A couple of years ago, I wrote my first short story for grad school titled “Harper is Magic”. I based it off a friend who, without going into too much detail, had suffered from a nervous break down. I don’t talk much to this friend anymore, but the couple of times that I visited him in the hospital really stayed with me. Even now, as I write this, I can see it and feel it all over again.
The short story is about the plight of a manic twenty-something man who wishes to be Super Teacher and save all the inner-city students from their pending (and expected) doomed futures. Unfortunately, he never gets to see that journey through due to an incident that breaks him mentally and keeps him from returning back to school. His dreams are suffocated in lithium and desperation, and it is only when he realizes that there’s no more moving forward on that once-prized path that he finally is able to find peace.
It’s a sad story. It still makes me sad today. I thought I’d share the last few paragraphs, which are my favorite paragraphs…ones that move me to tears.
I also ask for those of you who figure out my inspiration…please keep the name confidential. Even if this is not directly based off of my friend, it is related to his experience, and I rather leave him to his privacy.
Outside, Harper pulled his hands inside of his hoodie to protect them from the bitter cold. He didn’t bother to take his gloves, since the weather before a snowstorm always felt warmer than it was between them. Despite this normal pattern, there was a bite in the air this morning; Harper was humbled. Who was he to predict the habits of the weather, anyway? He couldn’t even predict what he was going to do in the next ten minutes, or what he was going to do with the rest of his life.
He breathed in the winter air, which burned his lungs at first, then pushed them open. He breathed in again…and again, and with each breath, he felt like he was swallowing winter itself, and not quicksand. No, he felt like he was becoming winter. He felt like magic. The same magic Jerrome insisted he had before.
In the silence, he could hear the squeals of the children on their sleds, even though no children were nearby. Harper’s fingers curled towards his fist, as if they were gripping the metal bars of the sled as it pulled him away and down the hill. He could smell the cold breeze as it pushed against his face, making it uneasy to breathe. He glided down the hillside beside the other children, and if he hit an uneven bump in the landscape, the metal riders would leave the earth, forcing Harper to become air borne with the rest of the kids, innocent and free. When they would meet the surface again, which would all be at the same time, they grunted the same half-pained, half-overjoyed noise that was forced from their middles, somewhere deep inside.
He was certain now that he wasn’t ever going to get back to his classroom again. Everyday, it became something that was too far to reach. Harper hated to think that he’d never feel the chalk in his hands again. He hated to think that his days of lesson planning and nights of jingle-writing had ceased to be. He hated to think that he was leaving behind a world of Jeromes that he’d never get to sing to again. So, he eventually decided to stop thinking about it.
In place of those thoughts, Harper and the sled children moved quickly. They became colorful blurs down the hillside. No one had their own identity, as they all blended in, becoming a part of the scenery. The hill would never end. No one was at the bottom to stop Harper’s momentum and save him from the perils that lay beyond. His life was his own. He was forever safe with the sled children, and they with him. They laughed around Harper, and he laughed with them, carefree and innocent again.
The snow fell around him as he stood transfixed in his back yard. His hands were clenched around the handles of his imaginary sled. His eyes were closed to protect him from the imaginary wind. He breathed rapidly, and he smiled. As long as he was moving, nothing could touch him. As long as he kept getting up and trudging through his slow motion days, he’d eventually get somewhere. No one would stop him. He would go on sledding forever, away from what was, and into what could be.
Harper was finally moving faster than he ever had before.