Promise: My Short Story Of the Week

Promise

 

“Why did I ask you to stay after class?”

“Because you’re a punk.”

“No, Sam. Try again.”

Mr. Hardy could see the surprise on Sam’s face. He figured that “punk” comment would get him sent straight to the office.

“I don’t know.”

“I think you do. The test.”

“What about it?”

“You played on your phone the whole time. You didn’t answer a single question.”

“I didn’t read the book.”

“Sam, we listened to it on audio as we read along. You at least heard it.”

“Don’t you have another class coming in or something?”

“No, this is my conference period. We’ve got plenty of time.”

“I need to get to my next class.”

“I’ll write you a pass.”

“Ms. Johnson gets pissed if students come in late without a pass. I don’t want to be on her bad side.”

“I’ll write you a pass when we’re done. I promise.”

“Come on, Mr. Hardy. I need to go.”

“Tell me why you didn’t take the test, and then I’ll let you go.”

“I didn’t know the answers.”

“I watched you. You didn’t even try the first page.”

They both stood at the front of the class. Sam ran his hands up and down his backpack straps. He looked everywhere but at Mr. Hardy.

“Sam?”

“ … There’s no point.”

“To what?”

“To the test.”

“The test is how I assess your knowledge.”

“I don’t mean it like that. The test doesn’t make any difference.”

“Look, Sam, I know you’re failing, but you’re right on the edge. This test could put you over the top.”

“You know I’m not going to graduate, right?”

“What? We’re only halfway through the first semester. Of course you’re going to graduate.”

“No, I mean, I’m not going to graduate. Like, it’s not going to happen.”

“You’re quitting school?”

“No.”

“Sam … I’m confused. You’re a senior on track to graduate.”

“Can I go now?”

“No, Sam, I want to get to the bottom of this.”

“You’re being a total dick.”

Sam locked eyes with Mr. Hardy. He hoped that one would send him to the principal.

“Call me whatever you want. We’re having this conversation.”

After throwing his head back, exasperated, Sam slid off his backpack and plopped down into a nearby desk. He took out his phone.

“You can graduate. It sounds like you’re making a conscious decision not to graduate.”

Sam scrolled with his finger. He left his earbuds out, though, so Mr. Hardy knew he had Sam’s attention.

“Don’t you want to graduate?”

“What’s the point?”

“College. Junior college. Trade school. A job.”

“I can’t pay for college.”

“There are scholarship opportunities, grants, that kind of thing.”

“That’s what you all keep telling me, but I don’t know where to find that stuff.”

“Our guidance counselors can help you. They want to help students take advantage of those things.”

“Yeah. I went down there. Mr. Vonn found a few for me, sent me the links, then told me to come back when I looked at them.”

“Did you look at them?”

“Yeah. I didn’t know how to answer half the questions.”

“Like what?”

“Like how much my mom makes in a year. How am I supposed to know that?”

“Did you ask her?”

Sam glared at Mr. Hardy like he was an idiot.

“Okay, how about we make arrangements for you to come in after school and I can sift through it with you. We can figure it out together. We’ll ballpark those numbers they want.”

“Then what?”

“Then we maybe get you into a junior college or trade school or something.”

Sam didn’t blink as he asked, “Then what?”

“Then you’re off and running.”

“You’re serious?”

“I’m serious.”

“What makes you think I know how to do college?”

“It’s very similar to high school in terms of structure—”

“I’ve got friends at college. They say it’s not like high school at all. I know a guy getting kicked out, and he’s not even getting his money back.”

“Well, that may be true. You have to maintain a certain grade point average. If you don’t, they can make you leave.”

“Nobody in my family has ever gone to college. I can’t pay for it, I don’t know how to do it, and I wouldn’t fit in.”

“I can help you with all that.”

“Really? Are you going to be there for me the whole time? All four years?”

“I … I’ll do my best. Of course, I have two kids of my own. This job demands a lot of my attention as well. I can’t promise—”

“Exactly. People like you love to make promises to people like me, but people like you never make good—not all the way through. People like me? We have to face reality.”

“Which is?”

Sam emitted a chuckle. “The best I can hope for is some minimum wage job. That’s my life, Mr. Hardy. That’s what the future has in store for me. I’m always going to worry about food, rent, money—everything. I bet your kids have a nice house, a yard, their own bed. Hell, they probably even have their own bedrooms …”

“ … They do.”

“Here? I like it here. There’s no one from the outside. I see my friends. The place is clean. There’s food. The teachers can’t mess with me. Why would I want to go out there when it’s so good in here?”

“But … but your future …”

“Look, can I go now or what?”

Mr. Hardy appeared dumbfounded. He whispered, “You’re only a kid …”

“Can I go now?”

Snapping back to attention, Mr. Hardy said, “Yeah. You can go.”

Sam kept his phone in his one hand and snatched up his backpack with the other, then hustled out of the room.

“ … I forgot to write his pass.”


Copyright © 2019 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

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I Once Made An Amazing Basketball Play … That My Coach Hated

Though I now love basketball as an adult, I wasn’t into it at all as a child.  In fact, I didn’t really start playing basketball until I entered seventh grade.  I’m guessing a four inch growth spurt (also, my last growth spurt) prompted this interest in the sport.

I liked it a lot, more than football, but had some catching up to do with the guys who played in the youth programs.  Luckily, I was from a small town, so if you tried out for the team … you were pretty much on the team.

Seventh and eighth grade basketball treated me well.  I wasn’t anything better than average, but I learned a lot about the sport and, even more importantly, had a great time.

By ninth grade, I was feeling pretty good about myself.  I still wasn’t anywhere close to being the star of the team, but I regularly did particularly well on the “B” team, so I thought I still had plenty of room to improve, and I believed that I would improve.

With my confidence soaring, I once made a play that I thought was inspired, efficient, and full of style.  My coach completely disagreed.  Thankfully, this all happened at practice.

I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but I somehow gained possession of a loose ball while playing defense.  I remember I had to chase it down and bend over to retrieve it.  I knew members of my team were already fast breaking to our basket.  Sure, I could pick the ball up, turn, and then thrown it down court to them, but that would waste precious seconds, seconds that would allow the defense time to catch up.

In perhaps one of the most ingenious moments in basketball history, I figured out how to bypass those three wasteful moves into one economical motion that would surely result in two points.

I bent over to grab the ball with both hands.  I spread my legs nice and wide.  And then, with the efficiency of an NFL center and with my butt facing the basket in which we wanted to score, I launched the ball with both hands right between my legs to the lead fast breaker.

I’ll never know if my teammate scored because I stopped watching him when I heard my coach scream, “AXLE!”

A quick side note: My coach called me “Axle” after the character “Axle Foley” from Beverly Hills Cop.  Remember, this was all happening in the early ’90s.  I kind of liked the nickname.  “Axle” always sounded pretty cool.  Of course, looking back, I’m pretty sure half the time he wasn’t actually saying “Axle.”  Apparently, my unorthodox methods often befuddled him.

Coach had a brief chat with me about my pass.  He said something along the lines of, “I never … ever … want to see that again.  … Ever.”

I’ve watched a lot of professional basketball since that moment.  I’ve loved the NBA, and, more specifically, the NBA playoffs, since ninth grade.  In all the games I’ve watched during the last thirty years, I can attest that Coach was right.  I’ve never seen that pass executed by, well, anyone.

To this day, though, I maintain that it was a brilliant pass.  I hit my breaker right on the money.  Sure, it looked silly, but it was so efficient.

Man, I loved basketball.

Maybe I should have played past ninth grade.

Maybe one day I’ll tell you why I didn’t.

basketball

(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s Dr. Nekros e-book series HERE)

 

 

The Worst Football Hit I Ever Experienced

If you had the pleasure of playing football with me, you know I wasn’t the top talent to ever go through Beardstown High School.  In fact, it seemed as though I got progressively worse as my experience grew.

I’m joking.

… Mostly.

I loved running the football.  Loved it.  Defense, though?  I didn’t care for defense a whole lot.  Initiating contact wasn’t really my thing.  More on that in a moment.

Honestly, I thought about getting hurt back then–a lot.  More specifically, I worried about breaking my neck.  I know now it’s pretty unlikely, but it happens in football more often than people think, and it sometimes even results in paralysis.  I knew I wasn’t great at football–not even good enough for a small college.  (Not that I had my sights on a small college).  The thought of permanently injuring myself for a sport that wasn’t going to take me very far … it always lurked in the back of my mind.

During my junior year, I broke a bone in my left hand while at practice.  I thought it was a sprain, so I kept playing on it.  My right hand is my dominant hand, so it wasn’t too bad.  Three months went by before I went to the doctor.  I thought it was a sprain–everyone thought it was a sprain.  Turned out a little tiny bone was broken kind of where the thumb attaches to the hand.  I had to wear a cast up to my shoulder for three months.  The same cast.  (I actually ran track with it on, which made it, well, a little smelly by the time our relationship ended.)  Needless to say, that was enough football for me.  I didn’t play my senior year.  There’s more to the story … but I won’t get into it here.

When I think about my old football days, one hit sticks out to me more than any other.  Keep in mind, I got tackled all the time.  I played second-string on varsity, so I had to practice against the first-string defense, which resulted in getting hit a lot.  The fact that one hit is as vivid today as the day it happened over twenty years ago is pretty astounding to me.

We were playing a game during the daytime on our home field.  I couldn’t begin to tell you who we contested.  I was playing secondary on defense.  Remember how much I liked defense?  I saw a running back break through the line and so, without even thinking, I rushed at him.  We hit helmet to helmet and both fell to the ground.  Everything went instantly quiet.  I didn’t have a ringing in my ears–just the opposite.  Everything went silent.  I popped right back up, and so did the other guy.  The whole thing lasted only a few seconds.  I looked over at my coaches and saw one of them, usually a pretty stoic guy, losing his mind and congratulating me on the hit.  The game continued.  I didn’t have a concussion or any other injury, but even in that moment the impact struck me as unnatural and it still does to this day.

I imagine that guys at the collegiate and professional level experience those kinds of hits literally all of the time.  I can’t even begin to fathom what that must be like.  More and more research is coming out connecting football collisions to brain damage, and let me tell you, that one hit I had scrambled my circuits for a moment or two, no doubt.  It’s probably one of the most violent blows I’ve ever experienced.

I wish I could tell you that I miss those glory days.

I don’t.

I love to watch football.  I love the sport.  I especially love the Chicago Bears.  But, I’m totally fine without playing tackle football ever again.  Even though it was my senior year and I’d played since seventh grade, I was relieved when I finally had the guts to give it up.  Isn’t that crazy?  I felt like it took more courage not to play.  I don’t begrudge anyone who lets their children play tackle football, but there’s no way in hell I’d let my son play the sport–if I had a son, that is.  That single time I got my bell rung told me all I personally needed to know.

I don’t think of myself as a wimp, but maybe you do after reading this.  If that’s the case, that’s fine.  I’ve been called a lot worse, trust me.  But take it easy on those families who don’t let their kids play football.  Give those boys who don’t want to play a break.  There’s nothing wrong with trying to avoid injury.  Some might say it’s even smart to try to preserve your health if it doesn’t seem as though a professional career awaits in the future.

Below is a picture taken by Ralph Sabetti for the Beardstown newspaper.  My mom kept a scrapbook of all my childhood and teenage doings.  She gave it to me a few years ago.  I’m running the ball with pure joy in my heart.  I’d like to tell you that I broke the tackle that guy is about to put on me and ran for a touchdown, but I honestly don’t remember.

I’m guessing not.

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 (Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

From the Beardstown High School Class of 1995

My hometown of Beardstown has a tradition of holding a class reunion each summer at the high school.  We operate on five year increments, so this year welcomed the class of 1985, 1990, 1995, etc.  The alumni association holds a wonderful banquet at the school, and each graduating class submits a few words to be collected in the the program.  This year is my 20th anniversary, and I’m honored to have been chosen to write our class’ response.  While it’s written for those who have graduated from Beardstown High School, I think it applies to any and all high school graduates, both old and new alike …

One wouldn’t think much could change in 20 years, yet the world is a vastly different place than in 1995.  In those days watching a movie at home meant popping in a VHS tape.  Listening to music required a CD or cassette.  And if you wanted to connect with someone, you called them on the telephone or visited them in person.

Now here we are in 2015, and some could argue we are connected more than ever.  After all, thanks to social media, we regularly learn of our friends’ new career paths, see pictures of each other’s children, and share in the knowledge of nightly dinner choices.

Yet, oddly enough, even with the hourly deluge of updates and news, many feel separated by an impersonal gulf, a digital barricade that reduces us to no more than a thumbnail-sized persona upon mobile devices.  We have “friends,” but do we have friends?

Technologically speaking, 2015 surpasses 1995 in every conceivable way—pagers, anyone?  However, there’s something we excelled at in 1995, something no amount of tinkering can improve upon.  We were together.  We cruised the strip for hours, loitering in parking lots, and when we were run off, we simply regrouped somewhere else.  We went to each other’s homes.  We walked together just for something to do.  We shook hands using elaborate methods that surely rivaled the complexity of contemporary DNA sequencing.  We hugged.  In other words, we spent time together.  Not through some digitized ether, but rather, side-by-side, arm-in-arm, hand-in-hand.

As we grow older, we realize that with age does indeed come wisdom.  (This may be the appropriate moment to pause and apologize to our parents and grandparents.)  Perhaps we are not any more academically intelligent than on Graduation Day, but all of us have endured 20 years’ of life, and with that has come victory and defeat, love and loss, life and death—all of which equates to experience, which, most would contend, is the bedrock of wisdom.  Humanity flourishes most when it bands together, when it decides a village can raise a child better than an individual, that honoring a neighbor also results in personal valor.  Unity propagates achievement.

This simple fact is why we must strive to reunite.  No matter the year of graduation, returning to our roots, coming back to each other, and reconnecting with those who grew up beside us—it revitalizes.  It keeps us humble.  It helps us remember not only where we’ve been, but also where we want to go.  It allows us the opportunity to reflect upon our own achievements, and also to celebrate our peers’ successes.

Adulthood has taught us that we are in this thing called “life” together.  We must remain connected.  And if we’ve disconnected, now is the time to reconnect.

To the class of 2015, we implore you to always stay in touch, to gain wisdom through living well, and to come back home.

Always come back home.

Please Help Support My Donors Choose Project – “Give Students High Interest Books and They Will Read!”

Hi Friends,

As you may know, I’m a high school English teacher in Bloomington, IL, and I want to make sure my students have the materials they need to succeed. So I’ve created a classroom project request at DonorsChoose.org, an award-winning charity.

I’m asking for donations of any size to help my kids.  If you give by August 21, any donation you make to my project will be doubled (up to $100). If you know anyone who is passionate about education, please pass this along. Your donation will brighten my students’ school year, and you’ll get photos and thank yous from our class.

Here’s my classroom request.  Simply click on it:
Give Students High Interest Books and They Will Read!

To have your donation matched dollar for dollar, enter the match code INSPIRE on the payment screen. This awesome match offer lasts through August 21, 2013.

My students and I greatly appreciate your support.  A good book can change a student’s life forever.  Please help me put such a book in my students’ hands.

Sincerely,
Scott

DonorsChoose.org

Ring In the Past

Several months ago I realized I had no idea where to find my class ring.  (Now keep in mind I’m thirty-five.)  At first I didn’t understand why I felt so disappointed that I’d lost it.  Frankly, as an eighteen year old, I couldn’t wait to leave high school behind and everything that it entailed, including my class ring.  I honestly don’t remember once thinking about it between the ages of eighteen and thirty-three.

But then, after taking two years off from teaching to stay home with my newborn daughter, I returned to instructing high school English and noticed how excited the kids were when it came time to order class rings.  I’d always considered them kind of silly as a teacher and a way to fleece young people—a racket, in other words, and a worthless investment at that.

However, I soon found myself feeling nostalgic, and that’s when I realized I had no clue where to find my own class ring.  Of course, as we are wont to do, the minute we don’t have something we want it all the more.  But as I thought about it harder, I realized it wasn’t just my class ring I missed, but my whole sense of a past self.  I have a difficult time remembering things from my personal history, for some odd reason, and the older I become the more I forget about my youth.  I’ve actually had high school friends tell me stories I don’t recall at all.  It’s always bothered me that I don’t remember the old me very well, and when I realized I’d lost my class ring—the most potent physical manifestation of high school to exist—I sincerely felt that I’d let the “high school me” down yet again.

This story does have a happy ending, though.  This weekend (January 14, 2012), my wife, three year old, and I were digging through my closet looking for a toy I thought my little girl would enjoy.  I came across an old box on the top shelf and pulled it down.  Even as I saw all of my old high school track medals and ribbons, it never dawned on me to even hope I would find it, but there it was—my class ring.  I don’t think my wife and daughter had any idea why I was so excited, but for a guy who constantly feels disconnected to his own past, this was quite a victory.  The minute I picked it up I sensed an instant connection.

Looking back, I don’t know why I was in such a hurry to get out of high school.  Those memories I do have from my time as a Tiger are almost entirely happy ones.  I had great friends, a good education, and an ideal home life.  I think I was simply eager to get started on my future (I’ve always been a bit anxious).  Now that my future is here, now that I’m the man I want to be, now that I have an amazing life that I surely don’t deserve, I want to go back and tell my high school self to relax, to live in the moment, to pay closer attention to things, and to keep track of that class ring!