View Full Version : Day 2: "Got Up"

March 5th, 2014, 02:06 PM
Hi all,

This is the second day of my personal write-a-story-a-day challenge. This one is called "Got Up." (2250 words)

Joel Wilson sat on the field, looking out. He was a hitter, but he got hit, just the one time. Just one time, he was laid out, and it was a doozy. Legs aren’t supposed to bend that way. That was Joel’s first thought. A close second, ow. Even with the adrenaline rush, even with the game on the line, he felt pain immediately. You never feel pain in the game. Your blood is pumping too much, too fast. It can’t get time to lay down and start the pain. That’s what dad taught you.
“Joel, you wanna do this, you gotta learn how to not fear anymore,” Skip Wilson, the old man. He knew everything, especially to an eight-year-old.

Football was the reason for everything to the little kid version of Joel. He grew up watching his favorite Tennessee Titans. He knew them all by heart. He had all their autographs. He wanted to be one of them. On his own, at the age of seven, he took to running sprints. Who wants to be a professional linebacker as a little kid? Joel, that’s who. He was the smart kid. Everyone knew it. His parents knew it most of all. His mother would have said Joel possessed an otherworldly intelligence and maturity, and he applied both of those to football only. Only football, nothing else.

That didn’t last long, though. Old Skip made sure to use his game as punishment whenever he slacked in school. Don’t want to learn how to write, son? Well, then you don’t want to watch the Titans game. It seemed like the old man had lined up the football season with school with a little too much precision. “I’m gonna be a star! I can have someone else write down the stuff for me!”

“My son’s not going to be ignorant. You can forget football if you mess up in school.” One threat, only once tested. Joel brought home one C in writing on his final report card before winter break. He wasn’t allowed to watch the playoffs or the eventual Superbowl to feature the Titans that year.

Don’t cross the old man was a pretty easy lesson to learn the way he taught it. Joel brought home nothing but A’s from then on. Once, when he got a B in an advanced math course as a junior high student, he started to hyperventilate. “Try harder next time, son.” The axe didn’t always fall so hard, but Joel had shamed himself into new resolve never to get another B.

So how about that eight-year-old linebacker? Joel knew that the linebackers might be small, but they did not get picked on. They were the ones missing teeth. They were the ones who were fearless. Joel wanted to be fearless. He was scared of Rob Betlin. He didn’t want anybody to know that, especially the old man. He had overheard conversations about his father, that the old man had no problem taking a baseball bat to someone at the suggestion that someone was disrespecting him. The consequence was that nobody disrespected him as a kid. Joel didn’t feel like that. He didn’t want to hurt anyone, and he didn’t want anyone to hurt him. Rob Betlin didn’t share the sentiment. Easy prey, that Joel Wilson. Trip him as he is walking to the bus. Take his bookbag. Invite Joel to fight. Rob pushed, Joel received. He didn’t want it to be that way, but what can you do? Some people get picked on. Not linebackers.

“Joel, you wanna do this, you gotta learn how to not fear anymore,” that was the old man’s reply upon seeing the flyer for the pop warner team. “I can show you how.”

Joel, in his excitement, agreed to every condition the old man laid out. Then one day he came home from school to a garage that was completely emptied, save for a few mats. His father was standing there, looking serious as usual. “The only way you’re going to stop being scared of everything is to face the fear. We’re not talking poisonous snakes and falling off cliffs. If you’re going to be a man, you have to stop being scared of getting into a fight. Football is nothing but one big brawl, especially for the defense. You’re going to learn how to fight on the field. Put your backpack on the ground, son.”

The boy complied. His father then said, “Run at me as fast as you can.”

Joel didn’t really know how to take the command. His father repeated, slowly, his anger building, “Run at me…as FAST as you CAN!”

So he ran. He ran as fast as he could muster, but his father wasn’t moving. Joel didn’t want to run into the brick wall that was his father. He let up some just before he reached him. The old man had an open palm ready to go, shoving Joel backwards, up, and into the air. Square in the chest. Joel was winded, gasping, tears welling in his eyes. Only when he was being punished did the old man ever so much as lay a hand on him. The betrayal was heartbreaking. Joel felt like crying.

The old man walked to the switchboard and closed the garage door. “Get up,” he said.

Joel was on his hands and knees trying to catch his breath. It was coming back to him. “You need to get up faster. It doesn’t matter how much it hurts. You need to get up faster.”

Joel’s throat tightened. He wanted to cry for the physical pain. He wanted to cry for getting hit for no reason. What parent does that? “Run at me again. Don’t let up.”

The boy got to his feet. No possible way he’s not getting hit again. What was this going to teach him? He ran again, another time letting up just before his father picked him up and threw him. He threw him, in fact a little too far, and Joel missed the padded mat. Landing on his back, a new kind of pain welled up, not just breathlessness. Sharp pain. He let out a little cry, clutching his back. “Get up. You’re fine. If you hadn’t let up I couldn’t have pushed you so far.”

In pain, winded, and crying, Joel slowly got up. He wasn’t thinking football or Rob Betlin or grades. Something new was growing in him. Anger. He was beginning to rage at the old man. This was something completely new. You didn’t get mad at your parents. You knew that they had your best interests at heart. But now here he was, getting picked on by his old man. Nothing was safe. He pounded his fist on the floor in frustration. “Get. Up,” said the old man.

Joel stood. His head was clouded with rage. He ran at his father with everything he could muster. He just wanted to hurt him. Let him know the pain he felt. Hurt the old man. Hurt the old man. Faster and faster he sprinted. Just before he reached him, his dad produced a large pad and punched. Joel smashed into it and fell backwards. His back no longer hurt. He didn’t lose his breath. The old man just stared and said, “Get up.”

And so they practiced for weeks. Skip Wilson was far stronger than his son. That went without saying. Joel never got the upper hand in their battles. And the old man steadily increased the intensity. By a few weeks, when he said “Get up,” Joel was bounding up like lightning, like a reflex. When his father said, “Hut,” Joel attacked, pushing and shoving against the mat as hard as possible. The old man hit harder and harder and Joel grew used to each strike. Their “workouts” grew scarier and scarier, but Joel didn’t have time to feel scared. “Hut” meant attack. No thought. There was no time for thought. Attack. You’re gonna get hit. Just attack. Every time he let up and hesitated, the old man would put him on his back.

Joel was allowed to play in the football league. He got to pick out his equipment. He hated the cup, though. “Do I have to wear it?”

“Of course,” said his mother. She was obviously worried about her son’s safety. She did not like the idea of him playing football at all, in fact. Joel was not the smallest of her boys, but he had always been the most gentle, the most shy. Football gave her a bad feeling. Her husband insisted that everything would be alright.

Rob Betlin also played in the kids league. He was bigger, so the coaches put him on the offensive line. Joel lobbied and got to play linebacker just like he had dreamt. In the first practice, the coach instructed the players on their key assignments. In this play, linebackers attack the quarterback. Attack. The word alone triggered the calm in Joel. So many times he had attacked his father fruitlessly. So many times he had been put on his back. It was his job to be laid out. The whistle blew, Joel launched. Rob was assigned to stop the smaller kid.

Collision, impact, one kid on his back. As Joel rushed through, he reached the quarterback and quickly made it two kids on their backs. The coach stood, somewhat dumbstruck, at the intensity of this small kid. Right through this monster of a boy, this Rob Betlin. Put him on his back. Maybe he had a natural on his hands.

Joel’s team was dominant. It had two stars. Rob Betlin was put at running back. Too fast, too strong. The offense was a force. The defense was special. Joel Wilson was a defensive star. Other teams had to account for them. They fast became friends, stars of the team. Skip Wilson watched with his own intensity. If at any point in a game Joel should lose his focus and fearlessness, the old man would schedule a private practice session. The mats came out, and Joel was in for some frustration and pain.

Joel played in the pop warner leagues for several more years until he reached junior high. Of course, he tried out for the team. Of course, he was one of the better players. But that first game they played, Joel got nervous. He wasn’t playing with little kids anymore. He was playing with the big boys. Some of them were REALLY big. He didn’t make a tackle or a sack in the entire game, and the team lost. Joel knew what was coming for him the next day.

He sat, nervously waiting for his father to come home from work the next day. He didn’t like the practice sessions with his father. As they went on, the old man seemed to grow more and more intense. He had to hit harder and harder to keep putting Joel down. Sure, Joel was still undersized, but as he grew he realized his father wasn’t that big, either. The practice sessions could not continue forever. Joel would be too strong soon enough.

The dreaded workout never came. That’s because his father never arrived home. Car wreck, drunk driver. Someone collided with and killed his dad. The other guy walked away without a scratch. No more workouts. That was the first thought Joel had about his old man.

The big boy who put the lick on Joel came over on the field and started saying he was sorry. Then he looked down at Joel’s leg and turned away to wretch and vomit. Both teams formed circles and prayed for the safety of the boy. The bleachers were dead quiet. The scout from State U shook his head and put a big red X through the notes he had taken.

Joel had taken quite the licking. The immediate pain was not something he had felt since before he started working out with his father. That thought was the real pain. His throat closed. Tears streamed out as he started to call out for his daddy. He was sedated.

Several rounds of surgery and months of rehabilitation later, Joel was able to put weight on his leg again. The doctors couldn’t guarantee that he would walk again, so he gave himself the guarantee. He knew, though, that his playing days were over. He was going to be a star college player. He was going to be a hall of famer. Now he had to fall back on something else. But he knew now. He had just been knocked down. He could hear his old man saying it, over and over. Get up.

The audience of parents, grandparents, and friends sat in the massive auditorium awaiting the graduation of sons and daughters. They muttered to themselves when a man with a cane got up and out of his seat. Who’s the old guy? That’s no old guy. Wonder what happened to him. Cerebral palsy? Whatever was wrong with him, no one could argue the results. Summa cum laude, top honors, would have been the flagbearer of the school had he not been disabled.
Some in the audience wondered aloud how some of those smart guys just seem to get all the breaks. They have it so easy. This kid got in because he was handicapped and probably didn’t have to study. Everyone just felt sorry for him.

Joel shook his dean’s hand.

March 6th, 2014, 05:29 AM
I'm no grammarian, or a great speller, so I'll leave finding any such issues to those with more expertise. What I do have to offer is the take of an avid reader.

I thought your story flowed well, with time shifts well placed. Beginning in a later time just enough, to hook the reader into finding out what's going on. Then backing up to where and how Joel started this path, proceeding through his toughening, noting the hesitancy and passing of his father just before the fateful event of the opening. That event which got him back on the path he should have followed all along, albeit worse for the wear :-)

Sports based stories don't usually hold my interest, but I liked the twist in this one. Life's best lessons are usually the most painful.

The only thing that threw me for a moment was:

"He knew, though, that his playing days were over. He was going to be a star college player. He was going to be a hall of famer. Now he had to fall back on something else.

It's obvious that you mean "was going to" in the sense of a "missed" goal, but I stumbled there. Maybe it's just fine, or maybe you could reword those two sentences a smidgen for dummies like me.

Best wishes,
Lee C

March 6th, 2014, 12:47 PM
Thank you for your comments, Lee. I'm glad the story held your attention!

With respect to that sentence, you're absolutely right. In general, these stories I'm posting could use some editing, for sure, to try and nail the point further. Your feedback was very valuable.