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A Life Changing Poem

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Short Story

A Life Changing Poem By Christopher Kemp I was so f*ing stressed out. I went up stairs to my bedroom, turned on some music, and lit up a cigarette. I plugged my iPod into my stereo. Maybe this will cheer me up. The recruiting director from Rutgers and Pitt called today wanting to know when my highlight films would be coming in. I told them, “I sent them last week and they should be there shortly.” Football season didn’t go as planned. I did manage to make first team all county and received honorable mention for all state. However going 4-6 and losing to arch rivals St. Charles topped off the disappointing season. “Anthony Thomas DiMario! Are you smoking again?” F***. My mom is always riding my ass. “No Mom,” I replied sarcastically. “I am just sitting up here reading the Bible.” She rushed in and in her thick, Italian ascent said, “Honey, why in the name of Mother Teresa are you still smoking? I thought you said you quit months ago?” “Mom, its just one shitty day.” “Watch your language young man.” “Mom, I bombed my anatomy test, Rutgers and Pitt keep calling saying Coach Stevens never sent the highlight film, and on top of it my laptop is acting up.” “That’s still no reason to be killing your lungs.” Her scolding, yet worried face stared at me another fifteen seconds before she walked out of my bedroom. Life’s a b****. Things were going well till dad left us last April. Now everyone in this shitty house is always stressed out. I finished my smoke before cracking out my books to study for another day filled with tests. Thursday morning I woke up at 5:30am for lifting at the gym. I don’t know why the hell Chris (my friend, teammate, and tutor) always wants to work out so early. It’s not like we are going to the Olympics. I pulled into the YMCA, walked in and saw Chris on the treadmill. He stopped and jogged over. “You ready to pump some iron bro?” in his usual, annoying cheerful voice. “Whatever man,” I said. “When you win gold in 2024 you better give me some dedication or s***.” We both laughed at are dialogue knowing what pricks we usually are in the morning. We headed over to the bench press. “Your weak,” I said. Chris was pushing 185lbs about five reps before racking it. “Oh yea,” out of breath he said. “Lets see your college football ass do better. I shaked my arms, took a deep breath and lyed down on the bench. “Put 225 on bro!” I said, “ I’ll show you whose boss!” First rep, I hate school. Second rep, I hate my family. Third rep, I hate early morning workouts. Fourth rep, why I am playing college football? Fifth rep, my chest is starting to burn. Sixth rep, “Arrrggg!” I grunted. Seventh rep, “Push bro!” Chris yelled. Eighth rep, don’t be a pussy. Ninth rep, “Its all you!” Chris encouraged. Tenth rep, thank God I’m done. I lay there with sweat dripping from my head, heart beating fast. “Not bad for a warm-up set?” I told Chris. He gave me the don’t-brag-about-your-strength look and we moved with the rest of the workout. After showering, I guzzled down my protein shake, and gazed into the mirror. Man, your looking good! I thought to myself. Chris popped around the corner and said, “Whatch’ya looking at stud!” Slightly embarrassed I stopped flexing and turned around only to see Chris shaking his head with a little laughter coming out. “You’re only jealous,” I said. “Just make sure when you win the Hiesmen that you dedicate me in your speech!” he replied. I walked out to my car, snow starting to fall down, and I drove to school. Great. It’s 8:07am. I am late again. Avoiding Mrs. Green and the other bitchy attendance secretaries guarding the door, I slipped into the stairwell and ran my ass up the stairs. I knocked on Mr. Kurtz’s door. He opened the door and said, “Welcome Mr. DiMario. I was hoping you weren’t coming to class so I didn’t have to write you another tardy.” Damn you Mr. Kurtz. Going to Advanced British Literature class first thing in the morning was always a grind. I really do enjoy the stories and what not, but the class is filled with NHS snobs who always brag about all these scholarships and grants their getting for their grades. I wish I were smart enough to get a scholarship. The only thing I am getting college money for is running a football into the end zone. I am always frowned upon in that class. “The jock who’s just in here to make is transcripts look good” is what those kids are thinking. Or “the Italian kid who thinks he’s hardcore because his grandpa worked with Al Capone.” Yeah that’s all true. I don’t brag about it though. “Alright class. Here’s a copy of what we will be analyzing today.” Five foot five Mr. Kurtz passed out a packet titled “Ancient Poems: Kurtz Addition” He is always trying to spice things up. In his squirmy voice he said, “Do you guys really know about England?” The whole class just sat there with blank stares on their face. He went on, “Like the real England?” Of course the blonde, Morgan Blair, raise her hand and said, “Like…. the ones with red coats and fancy accents?” How the hell did she even get in this class? “No, no, no,” Kurtz said. “The real England.” Bookworm, straight A student, Marissa Wilson said in her typical Im-better-than-you voice, “ Mr. Kurtz, are you referring to the time in England when it was filled with Saxons and other tribes?” “Yes!” Kurtz yelled. “Now we’re getting somewhere.” I rolled my eyes and put my head down. Time to catch up on some sleep. “Before England was filled with knights, redcoats, and great authors, there were savages. Men of pluck and brutality. Like this fellow over here.” Kurtz took his yardstick and whacked my desk, and woke me up. I glared up and Kurtz had his smart ass smile staring right at me. “There was no official government. Just tribes scattered across the highlands and rivers on a island north of France and Germany. These men and women, and even children, were always being attacked. From the Vikings in Scandinavia, the Normans from France, and from even each other?” I sat up in my chair and started to gain some interest. I loved the movie Braveheart. Mel Gibson kicking ass! I remember watching it with my dad when I was like eight years old. “But even these warriors had some creative side to them,” he went on. “They had poems and stories that passed on from generation to generation.” Marissa Wilson commented, “Mr. Kurtz, when I was on my trip to Oxford, the professors never told us about this.” Why does she always brag about her all expense paid trip to study for two months at Oxford University? B****. “Interesting insight Miss Wilson. Anyone care for an answer?” Most of the girls in the class were on their phones texting their boyfriends and some of the guys were just giving Kurtz the silent treatment. “How about you football star?” Kurtz said to me. Trying to collect all my brainpower to answer so I wouldn’t make a fool of myself I said, “I don’t know. Maybe because they didn’t write them down?” “Excellent Mr. DiMario! That’s exactly right!” Thank you Mother Mary for getting me out of that one. “In old England, there was no official language. Remember there was no government to mandate these things? No one knew how to write. No one knew or cared what the other tribes spoke. They just had these family, traditional folk tales that were passed down for centuries. But I have given you a copy of the oldest recorded, rare, piece of literature of the old England!” Alright Kurtz you know we don’t care about this s***. He stood there, silent, and gently said,” Turn to page two. This poem I am about to read could possibly change your life…but only if you’re open to it.” That was the most serious I have ever seen Mr. Kurtz. Usually his goofy short ass is off the walls. “It’s called The Seafarer. See if you can catch what it’s saying.” The old sailor said, True is the tale that I tell of my travels, Sing of my seafaring sorrows and woes; Hunger and hardship’s heaviest burdens, Daily I’ve borne on the deck of my boat Kurtz’s eyes scanned the room. Students were at attention. Waiting to see what was next. Fearful the welter of waves that encompass me, Watching at night on the narrow bow, As she drove by the rocks, and drenched me with spray. Fast to the deck my feet were frozen, Gripped by the cold, while care’s hot surges my heart overwhelmed, and hunger Pangs… “What’s going on here Oxford scholar!” Kurtz asked Marissa in a sarcastic, yet intense voice. “Well obviously...” Smartass. “A sailor is complaining about his life on the sea.” “Exactly!” replied Kurtz. “Let’s see what else he is going to b**** about!” Whoa. Kurtz never curses. This grabbed my attention. Sapped with my sea-weary spirit. Little he knows whose lot is happy, Who lives at ease in the lap of the earth, Then in a bellowing voice Kurtz cries How sick at heart, o’er the icy seas, Wretched I ranged the winter through, Bare of joys, and banished from friends, Hung with icicles, stung by hailstones. Everyone in class was awake now. All waiting to see what swear word Kurtz would drop next. “Don’t you guys see how much this sailor hates sailing?” No one replied. “Skip down to line twenty eight. Mr. Dimario, read that couplet I underlined.” Nervous, I gulped up all my intelligence and read the words slowly. Little he dreams that drinks life’s pleasure, By danger untouched in the shelter of towns, Insolent and wine proud, how utterly weary Oft I wintered on open seas. “Well Mr. DiMario,” Kurtz asked. “What’s the deal there?” “Um….” What the hell am I supposed to say? “Is the old sailor saying that the people back at home don’t know the hell he has gone through?” “Yes, Yes, Yes! Very good” Kurtz said. Whew. Thank God that’s over. “You see class, this sailor has had enough with the open waters. He is tired of the seas that wreck his boat. He is tired of the icicles that form on his beard. Pretty much class, in a nutshell he is saying F*** this!” Oh no you didn’t Kurtz. Dropping the F-bomb in class!?!?! Father O’Leary is going to beat your ass! “Turn the page over. Let’s see what the young sailor has to say…” The whole class was at paying attention now. Everyone’s eyeballs were glued to the page. The young sailor, Oh wildly my heart Beats in my bossom and bids me to try The tumble and surge of seas tumultuous, Breeze and brine and the breaker’s roar! Daily, hourly drives my spirit Outward to sail, for countries to see, Liveth no man so large in his should, So gracious in giving in giving, so gay in his youth, In deeds so daring, so dear to his Lord, But frets his soul for his sea adventure, Fain to try what fortune shall send. “Doesn’t this make you want to go join a pirate crew? Kurtz asked. The class chuckled, including myself. I guess it would be kind of cool to hop on the Black Pearl with Jack Sparrow. “Skip down to the last line!” Kurtz commanded. I was so in to this poem. I think my eyes were the first ones there. Him whose heart in hungry to taste The perils of the pathless deep. Kurtz asked, “Who wants to take a stab at this one?” I launched my arm as fast as I could. “Superstar, go!” “Obviously (mocking Marissa Wilson’s voice which drew a few laughs) this young dude wants to get his ass of the land and go sailing!” “Perfect Mr. DiMario! This young guy wants to explore the world! He is tired of the trees, houses, the bars, and everything else the land has to offer! Let’s see what the old sailor has to say to this…” The old sailor said, Dost mind the clock mournfully calling? The summer’s watchman sorrow forebodes. What does the landsman that wantons in luxury, What does he reck the rough sea’s foe, The cares of the exile, whose keel has explored The uttermost part of the ocean ways! “This old fart is warning to all: DON’T COME OUT TO THE SEA!” Kurtz bellowed in the deepest voice he could muster. “This guy is saying don’t waste your time on the open waters! It will destroy you!” I was sitting at the edge of my seat. Waiting to see how this was going to end. “Let’s see how the young sailor finishes this thing….” Sudden my soul starts from her prison house, Soareth afar o’er the sounding main; Hovers on high o’er the home of the whale; Back to me darts the bird and beckons, Winging her way o’er woodland and plain, Hungry to roam, and bring me where glisten, Glorious tracts of glimmering foam. “Picture this class,” Kurtz said. “Imagine standing on a cliff by the ocean…” I closed my eyes and used my imagination. “Look at the sea as your future, your purpose in this world. Imagine your family, friends, and teachers all telling you your dreams are too high for you to reach.” I imagined all the s*** I have gone through the last year and a half. Divorced parents, sucky football season, college visits and what not. Then Kurtz said the last line of the poem, with a calm voice. This life on land is lingering death to me, Give me the gladness of God’s great sea! The whole class was silent. Kurtz walked over to his stool, sat down and took a sip of his coffee. “Listen closely class. This poem written centuries ago has two meanings. Don’t be like the old sailor. Don’t do something you hate to the day you die. Know when enough is enough.” I thought of my football career. Ten years of putting on the pads, and like the old sailor, I am bitching about it. “Be like the young sailor!” Kurtz said while getting up from his seat. “You have your whole life in front of you! Do the impossible! Fulfill your dreams!” I thought about my chance at a full ride to Syracuse or Pitt. No one in my family has ever gone to college before. Being the oldest in the family, I have had so much pressure on me to be the best, the perfect little angel, the one who gives the DiMario’s a good name. Kurtz leaned over and spoke in a calm voice, “Class of 2012, go and sail the seas or leave them behind and come on back to land.” The class bell rung and everyone was getting up and leaving…except for me. I sat there. Confused and inspired. I stared out the window. Kurtz was still sitting at his stool staring at me. After about twenty seconds of silence he said, “Andrew my young friend, I know all that you have gone through.” How the hell did he know? “Your family has come up at our teacher’s meetings and we have prayed for you.” That’s creepy, but cool I guess. “Listen, we were suppose to be starting our British author projects today, but I delayed that so I could teach you about The Seafarer.” Wow! Just for me. Still I haven’t said a word. Just thinking in my head about my future. “Mr. DiMario you have a bright future. Go on to your next class and sail the seas.” I got out of my seat, pulled my books together, and started to walk out the door. Finally I turned around and said, “Thanks Kurtz.” He smiled and waved his hand, almost like a salute. I went off to second period computer class. That night at home after eating dinner, I went into the living room to clear my head. All day I have been thinking about Kurtz’s class. Finally after being confused all day, I was at peace. My cell phone rang and I picked up. “Hello? This is Andrew,” I said. “Andrew! This is Coach Murray. Running backs coach at Pitt.” Nervous, I spoke up, “Um…oh…hi! Did you receive my highlight films and recommendation letter?” Why yes we have Mr. DiMario. I don’t know how to say this, but we have never seen any recruits run the ball like you do.” Wow really? All over America there is thousands of football players, and he is saying I am one of the best? “I don’t know what the other schools are offering you scholarship wise, but after talking to our admissions directors, we are offering you and full ride.” “Are you serious Coach? I asked. “100 percent!” he said. “ How about you come to the university on December 8th and we’ll give you a tour of the campus and sideline passes for the game.” “Oh wow,” I said. “You can count me on being there.” “Great Mr. DiMario. We’ll send you information within the next week.” The phone called ended. I didn’t even send an interest letter to Pitt? How did they find me? And there I was, thinking to myself, “It’s time to sail the seas.”
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