I’m sorry; I’m a bad, bad writer to start a story with a single word.
But I can hardly think of anything else. I tried to think of something else. I even scrunched my eyes really super tight and imagined giant rainbow-colored butterflies carrying fluffy chocolate cupcakes to me on sparkly golden platters suspended from strings of iridescent pearls. But my happy thoughts spat themselves out onscreen as “longboard.”
See what I mean?
It’s my son’s fault. Gabe wants my wife, Kerry, and me to buy him a $272 longboard.
We <3 Gabe but don’t want to buy him a $10 longboard. We don’t want to buy him a free longboard.
He wants us to buy him a longboard more than he wants anything else in the whole world.
We have a lot of long discussions about it. They start at about the same time we get home from work, and go something like this:
Gabe: “I want a longboard.”
Gabe: “I promise on a stack of Holy Bibles to start wearing my helmet and wrist guards so I won’t get hurt. I’ll read the Bibles, too.”
Gabe: “I found one for a good price, but I have to get it now before the deal ends.”
Gabe: “What’s wrong with a longboard?”
Gabe: “Why won’t you let me get a longboard?”
Gabe: “All my friends have longboards.”
Gabe: “You wouldn’t have to take me everywhere if I had a longboard.”
Gabe: “I’d get better grades in school if I had a longboard.”
Gabe: “You’re horrible parents.”
Us: “Yes. No, wait! We mean no. No.”
And so on, and on, and on–until the sun comes up, and we’re too hoarse to talk anymore.
Maybe you think I’m exaggerating. But let me tell you a little bit about our son to help you understand what we’re dealing with here.
Gabe is a teenager.
If you’re a parent, I don’t need to tell you more. You already understand the misery that is choking our once-happy household like thick, black smoke. You’re nodding empathetically, unable to read any further because your eyes are burning with tears of recollected anguish.
But if you’re not a parent, or you’ve successfully drunk away the painful memories of raising your own teenagers, “teenager” is a word that may need a bit of explanation.
Teenagers aren’t fully human.
They’re hideous, hideous mutants–bewildered, human-shaped sacks of hormones hell-bent on destroying the world for their own personal gain. Remember the scary creatures in Predator and Alien, the ones with huge fangs and hydrochloric-acid drool and an insatiable hunger for human flesh? Teenagers are like that, except there’s more of them, and they’re meaner and harder to kill.
Gabe is 15 years old, soon to be 16. But he has been a 15-year-old teenager for as long as we can remember, maybe since the day God scooped up a handful of dirt, spat into it to form ball of mud, and breathed life into it. We have been sucked into a whirling vortex of teenage doom from which we cannot escape.
Some parents are lucky enough to raise twee sons who crochet lace doilies to raise money for the high school drama club. These gentle boys are quiet and delightful. They do their chores and homework without being asked. They clean their rooms. They respect you, and do what you ask with a smile, or at least a minimum of whining.
To Gabe, being a teenager means he’s a man–a man with exceptional physical and mental talents, and a strong sense of moral superiority. Like Superman, but without the tights or the bothersome drive to be a do-gooder.
We, on the other hand, are evil, bumbling overlords whose tyrannous reign must be crushed in order to set the world free.
He is control.
Or wants to be.
Or will be soon.
I’m not 100 percent sure anymore, because his jackhammer mouth makes me very, very sleepy, and confused.
Raising Gabe is like wrestling an enraged Sasquatch. In a word, he’s stubborn. When Gabe sets his mind on something–and he’s always got his mind set on something–he literally won’t rest until he gets it. In four words, he’s stubborn and obsessive-compulsive.
Gabe’s been this way since he was small enough to smother.
When he was about 2-and-a-half years old, for example, we blithely encouraged him watch a highlight reel of the Denver Broncos’ Super Bowl victories. He watched it about five times in a row. Then he started imitating the twisting, slashing movements of the team’s star running back, Terrell Davis. He did it with exact precision, rolling and tumbling through lines of imaginary defensemen in our living room in slow motion, just like it was filmed.
We were relatively new parents then, and still stupid enough to believe Gabe and his hobbies were cute. So we rushed out and bought him a football and a football helmet and the sweetest, teensiest-tiniest Denver Broncos’ football jersey you’ve ever seen.
It was a big mistake, because every day for the next year or so, he put on the jersey and the helmet and carried the football under one arm everywhere he went. He wore the teeny-tiny jersey to preschool. He wore the teeny-tiny jersey to bed. He wore the teeny-tiny jersey until it finally came undone and fluttered to the ground, too tattered and torn even to be used as rags.
That should’ve tipped us off that we had a serious problem on our hands.
But it didn’t.
We still thought it was cute.
And so the football was followed in rapid succession by the basketball, the baseball, the soccer ball, the bicycle, the trick bike, the mountain bike, the road bike, the rollerblades, the hockey skates, the snorkeling gear, the hockey gear, the golf clubs, the juggling kit, the hacky sacks, the lacrosse sticks and the skateboards. One year, when Gabe was about 8 or 9 years old, he spotted someone riding a unicycle. Naturally, we bought him a unicycle. He started riding it almost as soon as I finished assembling it, and within a week he’d combined unicycle riding with his newest obsession, juggling. Within two weeks, he was playing street hockey on it, and winning.
Not that all of Gabe’s obsessions have been sports oriented.
Over time, he’s also fixated on a list of things as diverse as Yu-Gi-Oh cards, collectible pins, trading cards, iPods, mechanical pencils, hats, tennis shoes, pocket watches, laser pointers, drawing, algebra, vampire novels, haircuts, magic tricks, skinny jeans, hamburgers, video games, cologne, and cell phones. Recently, a kindly teacher loaned him a Rubik’s cube and challenged him to solve it. Gabe frenetically worked on it for days. If we tried to take it away to feed him dinner or to get him to do his homework, he screamed at us to leave him alone.
He solved it, though, convincingly demonstrating that one of the upsides of stubborn persistence is success. He solved it five or six times in a row, and then tossed it into a discard pile along with the Yu-Gi-Oh cards, the broken laser pointer, his baseball glove and a lot of other stuff we don’t even recognize. I don’t suppose he’ll ever touch it again.
Gabe first saw somebody riding on a longboard about two months ago.
That’s when the discussions about the longboard began. Gabe pleaded, cajoled, intimidated, begged and browbeat us for days and weeks, barely pausing between tactics to breathe or sleep. We steadfastly said no until our tongues bled, and we prayed to go deaf.
One night, I came perilously close to giving in. Not because I wanted to say yes, but because my friend Rena wrote me an unexpected note offering to give Gabe her longboard, which she stopped using when it tried to kill her by repeatedly dumping her on the asphalt. She had planned to give it to her father, who won it from her fair and square. But he didn’t want it, and she thought Gabe might enjoy it.
Rena’s offer seemed remarkably prescient, and more than coincidental. She doesn’t know Gabe. I never once mentioned that he wanted a longboard. Was this a clear sign that God in His infinite wisdom and desire to make me suffer wants Gabe to have a longboard?
Perhaps it is, I mused, and who am I to argue with God?
I’m not Gabe.
But I suppressed my fear of heavenly reprisal and denied God’s will, if God’s will it was. I didn’t mention Rena’s offer to Gabe, or even to my wife. On stern principle, I exercised my God-given right to free will, and kept it completely quiet. I didn’t say yes instead of no. And to my complete surprise, Gabe stopped demanding a longboard.
Until I sat down to write this story.
About six paragraphs ago, even though he couldn’t possibly have known what I was working on because he was in the kitchen and I was in the living room, he suddenly shouted, “Hey, can I get a longboard?”
“No,” Kerry and I replied somewhat flatly, but in unison.
“Okay,” Gabe said. “I just want you know that I still want a longboard. I haven’t forgotten.”
And I don’t believe he ever will, which is why I’m going to do something a good writer probably ought to do very rarely, if ever: end a story abruptly, and with a single word.