You stare intently at the wooden plank with wheels bolted to it. It is wrapped in thin plastic that someone tried to scratch away. It also has a cardboard box over one of the sets of wheels to deter any rebels from trying to ride it in the store. You’ve seen them do it anyway. You pick it up and turn it over in your hands. The plastic covering on the bottom makes the graphic shine in the light. The graphic is a cartoon skull engulfed in flames on a black background. To you, an 11 year old, it is the most awesome thing in the world. There is a small white sticker on the skull’s forehead that reads “ALWAYS USE PROTECTIVE SAFETY GEAR, FAILURE TO DO SO CAN RESULT IN SERIOUS INJURY OR DEATH.” This is the epitome of badass. A wooden stick of death with a flaming skull on it. Only ten dollars? What a steal. Now it’s time to form a reason for why you need this. You could talk about athleticism. No, that wouldn’t work, you already ride bikes. Your mom could easily counter that with “It is too dangerous.” Then you will never know. Well there is one thing you can try. You turn around and look at mom. She looks down at you. “Christopher got one and it looks fun, I want to try,” you say. Try to throw in a slightly needy tone. Not too needy though, you don’t want it to sound forced.
You’re standing in the checkout line with it not five minutes later. You are such a pro at this. You could beg for money in a pressed suit and tie and people would just give you their wallets. This fanatical desire to skateboard started a few months back when your cousin Christopher got a skateboard for his birthday. He thought he would give it a try after playing some Tony Hawk games. Not two weeks have passed and he can almost do a manual. You want to do the equivalent of a skateboard wheelie too. Watching him have fun and outdo you makes your blood boil. Let’s just say you share a love-hate relationship. You love him because you are forced to. Jesus would want you to. You hate him because, well, you’re related. You will not allow him to surpass you any longer. You will be the best.
You get home and free the skateboard from its bonds. You set it in the driveway and examine every inch of it. This is no ordinary piece of wood. It is the foundation for your dreams. It looked easy enough on ESPN, you think. All you have to do is hop on and in no time you’ll be winning the X-Games and putting all of the other kids in the neighborhood to shame. You can already see yourself broadcast on all the sports stations. With little to no effort at all you land 900 degree spins while Tony Hawk sits on the sidelines and sulks. You can see the gleaming rims on the black limo as it pulls up to take you to your next competition, which you know you will win. The crowd chants your name as you pull off death-defying stunts with ease. They worship you. Christopher sits in the crowd with a blank expression. Wink at him. Let him know that you won. A whole lifetime of awesomeness awaits you. It is almost in your grasp. You can’t waste any more time.
You raise one foot and place it on the shiny black griptape. Easy enough. Now, let’s get the other foot up there. Raise it slowly. You feel the weight shift. Your life flashes before your eyes. Now, lay there and wonder how you ended up on your side. You feel defeated. Get up and walk inside. Sit on your bed and think. Think of Christopher having the time of his life. You can see him standing there, surrounded by supermodels, holding his skateboard in one hand and a trophy in the other. He looks at you. He grins. He won. Your side hurts from the fall. It definitely doesn’t hurt worse than watching Christopher be the best at everything. Muster up all the courage you have. Put on a war face. Listen to “Eye of the Tiger” a few times for extra effect.
Go back outside. It waits for you. Approach the board. It laughs at your feeble attempts at courage. Breathe in deeply. Let your petty jealousy guide your feet. Plant one foot firmly on the griptape. Raise the other. Lose balance and fall on the same side. Decide that you hate it. Storm inside and sit on your bed. Envision Christopher again. This time he is in a Lamborghini. Go back outside. The board is still in the same spot. It mocks you. You manage to get both feet on it without falling this time. Extend a shaky leg. Slightly push yourself forward. You have achieved locomotion. Feel a sense of happiness. Lose that sense of happiness when you see Christopher in his mansion in the back of your head. Push some more. Go a little faster. This is actually kinda fun. Start to do it every day.
As soon as you get home from school, grab your skateboard and go outside. Push a little bit faster every day. Work on your balance. Try manuals. Fall on your hip three times in one day. Sit for a second on the warm asphalt. Get up and try again. You are really beginning to like it. Skateboarding becomes therapeutic after a while. You get home from school, go inside and throw your book bag on the floor. It makes a loud thud. Books must only have educational value when they weigh twenty pounds each. You think of all the things you’ve dealt with as you run your fingers across the sandpaper-like grip tape. You walk outside and put the skateboard on the ground. Put your foot in the middle of the board. Austin called you a loser today. Push. He said he was your friend at the beginning of the year. Push faster. The other kids laughed. Push as fast as you can. Try to manual. The tail of the board scrapes the ground. Lose balance. Fall down. Stare at the ground. You really are a loser. Get up. Grab the board. Start again.
After a few years this becomes your routine. Get up. Eat breakfast. Brush your teeth. Let mom comb your hair to look “nice”. Mess it back up once you are out of her sight. Try to socialize with the other kids at school. Get shot down. Ride home staring at the floorboard. Contemplate the meaning of life. Get home. Go get your board. Go skate. By middle school, you manage to find common ground with Christopher. You actually skate together some. He is actually one of the coolest people you know now. He doesn’t show off that much. He just wants your approval. You really love skateboarding at this point. You skate together more. You film each other with this video camera that you got for Christmas and realize how awful you both are. Though neither of you admit it. It is a great year.
A few months after Christopher turns thirteen he gets sick. The doctors all think it is pneumonia. You think it is too. You can’t wait to be back out there skateboarding and having fun with him again. You are on the way to the hospital a week later. This time, it isn’t for one of your many skateboarding injuries. It is for Christopher. Your mom speeds down the highway while your grandma calls people and tells them what is going on. You hear them talking about him not being stable and his heart failing. Don’t listen to them. Christopher is tough. He’ll pull through. Your mom and grandma break down right as you get close to the hospital. He didn’t make it. You can’t even cry. It is unreal to you. You hope you’ll wake up and realize it was a dream. It wasn’t. Your best friend is gone. You go home and skate. Every time you think about him you push faster. At the end of the week, after the funeral and everything is over, your legs are hurting so bad you can barely walk. You ignore the pain and try to skate anyway. You have moved on from this.
You have seen more tragedy over the years and watched as your family crumbles apart. You watch them war with each other over the most pointless things. You are forced to choose a side. You try to be neutral. They will choose for you. You try to skate as long as possible now. You are in your senior year of high school. You hate it. You look down at your skateboard. You have been doing it for so long you don’t know how to stop. Fear what would happen if you did. You feel your body ache. Your ankle is out of place from when you broke it a few years back. Your back is out of place from running into a wall. The board creeks a little when you pick it up and start walking with it. Thoughts of everything flood in. It is tormenting to you. Your own brain is attacking you. You see Christopher’s face in that coffin. The infection had caused him to swell. Get a running start. Put the board on the asphalt. Is it dangerous to skate in the road with headphones on? Probably. Jump on the board. Kick your leg out as far as you can. You’ll never be any good. Does it matter? No. Push faster. Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Doubt it. Keep pushing. Don’t ever stop pushing.
Jarrod Fouts is a native Georgian and a student at SCAD Atlanta where he is working toward his B.F.A. in Writing. He plans to pursue an M.F.A. in Writing after graduation. He likes to write any-and-everything but can only write what works at the time. He also has a strange fascination with horror, the occult, and other spooky things. He hopes to be published one day and that he will find his true love, start a family, have some dogs, and a rather large library he can get lost in for hours on end reading. He thanks God for everything.