I’m a big freak. I’m taller than everyone my age… And no, I’m not very good at sports. I’m not even good at school, and I have to go to special tutoring because it takes me longer than my friends to actually get it. I’m basically a big loser.
Sometimes I wish I could ride shotgun with you and your dog in your truck and just be a cool person for a day.
NINTH GRADE SUCKS
DEAR NINTH GRADE:
It’s early morning. I am sitting in my truck. I woke up before the sunrise on accident—sometimes that happens when you get older.
About my truck: I promise you, it’s NOT a “cool” person’s truck. And its owner isn’t “cool,” either.
My vehicle is a hog pen. Ellie Mae, the coonhound, has ruined it. Think: ripped upholstery, slobber on windshield, coffee stains, rotten apple cores, fruit flies.
Right now, it’s still dark outdoors. My first routine pit-stop is a convenience store. The place is empty this early.
Justine, at the counter, knows me. She knows I’m here to buy coffee and a newspaper.
Some days, I buy scratch-off tickets, too. Today is one such day. I buy two $10,000,000 Florida Cash scratch-offs. I whisper the Serenity Prayer, and scratch.
Justine laughs. “My daddy ALWAYS said lottery tickets are a tax on stupid people.”
Justine talks too much.
I ask about her kid. Her teenage son lives in North Alabama with his father. She never sees him. The kid is a cracker-jack third-baseman. She misses her boy.
I’m driving again. The sun is behind the trees. The sky is orange and purple. I’m heading to a spot on the Choctawhatchee Bay that I don’t think anyone knows exists.
But I’m wrong. People must know about it. Because when I arrive, I see an abandoned plastic chair in my headlights. There are empty beer cans scattered in the sand.
Ellie lights out for the bay. I sit in the plastic chair while she swims.
And I read the paper—which is a larger waste of money than lottery tickets. Once, there was a time when clever columnists ruled daily newsprint. Those days are gone.
Later, we eat breakfast at the Chik-fil-A drive-thru. All employees know Ellie and make a fuss over her. They are kind people. Kindness is everywhere, you know. You just have to know where to look.
When I was your age, I felt like you. I was an academic failure, and I didn’t think people liked me.
But I was wrong about myself. And if you ask me, you are, too.
I don’t care how tall you are. And I don’t believe life is about math quizzes or homecoming contests. Good grades are nice, but they’re just letters from the alphabet.
Do you want to know what means something to me? I’ll tell you.
Sunrises. Tom-Thumb coffee. Lottery tickets. Dilapidated trucks, breakfast with friends, hugs from a kid, the bay of my youth, old newspapers, and letters from strangers.
Gas-station clerks also mean something to me.
And so do you. In fact, you mean a lot. You’re the ONLY person who has ever wanted to step foot in my truck. And for that, Ellie and I thank you.
This passenger seat has your name on it.