall and was big enough for eight. There were various storage rooms and offices located down a long hallway which joined the locker room at the southeast corner and lead to the gymnasium.
Nathan’s contentedness with the familiar space instantly changed when he and his friends opened the door and what they knew as the locker room had turned into what resembled a scene from one of those out of control prison movies. Teenage boys filled the place to capacity, some towering over others at what seemed to be eight feet in height, while others were not much taller than the sixth grade pipsqueaks that stood in the doorway watching. Heavy metal music blared through the room as random objects flew through the air, often smacking someone in the head, receiving a cheer of victory from a corner of the room. Nathan got the impression that the only way to communicate was to yell (necessary to compete with the music), and he most likely learned more colorful vocabulary in those first minutes of stepping into the locker room than he had up to that point in his life.
They stood in the doorway in their sixth grade huddle, not knowing what to do, trying as best they could to maintain their innocence. An eighth grader, Ben Jensen, walked up to them, “I hear you guys are gonna be playing on the seventh grade team.”
One of the boys responded without looking up, “Yup.”
With a smirk, Ben chuckled and said, “Well, you know we practice with the seventh grade team, so you guys better watch out or you’re gonna get the shit kicked outta ya.” He returned to his corner of the locker room, made a comment to some other eighth grade boys, and they all erupted in laughter.
Nathan could sense the stomachs of his fellow sixth grade brethren begin to twist and turn. The fact that they really had no clue what they were getting themselves into was becoming clearer with each passing second. Nathan again began to question this whole thing in his head. Were they sure this was a good idea? Why was it always up to his class to bail out the class ahead of them? It felt like they had been doing it since we started kindergarten. Was one of them going to get killed by one of these eight-foot creatures?
Much to his relief, none of the sixth graders were killed that day. It turns out that they didn’t do much of anything with the exception of receiving their equipment and uniforms. Nathan’s existence was safe for at least one more day.

He sat outside of the school with Tom Sanstad waiting for Tom’s dad to pick them up. Nathan and Tom lived very close to each other and often shared rides. Tom had been one of Nathan’s best friends for a long as Nathan could remember. Tom was a good-looking kid, with dirty blonde hair and blue eyes. His mom was a teacher at Bentwood, which sometimes proved difficult. Kids would occasionally direct their frustration with Mrs. Sanstad at Tom, which clearly wasn’t fair. He was lean and already had a jaw line that most men would die for.
While tossing a small rock across the street Tom said to Nathan, “So are you excited for tomorrow?”
“What’s tomorrow?” Nathan seriously had no idea what Tom was talking about.
“Oh! Yeah, should be fun,” Nathan tried his best to fake enthusiasm. For a second he thought about being honest, but he couldn’t.
“Yeah, I’m not sure yet. It’ll probably be fun, but we’ll see.”
In a few short seconds Tom had eased much of Nathan’s anxiety. All he got from the conversation was that he wasn’t the only one who wasn’t quite sure about this whole thing – and that’s all he needed.

Nathan arrived at home that evening to an extremely excited father. Gary Sherver was a big football fan; one could assume that he had started a countdown on some calendar the day Nathan was born – counting the days until he would be able play football.
Nathan walked in the door and plopped down the uniform and equipment he had received earlier. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do with most of it, but he figured his father would – and if not Mr. Henry would definitely help him. He was slightly energized by the enthusiasm his father had as he saw all of the football equipment. Nathan wondered if his dad was actually interested in something he was doing? Nathan assumed that his father would be excited about him playing football, but he just wasn’t used to receiving his attention, let alone his father being excited about something in his life.
Nathan began to pull the various pads out of the bag and arranged them on the floor. As he did, his father was instructing, “That’s a knee pad, which will go in the pocket in the knee of your uniform pants.”
Oh really? was Nathan’s first thought to himself, but he didn’t want to say it, potentially destroying any hope of his dad wanting to help him. So, he pretended to not be annoyed by some of the obvious statements and his lesson in football gear continued. They sized up the shoulder pads, put all of the pads in his pants and girdle, and even fitted his mouth guard. This was perhaps the longest conversation Nathan had had with his father to date.
The last thing to be pulled from the bag was his jersey. It was his first official team football jersey, number fifty. He held it up for himself, but more importantly his dad to see. It was black with orange trim on the sleeves. The white number was sewed on with orange thread and outlined with thick black and orange trim. Nathan was proud of it and hoped his dad would be as well.
“50? What the hell does he think you are going to do with that number? You can’t be a running back with that number.” Mr. Sherver’s words quickly changed the mood in the room from one of excitement to disappointment.
Nathan dropped the jersey into his lap and held it close. He just sat there, looking down into the black mesh material. The material that he just knew would make his dad proud. The material that he thought would finally help his dad to notice him and give him a reason to be proud of Nathan.
He wanted to cry, but harnessed every ounce of strength he could find within himself to not. His jaw was clenched; he knew he couldn’t look up, for fear of losing the control of the tears.
“Well, we’re pretty much done here. I got stuff today,” Mr. Sherver said in a soft, apathetic voice while standing up and leaving the room.
Nathan’s father was a running back in high school, and from what he always said, he was pretty good. Apparently, his assumption was that Nathan was going to be made a running back, in sixth grade. However, Nathan was not a running back. He was a lineman. He was one of the few, if not only, boys who had started puberty. He was growing and was much bigger than most – he had to be on the line to protect them – that was his assumption anyway.
Nathan sat there on the floor for several minutes, holding his jersey, fighting back tears. All he wanted was for his father to like him, and he felt like he had just ruined another opportunity for that to happen.

The next day was the first day of real practice. The process of hauling their football equipment around wasn’t exactly convenient for Nathan and his fellow sixth graders. You see, sixth graders didn’t have a locker in the locker room. This meant that they had to haul all of their equipment home every day and bring it back the next. So they not only had their regular school bag, they also had a gigantic equipment bag to keep with them all day long and then drag through the busy hallway at the end of the day to the oh-so-welcoming locker room to change.
Finding space to change in the locker room was the next challenge. Though it appeared huge when empty, the space was not big enough to support junior high and senior high football players and their equipment – add a bunch of little sixth graders running around and the result is chaos in a closet.
Nathan was able to find a little spot in the corner in which he was able to begin the process of transforming from an elementary student to a football player. He was going about his business changing into his practice uniform, sharing stories of the day with some friends, when Ben Jensen, the infamous eighth grader who successfully scared the young new football players to the core the day before, came over and began to try to show them, and perhaps his peers, that he was cool (because he could pick on sixth graders).
“You guys are so fucking stupid. Why do you carry your equipment home with you every night?” Ben chuckled with his two sidekicks while Tom and Nathan looked at each other with confused amazement.
“We don’t have lockers, we don’t really have a choice,” Tom responded.
Nathan added, “Don’t you remember being in sixth grade?”
Ben began to laugh as if Nathan had just told the funniest joke he’d ever heard. He turned to one of his followers and said, “Did you hear this little squeaker? I bet he’ll sound like that forever – what a freak!”
Nathan’s heart rate shot up as if he had just ran a sprint. He had reached a whole new level of embarrassment and wanted nothing more than to not be there. Puberty had moved his voice to an extremely unpredictable stage and it had been known to make a few excessive squeaks from time to time. This was not something that was unique to him. He wanted to tell Ben that perhaps if he had started to go through puberty he would understand what just happened, but since he was in eighth grade and still sounded like a girl – he clearly had no idea.
Instead Nathan said nothing. He said nothing and everyone went back to getting ready for practice. None of his friends said anything; he wondered if they even knew how much it stung. Ben and his sidekicks walked away and Tom changed the subject.
Something had happened. For those few short seconds Nathan felt more different from his peers than he ever had in his life. He had felt different before, just as everyone has more than once in his or her life. He started puberty way before the rest of his friends – that certainly made a person feel a bit odd. But this feeling of being different was much more severe than that. In those moments during and after Ben’s comments Nathan felt completely alone – he felt as though there wasn’t a human being on the planet that could possibly understand what it was like to be him.
That moment was very important in laying the foundation of understanding that Nathan would come to have about himself and about others. From that moment on, he was no longer a little boy – he was well on his way to becoming the person he would be and discovering just who he really was.


Realizing - Chapter 1

Greetings, Reader! I think in a past post I alluded to having finished the first draft of a novel, well, I have, and I would like your feedback - if you would be so kind as to offer it. Below, you'll find the first chapter of my Young Adult novel entitled Realizing. Enjoy, and I look forward to hearing from you with the good and the bad!

P.S. For some reason the formatting won't paste properly - my apologies!

Realizing - A Novel by Casey Lankow


Nathan Sherver is gay. It wasn’t always so easy for him to say that. In fact, for many years of his life he couldn’t imagine the possibility of it being true; the thought of ever saying it out loud seemed impossible.
Nathan grew up in a small town in west central Minnesota. Small meaning that his graduating class had 52 students and the population of the city-proper was approximately 350, if rounded up. The town of Bentwood consisted of a bank, a liquor store, a couple gas stations, post office, and bars. Many bars. Perhaps more bars per capita than any other town in America.
Gay people didn’t exist in his small town and so the possibility that he might be gay didn’t enter his conscious process for many years into his life. Nathan knew there was something a bit different about himself from his friends, but being gay was not an option.
What follows is his story.


July 1992
Nathan sat on the shiny wood floor in the living room of the modest, three-bedroom lake home. He was playing Paper Boy on his newly birthday-gifted Nintendo and enjoying the carefree atmosphere of a July evening. The sun was just beginning to set and provided a warm, comforting glow through the west-facing window. His father, Gary, was sitting in the tan recliner that looked like a pile of soft clouds in the corner of the room reading the Bentwood Independent, the local section of the area newspaper.
Mr. Sherver inhaled suddenly, eliciting a high pitched gasp and yelled to his wife in the kitchen, “Nancy, did you see this?”
Nathan wasn’t sure, but he assumed his mother had rolled her eyes as she often did when his dad hollered to her. She called back with a tinge of annoyance, “See what?”
“This article in the paper from the athletic director.” Mr. Sherver sounded as if he thought she should have known.
“No. What’s it say?” Mrs. Sherver asked with greater curiosity as her head appeared from behind the wall that separated the kitchen from the living room.
“Nathan can play football this year!”
Nathan lost his breath for a second, but pretended not to hear and stayed focused on getting the newspapers on the television into the mailboxes.
“What? He’s only going to be in sixth grade though,” Mrs. Sherver clarified with some sharpness.
“I know, but it says the seventh graders need more guys, so the sixth graders get to play with them,” he explained. “I can’t believe it, those lucky kids,” he mostly uttered to himself.

If a boy wasn’t excited, it was assumed there was something wrong with him. Nathan’s class was being called up to save the seventh grade football team. Since the class above was lacking, mostly in boys but many argued in other things as well, his class was going to be able to play. Fathers, and mothers alike, were bursting with excitement. Finally, their dreams of rearing a star athlete were about to come true. All of the time spent in the backyard playing catch and teaching fundamentals would prove worthwhile. Their children would begin to truly understand the ideals of hard work and commitment. But most importantly, they would be able to satisfy their own unfulfilled childhood desires. All was right in the world for the sixth grade parents of Bentwood.

Nathan and two of his friends, Tom and David, were lounging about on the Sherver’s dock, and enjoying the warmth of the midday sun while swimming in Three Mile Lake. Three Mile Lake was located right in the center of Bentwood and was home to Nathan and many of his friends.
They were taking a break from their cannon ball contest – the highest splash won – and were sharing their thoughts on the news that they would be playing football.
“I already got spikes. We went shopping the day after my mom read it in the paper,” David boasted.
“I need to get some still,” Tom said.
“Can’t I just use my baseball spikes?” Nathan asked.
“No. You have to have the special football kind,” David explained professorially.
Nathan wasn’t sure if David knew what he was talking about. The thought of getting new shoes hadn’t even crossed his mind. Not only was his ignorance showing through, his list of concerns surrounding this situation was growing.
“So do you think we’ll practice with the seniors?” Nathan voiced one of those concerns, but tried not to show it in his tone.
“No. I think just with the seventh and eighth graders,” Tom speculated.
“I think in our games we even do like real kick offs!” David’s excitement was apparent.
“Yeah, it’ll probably be pretty cool,” Tom understated.
“Well, my dad seems to think we are pretty lucky,” Nathan said.
“We are, most people don’t get to start until at least seventh grade,” David’s enthusiasm continued.
“I guess. It’s just one year – I don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” Tom tried to bring David down from his high.
Nathan was beginning to wonder if Tom was just as skeptical about this whole thing as he was, “Yeah. I’m just not sure what to expect, but I’m sure it’ll be fun.”
The truth was that Nathan wasn’t so sure it was going to be fun, but he felt he had to say it. He actually had no idea what was going to happen. His father hadn’t exactly taught him much about football and he felt he was the only boy in Bentwood who wouldn’t know what to do when he got on the field. He didn’t know what was coming and he didn’t like it.

Nathan’s first clue came as he and the boys walked into the house seeking some relief from the heat. Mrs. Sherver was sitting at the kitchen table, soaking in the air conditioning and sorting the mail.
Nathan’s mom was a bright and cheery lady who always appeared to love life – it always seemed that his friends really liked her. She had long dark hair and took pride in always presenting her most put together self. Whether she was going to the post office or to a wedding, she made sure she was looking her best. This could often take hours of preparation, which Nathan never understood. But the finished product was always a sight to turn heads.
“Hi boys,” Mrs. Sherver said with a beaming smile.
“Hey mom,” Nathan replied as he rifled through the refrigerator looking for some cool beverages for his guests.
“What are you looking for, honey? There is some juice and soda on the bottom shelf,” Mrs. Sherver pointed out.
“Got it, thanks,” Nathan said as he tossed cans of soda to Tom and David.
“Oh hey, look at this, a letter from the athletic director about you boys playing football this fall. This is all so exciting,” Mrs. Sherver announced as she ripped open the envelope.
“What’s it say?” David asked with his usual enthusiasm for the topic.
“Well, let’s see. There are some forms for parents to fill out,” She continued reading.
“Just boring stuff probably,” Nathan said.
“Oh and look here, it says you will need to have a sports physical,” Mrs. Sherver said.
“What’s that?” Nathan asked.
“Well, you just have to go to the doctor and make sure everything is okay,” Mrs. Sherver explained, although Nathan wasn’t convinced she really knew what she was talking about.
“Oh great,” Tom moaned, “I hate going to the doctor.”
“It’s not a big deal though. It probably won’t take more than fifteen minutes. I better make you an appointment, Nathan,” Mrs. Sherver said.
“Yeah, I suppose,” Nathan said while his stomach began to churn. He had no idea what was involved in a sports physical, but he knew it involved going to the doctor – and what good could come of that?
In an attempt to calm his nerves, Nathan pulled Tom and David into the living from, “Come on guys, let’s go play Nintendo.”
As Nathan sat and watched his friends play Super Mario Brothers, he thought about how much he disliked going to the doctor. He was convinced that anytime he went they were going to tell him that he had some fatal disease that had barely been discovered and that he only had weeks to live. He had no interest in having this physical, and frankly he didn’t have all that much interest in playing football. But it seemed to him that he didn’t have much of a choice. To not play football would be an open invitation for his friends to view him as a wimp, for his father to be deeply disappointed in him, and for the people of Bentwood to wonder what was wrong with him.

The dreaded day of the physical had arrived. Nathan’s dad, Gary Sherver, was bringing him to the clinic. He was a handsome man of about six feet and wore a mustache on his upper lip. His salt and pepper hair was slightly thinning, and his dark complexion always gave the illusion that he had just returned from a sunny vacation spot. Mr. Sherver was a salesman by nature and always seemed most content talking to clients – presenting himself as a life-long friend. He would talk to a client for hours before even mentioning business. He always looked so excited when talking to people, which made Nathan always wonder why his father never seemed to want to talk to him.
Nathan sat silently in the car on the drive to the clinic. It was about a twenty-minute trip to Otter Creek, where the nearest clinic was. He watched the trees fly by the car through the window; the view would occasionally open up to a vast rolling field of grass. The sound of the tires on the road was competing with the AM talk radio blaring out of the car speakers. Mr. Sherver frequently added to the whole by shouting random comments back at the radio, causing Nathan to startle out of his tree-induced coma.
Nathan had never felt very close to his father, they could sit for hours in a car and not utter a word to each other. Weeks would pass without the two of them acknowledging the other’s presence in the same household of three. Eye contact was nonexistent between the two, and hearing “I love you” from his father would have taken much more than Mr. Sherver seemed capable of. Nathan always felt a little awkward around his father and as a result often felt guilty. He wondered if it was his fault that he and his father had such a strange, distant relationship. It was difficult for him to remember a time when he felt close to his father. However, he had hope that football just might be the thing to bring them together.
On the drive to the clinic Nathan was trying to imagine what the sports physical might entail; he really had no idea what to expect. He wondered if they were going to stick things in him. Make him pee in a cup. Rip out a sample of his hair. Whatever the procedures might include, he was terrified and slightly convinced that the doctor was going to find something severely wrong with him – giving him weeks to live.
When Nathan and his father arrived at the clinic, they took a seat in the waiting room. Nathan couldn’t identify the smell that filled the air, but it certainly wasn’t comforting. Every few seconds a high-pitched tone sounded from the ceiling, signaling a soothing female voice to make announcements. The room was filled with people of all ages. A pregnant woman sat in the corner, surrounded by several young children. An older couple sat next to them and seated between Nathan and his father and the older couple was the mother of one of Nathan’s classmates, David Jensrud. “Hi guys, are you here for the physical?” she asked.
Nathan was so scared at that point, he was barely able to produce words, but he was able to squeak out, “Yeah.”
“David is in there now, he should be done soon I would think.” She added.
Mrs. Jensrud and Nathan’s father continued talking about adult things that Nathan had no time to bother with; he was trying to calm his nerves. He tried reading the latest issue of Highlights, but just couldn’t focus enough on the picture to figure out what was missing. He thought maybe he would watch television, but it was tuned in to some soap opera, and he was too nervous to ask anyone to change the channel. Just as he was going to go check out the other magazines a nurse called his name, “Nathan Sherver?”
His heart sank to his heels. Was there any way he could have gotten out of this? Was there anything he could have come up with that would allow him to not have to go through this awful experience? In a matter of about three seconds he determined that there was no way out. It came back to the choice of bucking up or being a wimp, the latter of which he couldn’t handle. Nathan stood up to make the short walk from his chair in the waiting room to the nurse by the front desk.
“Hi, Nathan. Right this way.” The nurse said in a cheerful manner.
As they turned to walk back to the exam room, David came walking out of a room with a blank look on his face. “Hey, how was it?” Nathan asked.
He kept his blank look and mumbled “Fine. Good luck,” and kept on walking right out of the clinic.
Fine? Good luck? Nathan wondered what exactly they had done to him in there. Ever since David learned he would be playing football in the fall, he hadn’t stopped talking; a person often had to literally ignore him. Nathan thought David might have offered a bit more detail or at least he could have looked at him. His thought that this physical was a bad idea was becoming more solidified. Nathan wondered why they all had to have a physical to play football, and why did they have to play with the seventh graders anyway. Couldn’t they just wait until they are actually old enough like most boys got to do? He got the impression that they were supposed to view this as a privilege - to start playing football a year early - but at this point it seemed more like a punishment to Nathan.
The nurse led him down what looked like an endless hallway, stark with blank white walls. Nathan thought they had passed at least thirty rooms before she finally led him into an exam room and she asked him to climb up on the table and relax. Creepy cartoon drawings of body parts decorated the walls, and the persistent unnerving stench that filled the waiting room had found its way into the exam room.
The nurse asked him a few questions and took his blood pressure. He found it difficult to take his eyes off of the variety of instruments that lay on the desk - perfectly shined metal looking things that were formed in all kinds of odd shapes. He imagined the hundreds of different things he could do with them. He wanted so badly to take some to the beach and have a go in the sand. Just when he was beginning to think that this physical stuff wasn’t so bad the nurse instructed, “Okay, Nathan, please strip down naked and put on this smock.”
She threw a little blue piece of cloth on the table.
“Socks and everything?” he asked picking up the smock.
“Yep, the doctor will be in shortly,” she offered a smile with a squint of her nose and left the room.
Nathan was a little taken aback. Strip naked? What could getting naked possibly have to do with anyone’s ability to play football? What was the doctor going to have him do in this little blue robe that he couldn’t do just as well with his clothes on?
He was beside himself. He reluctantly took his clothes off and put on the smock. He was mostly covered, but he felt completely naked.
After several minutes (it may not have been very long actually), the doctor entered the room – the doctor was a man. For some reason, a reason Nathan could not explain, for a reason he wasn’t even sure existed - he was hoping for a female doctor. Drops of sweat were forming on his forehead and he felt his heart just might jump out of his chest at any second. The anxiety that he was feeling while sitting in the waiting room seemed manageable compared with what he was feeling now as he sat there naked with the doctor in the room.
The doctor proceeded to examine Nathan - looking in his ears and listening to his heart and lungs. He asked Nathan to walk around, and do all sorts of movements – none of which, Nathan thought, had anything to do with playing football. But nothing was too scary and he was thinking that the doctor probably wouldn’t be able to find any fatal diseases from what he was doing.
“Okay, Nathan, would you please stand up,” the doctor directed.
Nathan, feeling pretty good about what had happened so far, bounced right up and stood in front of the doctor. He figured things were about done and was fairly excited that he had made it through and it hadn’t even been all that bad.
“I just have to take a look down here and you’ll be set to go,” the doctor said as he lifted the smock, exposing Nathan for the entire world to see. Yes, the door was shut, but how was he to know if someone was going to barge in or not? He had thought walking around like a duck had nothing to do with football, now he was really confused. The doctor did some checking around down there, asked Nathan to cough a couple times, poked here and there, and went back to writing on the chart.
Nathan was in shock and while the doctor was taking notes he wondered how necessary all of that was? Was that even appropriate? There wasn’t even a warning. In fifth grade he learned the difference between red and green touches, and he was pretty sure that those were not green touches.
The doctor tried to make small talk, “So, are you excited to start football?”
Nathan, looking as if he were about to faint, stared straight ahead at the wall in front of him and nodded, “Mhm.”
“You guys are all pretty lucky, boy what I would have given to be able to do that when I was your age,” the doctor said.
“Yeah,” Nathan just wanted to leave. He was still trying to wrap his mind around what had just occurred. This man had just felt him up to see if he was eligible to play football.
As Nathan watched the trees on the other side of the road on the way home, he thought about how he was growing up too fast; he just wanted to read a Highlights magazine, not get physicals and play football with older kids.


Is it just too big?

I watched a video online yesterday of Jon Stewart blasting the hypocrisy that is Fox News in a way that only he can. If you haven't seen it, I would encourage you to watch it: Fox News: The New Liberals.

After catching my breath and wiping the tears of hilarity from my eyes, I was, again, struck by how different my view of the world is from the people at Fox News. Essentially, most everything that comes out of the mouths of anyone who is speaking into a microphone on that channel is the exact opposite of what I would say (of course there are some exceptions, but few).

On my best days, I like to try to think that people genuinely believe they have the best intentions and that they think their ideas are the best course of action for the betterment of the country. Now, I can also admit that I also have days in which I don't think quite as above the fray.

Obviously your opinions and ideas are based on your world view, your perception of what life is like for yourself and for others. Of course people have a fairly good handle on what like if like for them. They know what they need, what they want, and what would be best for them (well, most people anyway).

And then there is the other side of the perspective: the perspective of other people, of other subgroups within the American and world culture. I'm certain that everyone in this vast country we call the United States of America considers how their actions might affect their neighbors. I'm convinced that, at least once daily, Americans living in plush suburbs ponder what life is truly like for children living in inner cities neighborhoods. I know that all white men are sensitive to what it might be like to be an African American woman. And I know firsthand that all straight folks think about what it must be like to be gay in a heterosexually dominated society.

Okay, so I'm actually not certain of any of that. If anything, I would be more certain that little, if any of that goes on. The only thing I am certain of is that not enough of those things occur.

There are so many different Americas. There are so many varying needs. I can't help but wonder: is there a point at which a country becomes too diverse in values and needs that it's impossible to govern?

I don't know what the answer is to that specific question; it's an extremely complex dynamic. Here's what I do think I know: to assume that we all just know what life is like for all Americans is ignorant. To assume that everyone in this massive country needs to the same thing as you do is perhaps the definition of close-minded. To assume that because you are happy and satisfied with your daily life and therefore nothing needs changing is dangerous.

I think there are some important steps that have to happen before real progress can occur. They are very simple steps, and yet close to impossible. Here's what I propose:

Acknowledge that you have no idea what life is like for anyone other than yourself. Because you can't know, it's literally impossible. You can't even know what's going on inside the head of the person who is closest to you in this world at all times. But I think acknowledging this is the first step in being able to understand what it might be like. We try to hold this power over people by saying, "Oh I know what it's like." Well, no we don't. Do you really know what it's like to live minute-to-minute wondering where you are going to sleep each night (some readers might)? Do you know what it's like to hear people talk about how they value freedom for all and then tell you that you can't get married in the same breath (again, some readers might)?

So let people have their own power - we are the only one's who can know what we need. Through embracing this, I believe that we can then begin to try an empathize and attempt to understand what life is like for others. We can never know, but we can always strive to understand. Truly embracing diversity is letting going of your assumptions.



Good morning, reader. Rain filled the atmosphere in the Twin Cities yesterday. The evening provided comforting rumbles of thunder with an occasional startling detonation that seemed to wake the foundation of my house from its peaceful state. It was a pleasantly rainy day; one of those days in which you have full license to be lazy - only because you are anticipating all that you will be able to do on the forcasted heat wave of tomorrow. Well, looks like the computer models of what would be today were a bit off. Rain and clouds remain and I'm not holding out for 90 degrees. So, instead I'll comment on the fringers.

No, not those who participated in the Twin Cities Fringe Festival. Although I tip my hat and offer my congratulations; I hear it was a successful year!

I'm applying the term fringers to those people who choose to hold extreme views, in either direction, effectively arresting any use of rational thought. Initially I'm amused by these people. They appear 'crazy' and I laugh at their antics. But upon further examination of my reaction, I have to wonder if my laughter and quickness to pass them off as crazy isn't more out of fear than amusement.

Now, I feel on fairly safe ground implying the overall craziness of their thoughts and actions. However, there seems to be a growing number of these fringers. It seems the more uninformed people are the more likely they are to become fringers.

We can find one of the most recent examples of fringers in the healthcare reform debate. It's truly frightening to see these people screaming out ridiculous accusations and untruths about the proposals and intentions. One of my personal favorites is when people on Medicare scream, "I don't want the government running my healthcare!" Reader, I hope I don't have to explain this one.

Healthcare reform will, hopefully, bring a dramatic change to our country, which generally elicits fear in people. So I can empathize with their strong reaction, sort of. But I can't empathize with either making up "facts" to support your fear or choosing not to listen to the true intent of the proposals. If you truly are frightened about what is to come, why not get the facts and learn about what is happening?

The other most recent example of fringers is much more disturbing, much more shocking, and much more difficult to empathize with. The Birthers. Do you know what these people are about, reader? There really aren't words available to describe the fatuousness of their stance. These are the folks that do not believe, for whatever reason, that President Obama was born in the United States. Even though his birth certificate has been shared and his place of birth had been corroborated with countless sources - doctors, nurses, hospital staff, the announcement in the newspaper even! These people still refuse to believe it.

A recent poll conducted by Research 2000 found that a majority of Republicans either believe that the President was born outside of the United State (28%) or they just don't know (30%). Now, as I said earlier, there are fringers on both sides. In 2007, 60% of Democrats that were polled believed that George W. Bush may have been tipped off about 9/11 and did nothing to prevent it. Come one people, you may not agree with someone's policies, but...

The examples could go on and on, I'm sure, but it just gets too disturbing. I guess my intent, reader, is to ask that you be aware and informed of the events in your world. Use more than one source when collecting information. I'm not sure an unbiased media exists; I'm not saying that's bad, just that you need to be aware of it and use more than one source. You have to create your own balance. Please be aware that there is a difference between an anchor and a commentator, a contributor and an analyst, Sean Hannity and Tom Brokaw. Some of these people are bound to dispense the truth, some of these people wouldn't know the truth if it hit them square in the eyes - be aware.

The next time you witness a fringer, reader, I would ask that you point out the irrational nature of his or her thoughts and move along, quickly. Don't feed into their energy by meeting them with their level of heightened emotions by getting into a heated debate - even though you are mostly likely correct, they won't back down and you will only get frustrated. So, just state the facts and be on your way with a smile.