Brick by Brick

Blake Wilkinson


I stare at the whiteboard. It's more covered in red now than white. There are confusing words written in what seems to be another language. Does everyone around me really get it? I feel lost, and now my teacher is explaining an assignment. We need to include the things she's put on the board in the assignment.

"There's another failed assignment," I think to myself as the students begin to gather their notebooks in anticipation of the end of the class.

It hasn't ever been the same since the accident. I walk from class to class with my cell phone close. The harsh rain doesn't help as I try to see the photo of the foggy iPhone screen. It's dark and miserable outside. Without the photo I took of my class schedule, I wouldn't know where to go next. I'm so grateful now that I can read the numbers indicating what time class is and in what classroom found on the photo. Before, things were so blurry, I could barely see a few feet in front of me. Sure, the blurriness comes and goes, but it's not permanent and it's gotten exponentially better in the last month. The photo says that next is U.S. Government with Professor Whitaker.

"Mark!" I hear my name called and turn around to see a short, skinny boy. His glasses are too big for his face, and his greasy hair mops over his forehead like a dead rodent. I swear I've never met him, but his friendly smile and how freely he approached me told me not only did I know him, but we were close friends. There was no way. I would never have hung out or even associated with guys like him before the accident. Unless, of course, it was to take his lunch money or see how many times I could knock down his books until he finally gave up or someone else stepped in to help him.

"Uh, hey man," I replied as I wiped the rain from my phone, "can I help you?"

"It's me!" He noticed my puzzled face and continued, "I know I'm trying a new haircut, but come on, you should be able to recognize me considering we used to spend hours together on the diamond."

I focus on what he could be referring to. The diamond? He must be referring to the baseball diamond. My trophies at home were a good reminder of when I played.

"Oh, yeah. Baseball right?" I hoped my vague question would incite a response that would reveal more information.

"Yeah! Playing on the sluggers was great. We almost won state!" he answered, "I can't believe you don't remember. It was only a couple years ago."

The rain continued to pour down on us as I began to apologize and explain to him why I was having a hard time remembering his name.

"Hey," he reached out to playfully hit my arm, trying to make the situation a little less awkward. "I'm sorry to hear that. I hope your recovery is going well."

Sifting through my mind for memories, I gape at him with no reply. He breaks the awkward silence.

"Well, I'm late. I better get going. Good to see you, slugger,” and he dashed off to class.

Honestly, I'm just glad to see a smile directed my way. These moments carry me through the day. I continue walking the way I was originally going. Wait, which way was I walking? I look at my phone again. Oh! That's right, U.S. Government. I head towards the history and social sciences building.

Class ends and I walk to my car. Although I enjoy it, the car drive is long. I never thought I'd look forward to driving, but after being told you are forbidden to drive for three and half months, a craving to get behind the wheel begins to creep in. The drive is only supposed to take fifteen minutes, but I forgot how to get to the freeway again. It takes twenty-five minutes, like the past week. I drive home with the windows down and feel a cool breeze. The rain has stopped and the post-rain smell is like being in a wooded grove. I need to enjoy this now until it becomes dark and cold again.

Getting home is the best part of the day. I'm home the most, so I know the place with clarity. I know where the remote is or where it may be hidden, where the food is, and even what channels ESPN and CNN are on. I don't need to be constantly looking to my phone for directions. Home is my sanctuary. I take my medicine – it's supposed to help with the migraines, but it only feeds them. Sleep is the only remedy. I turn on the TV and lie on the couch. The nightmares begin again.

I start heading downhill. The pavement comes so quickly I can’t react. I see myself fall off of my skateboard and meet the pavement head on. The sidewalk tosses me around, then passes me to the street. The street throws me like a rodeo clown until finally my body stops moving. There I lie, and I hear screams while the light in my eyes gets darker and darker until everything is black.

"Remember to wear a helmet!" my mom had yelled as I left. "It's suicide if you don't!"

"Nobody wears a helmet," I called back, "Wearing a helmet would be suicide. Social suicide. Besides I've got my jacket and jeans on. What more do I need?"

She was always trying to get me to wear a helmet. Nobody looks cool with a helmet and letterman's jacket on at the same time. There was no way I was wearing a helmet. I started heading downhill. Next, my hair fell over my eyes and I reached up to toss it to the side. My speed climbed as I continued going downhill. I began to lose my balance. I wasn’t worried, however: I could adjust. The cute girls watching me skate don't even realize I’ve lost my balance for a second there. I shifted my bodyweight to account for my imbalance when I felt it. The wheel clipped a crack in the sidewalk. Normally, I would have been fine, but the lack of balance combined with my heavy backpack was enough to send me off the skateboard, and I met the concrete below head on.

Now, I'm in a hospital bed. My letterman's jacket is bloodstained, but only ripped on one elbow. It's hanging in the corner next to the seats for the visitors. Those seats were inhabited by my parents, who wept upon seeing me open my eyes. I blink multiple times to clear the fogginess, but it doesn't go away. What am I doing here? Things begin to fade away and I'm taken back to the top of the hill on campus. I start heading downhill.

I wake up to the reminder alarm on my phone. "Skate down the hill," it reads.

This fall has given me a new aspect on life. As the months passed and I began to accept this new way of living, I've been able to see life in a different light. This light that one who has almost lost can only see that. I would never have thought that by almost dying, I would learn to live. That the only way to live is to conquer any obstacles that would cause me not to live freely. Every time I forget another assignment, I think to myself that I should quit school, that it's too hard. But I go everyday knowing that if I just lay this one brick today, then go the next day and lay that next brick, soon I'll have a wall. I'm going to be something great. Five minutes won't decide my entire life; it won't decide my fate. I conquered my fear of going to school, of driving, and of living without a nurse on call 24/7. It's time to conquer my last fear. I need to skate the hill.

Amazingly, my skateboard seems unscathed from the accident. I've looked at it for months, knowing I had to get back on it and try again. I carry it out to my car and drive back to the hill. After getting out of the car, I walk over to the same spot I started the day of the accident. First, I tie my hair back to ensure it won’t get in the way again. Next, I put my helmet on my head and tighten the latch. Trembling, I place my foot on the board.

"Mark! Nice helmet." I hear the familiar voice of John, my best friend since eighth grade.

"You made it," I said.

"Of course I did," he replied, "but listen, you don't have to do this. You're not even one hundred percent yet."

"My goal was to ride down today, so today it is. Just make sure to help if anything goes wrong."

I push off the cement with my left foot.

I was nervous, but the wind on my face as I speed up reminds me why I loved skating. I continue down and pick up speed quickly. Without a backpack, I have less weight to carry. I slowly slide my left foot across the ground to cause friction and to slow myself down. The crack is just a few yards away now, and I can’t go with the same speed as last time. Just before hitting the crack, I shift my bodyweight to my heels. The skateboard carries me off the cement and onto the grass right next to it. The speed was just enough to get past the crack and back to the sidewalk. Again my balance is lost, but this time I’m able to recover because I’m not going as fast. My arms shoot up instinctively as I continue on the sidewalk.

"Woohoo!" cheered John in the background. He must've been cheering loud if I can hear him while I’m going downhill.

I’ve done it. The board continues to carve down the hill and I approach the bottom. This is where I'll end my run. I bring my left foot down to the sidewalk again to slow myself down. As I cautiously test to see how much pressure I can put on the ground without losing balance, I find I’m going too fast to slow down. At this rate, I’ll hit the brown brick building awaiting me at the bottom. Knowing I have no choice, I bail. As I jump, I see the familiar picture of the ground getting closer. I brace myself for the impact.

"Mark! Mark! Are you ok?" I hear John yell. The light around begins to get dark again and surging pain shoots from my left leg. I know the leg is broken, but at least it isn't my head. Because of the helmet and the fact that I had jumped onto the grass, I know my injuries aren’t critical. I'll recover from this, and next time I'll slow down earlier after passing the crack. As John runs down the hill to help, I tell him my leg is broken and I need an ambulance. The sun shines down and birds chirp in the background. It’s almost as if they’re cheering me on. I’d beaten the crack. I'd placed another brick.