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My heroes have all been bearded: Jesus Christ, my father, and Dumbledore. Behind every great beard in history has been a great man accomplishing great things: an Abraham Lincoln, a Bret McKenzie, a Jack Sheppard or Charlie Kelly, and the list goes on. It is about time that I join the ranks of these men with a beard of my own. In my mind it is a beautiful chestnut brown, not too short, but not long and flowing like that of a mountain man. You know the type, it’s the kind of beard you see on a man and you think, “I would not be entirely surprised to discover a small family of tiny birds nesting in that man’s beard.” No, that is not the beard for me. In reality, though, my face is as smooth and hairless as a completely smooth and hairless piece of paper.
My name is Joben Fratelli. I am standing on the brink of the known world. It is the summer before my senior year of high school. College is looming before me, a mountain casting a shadow over my life. For years I have scraped by as an unmotivated student and an average athlete. I have no ambitions, no career plans, no dream college, no safety school, I have nothing, but I think a beard would really sooth some of my fears. So this summer that is my quest, the rest can wait.
That first week of summer, completely by accident, I became a dedicated runner. At seven A.M. on the third day of vacation my friend, Peter rolled over in his bed and landed on his phone, which by some act of God called me. The rings pierced the calm silence of my bedroom and shook my eardrums. I awoke in a start. For my entire life I have been cursed with the inability to go back to sleep after waking up, so I rose from my bed, cursed Peter, and walked over to the window. I pulled back the curtains and looked out. Down on the street I saw her, I had no idea who she was, but at that moment I knew I certainly wanted to meet her. Her curly, brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail that bobbed behind her head as she ran. Her footsteps fell like leaves into a pond, soundless, floating; her strides were like those of a deer.
The next morning I awoke at 6:30 and pulled on some basket ball shorts and my tennis shoes. I then proceeded down the stairs and out the door. For over 30 minutes I pretended to stretch in the driveway. My mind raced as I thought of ways to try and talk to her, “Good morning beautiful!” Yeah I could say that, if I wanted to be a creep. As more and more greetings rushed in and out of my head I saw her coming up the hill not two blocks from my house. I decided that I would run towards her, casually pass her and just say a little something. So I walked to the end of the driveway, turned left, and began to jog.
“Good morning,” she said with a smile as I grew close. I panicked; I was not ready for her to say something to me. That just wasn’t fair.
“Gomogiuto,” I said, all the words melting into one forming a glob of English. That was my first encounter with Laura. The next morning I was determined to do better. However the scene repeated itself in an eerie fashion for days on end. My summer had now forked into two missions: priority number one was still to grow a beard, but wooing this lady was taking a close second. Eventually my mouth was able to form words around her and I was capable of casual conversing.
“Why do I never see you around school?” I asked her one morning.
“Oh I don’t live around here, I live in California. I am just visiting my dad for the summer.”
I thought about telling her I could show her around town if she was interested. Instead though I said “oh,” and jogged away. As I was running, trying to escape my shame of continually falling on my face in front of Laura, metaphorically, I passed posters hanging on a fence. There was a 10K coming up in a few weeks. I had become quite fond of running lately and I decided to sign up for it.
The next day I asked Laura about the race, “Have you heard about the 10K?”
“Yeah, I signed up actually. Are you going to be in it too?”
“Yep, I signed up yesterday.”
“Well cool, maybe I will see you there Joben.” She said with a smile.
For the next few weeks I began to run further and further in preparation. I had never won anything in my entire life. My childhood soccer, basketball, and baseball teams had always finished near the bottom and I was fully blamed by my teammates multiple times, to be fair though occasionally I did deserve full blame. I was determined to win this though. If I wasn’t going to grow a beard, and it certainly seemed like I wasn’t going to, I had to do something productive.
The weeks passed and I was able to run further and further and faster and faster. My relationship with Laura had also evolved into a genuine friendship. We even sometimes ran together. I wondered if winning the 10K would impress her. I hoped so.
Finally the day came. I was lined up on the starting line next to several members of the varsity football and basketball team. Their muscles bulged out of their skin tight Under Armor. My plain white tee flailed in the wind and my arms stuck out of the sleeves like a snowman’s. The gun was shot and the race began. I took off, trying to keep my head in this mass of people. All around me people were rocketing forward at dismal paces. My heart sank; there was no way I could win.
I kept trotting along slightly ahead of the pack, but several had trickled past me and were far off in the distance. At the mile three marker the thought of winning had completely left me and I began to sink into the mob behind me. I didn’t have a prayer I told myself. I prayed anyway. Suddenly a beam of light shot through the clouds and hit me in the face. I had to squint my eyes, it didn’t help. The light temporarily blinded me and I went down. Feet pounded down on me and that light was still in my face. I rolled to the side and curled up to try and protect myself. The light began to feel warmer and warmer, my face started to burn. I grabbed at it in despair. There was hair! I didn’t understand it, but there was hair on my face! I scrambled to my feet and saw a puddle. The reflection reflected my face with the beard sculpted to perfection, it was even more beautiful then I imagined.
The beard seemed to be pumping adrenaline into my body. I rejoined the race and flew past the stragglers. The beard seemed to be pulling me towards the finish line. The wind flowing through it tickled my chin. My feet were propelling my body forward at an alarming speed. I sliced through the pack and was closing in on the leaders.
The finish line was visible now. I felt like Hidalgo. Just a mere twenty yards from the end I passed up the leader and zoomed through the tape at the finish line. I fell to the ground baffled by what just happened. College can wait. The real world can wait. I just want to bask in the glory of my victory and my beard.
In the midst of my basking, Laura finished the race. She came in quite a bit behind the leaders, but ahead of the pack. She looked just as beautiful as ever, her slender figure was glistening in sweat underneath the summer sun. I glanced down at my beard protruding from my chin and gathered my confidence. I ran to her and before she could say anything I leaned in and planted my lips squarely on hers. Warmth spread through my body. Behind my closed eyes I imagined my beard wrapping us both up in itself, creating our own little world where nothing could go wrong. I then opened my eyes, Laura was backing away.
“Woah, I’m sorry Joben. You’re a really nice guy, but I don’t roll that way.”
“What?” I asked, my feeling of victory leaking out of me.
“I like girls.”