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The door made a spine tingling creaking sound as it was opened. Sal stepped onto his gravel driveway, making a quiet but at the same time loud crunching sound. It was a cloudy, gloomy day in early November, about the time when the seasons started to turn from fall to winter. For a third day in a row, there was frost on the grass on his front lawn. The bare, leaf-less trees seemed to hang down, lifelessly. A chill ran up his spine. Sal took a deep breath and walked to his bus stop, shivering the whole way.
Sal was your average junior in high school. He worried about school, grades, even college at this point. But more importantly, he was into his friends, family, girls, and of course, sports. To be more specific, he was into football. He was the starting running back for the varsity team at his school. His team was also one of the best in the state, New Jersey. Sal was very liked around school. He was kind, intelligent, and a good friend. He was 6 feet tall, and one of the strongest kids in school. He had short, neatly cut, brown hair. People liked hanging out with him, so he had many friends. You could say, at this point, that his life was near perfect. But it was that cold morning that changed everything.
The moment Sal walked into school that day, he knew something was going on. Something was not right. It seemed like everyone was either trying to look at him, or trying not to look at him. His bus was late, so he went strait to his locker, not stopping to talk to his friends. He dropped his backpack off, got his things for first period, and walked into homeroom. Even his teacher looked at him sympathetically, but Sal just looked back, confused and uncertain. Even while he stared down at his book silently, he could tell all eyes were on him.
While he was in the bathroom before his first period class, he was finally confronted by one of his best friends, Harry. “Are you ok man?” He asked.
“What?” Sal replied. “What are you talking about?”
“You know, what happened last night. How you holdin’ up?”
Confused, Sal said, “Nothing happened last night, at least not to me.”
“Maybe not to you, but to your uncle. Don’t tell me you don’t know” said Harry, looking down at his shoes, avoiding eye contact.
“What?” Said Sal, almost starting to yell. “Is this some kind of joke?”
Harry couldn’t believe it. “Wow, you really have no idea? I hate to be the one to tell you this, but…your uncle. He was a in a car crash last night. It was all over the news.”
“W…What?” Sal replied, not comprehending what he was just told.
“They said on the news that it was a drunk driver. The drunk driver was fine, but your uncle, he died on impact.”
Sal just stood there, motionless, speechless. Then, Harry said, “Look, I’m sorry man, but I have to get to class. I’m really sorry.”
Sal still stood there, dumbstruck. Could this really be possible? He had two uncles, one lived in California and wasn’t close to the family at all. But the other lived in the same town. He was very close to the family, and they saw him almost every weekend. If this story was true, how could everyone else have found out before him? Sal had had tons of homework the night before and had not even briefly turned on the TV. Both his parents had gotten home late too. This morning his mom was still asleep and his dad had already left for work. But how could everyone else know? Harry had said it was all over the news. And everyone knows that in a high school like this, news spreads faster than wildfire. If one person knows it, everyone knows it. Sal completely forgot about school, his classes, and his friends. He had to find out if this was true.
The rest of the day was a blur. Sal had called his mom from the bathroom, and she said that the police had just showed up, to explain the situation in person. At that point Sal just left school. School was the last thing on his mind right now. The police explained to him and his mom what exactly had happened, when it happened and where it happened. It all just happened too fast for Sal to understand. He went to bed very early that night and didn’t get out of bed until 2 in the afternoon the next day. School was already over.
The next week was just crazy. Sal didn’t go to school the next day, either, which was Friday. Saturday and Sunday he spent at home with his family. Already plans for the funeral were being made. As awkward as it was, Sal went to school Monday. He thought it would be the same as it was on that dreaded morning, but oddly enough, it seemed like everyone had forgotten about it and moved on. No one stared at him, no on made him feel uncomfortable. Sal even forgot about the death, at least for a little while. He skipped football practice the next 3 days, even though he was in school. He didn’t want to have to focus on anything else; he needed rest, and of course his family. On Wednesday, it was confirmed that the funeral would be a week from the coming Saturday. Sal’s family was going to leave Friday morning for New York, where Sal’s uncle grew up, and have the funeral there. They were planning to come back Sunday afternoon.
Thursday was the day when it all began to go wrong. During lunch, Sal was confronted by his football coach, Coach Tice. “Why haven’t you been coming to practice?” He demanded.
“There have been some issues in my family,” replied Sal, barely looking up from his food.
“Well that’s not important right now,” said Coach. “I expect you at practice today.”
“Yes sir,” said Sal. He was about to comment on what Coach Tice said about his family not being important, but he decided against it.
“Good,” said Coach, as he hurried away.
Practice was not going to well for Sal that day. He couldn’t focus on the game, and kept making errors. He was barely able to make a decent run, break a tackle, or even catch a pass. There was too much on his mind. After the practice finished, coach huddled the team up and told them about the state championship, which was the Friday night coming up in 8 days. Sal got a sick feeling in his stomach when he realized that was the day before the funeral. Coach then dismissed them and the players took off their gear and walked into the locker room. Everyone except for Sal.
Sal followed Coach Tice and asked him about the state championships. “Are they definitely that Friday?” Asked Sal.
“Yes,” replied Coach. “Why?”
“Well, um, because I’m going to be in New York that weekend and I won’t be able to play in the game.”
“What??” Coach responded, so outraged he was almost yelling. He took a deep breath, looked right at Sal, and simply said, “Make a choice, Sal,” and walked off.
All night, Sal wondered what to do about the dilemma he faced. He finally decided to ask his mom in the morning. She said that if he really wanted, they could drive up Saturday morning instead of Friday. Sal thanked her and went outside to make sure he caught the bus. But that day in school, before he could tell Coach the good news, Coach got to him. “Listen Sal, we really need you at that game, so I am giving you two choices. You can either come to the game and play, or go to the funeral. But if you go to the funeral, you are not welcome at any practices this week, or for the rest of the year. And your return next year will be questionable.”
Sal was stunned. He realized how unfair this decision was for him, and how ridiculous the coach was being. His mom had said he could go to the game, but why would he want to play for a team with a coach so selfish? Sal replied, “Sorry coach, but my uncle is more important to me,” and left coach standing there.
The rest of that week, Sal did not see his coach once, nor did he want to. He spent a lot of his time after school reflecting on his uncle, what they had done together, and what they were going to do together. This is when the true sadness kicked in, and he was glad to be going to the funeral instead of a football game, even if it was state championships.
Friday morning, Sal and his parents woke up early, packed clothes and objects for the weekend, and piled everything up in the car. Right before they left, Sal made a final decision. He did not want to play for Coach Tice, not if he made Sal make decisions between football and his family. To tell the truth, Sal really couldn’t care less about whether they won or not. They were more important things going on. He stepped into the car, positive he made the right decision.
The weekend went by well. Sal spent time with relatives he hadn’t seen in a while, was able to let go of all the grief about losing his uncle, and even had a fun weekend. Not once had football even crossed his mind.
That Monday, everyone was talking about the game. Everyone but Sal. He was confronted by at least 5 people asking why he didn’t play in the game. He simply said, “I was busy.”
Coach Tice came up to Sal during the day and said, “I hope you know we lost, Sal.”
Sal just said “I know,” and walked away.
Next year, his senior year, Sal didn’t try out for the football team. He had better things to do.