For today's writing segment, I'm going to share a snippet from a novella very close to my heart - it was one of my first fiction works. The story revolves around 15-year old Payton who had a very troubled beginning to his life but always found a way to steer him away from the statistics that said he'd never amount to anything.
I don't want to give too much away here but the story touches on some very tough issues such as suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness and how we can help young people through these issues. All is not lost: it just takes a positive, creative distraction and just one person who believes in you.
(This book has been published but we are trying to find it a new "home".)
A train whistle echoed into the frigid night. By 3:00 a.m., most of the passengers had been lulled to sleep by the swaying of the steel wheels slicing through the snow. Not everyone was enticed to sleep as easily.
Fifteen-year old Payton MacGregor stared out of his window. He pressed his forehead against the frost-fogged glass then attempted to stretch out his legs.
Man, this is like trying to get a giraffe comfortable in a station wagon!
Designers of passenger train cars must have gone to the same engineering school as airplane designers: all passengers should be able to fold themselves into the two-foot space between rows of seats.
Payton twisted around until he finally settled into sitting with his legs bent up, his shins leaning against the seat in front of him, and keeping his head against the window.
Excellent, he thought. By the time the train stops in Edmonton, I’ll be numb from butt to ears.
He squinted out into the darkness, then closed his eyes, his head vibrating against the window. John Lennon crooned through his iPod headphones about someone named Julia. Who was the song about again? His mother? A girlfriend?
When I cannot sing my heart…I can only speak my mind, Ju-u-u-ulia…
Payton laughed. Speaking his mind was what got him on the train in the first place. All his life he tried singing his heart, but nobody listened. When he finally spoke his mind, he got into trouble. Well…not trouble exactly.
His grandparents had decided the week before that it was time for him to ship off and meet his father—a man who’d run off to join the army and left Payton with his alcoholic, bipolar mother. Not a phone call or a letter or a, ‘How the heck are ya, son?’. Just…gone.
“Yeah, that’s a guy I’d love to get to know,” Payton had said, picking a hangnail on his thumb.
Grandma’s fork froze at her lips. “There’s no need for sarcasm, young man. Especially not at the dinner table.”
Payton rolled his eyes. “Grandma, you told me what a jerk he was and how he ran out on me and Mom. Why would I want to go and ‘get to know him’ now?”
“Because he’s your father,” Grandpa had said around a mouthful of roast beef. “And mind your tone. You know to respect your elders.”
“Yes, sir,” Payton softened his tone. “But why? Where was he when Mom went manic and left me? Where was he when she drank and took off?”
His grandparents had stopped eating and looked at each other. Grandpa reached over his plate and squeezed Payton’s shoulder. “We just think it’s time for you to know both sides of who you are.”
“I have no interest in getting to know yet another person who never wanted me.”
Grandpa fiddled with his knife. “He wanted you, son. But he should be the one to talk to you about it. Grandma and me think the only way you’ll become who you’re supposed to be is to see where you came from.”
Payton’s eyes rimmed with tears, but he wouldn’t let any fall. “What if I refuse to go?”
Grandpa picked his fork back up, and continued eating. “You’re going. We already got your train ticket. We’ll take you to the station on Friday, and your dad will meet you in Edmonton on Sunday. End of discussion.”
Payton stared into the living room. “What about my music? Does he at least have a piano?”
Grandma gripped Payton’s forearm. “I’m pretty sure he’ll make sure you’ll have access to your music. You have to give him a chance, Pay. You need to do this. You shouldn’t be so negative and pessimistic so young.”
“I’m not negative or pessimistic, just realistic. At least I don’t see things through rose-colored glasses.”
Grandpa had put his fork down. “Now listen here, son. We raised your mother. We know. And for the record, we’ve raised you too so we know. There are no ‘rose-colored glasses’ in this family so you mind your attitude. And I said end of discussion.”
After that, Payton had excused himself from the table, then ran scales on the piano as a way to release his anger. It had always been his release.
So, that Friday, as promised, the teenager was packed up, carted to the train station, hugged and guided onto the train.
Just like that.
The only gift his mother ever gave him.
Music always helped him.
A train conductor grabbed Payton’s shoulder, startling him out of his daydream. He couldn’t feel his legs anymore.
“S’cuz me, young man. Edmonton’s comin’ up. Best get ready.”
Payton nodded with a weak smile. He rubbed the frozen numbness out of his forehead. He put his MP3 player back into his canvas carry-on bag.
He descended the staircase off the train, almost whacking his head on the metal doorframe, then shuffled out onto the platform. There were squeals of excitement as people greeted one another. People hugged, some crying tears of happiness, and he searched, wide-eyed, for a Dad-person whose eyes were the same as his.
His heart pounded. Then somewhere from the crowd, he heard his name. “Payton! Payton! Over here!”
He turned to see him.
He waved from the other side of the crowd. Payton guessed his father had to be at least his own height, six foot two because they both had a full-head height advantage over most of the other people on the platform. His father lowered his arms behind his back and stood in an ‘At Ease’ military stance. Payton squinted at the man’s wire-rimmed glasses, with Coke-bottle lenses, from behind his own. They had the same dark-blue eyes, similar pale skin tone, dark hair, buzzed short (only ‘Dad’s’ was salted with gray) and identical big, red-tinged noses.
How weird to look so much like someone you hardly know, Payton thought, repressing a shiver.