Today’s Tale: Peak
Spring is here and so are the bugs. My sons are in the back seat of our old SUV, both of them nodding off slowly as they had no intention of being awake this early. We barrel down the highway and bugs turn themselves into miniature Rorschach tests against the windshield. I only see splattered bug guts and bunnies, but perhaps I am taking the tests a bit literally.
The highway is busy today. Oil tankers, dump trucks, farm trucks, big-rig equipment haulers; all manner of vehicular beast are present on the road. We are stuck behind a gravel hauling monster with bright and bold yellow lettering “Stay Back 200 Feet”. Between us and the gravel truck is a gorgeous (as far as family sedans go anyway) red Corolla. It is shiny, curvy and streamlined with just enough flair to make it really standout. It could have been the see of utilitarian design and industrial sized behemoths around us, but I was pretty tempted to go buy a Corolla for a moment.
The driver is thirty something, heading to an IT job. The sole indicator of the IT gig is the facial hair. That well groomed goatee/mustache combo that comes with a Comp-Sci BS and help desks jobs. He is staring at the truck ahead of us with a cold, dead-eyed gaze. He is far from smiling and with his hands resting at the top of the steering wheel he taps his watch anxiously.
The mind has a weird ability to make us recall the strange or regrettable moments of our past at inopportune times. He is stuck in traffic behind a gravel hauler and in front of a decade old Honda Element and thinking back to 9th grade.
In the back seat, resting underneath a dark tinted window and between two speakers, are pokemon plush figures. I do not know too much about the show having been just old enough to think it was a waste of time to watch and just young enough to have missed the joy of the video games (what was the target demographic of that property anyway?). I recognize a pikachu and the turtle thing that shoots water, but other than that these are figures that represent much to the driver, but are lost on me.
In 9th grade, the driver was very interested in the handheld Nintendo game of Pokemon. He caught them all and swapped with friends and was quite proud of his accomplishment. In April of that school year though he came down with a chronic case of hiccups. For a month his words were interrupted by a the jerky spasms of his diaphragm. He earned the nickname “spazz” after week two of the condition. After week three when called on by teachers to answer a question he opted to write his response on paper and fold it into an ornate airplane, lobbing the origami work to the teacher. He became quite skilled at that craft.
After five weeks of nearly constant hiccuping, the school paper wrote an article about him. He was headline news on the second-to-last publishing of the school year. He had to sign yearbooks as “Spazz Hanson” and was given a t-shirt diagramming how hiccups worked. It was not quite bullying, but it was not quite fun for him either.
He sits in the car now, hiccup free since week six of his condition so many years ago, and thinks about that odd month. Then he becomes sad. While he did not enjoy the experience, no articles had been written about him since. He had never been interviewed or congratulated for his work in developing a fancy new database at work. He went through college playing middling frisbee golf, even taking third place in a frolf tournament once. There were no accolades or stories about that accomplishment; though in defense of school media there were only ten participants.
He wonders if he peaked in 9th grade.
His phone rings as we sit. We caught the beginning of the light cycle, so we will be sitting for some time. His mother is calling to check in, see how he’s doing and asks if he checked the car’s breaking system this week. She followed the Toyota recall closely and is in pretty much a constant state of panic in regard to her son’s driving safety despite the problems being resolved.
“Mom,” he asks, “did I peak in 9th grade?”
I can almost hear the laugh.
“That Spazz thing before sophomore year?” His mother asks. “You never peak, son. Never. There is always a new adventure on the horizon and new stories to be told. Things plateau at times, I can tell you that much, but then one day your on a call with your adult son and you get to call him a dumbass for thinking his life has been all downhill since age 14. Get out there and do stuff. You decide when you peak.”
The driver smiles. “Thanks, ma. I’ll see for dinner on Friday.”
The call ends and the light turns. Our trip continues and before long he leaves the highway, off to his next adventure.
Have a great day!