The Death of “Long Story”
For about a week, I was a popular kid because of “Long Story.”
I was walking into Mr. Thornburg’s tenth grade United States history class on the following Monday when Davis, a surfer type guy, called me over to his desk. Surfer type guys didn’t usually talk to me, so I wandered cautiously, just in case he had been motioning somebody else.
“Dude, dude,” Davis said urgently. “I heard you wrote a long story.”
“Yeah, it’s called ‘Long Story’.”
“Can I borrow it? Thornburg’s going to read Chapter 6 to us today, and I can’t take it. I can’t take him reading to us today. I gotta read something else.”
“It’s in my locker,” I said. “But this is pretty good.” I handed him my copy of The Man in the Iron Mask which I had been planning to read while Mr. Thornburg recited from the textbook that day.
“Dude!” the surfer guy stepped back with a grimace.
I felt pity for the stressed out surfer guy. I glanced at the clock, saw that I had over a minute until the tardy bell rang, ran to my locker, retrieved “Long Story,” and made it back just as the bell rang.
I handed “Long Story” to the surfer type guy without thinking about it. It was kind of like passing a really long note in class, but there wasn’t any damaging information in it. It was a note of fiction. As Mr. Thornburg read aloud and the surfer guy read quietly, I was conscious of the surfer guy’s reaction to “Long Story.” I’d look back occasionally to see if he had fallen asleep or was turning my story into a giant paper ball. Every time I glanced over, he was reading. At least he looked like he was reading. His eyes were open. He laughed out loud a couple times, and that made me nervous because Mr. Thornburg glared at him. There wasn’t much humor in our U.S. history textbook, so Mr. Thornburg knew something was going on.
After class, Davis returned “Long Story” to me, and other students asked to borrow it. I became a semi-popular guy. Girls didn’t swoon for me or anything like that. But students who otherwise wouldn’t talk to me started talking to me. Some of them wanted to read “Long Story.” A few had questions about it after they had read it.
For two days, “Long Story” got passed around during various classes. Students were sneaky, and it never got intercepted. Students got caught chewing gum, doing other teacher’s homework in class, or staring off into space, but nobody got caught with “Long Story.”
On Wednesday somebody drew a picture on the second page of “Long Story.” It was a stick figure Curse brother beating up a smaller stick figure kid. It was a funny picture, but I was ticked off because the doodler didn’t have my permission. Even worse, the drawing was in pen, so I couldn’t erase it. I should have rewritten page 2 and not let anybody else see it. But I allowed the picture to stay.
That’s the problem with graffiti. If you let it sit there, other artists think it’s alright to add their contributions. The next day there were several more pictures. Several had Melinda and Danny doing things that never happened in the story. One picture was probably physically impossible in real life.
My “Long Story” was turning into a bathroom wall. I put a sticky note on the cover that said “Do NOT draw any more pictures on my story!!”
So of course somebody drew a giant male body part on the note. That was it! I almost decided to keep “Long Story” for myself… almost. If only I had stuck to that decision.
By the end of the week, “Long Story” was looking beaten up. Pages were folded and stained, and there were a bunch of dirty stick figure pictures on it. I was either going to retire “Long Story” or recopy it over the weekend so my peers could still read it.
Ten minutes were left in Mrs. Kramer’s math class. It was Friday afternoon, and Mrs. Kramer was teaching some difficult math concept that a bunch of kids didn’t understand. There was some fake sneezing and loud coughing, and some kid farted really loud, and Mrs. Kramer was getting grouchy. And then some kid decided to use “Long Story” to get my attention at the wrong moment. He had just finished reading it and flapped it like a fan so that I would notice him.
Unfortunately, Mrs. Kramer noticed him too and snatched “Long Story” out of his grip.
“How dare you interrupt class!” she snapped. “Whose note is…?”
Then Mrs. Kramer looked at the first page. The direction of her eyes and the way she narrowed them, I could tell she saw the inappropriate stick figure picture of Melinda and Danny. That’s all it took. Mrs. Kramer shredded the first page, shredded the second page, and systematically, page-by-page tore and crumpled “Long Story,” tossing each remnant into her trash can.
Davis, the surfer type dude, whistled from the back of the classroom, “Dude, Mrs. Kramer just killed “Long Story.’”
There was no way to reclaim “Long Story” anymore. It had been mutilated beyond repair and cast into a trash can filled with snotty used tissues. I’m sure my mouth hung open. I’m sure I couldn’t say anything. Mrs. Kramer didn’t even know that was my story. I probably stared motionless until the bell rang. Nobody talked to me after class. The kid who had flapped “Long Story” at me never apologized. Davis, the surfer type guy, shook his head as he walked past me, but at least he made eye contact.
I couldn’t believe how much it hurt to lose “Long Story” like that. I could rewrite it again, but it wouldn’t be the same. Word choices wouldn’t be exact. I’d probably add an extra Melinda scene. Maybe I’d even change the ending so readers wouldn’t boo me. But that would make it a different story. I didn’t want a different story. I wanted “Long Story” back.
Very few students remembered “Long Story” after its death. I was just the kid whose story got ripped up in Mrs. Kramer’s class, and my peers forgot that I had bailed them out by writing a story that took the entire class period to read. I kind of resented it. If Denise, the cheerleader with the really nice legs, had read my story aloud, people would have always remembered it. They’d probably still talk about it at reunions more than 30 years later.
That’s the thing about writing. It was exhilarating when I got the feedback that I wanted. But watching my “Long story” get destroyed hurt more than it should. And being ignored again after “Long Story” got killed kind of made me bitter. It might have even kept me from writing for a while again. To have my work destroyed and then forgotten? I didn’t want to go through that again. So “Long Story” has simply remained a memory for all these years.
Maybe one day I’ll try rewriting it.
That’s it for “Long Story,” but stay tuned (or check back periodically) for the next serial from Dysfunctional Literacy tentatively called…