8.23.2009

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

Introduction

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.


I

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.

2 comments:

Stephanie said...

Yep. I could not have stopped reading this even if someone was physically pulling me away from the computer. Fascinating! Never knew you were such a good writer. Keep it up!
Steph (Peasley) Anderson

Andrea said...

nice work, casey. can't wait to read more...