the sense of being a major crossroads). Moments, like the head of a pin, in which you know, sometimes at that moment, sometimes not until much later, things will never be the same again. Most of them I had no control over. My dad leaving. My mom dying. My aunts and uncles becoming my guardians and deciding to split my sisters and I up. Some of them, though, and one in particular, I did control.
Unlike Simon Cross, I never got to see what the other choice would have brought. What the alternate reality might have brought, for good or ill. That’s the real beauty of Shaun’s new novel, I think: that you never know what one big decision might end up affecting, and sometimes, things can lead to all kinds of unexpected results. A decision that seems wise and well thought out at the time can end in disastrous results just as easily as a change made on a whim can bring the greatest achievements. Or … you know, something in between.
Anyway, as usual, I over-explain. Let’s get to the story, shall we?
It was early 1995. I was 17 years old. I was living at this kind of weird cultist emotional growth boarding school for “at-risk-teens” in bumblefunk north Idaho (look up CEDU, or Synanon, if you’re curious to know more), and I’d had it up to here with the place.
I’d actually run away from it once already, made it all the way to the airport, in Seattle, where I slept and begged for food for a few days, trying to convince my legal guardians to let me come back home.
This one is about escape. And crossroads.
So, this school, this cult, was a really wacked out place. There were no accredited psychologists, psychiatrists, drug rehabilitation counselors, or pretty much any other kind of professional actually qualified to assist troubled kids. Mostly, it was a bunch of lumberjacks, and people who had graduated from the program, after being brain-washed, and decided they wanted to “teach there.”
Naturally, I wanted out of there like I wanted oxygen. It was the middle of winter, though, and north Idaho is not exactly friendly to foot travel in the colder months, so just hiking off campus, like the time I’d run away before, wasn’t going to be an option.
A friend of mine, Jeremy (he turned out to be a nutcase, but again--that’s another story)
Jeremy and I lived in the same dorm. He woke me up the night of the plan, and said he was leaving. I was still undecided, so he left without me, but said he’d come back, if he could find a ride in town. The closest town was not very close at all, and it was as cold as the ninth circle of hell out there, so I figured he had little chance of making it. I hoped he wouldn’t freeze to death or anything, and told him as much, but I was tired, so mostly I just rolled back over and went to sleep again.
Sometime later, I was awoken by a hand shaking my shoulder. My awareness rose slowly out of the clutching depths of REM, and probably the sticky tendrils of adolescent arousal dreams, to eventually discover Jeremy standing over me, a wild look in his eye, and a lit cigarette dangling from his lip.
Needless to say, I was shocked, and a little embarrassed.
“Come on dude, got us a ride,” he whispered.
“Put that out!” I hissed. “You’ll wake (I can’t remember the name of our dorm leader).”
Smoking was strictly prohibited. Jeremy didn’t care though, he had tasted freedom, and that he came back to get me at all was saying something.
I got up, dressed, quickly packed a bag with some warm clothes and followed him outside. It hadn’t snowed, thank god, but there was snow on the ground, and our boots crunched through the hardened upper layer so loudly I was certain we would wake the dead. Or worse: the living.
But we made it to the edge of campus, and there it was … our ride.
I stood on the edge of a precipice. The aforementioned lot of changes swirling visibly before my eyes. On the one side, the side in which I ducked my head against the chill wind and went back inside to stay at school like a good boy: another year in this hell hole. Another year of no music. Another year of “rap” sessions, in which kids were “encouraged” to scream at each other and beat pillows on the floor. Another year of isolation--from my friends, my sisters, my girlfriend.
But also, maybe a chance to go to college. Certainly a high-school diploma, whatever a joke it might be earned from this place. And almost certainly some level of reconciliation with my family. A chance to go home. A chance, just maybe, to be loved.
On the other side. Well … on the other side was freedom.
Which one do you think I took?
In the long run, of course I can’t be certain how much difference in my life that decision made. And like I said, unlike Simon, I don’t have the luxury of a literary examination to figure it out, but I think I made the right choice.
I’ve got a pretty good life, all told, so I can’t complain.
I think you made the right choice too, Matt. Thank you so much for sharing this. Since Matthew and I share a love of all things written by Andrew Smith, how about I give away a copy of Andrew's newest book Winger today? When I tell you this book made me cry like a baby, I am not exaggerating. Leave me a comment telling me whether you would or would not want the opportunity to see how your life could have turned out if you'd made other choices.
Matthew MacNish is a writer of fiction about young people that may or may not be for young people. He is the father of two beautiful young ladies, three lazy cats, and one adorable German Shepherd. Together they live in the mountains of north Georgia amid his endless collection of vinyl records. He blogs about queries and his own personal path to publication at The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment, about Young Adult literature at YA Confidential, and about Middle Grade literature at Project Middle Grade Mayhem.