January 5, 2011

"Little Black Rock"

[Ed. Note: So here's something different :) I'm really happy Steven Li emailed me this story he wrote (along with commentary) the other day - I think it gives The Blog an interesting dimension that we haven't seen before. Thanks, Steven! CG love.]

I've had this image in my head, for a while now, of two boys standing in the rain. And they're completely different--one is the image of athleticism; the other, short, scrawny, and incredibly shy. You would look at them and think, they'd never be friends in high school. But that's the thing about childhood, no one gives a damn about appearances. These two radically different boys were in fact friends, best friends maybe, and for one of them, their relationship meant a little bit more than just friendship.

I'm gazing upon myself, it seems. You probably don't need to guess which of the two boys I was. Growing up, my dad's work relocated almost every year, so we moved a lot. Before middle school, I've spent each year in a different school, in a different state. So it's safe to say that I've never had a best friend, because as soon as I made one, I'd have to leave him or her behind.

We had just moved to L.A., and the first night I couldn't sleep. I was homesick for Boston, and I hated change. So it was early morning, I was lying awake and hating life, and there comes a knock on the door. It was Ryan. His father owned the apartment complex we had moved into. Ryan asked if I wanted to play ball. I told him that I wanted to go rock hunting.

That's how I met my first best friend, and first crush. I guess that's where my inspiration for this little story came from. Friendships back then were so simple and easily made, and they seemed to expand inside you, filling you up with optimism. Love was simple then too, before you knew it was called such. Before all the complications of adolescence, and then adulthood, settle in, there was simply a magnetism that you didn't quite understand, but strong enough to bring together two incredibly different boys.

Since coming to Duke, I've learned a lot about love. I've become very optimistic about love, and I guess that's the second part of my inspiration for this story. I hope that I can share a bit of my optimism with everyone, through this little story. Love can be as simple as a childhood crush, as simple as two boys standing in the rain, waiting for the bus to come.

* * * * *

"Little Black Rock"

It’s raining. It’s raining, and we’re standing on the sidewalk after soccer practice. We’re still wearing our uniforms, the banana yellow jerseys and muddied shorts that say “Southwood” on them, and the soccer cleats. The rain makes little streams of dirt run down our legs. And we’re waiting.

It’s going to be ten minutes before the next bus comes and already the rain is pouring down harder than ever. I’m so wet I might as well be swimming. It’s cold and I wish I hadn’t forgotten my jacket at home. Ryan is wearing his; he never forgets.

I cough. Although I try to hold it back, lock it away in a little box inside my chest, it comes out anyways—loud and obnoxious. I’m so embarrassed that I stare awkwardly at the curb. I hope Ryan didn’t notice. He does notice, though, and reaches out his arm, his hand still in his jacket pocket. I stare at him.

“Come on,” he says.

I start to stammer. “I’m okay, really—”

He doesn’t budge. “Coach’s gonna kill you if you get sick.”

I give in and step under his jacket. He wraps his arm around me. Neither of us says another word, but words aren’t needed. Together we stand like that in the rain.

I’ve never felt my heart pound so furiously.

In that moment, everything felt so simple. It didn’t matter if the boys picked on me for being the smallest on the team. Or that I didn’t really like soccer, but had only joined because Ryan insisted that I try out with him. It didn’t matter that the bossy lawyer with the perfect comb-over hair was going to be at the house when I get home, finalizing the divorce papers so that my dad can live with his new family in Palm Beach.

None of that mattered because Ryan had let me stand underneath his jacket. I think how amazing it is that he let me be his friend. Ryan, the perfect athlete, the one that everyone liked. He had only been on the team for half a year and already they were talking about making him the captain next season.

Maybe it was fate, or probably just plain chance, that Ryan was my next-door neighbor when we moved here in the summer of my second grade. He had knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to play ball, and I said no, that I’d rather go collect rocks, so we went around rock collecting until the sun went down and Mom made me come inside. I’ll always remember that day because Ryan had found a cool, shiny black rock that looked like glass. I had really liked it, so Ryan let me keep it and take it home with me.

As we’re standing there in the rain, I can’t help but think of that piece of rock. It’s still sitting on top of my drawer after all this time, a little chunk of glass. It looks like nothing special, except when the light catches on the surface, it kind of ripples and when I look at it, I feel lost within its depths, kind of like I’m looking down into an endless well, about to fall off the edge.

That’s a little bit like how I feel now, like I’m about to fall off the edge of the world. It’s a scary feeling, because it means that I’ll have to come crashing back into reality, eventually. But for the moment, I’m content, waiting in the rain with Ryan, feeling weightless.

Feeling like I can fly.


  1. This is really pretty, Steven :) Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Please write more!

  3. This is really, really amazing for a lot of reasons. First, it's really well written. The story is compelling and you've really articulated your emotions and thoughts well. Secondly, as someone who is figuring things out and looking back on past friendships wondering if there was really more to them, it's nice to read about others' experiences with childhood friendships/crushes so that I can better understand my own.

    I'm really glad that you sent this in. Thanks!

  4. I love this! The ending was perfect, until I read the very last sentence...which kind of killed the neatness of the prose with cliche. That is just my little honest 2 cents. Thanks for doing something different, refreshing for the blog.

  5. Steven, this was really great to read. I agree with the comments above me. Your ability to articulate such a difficult and confusing emotion is amazing. I've had similar events happen to me and I never really knew how to describe that feeling. Thanks for finally giving me a description for the emotion! I really hope you write more for the blog :)

  6. OH MY GOD!!!!!!!!!! =)

    Gah! I love this! I can completely relate to everything in it too - "love before the time when we knew it was called such". Ahhhhh. The good old days. =) I love this! The optimism, idealism, "love-at-first-sight" kind of friendship, "too-good-to-be-tru" (but it is).

    Ahhhhhhhhhhh. This blog post has such a soft spot in my heart. I love it! I'm sorry I can't meet you in person since I'll be abroad next semester! I can't wait to read anything else you decide to write. Hopefully I'll see you around Duke soon though. :D


    p.s. I love that you still have the rock. I hope you keep it forever-that's awesome. =)

  7. "The ending was perfect, until I read the very last sentence...which kind of killed the neatness of the prose with cliche."

    I don't think that the last sentence was cliche in the way that he used it. Rather than simply just using the phrase to describe the feeling of being in love, I feel it perfectly follows here where the sensation of uncertainty and falling is being mitigated by the ability of love to make you feel weightless.

    I thought it was beautiful. :)