Priorities


By Sydney Lanoue


Prologue:

The final whistle blew giving us the title of district champions. Once we shook the other teams’ hands, we all darted towards our coach on the sideline and started jumping up and down, hooting and hollering. Tears of joy filled my teammates’ faces. This was the moment we worked for all year. Once Coach was done giving us the post-game speech, we dumped Gatorade on his head, and all the fans rushed onto the field to congratulate us and celebrate. There had to be at least 400 fans on the field. However, I was only looking for one person, Violet. Where was she? I weaved through almost everybody on the field and still no Violet. All of a sudden, my mom aggressively yanked on my shoulder pads and told me we needed to go to the hospital right then. I acted with no hesitation and sprinted into Mom’s escalade, throwing my cleats and shoulder pads into the back. Mom drove about 60 miles per hour all through town until we got to the hospital. The whole way there, I was breathing heavy and thinking about how this night would be the night that changes my life forever.

The next week after that was a blur. It was almost as if my mind still hadn’t comprehended what was going on. I mean, just like that, Violet was gone. It seems like now my life is jumbled up into a catastrophic mess. I need to get away. I need to get out of my small Oregon town. I want to start over.

Story:

Once practice was done, I threw my football bag in the back of my truck, put the keys in the ignition, and started heading home. The drive from the school to my house is only ten minutes. On the way home, many thoughts drown my brain. I like my old football team better. I miss Violet. That college algebra test kicked my butt. I wonder what’s for supper. Is dad still mad at me? Just as that last thought crossed my mind I pulled into my driveway. I grabbed my keys and headed inside. The moment I walked through the front door and saw my mom’s face, I knew I was in for it. She had a blank stare and her arms were crossed; that’s never a good sign.

“Hi, Mommy,” I said, trying to suck up to her like a little kid.

“I’m not happy with your College Algebra grade at the moment,” she said with irritation.

“Mom, it was one test!” I argued back.

“It better be ‘one test’,” she mimicked, “if you can’t keep your grades up; say goodbye to football and college!”

I raised my tone and said, “Whatever, Mom. I have a lot of things to worry about right now!”

All of a sudden, my dad came downstairs and decided to chime in. “REALLY JONATHAN?! You think we don’t already have enough to deal with?! Your mother and I already have a lot on our plates; on top of that we are helping you make up for your mistakes!” he yelled loudly.

“Now, Thomas…” my mother said to my dad to calm him down.

“What, Amanda?!” he said back in a fed up tone, “We wouldn’t be in this situation if it wasn’t for him!”

Hearing my dad say that broke me down inside. I fought back a couple little tears. I know I have made mistakes, but I try to take responsibility for them. I’m doing the best I can.  I just ignored my dad and walked upstairs into my room. I opened the door calmly and threw my body onto my bed and let out a few tears. I finally turned over on my back, closed my eyes, and folded my hands together.

“Hey Vi. It’s me, Jonny. I miss you…I can’t do all this without you. I just want things to go back to the way they were. Please just come back for one more day. I need you. I love you.” Saying these words almost put me in a completely tranquil state. A couple minutes after finally calming down, my mom came into my room.

“Jonny..”

“Yeah, Mom?”

“You know we love you, right? Your father never means what he says. With everything that’s happened this past year, his temper just gets a little touchy.”

“Yeah, I know; I know.”

“We just want the best for you, so can you just please do your best to keep up your grades.”

“I’ll talk to some of my teachers tomorrow.”

“Thanks, sweetie. I love you,” she said as she kissed my head.

“Love you too, mom.”

The next day, I woke up and went to school. I went to all my classes like normal. However, after college algebra, I decided to talk to Ms. P. about my low grades.  She’s my favorite teacher, so I thought it wouldn’t be hard to talk to her.

I approached her desk as students started filtering out. “Hey, Ms. P!”

“What can I do for you, Jonny?”

“Well, I’ve obviously not been doing too great in this class. I was wondering if there was any extra credit I could do or any other way that I could get my grades up and keep them up.”

“Hmmm. I think the best option for you right now would be to get a tutor. I know there are many people who would be willing to tutor you,” she said.

“I don’t have time for a tutor right now. I have football, work, and…uh never mind,” I said arguing back.

With a partial grin Ms. P. said, “Well, I hate to do this, but I think it would be best if you have a tutor. So, I am going to assign you one.”

I was going to argue back, but if she thinks it is the best option for me, maybe, I should just take her advice. I accepted her request for a tutor. She gave me the tutor girl’s information, so I could contact her about what time would work for us to study. Great, just great. This weird nerd is probably going to have to come to my house because there is no other time I could fit a tutor into my schedule.

Well, it’s Thursday today, which means that I have to work from 4-7 at Keith’s Body Shop. So, once again, I have to miss practice. I hate missing practice, but I have to do what I have to do. The tutor girl and I, whose name I found out was Emily, emailed each other and decided that 7:30 p.m. would be the best time for her to come to my house. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I mean, I’ve never met her before, and it might get awkward, but I need to get good grades. I’ll suck it up.

When I got home from work, I changed into decent clothes. I got my algebra book and set it on the table so that I was prepared for when Emily was to come. I was kind of nervous thinking about how this whole tutor thing would go. However, before I started thinking too hard, I heard a knock at the door. I took a deep breath and opened the door. There stood this Emily who I had now just seen for the first time. She was surprisingly beautiful; definitely not the stereotypical nerd I was thinking she would be. She had wavy brown hair with striking green eyes that could make anybody fall in love in seconds. Once I finally got over how beautiful she was, I said a friendly hello and took her to the table where my book was.  From there we started working on the assignment that was due tomorrow. Within about a half hour of working on homework, the math equations and formula talk got switched to conversations about my old school.

“Is it a lot different here?” she asked.

“Yeah, it’s a lot different. I used to be kind of a big deal back in Oregon. Here I am nothing but another new kid.” I replied.

“What makes you say that?” she asked again.

Emily seemed understandable and easy to talk to, so I decided to continue on further. “Back home, it seemed like everybody looked up to me, and people knew who I was.  Now, I come here, and it seems like my life did a full 360 degree flip. My parents don’t treat me like they used to, and I just don’t get treated like I did back in Oregon. My dad and I used to be super close, but now we’ve just drifted away.” I said as I attempted to multi-task by doing my homework and having a serious conversation.

“Why are your parents so different now?” she questioned.

I thought about telling her everything even though I hardly knew her, but I just substituted the truth with, “Dang, you ask a lot of questions.”

“Can’t blame a girl for being curious can you?” she joked.

I just smirked and laughed at her remark. I could tell that she had a good sense of humor. After that we were just about to dive into another algebra problem when all of a sudden I hear mom’s car pulling into the driveway. I panicked and quickly told Emily she needed to go. Of course, she asked why. I pretended like I didn’t hear her and gave her a couple friendly nudges towards the door. She asked again why she had to go, and I told her it was too hard to explain. She finally went out to her car and left before mom came in. I felt bad about doing that to her, and I can only imagine what she thinks of me now. She probably suspects something or thinks that I’m weird. 

Mom came into the house and immediately asked me who was just here.

“It was my algebra tutor. Her name is Emily.” I replied.

Her eyebrows perked up and she replied, “Oh, Emily, huh? Is she cute? Do you like her?”

“I just met her today, but from what I’ve seen of her, she is funny and smart. She isn’t half bad looking either. I think I might actually be starting to like her. I just…I don’t know if I can take a relationship right now.” I said.

“My my. Does my baby Jonny actually have a crush?” she said in a joking tone as if I was a four-year-old child.

“Maybe. I don’t know. I just feel like…”

“Like you’re betraying Violet?” she finished.

“Kind of. I just don’t think I’m fit for a relationship right now.” I said.

“That’s understandable.” My mom said back.

“Yeah, considering I’m not in the best situation right now.” I agreed.

“Speaking of that, can you take the shift tonight? I’m super tired and I need some sleep. I had a tiring day at the office.”

“Yeah, sure mom, it’s my turn anyway.” I said sympathetically.

After that conversation, I decided to go up to my room. While I was walking up the stairs I thought about how understanding Mom is, and how I can have conversations about anything with her. I then finally got to my bed and drifted off into sleep with that last feeling of appreciation in my heart.

I woke up the next day and was exhausted from the start. Of course, I had to go to school though. I drug myself into my truck and almost fell asleep while I was driving. I finally got to school and trudged into first period, algebra. Ms. P. told me that from now on, she wants me sitting by Emily. I was completely fine with that. Once I sat in my seat next to Emily, we discussed when we should meet again for tutoring sessions. We agreed that every Tuesday and Thursday after I got done with work or practice would be the best time.

The next two weeks were kind of a blur. I met with Emily four times for tutoring sessions and she actually helped me improve on my algebra while at the same time making me have even stronger feelings for her. She’s so amazing, and I can’t help but like her.

She visited me at my weekend job at Foot Locker on Saturday. She brought me ice cream and pretended like she needed help with shoes just so we could talk without my manager getting mad at me. Before she left, she asked if I wanted to hang out after my shift was over. As much as I wanted to accept her offer, I couldn’t. I had to be home as soon as my shift was over to help my parents around the house. As far as football goes, we had two games, and both times, I’ve played horrible. It was probably because I was focused on school and other things. I had to miss three practices and my coaches weren’t happy. Football just isn’t giving me the same thrill and excitement that it did last year. It makes me sad when I think about how good I was last year and how much I loved it compared to this year. Nothing is the same anymore. Work is really stressing me out too. My bosses aren’t lenient when it comes to rearranging my hours to fit in with my practice schedule. I have to miss at least two practices every week and sometimes more. My teammates and coaches always get mad because I miss a lot of practice. I wish I could explain the whole situation to them. I can’t quit my jobs because I need some source of income. It’s not normal for a teen to be this stressed. I just don’t think I can do it anymore. I have no other choice but to quit football.

After the bell rang for school to be over, I walked down to my coach’s office. “Hey, coach. Can I talk to you for a sec?” I asked as I entered his office.

“Yeah, what’s up?” he replied.

“Well, I am very fortunate to be a part of this team, but I…I don’t think it is fair to you and my teammates that I continually miss practice and don’t perform my best during games. I can’t quit my jobs right now, and I need to put some serious focus into my school work so that I can hopefully get accepted into college. So with that being said, I think the best option for me right now is to remove myself from the team.” I said in a depressed tone, “I’m sorry.”

“You know Jonny, I can tell that you are trying to work hard in practice and at games, but there is something that is really holding you back and keeping your mind unfocused from the game of football. I know it’s not easy for you to make this decision, but I understand. There is much more to life than football, and receiving a good education is more important.” He said.

“Thanks for understanding, Coach. I’ll see you around.” I said as I walked out of his office.

The moment I walked out of the school and got into my truck, I completely broke down. Tears ran down my face, and I just sat in my truck for ten minutes until I regained my composure. As I was driving home, the only thing I could think of is how my dad was going to respond to the news. I was nervous. There is no way he is going to be okay with this. He is going to freak out. Once I pulled into my driveway, I just waited in my car, practicing what I was going to say to my parents. As soon as I figured it out, I walked up to the front door, took a deep breath, and walked in.

“Hey, Jonny. How was school?” he asked right away.

“Fine. Where’s Mom?” I asked back.

“She got caught up at this office. She won’t be home until after dinner.”

Oh great, I thought to myself. Now, if Dad blows up about the news of me quitting football, Mom won’t be here to be the mediator. She won’t be here to calm Dad down if he gets too out of hand. Should I wait to tell him? Nah, I better just get it off my chest and pray to God that he doesn’t freak out. Oh, who am I kidding? There’s no way he won’t be angry. Well here goes nothing.

“Hey, Dad, I have to tell you something, but you have to promise we you won’t freak out,” I said.

“Alright. Well, what is it?” he asked hesitantly.

“I…I talked to coach today, and I decided that it would be the best decision if I just quit football.”

“Excuse me?!” he said furiously.

“Yeah, Dad, I’m sorry.”

Dad abruptly stood up and got closer to me. “WHY WOULD YOU JUST THROW YOUR FOOTBALL CAREER AWAY LIKE THAT?!”

“DAD! I just couldn’t handle it all. Football isn’t my top priority anymore!” I said back in an aggressive tone.

“DAMMIT JONNY! That could’ve been your ticket into college,” he yelled, “This discussion would be nonexistent if you wouldn’t of messed up so badly in Oregon!”

I shouted, “SHUT UP DAD! YOU’RE—“

And he hit me. I felt a stinging pain in my left cheek. I can’t believe what just happened. My own father had just slapped me. Before I could even react back to my father, I immediately turned around and rushed out the door and slammed it as hard as I could. As I hurried out, I heard my dad say, “Jonny, I didn’t mean it.” What he said didn’t stop me from jumping in my truck and driving off. I drove to the only place I could go.

I knocked on the wooden door, partially in tears and about ready to lose it. The door began to open, and Emily came out in shock.

“Jonny. Hi, what’s…what’s wrong?” She said sympathetically.

Before I even spoke, I just wrapped my arms around her and let out my tears. It was nice hugging her; she rubbed my back and kept reassuring me that everything was going to be okay.

“Now, are you going to tell me what’s wrong?” She asked again.

“Can I come in first?” I requested.

“Of course,” she said in a calm manner.

We went into her living room, and she got me a glass of water, and she waited patiently until I calmed down enough to tell her the whole story. I started by telling her the conversation with my coach. She just listened and nodded the whole time until I told her that I quit. She was very shocked, but she agreed with my decision.

“If you think that is the best thing for you, then that’s what you have to do,” she said reassuringly.

I could tell once I told her I quit, she assumed that that was the only news I had. We just hugged for a while; she told me that if there was anything I needed help with, I could always come to her.

“With that thought, there’s something else I need to tell you,” I said, “Quitting football wasn’t the only thing I came here to talk about.”

“Okay, well what is it?” she asked.

“When I got home today, I told my dad that I quit, and he…he uh…he lost his temper. So he—“

“Oh, please don’t say what I think you’re going to say.” She uttered.

Tears began to well up in my eyes, and I explained more, “He slapped me. I didn’t think he would ever do something like that. I knew that he has a bad temper since we moved, but I just never thought he would be the one to let that get the best of him. I know he didn’t mean it, but it…it still hurts.”

“Jonny, that’s horrible, and I’m sorry that that happened to you, but like you said; I don’t think he meant it.” She said.

We sat there in silence for a minute or two, and then, she asked why my dad’s personality changed so much since we moved. I hesitated to tell her, but I decided that I would have to tell her sooner or later if I wanted our relationship to go anywhere.

“It’s hard to explain,” I said, “Just come with me, and you’ll see.”

There was no uncertainty on her part. She didn’t even question me. I drove her to my house, and she had a mass look of confusion on her face, and she asked why we came here. I explained to her that my dad was probably down in the basement playing pool or something, so we wouldn’t have to see him. Once again, she didn’t question me, so we walked inside. Sure enough, dad was downstairs doing who knows what. I took Emily upstairs. Instead of turning left to go into my bedroom, we turned right and went towards the room across from mine.

As I opened the door, Emily’s face lit up and her jaw dropped. We walked straight to the wall with the crib against it. Once I saw my daughter’s beautiful eyes, I knew that quitting football was worth it to spend more time with her and make money for the both of us.

Emily asked,” Is she yours?”

“Yeah, she’s mine.”

“She’s so beautiful.”

“She takes it after her mother.”

I shouldn’t have said that. Now, I’m going to have to explain to her all about Violet. As that thought crossed my mind, Emily asked, “Where’s her mom?”

“She uh…she died giving birth. It was the night we won the district title.” I said softly.

“I’m so sorry, Jonny,” she paused, “Did you love her?”

One big tear rolled out of my eye. “Yeah…yeah I did.”

Emily got close to me, stood up on her tip toes, and gave me one of the most needed hugs. It was a long hug that gave me enough time to whisper into her ear, in a partially joking, and partially serious tone, “I’m sorry I keep crying.”

“You’re only human, Jonny.” She replied.

She ended the hug, and gave me a kiss on the cheek. In that moment, I realized I can’t afford to lose another person that’s close to me. I promised myself that no matter what, I wasn’t going to let this girl slip away from me. I love her.