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Second Person Limited
n. a narrative style in which the story is told through the eyes of the reader. This is an almost unremarkable visit to a park, told through the eyes of a hung-over you. Yes, you!
You’re in a park.
Why you’re in a park is an excellent, and unanswerable, question, although you imagine it has something to do with the copious amount of alcohol you ingested last night- this morning?
At least no one’s called the cops on you or stolen your wallet (do you even have any money left?), although you are getting some strange looks from a few concerned parents, which you find inexplicably annoying. You find a lot of things inexplicably annoying right now, like the screaming kids, the bright sun, and the fact that your head seems to think that someone is stabbing your brain with a wooden spoon.
Since you’re still too hung-over to move properly, you decided to survey your surroundings and come up with a plan for getting out of here while attracting as little attention as possible.
It’s a nice, quiet park, set in a nice, quiet neighborhood. There’s a rusty swing set off to the side. It looks antiquated, but the chances of it falling apart beneath some unsuspecting child seem minimal. There are a few picnic benches, and long stretches grass which are undisturbed except for some kids playing tag. There are trees all around, and even an old oak right in the middle of the place.
It's a nice oak tree- very tall. Wide. Big branches, even the lowest too high to climb without some sort of help. This tree has three particularly large branches, that are also particularly low, and from them hang three different swings- a tire swing that caves beneath your feet when stood on, not that tire swings are really for swinging on anyway, a large plastic disc-looking thing that no seems to have a name for, and a regular old swing that’s made from a piece of wood and two good bits of rope. And at the base of this tree, ignoring its many empty swings, lays you.
This is unfortunate because now you either have to walk all the way around the slide (surely an impossible feat), or just go right through the kids’ game of tag, most likely alarming many a parent. After spending too much time thinking about this, you finally choose to walk on the edge of their game. That way, if they come at you then it’s their fault. You can’t be blamed for the stupidity of children.
So. Now you need to get up, preferably without looking as awful as you feel. You struggle to your feet, clutching at the rusty chain that holds up the tire swing, and then take a moment to congratulate yourself upon standing. Suddenly, and just as you were about to make your getaway, there’s a child standing at your feet.
He’s small, most likely only five or six, with dark, stringy brown hair, and wide, bright green eyes that are currently looking up at… you. He has dirt streaks on his face, under his fingernails, smeared on his shirt and jeans, and you find yourself wondering how little kids manage to get so dirty all the time. His black and white striped shirt is stretched out and his jeans are faded. You suppose that at least his parents had the sense not to send him to the park in something he could still ruin. You scowl at him, but he doesn’t move.
“Are you sick? You should be at home if you’re sick.” He’s talking. Why, you can’t help but wonder, is he talking? Doesn’t he realize this makes your already unbearable headache so much worse? He’s still looking at you, so you suppose you better answer. What had he just said?
“I’m not sick.” You think that should satisfy him. It’s not like he needs to hear all about your night, even if you could remember it.
“Are you sure? You look sick.” Great, the kid is a persistent annoyance.
“I’m not sick,” déjà vu, “Go away.” He doesn’t. Kids are stupid.
“Why were you sleeping on the tree?” you decide that this conversation has tested your limited patience more than enough for today.
So you snap at him, “I was drunk when I fell asleep. And on that note, my head hurts, I’m hung-over, I have no idea where the hell I am, and you are making all of that so much worse right now. So shut up!” You wait for him to run away, possibly crying. Do little kids cry if you yell at them?
He doesn’t. They shouldn’t make kids this stupid.
Instead, he starts talking again. You curse only mentally, figuring it wouldn’t do to curse out a child, even if you did just finish yelling at him.
“When my brother’s hung-over, he just sleeps a lot and takes too many Advil and groans when people talk to him, I think that sometimes.” He suddenly brought his run-on sentence to a stop. “Oh, do you want me to stop talking? Ben says that makes his headache worse.”
He talks fast and you’re not exactly sure if he’s agreeing to go away or not, “Yeah, that’d be great.”
“Okay! You should eat something, that helps. Oh! And you can sleep! You can go back to sleep on the tree, or you can sleep in the church ‘cross the street, they’ll let you I bet. And you should have Advil and water and they have those at the corner store, and-” Oh. Oh. Hadn’t he just said he’d shut up?
“Kid.” You interrupt him, and then think that if he’s going to talk you might as well hear something useful. “Where are we?”
“You… you don’t know where we are?” The kid looks confused for a moment, but then goes on, “and my name’s not ‘kid’ it’s Jack!” you’re sure you’ll forget that pretty quickly, so you decide to keep calling him ‘Kid,’ but now with a capital K of Respect.
“Look Kid, just give me something. A street name, city name, the name of a freaking store around here. Are we anywhere near Casita Street?” Tell me something helpful, you think irritably.
He doesn’t. “I don’t know what it’s called… I can help you find out though!” He grabs your hand and pulls you toward the street. Literally shocked into silence, you can only stumble along after him until you reach the street, at which point you start to wonder where the hell this kid’s parents are.
So you ask, “Hey, Kid, where the hell are your parents?”
He answers back easily, “At the thing at the church,” which would be entirely unhelpful, if there weren’t a church right across the street and plenty of people in its yard.
You start across the street, trying desperately to remember where this kid is taking you, with no involvement from the other parents at the park. You had expected someone to intervene when you started to leave, clearly hung-over, with a kid you hadn’t entered with. Apparently no one bothers unless it’s their kid, which just seems wrong to you. But, well. You don’t have kids.
You make it to the party at the church, head pounding, dry heaving, and just generally feeling the aftereffects of a thoroughly misspent night. You find yourself thinking that at least you haven’t thrown up yet, and hoping bitterly that your friends are suffering as much as you are.
Kid (Jack, your brain reminds you) calls to a woman, who starts asking him where he’s been and such, and you briefly consider mentioning that someone could have easily kidnapped him. But no, that would be cruel, and you wouldn’t have even thought it at all if you didn’t feel so awful. So you just stand there politely while Kid introduces you as ‘this guy who was asleep in the park and doesn’t know where he is.’
The woman smiles at you and says her name is Amy or Jamie or Jello or something. She’s talking about the neighborhood and where they are and giving you directions to Casita, which is actually quite helpful and if she was talking just a little bit slower you might even be grateful. You’re thinking she’s definitely Kid’s mother when she finally pauses long enough for you to gasp “What?” in her direction. This only makes her laugh and ask if you want something to eat.
It’s at this point that you realize that there’s food everywhere, on all of the tables that have been set up. Apparently it’s some kind of charity-fundraising thing, but they’re willing to let you have some food for free. Your stomach growls and you suddenly think that potatoes are probably the greatest food anywhere, ever. So you put some on a plate, go sit across from a random guy, and share your revelation. He agrees, but only if you’ll agree that mashed potatoes are better than baked.
Baked potatoes are obviously better than mashed, but that’s not the conversation you want to have with this guy.
“So,” you start through the (delicious) potatoes, “do you know how to get me back to Casita Street?”
The guy laughs, “You weren’t listening to Mrs. J?” You try to remember what the woman said her name was, and think it was probably ‘Jamie.’
“I was listening, but she talks really fast.” You defend yourself and the guy laughs again. You think some people are probably way too happy for the real world, but he’s telling you how to get home, so it doesn’t really matter. Then, surprisingly, he keeps talking to you.
“So you just woke up in a park somewhere, huh?” He waits for you to nod before going on, “Man, that’s crazy! You’re like, straight out of a story-book or something!”
You find yourself laughing, something you certainly didn’t plan on doing today, and say “What a sorry protagonist I make, huh?”
“Don’t we all.” The guy’s still smiling, “The difference between sidekicks and heroes is simply a lot of time spent convincing others of their superiority.”
That’s an interesting thought, but you aren’t feeling particularly philosophical today (and isn’t that shocking). So instead you ask, “What’s going on here anyway?” Maybe you’ll hang around.
The guy starts off on some long-winded, one-sided conversation about their honorable tradition and how the festival is for something important and you wonder how your pleasant conversation turned into this so quickly. You stop listening altogether when he starts talking about God and the church behind you. You figure there’s really no point in arguing with a religious person about faith.
You tune back in when it looks like he’s winding down, “…oh, and my name’s John, sorry I didn’t mention that before!” you quickly make some comment about how great all the people here are for doing this, tell him your own name, and hurriedly excuse yourself from the table.
More people are talking to you now, asking questions, all what happened to you and are you alright and you just wish they’d leave you alone. The woman from before (Mrs. J, your brain identifies her as) shows back up as you stumble through the crowd. You thank her for being so nice and helpful, but you need to get home before your roommate calls the cops looking for you. She says she’s so sorry to see you go, and hopes there won’t be any problems.
And then she does something you didn’t expect (of course, you weren’t really expecting any of this), which is to hug you and invite you back again next week.
“God sent you here, you know.”
God, huh? You distinctly remember it being a little kid, pulling on your hand.
“I know.” There’s really no use arguing with religious people about faith. Besides. Maybe she’s right. Maybe it’s a sign, and you were meant to come here. You believe in things like that, when it suits you at least.
Maybe you’ll figure it out next week. If you come back, anyway.
(But you will, and you know it, somewhere deep inside you that doesn’t really present itself until Saturday night when your friends are talking about going out and getting drunk again. And you know then, for sure, that you’ll go back, maybe even every week, and you think you might even be a better person for it.)