“We see like children, and when we try to be wise we see nothing.”
– Oswald Chambers.
Once upon a time there was a little boy named Josh, who loved to listen to his mother read to him. She had read the Magic Castle Reader storybooks dozens of times but the boy still insisted she read them again, especially before bed. They were simple romantic stories that usually used animals as main characters. He had his favorites of course, and always knew what was going to happen next but this boy enjoyed hearing the story play out, from beginning to end, over and over, always left marveling. He couldn’t read the words but it didn’t matter because he still grasped the story. The pictures helped but his colorful imagination filled in all the gaps taking the story much further than the pages. Each tale ended with a happily ever after. This along with his favorite television show, Eureka’s Castle, captivated his attention and occupied his mind. Together, he and his mom would sit in the living room, the books on the coffee table in front of the television, and the two would flee to a world of fancy. As he grew up, his mother fed his creativity and wonder about the world. Her little boy was her escape from her own deep sadness. She was astonished that Josh started speaking legitimate sentences at only one year old. Questions that murmured and clamored tumbled from his overactive brain and spluttered out his mouth. Mom didn’t always have the answers…
He learned to read in Mrs. Hoffman’s second grade class at Swarthmore-Rutledge Elementary School in the suburbs of Philly. Some would find this ironic that he became awakened to the world of literature and moved from illiterate to literacy, in this particular setting. It wasn’t even Mrs. Hoffman who taught him to read, it was her teaching assistant, Ms. Mirachi. She was a short Italian woman in her early fifties, and she loved him dearly. Most of the other kids had learned already, yet he was behind and didn’t know why. The answer was revealed when his mom took him to the eye doctor. Turns out his vision had rapidly declined, and what he once perceived as life altered entirely when a pair of lenses was placed in front of his eyeballs. Life as he had envisioned changed drastically. Amazed at his unawareness of such reality, reading came quick to him after that because he could actually see.
Second grade was also when the boy met his first crush. She was new to the class, having just moved to the area from Detroit. Small blonde hair, blue eyed Elizabeth appeared on the scene, and for the first time in his boyhood life, he felt a rush of warm blood swooning through his skinny body. The ceiling lights that usually droned and buzzed quieted when her presence filled the classroom. Elizabeth, her name was angelic and she must have been celestial. For the first time, a girl stood out to him, so profoundly radiant like a beacon to his life. Never before had he been exposed to such feelings but the seemingly perfect emotion that budded inside the boy like a treasure was nourished and built up. This wonderful feeling was fed every time he subtly glanced her way. She was the image of ideal beauty; a porcelain face that outshone the sun, her sleek long blonde hair swaying around her curved neck; cherry lips partially spread revealing the tips of two perfectly white teeth. Surely she was the fairest of the fair. Her bug eyes blinked curiously and her giant eyelashes sputtered like a frantic spider.Elizabeth, her name summoned the treasured emotion that churned and ravaged inside the core of his belly, pressing hard against his brain taking him up, up, up…
When the time had come for recess, Josh meandered around the courtyard with his classmates, to the center where a giant spray-painted outline of the United States was etched on the ground. The boy was a geography expert, hopping from New England, to New York, to Pennsylvania where he stood, recalling that he was located in the southeastern section of the state almost on the border of New Jersey which he knew was separated by the Delaware River. Maps fascinated him, but now, Lady Elizabeth was the object of his enthrallment. Mrs. Hoffman named off the states one by one; each time a student jumped on top of the one she called out. John stood on California, it was easy. Alana and Nina shared Colorado and Rachel on Florida, another easy one. Immediately everyone bellowed with laughter as a new yellowish Great Lake formed on top of Michigan where Libby cowered, cheeks bursting with crimson.
“Ha ha, Libby peed on Michigan,” squealed one of the children. Roaring laughter declared the end of the day’s recess time.
In class the boy wrestled against his assignments, trying to call together his wandering thoughts. During SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) Elizabeth’s shimmering face came between him and the page he strove to read. The letters bounced off the paper rearranging themselves in his mind and every time they spelled her name, the name that whispered through the stillness. When she walked by him, her luminous shadow cast a foreign, mysterious Midwestern enchantment over him. She was like an ancient artifact, and all he wanted to do was hold, cherish and treasure her forever. It was all so unexpected, nothing he had planned but something completely external that awoke an internal he never would have otherwise imagined or knew existed.
At home, his mother was curious as to the reason why her son couldn’t stop smiling. When she inquired, his face turned red; the fluttering treasured emotion twisted and thrilled his insides. He confessed his love for Elizabeth, unashamed, eager, hopeful, and expectant. Mother soaked in every word and listened intently to his description. She was baffled at the virtuousness and the genuine picture it painted.
“Elizabeth sounds like one in a million,” she said, smirking through squinted eyes.
“No,” he shot back, “one in a zillion-trillion.”
Sadly, it was Friday, and he wouldn’t see Elizabeth again until Monday. He didn’t mind school but his desire to go back dominated. If he could, he would eradicate the weekend, the superseding hours until he would encounter her again. All he needed was the thought of her and her image would come instantly, roiling his stomach with anticipation.
Thoughts and the picture of Elizabeth accompanied him wherever he went. Trips to the supermarket, the pharmacy, and the city to visit his great grandmother were the quests that stood ahead of him before he could see his fair lady again. Wherever he went that weekend, he carried his crown, the beautiful emotion, the silhouette of Elizabeth.
Monday morning he waited for what seemed like an hour, his gaze directed at the door awaiting her arrival. The blonde figure cast by his thoughts, illuminated subtly by the ceiling lights turned from invention to veracity as she stepped into the classroom peering in his direction. Swiftly he darted his gaze elsewhere. Throughout the week, the two shared slight conversations and even stood next to each other during class activities. She was well liked, quiet but approachable and very friendly. Josh’s heart warmed with passion as he observed her interactions with the other students. In class he answered very few questions. Mrs. Hoffman took notice when he stopped participating in the discussions about his favorite subjects and became idle. The truth was, schoolwork stood in the way of his desire and seemed like tedious, repetitive amusement.
“Why don’t you write Elizabeth a letter?” suggested his mother.
The student’s mail boxes were positioned in the middle of the classroom. There they would pick up homework, sheets to send home to parents, notes and cards from one another especially during birthdays and holidays. A letter would be perfect! Hours he spent crafting it, in it expressed his deep emotion through the limited words he knew, yet in its beautiful simplicity, the blamelessness and naivety in such a letter could speak volumes. It was short and uncomplicated and now Elizabeth would know. His mother eagerly proofread the note at the kitchen counter while sipping a cup of steaming hazelnut coffee. Through bleary eyes she said softly “well done” to her young boy. He crawled into bed, turned off the lamp and took up residence in the quiet darkness…
The morning was met with a heavy downpour that pelted against the windshield of the car. The wipers swished rapidly across the glass but the flood of dissipation kept coming, relentless with no signs of stopping. The wipers worked furiously against the steadfast circumstances, and failed every single time, yet they continued to whoosh back and forth with a hope and perseverance amid the ruthless conditions. The boy watched them curiously and listened intently to their squeakiness. It was as if a voice echoed through the squeaks, that only he could hear.
“Remember to take the bus today; I’ll be home shortly after you. The key is in the garage.” She stared straight ahead, flipping the turn signal.
“I know mom. Wish me luck!”
She watched his tiny figure trot through the doors of the elementary school, a black umbrella eclipsing him. She waited until he was safely inside to drive away and as the car advanced down the slippery road, she wept.
The boy’s veins were hot with blood pulsating wildly and fluttering the treasured emotion in his core. Elizabeth was standing over her desk, unpacking materials from her red backpack. Soon wet boots and coats dotted the room as the students organized themselves. Mrs. Hoffman shook out her umbrella, taking a seat behind her desk, emitting an exasperated sigh. Surely it was the longest Friday of his life. As the hour grew closer to the end of the day, Josh’s heart raced with keenness knowing the mammoth task that lay at hand. The time had come, it was now or never. The boy’s chest felt so warm he was afraid his heart might burst when he gathered the note in his clammy hand and gradually toddled over to the wooden mail boxes. He scanned the names for Elizabeth’s but before he could find it Libby crept up behind him and in one abrupt move, jerked the note from his hand, stepping back a few paces.
“What’s this… a love letter!? Hahah, Josh loves Elizabeth!”
Instantaneously the classroom hushed, like a Roman Catholic Cathedral after Christmas Eve mass. All eyes were on him, including Elizabeth who gazed apathetically and indifferent. Slowly the giggles rose like someone turning up the volume on a cassette tape. Everyone laughed and some shouted crude jokes which Mrs. Hoffman rebuked them for but the boy didn’t understand what they meant. Defeat washed over him and the class seemed to split in two, some gathering around him, others around Elizabeth. For the remaining minutes until the bell, the class made it so the two would be separated; pulled apart by a majority that didn’t give them a choice to talk about what had unfolded. The boy took his letter back and crumpled it into his pocket; his treasured emotion had been stabbed to death.
He wished the day had never happened. Desperately he wanted to crawl into bed and have his mom read to him, unable to read or see himself. After arriving home, he slung his backpack onto the kitchen counter and headed for the living room curling up on the couch resting a juice box upon a thin book that must have been his mom’s titled The Scarlet Letter which lay on top of his Magic Castle Readerspositioned on the coffee table. His pale overcome face sighed as he flipped on the television to whatever channel it was last on. Burying his head in the corduroy couch pillow, he lost himself to his thoughts. The TV softly broadcasted Maury’s voice through the room,
“Well she said you did. So did you or did you not…”
The rain still hammered against the windows, it hadn’t stopped all day. He could hear his mother’s presence rummaging through the door with grocery bags.
“So you are the father!” shouted Maury.
The boy straightened up and gazed precariously at the screen, his eyes red and heavy. The rain clouds brought night early that day.
“Josh, where are you?” said his mom, opening and closing cabinets, shuffling around the kitchen.
He didn’t answer, just gaped out the window into the quiet darkness, his eyes burning with torment.