Final Thoughts Winner

Winner of the 2015 Final Thoughts Contest

Unlimited
by Michael Seleman

I’ve always been the son, the student, and the brother. Three primary and definitive roles, accompanied by many more, have determined my being through a long list of social guidelines and expectations. All that I was, I was relative to others, i.e. parents, siblings, other students. Report cards, academic awards, and extracurricular achievements gave me the validation needed to fuel my complacency. The person I was beyond these primary roles, mattered not, because this was all I needed to be, or so I was told, and “success” always seemed so readily accessible.

That is, until I dared to commit likely the most drastic act of teenage rebellion humanly possibly; I grew out my hair.

For most of my life I’ve been neatly groomed, per my parents’ request. Never was I permitted to set foot out of the house without my hair, a lofty centimeter in length, combed “presentably.” And for a while, I was perfectly content with this; I’m sure I looked quite spiffy with my conservative haircut, one that proved immutable even in the face of the most powerful gusts of wind Mother Nature might throw my way.

But suddenly, and rather inexplicably, I felt restricted, contained within the metric boundary of my hair. I wasn’t one to express myself through a risqué hairdo, but it irked me that I had never satisfied my curiosity to experiment. Cutting my hair seemed to be inhibiting something more than just hair growth.

Months passed, and having now refused three appointments at Ray’s Barber Shop, my hair had grown to an unprecedented length. Though they dared not force my hand, my parents and friends alike were adamant that a haircut was long overdue. Yet every time I stole a glance at my bedroom mirror, I was surprisingly pleased. The miniature Afro (Egyptian genes at work) was here to stay.

But why bother maintaining something so trivial? Admittedly, it wasn’t the hair that captivated me as I looked briefly into the mirror. It was the man, barely recognizable, that stared back at me. His physical appearance hadn’t notably changed (a haircut, or lack thereof, only goes so far). But for once, he didn’t seem the poster-boy student, son, or brother that he had previously been. For once, he seemed something more, an entity in himself, something dynamic and thus undefined. And he stood with a self-assurance uncharacteristic of the young man who had previously fulfilled these roles. The significance of so trivial a change in my appearance was by no means correlated to its scale.

In growing out my hair, I had exercised my autonomy ever so slightly, thereby altering my self-perception in a manner that I wouldn’t understand immediately. I had seen previously through eyes not my own, through those of my community, my parents, etc. But now, I looked with my own eyes as an individual in the truest sense of the word, one that need not be classified as one thing or another to find purpose. I was, rather, I am my own.

I no longer define myself as solely the son, the student, the brother. Who I am, who every human being is, is more than a list of positions, relations, and achievements. Accordingly, the individual, dynamic in nature, has the capacity to distinguish himself, and often strives to do so through the pursuit of a passion, ironically with its own roles or titles. It is when the individual allows these roles to define his essence that they become limiting factors of his identity, rather than those which empower him to thrive in the relationships and opportunities allowed him daily. I want to study biochemistry, maybe even pursue a career in medicine, but I don’t want my concentration or any title that I may achieve to limit my perception of myself. I am unlimited, and that affords with it a passion that no titular pursuit can ever bring.

2013
White Herring

by Marissa Coté

My grandpa has this special way about him. This quiet serenity you just couldn’t put your finger on. He has this way of speaking that captivates you, for no good reason. The latest Mets game could seem like a revelation when he talked about it.

When I used to visit him, I would always ask him if we could go on the big yellow paddleboat, and venture to the far corners of the dark grey pond in the back yard.

With his quiet air he would gather the boat and we would climb in, cruising out on the smooth surface of the water. I would breathe deeply, knowing, even at such a young age, the value of crisp autumn air.

My grandpa’s long legs would move in a bicycle motion, driving the boat further into the abyss of water and trees. He encouraged me to peddle. Looking back I can see it was for my sake, because he was the power carrying the boat out to exploration, not me.

I would let my hand glide through the smooth, cool water, and searching for fish that would never appear. The pond was dead, not much life continued to exist there. To me, that didn’t matter.

I could hear the geese calling in the distance, and see them flying above my head. I heard the soft paddle of water being shifted at a steady speed so that we could move forward in our journey. The wind rustled the turning leaves on oaks and the pines on the evergreens. But somehow, through all these noises, an intense silence broke through it all – a quiet peacefulness that I found in the middle of that pond.

I remember how my grandpa would stop peddling. We would glide, and he would lean over to me. I know exactly what this pause meant – he had spotted a white herring.

“Look over there,” he would say, whispering ever so cautiously as to not disturb the magnificent bird’s perch.

Slowly, we would approach. The bird stood with the grace of a ballerina, but at the same time, with the strength and authority of a queen. Elegant legs gripped firm where she perched; the throne was her branch, the pond, her kingdom.

Firm eyes scanned the horizon, searching for threats. We did not escape her notice. The moment she spotted us, she began to lift from her home. She unfolded her wings.

Spread wide, the full span of her reach was breathtaking. She soared on white cascades of feathers, gliding effortlessly through the air. Her form, flawless. Her beauty, perfected. Her strength and power shone through. However it was her willingness to take on such emptiness with no fear that I remember most. The sight of her majesty in flight was marvelous.

I followed my grandpa’s finger as he traced her path through the sky. He leaned towards me once again and spoke the most beautiful of sentences:

“One day you’ll grow up and spread your wings just like she does.”

I looked at him with such abounding joy as his aging face broke into a wholehearted smile. And by the time I looked away, she was gone. I hardly had the chance to know her.

The last time I was there, he was in the middle of the pond, showing my cousins the corners he used to show me. I walked out onto the dock, and he spotted me, waved, and turned the boat back to land.

I think it makes him sad to see me now. Because to him, I’m still the girl in the middle of the pond. But this time I’m alone, and there are no white herrings to be found.

 

2011
Desperate Times

by John Romano

The sun had just risen and Robert Goodrich already received an urgent request for his expertise at work.  It was a muggy Sunday morning, and Robert was driving down narrow back roads, avoiding morning traffic, in a hurry to get to work.  There was a heavy fog on the winding roads and his car sliced through it.  As he was driving, he noticed a car pulled over on the side of the road.  A man is leaning on his car, with his hands over his face; a pure expression of depravity.  Robert contemplates pulling over to ask if anything is wrong even though he is late for work.  He absolutely can’t deny this man in need, so he stops the car, leaves the key in the ignition, and asks if he needs help.  As Robert approaches him, the man quickly turns around and punches Robert in the face.  Robert goes down on the side of the road, knocked unconscious.  The man sees that he has knocked out Robert and wasting no time gets into Robert’s luxurious car.  He jumps into the driver’s seat and is gone in seconds.
Greg was driving to get his car fixed early Sunday morning because he needed to drive to several people’s houses to fix their plumbing.  Being a plumber isn’t a glorious job, but it pays the bills.  He was still four miles away from the repair shop when he heard a strange noise coming from his car.  He felts jerks from his vehicle as it lost speed.  Smoke emanated from the space between the front hood and the side panels of the car.  Greg pulled over, infuriated that his car broke down before he could get it fixed.  Greg slams his fists against his steering wheel, sending a firm shock through his forearms.  He throws his door open and gets out of his car to make a phone call to the auto mechanic.
He flips open his phone to make the call, but as his fingers hover over the first digit of the mechanic’s number, his phone buzzes.  It’s a phone call from a number he doesn’t recognize.  He picks up the phone.
“Mr. Sherman?  Is this Greg Sherman?” a voice asks urgently.
“Yes, who is this?” replies Greg.
“Amanda, I’m a nurse at Nebraska Medical Center,” she replies.
“Whatís going on?”
“Your daughter was involved in serious car crash, she is in critical condition and she needs you here now.”
“Oh my god, is she going to be okay?” Greg is in shock.
“We don’t know yet.  We have our best surgeon coming in to help her; it all rests in his hands.”
“I can’t believe this is happening! I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
Greg hangs up his phone only to remember that his car is broken down.  He realizes this and collapses on the side of his car.  He is desperate, his daughter needs him.  He hears a car pull over and stop behind him.  The click of a door opening tells Greg that maybe help has arrived, or maybe not.  Greg turns around.  A man is approaching him, but he wouldn’t help.  He looks wealthy: he drives a Mercedes with all the extra trimmings.  Greg has encountered the wealthy type before on plumbing jobs, and he isn’t going to risk his daughter’s well-being trying to beg for help.
Before he couldn’t even contemplate what he was doing, he punches the man in the face.  Greg’s hand shake as he realizes what he has done, but thereís no time for guilt now, he has to get to the hospital.  Greg jumps into this man’s car and shoots toward the hospital with a complete disregard for speed limits.
Greg rips through the narrow back streets of Omaha as he draws nearer and nearer to the hospital.  He finally reaches the parking lot of the hospital.  Greg parks his car in a handicapped spot next to the entrance and leaves it running as he sprints inside to see his daughter.
“Where is she?” Greg yells as he runs inside.
Amanda recognizes his voice, “Mr. Sherman, follow me.”
Amanda leads him down a few hallways to where his daughter lies in bed, surrounded by doctors, barely hanging on to life.
“Oh my god!” he says, as he sees his daughter.  He walks up to her bed slowly.  “Hey sweetie, I’m here.  Everything is going to be okay, I promise.”
She can’t hear him.
Another nurse calls for Amanda outside of the room.  They speak briefly and she reenters.
“Mr. Sherman, there is something I must tell you.”
“Oh no, what is it?” he replies.
“Our orthopedic surgeon, Mr. Goodrich, was carjacked on his way here.  Unfortunately, he is the only surgeon within 20 miles, so we’re going to have to call another hospital and have your daughter transferred, but weíre not sure if she is going to hang on for long enough.”
Greg felt dizzy from hearing those words.  He knew it was completely his fault.
More doctors quickly rushed toward his daughter, he had no idea what was going on.  But seconds later, he knew.  Greg passed out as he heard the beeps from his daughter’s heart rate monitor quicken, and then hold a high piercing note.

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