>This story is a fictional retelling of an actual account. Characters and settings quite possibly resemble actual persons and places. However, the focus of the story and the accounts that take place in this story are of the imagination of the writer.
“Jared, Susie, don’t make me come back there!”
“She started it!”
“HEY! I will pull this car over and you will not be happy when I do!”
Jared and Susie look at each other. “Ya, right,” they think in unison. Dad just says that all the time. But what do you expect. This is what happens when a teenager and a 12-turning-13-year-old (as Jared likes to say) are forced to sit so close to one another in such a tight, enclosed space for hours on end. They can only count numbers of licencse plates from the different states for so long.
“…and it’s ten-A-M on a beauuutiful Friday morning. This is WKLS 96.1, Atlanta’s rock radio…”
Jared specifically is having a tough time sitting still. Normally he is outside with his friends. Many of his friends skate, which doesn’t do much for his reputation among the neighbors. Most often, though, him and his good friends will play frisby, soccer or one of the games they tend to create while they are playing. They will even still climb trees and play in the woods behind Jared’s house. They don’t “play” too much anymore, however. Like, cops and robbers and kid stuff like that. Every now and then they might get out the water guns. Jared really wants a paintball gun, like the one Steven Porter got for his birthday, but his dad won’t let him get one. Actually, his mom is scared he’ll kill himself, which is the reason his dad says no. It’s so stupid. Like he’s going to kill himself with paint. That’s just dumb.
“Get your arm off me,” Susie says as she pushes Jared toward “his side of the car.” “If I can’t come on your side, you can’t come on mine,” snips Susie. Jared taunts her, “Oh yeah. I’m on your side, what are you gonna do about it?” And then dad has to cut in again, “Jared, knock it off!”
“Joe,” mom whispers, “I think we need to stop. You know Jared can’t sit still very long, what with his ADHD-” “Oh knock it off, Nancy” Joe interrupts. “Jared can’t sit still because he’s an active boy. I was the same way when I was younger and the only way I was able to learn to control myself was through my fathers properly timed whippin’s.”
Joe isn’t too keen on the science of the day. Especially when, from his point of view, it’s only making excuses for laziness. Joe never wanted to be at school in junior high. He would have much rather been outside, playing sports, or even building something. His father made sure he snapped out of it. Of course, Joe can’t really “whip” his son for disobeying, not these days. He’s not even sure that he wants to, but he’s pretty sure a whipping or two might help.
“Alright, who’s hungry,” Joe asks the kids? “Burgerking,” Jared shouts! Susie has something different on her mind. “Ew, no way. Dad, we have to keep our bodies healthy,” Susie begins, with Jared mocking her, “and we can’t do that by eating fas- shut up Jared!” Nancy cuts in, “guys, be nice to each other.”
“That’s probably why you can’t sit still, jerk-face…”
“Susie! Cut it out! You’re in high school for Heaven’s sake.”
“…maybe if you ate less fats you wouldn’t be so annoying and smelly!”
“Susie, that’s not why he smells…”
“Ya, well maybe if you ate less fat you woulnd’t be so fat and smelly.”
“Jared,” mom is shocked, “now stop it, the both of you!”
Suddenly the car comes to a hault.
“Dad what are you doing!?”
“What the heck!”
“Everyone out of the car!”
“On the highway,” everyone shouts at once!?!
“We’re not on the highway.”
As the passengers look around they see parked cars, a small strip mall, and four or five different restaurants. They could have swore they were just on the road. Joe explains, “while the rest of you were busy fighting I found us a place to eat.” Susie’s eyes light up. She can hardly believe it. For once her dad has chosen her favorite food. “What! Subway?” Jared isn’t too happy, but Susie doesn’t really care what he thinks right now. “Actually,” Joe proposes, “You and your mother can go eat at Subway.” He gives his wife a look. It’s similar to the look she gave him when she wanted Joe to teach “his son” about the birds and the bees. He continues, “I think we’ll all eat more peacefully if Jared and I just go over to Burgerking.” Jared is relieved. Susie is just happy she can eat what she wanted to eat.
So the two groups split up with the hopes that they can fume their anger, making the rest of the car ride a little more bearable. In reality, Joe just wanted to have a talk with Jared. They get their food, begin eating, and Joe springs the first set of questions.
“Why are you so mean to your sister? You know, she’s the only one you have,” Jared just rolls his eyes, “and you can bet your life savings I’m not having another one after watching you two fight all the time.” Jared chuckles but is mostly unresponsive to the question. “Well,” Joe asks again? “I dunno.” “You don’t know?” What dad hasn’t heard this before? In Joe’s experience it usually means Jared doesn’t want to talk about it, or is embarassed…or did something wrong. “Don’t you like your sister?”
“No I hate her.”
“Jared! That’s not funny.”
Jared just rolls his eyes, again. What does his dad expect?
“Here then,” Joe begins delicately, “why are your grades so low?” Jared just sits there, eating his burger. “Jared,” Joe prys, “I’m not pickin’ on you. I just want to know what you’re thinking.”
Still no response.
“Jared, you know I love you right?” Jared rolls his eyes yet again as his dad continues, “I just want to help if you need it… give you whatever you need to do better…” Jared remains unresponsive to Joes inquiry. So Joe takes it up a notch.
“Do you want to know how it looks from my point of view?” Jared stares out the window, avoiding eye contact. “I saw a kid who never did his homework because he would rather do things that were fun.” Jared keeps eating. “I saw a kid who was just being lazy.” Ok, Jared isn’t too happy, but remains quiet. “But then the school counselor talked with us and I realized something.” While he isn’t too sure what his dad wants to hear, Jared is sure that no one can blame him. Afterall, he has been diagnosed with ADHD. He has a disorder which causes him to be fidgety. The ADHD makes it hard for him to sit still, so he disrupts class sometimes and does poorly on tests. That’s just who he is. It’s impossible for him to sit still for anything. Joe continues, “I realized that you are exactly the same as I was when I was your age.” What? Jared was actually expecting his dad to blame him, in some way. “What do you mean,” Jared asks? “I was fidgety and always on the move in junior high. My dad had his own way of dealing with me, but I realize that maybe I needed something else.” Jared is stunned. “I just want to give you and Susie what I didn’t have when I was growing up.”
After a short silence while the two finish their food Jared brings up a few questions of his own. He asks his dad about what it was like when he was in junior high. Joe asks Jared about what junior high is like now. They really have a nice conversation, something they don’t do too often. It is definitely something Joe never did with his dad. Through the conversation Joe can see something in Jared’s eyes he never saw before. It’s almost like contentment.
As they walk back to the car they meet with Nancy and Susie. Nancy points out that the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial is nearby and they should stop and see it. “Come on, it will be a good experience.” Susie and Jared roll their eyes. Their mother can’t skip over an opportunity for some “good experience.” So they pack into the car and take off down the road. The kids are listening to music. Susie once again tells Jared to move over. This time however, Jared just moves over. “Did you see that,” Nancy asks Joe? “Huh, ya I did.” “What did you two talk about,” she whispers? “I dunno,” he says with a smile, “we just talked.”
The family pulls into the parking lot in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Park. Nancy is giving the kids background information about the Civil Rights movement and how we used to treat people of color in America. Jared’s mind goes right to slavery, back to the times before and during the civil war. For some reason this is what he always thinks of when talking about African American history and their fight for equality in America. He thinks of this history in the same terms of the pilgrims, or ancient Rome: somethings that happened a long time ago. His mom tries to paint a picture, but him and his sister are mostly uninterested in her retellings. They’re there so they might as well get the information from the source.
They walk into the museum and take in the sights. Joe is walking around, looking at the displays. Most of the information is old to him. Jared however… wait, where is Jared? Joe walks around and finds Jared staring at one of the displays, his mouth hanging open. Joe walks over and stands behind Jared.
“Sad, isn’t it?” Jared turns around, “when was this?” Joe looks at the blown up magazine articles, showing pictures of African American youth being sprayed against buildings with fire hoses and attacked by police dogs. “Well, this would be in the 1960’s.”
Jared just stares in disbelief. “Dad,” he mutters between his teeth, “what’s going on?”
Joe doesn’t quite know how to explain it. “Well, back then African Americans had to show that they weren’t going to be treated poorly. They did that by marching, or having other peaceful protests. They were trying to say that they deserved every right that white Americans get every day.” “But what’s happening here,” Jared points to the display. “Some people just didn’t think the same way. So these people tried to provoke the protestors into acting out and breaking the law. But the protestors were determined to show that they didn’t need to resort to violence…”
“But…,” Jared interrupts, and then pauses. Joe looks at his son’s face and is disheartened by what he sees. Jared stares at the newspaper reproductions with a pale, sickness washing over his face. His eyes began to fill with tears.
“They’re just teenagers.”
Joe, not knowing how to console his son places his hands on Jared’s shoulders, and they just silently stare at the display.
Just then, a man walks by them and points out, “the story doesn’t end there, kid,” and he walks away. Jared watches the man, who is an older African American gentleman, walk towards the exit. Joe tells Jared, “I’m gonna go find your mom and Susie. Don’t wander too far.”
Joe finds his wife and daughter. He begins to tell Nancy what just happened. “Is he ok,” she asks? “I think he’s just overwhelmed.”
They walk back to the display for Birmingham but Jared isn’t there. They walk the rest of the displays, thinking Jared would have “finished the story.” They walk the whole timeline of the museum but there is no sign of Jared anywhere. Just when Nancy is beginning to get a little nervous, Susie says annoyingly, “there he is. He’s outside.”
Joe and Nancy walk outside. Nancy is getting ready to read Jared the riot act, but Joe stops her. Jared is sitting with the man who passed them while looking at the Birmingham display. He is talking with Jared. Even more impressive, Jared is sitting still. He listens intently. Joe and Nancy and Susie walk casually over to Jared.
“That’s why we have these museums, son. We need to remember the sacrifices people made for justice and freedom. And we need to prove to future generations that a violent end ain’t the only end there is.” Jared is focused on this man and takes in every last word. Joe notices something in Jared’s hand. It is a pamphlet, from the museum, with Martin Luther King, Jr’s photo on the front.
“Hey, there you are.” Joe and the man exchange a word or two as Nancy hustles the kids to the car. After all, they do have to be at the hotel in Florida by a certain time. “Bye, Mr. Lamar,” waves Jared, clutching tightly to the pamphlet. “Nice chattin’ with ya, son. You take care.” Joe hangs behind. “So… how is he?” The man looks puzzled. “What do you mean,” he asks? “Well, Jared seemed a little down when we were looking through the exhibit.”
Mr. Lamar explains, “you got yourself a bright kid. He just wanted to know how the story ends.”
“So you told him what happened?”
“No. I told him that it doesn’t end.”
Joe is a little confused, and only continues questioning to make sure this Mr. Lamar isn’t some nut-case who’s spreading half truths and mostly opinion. “What do you mean?”
“History ain’t like medicine,” he explains. “You don’t make a vaccine for social injustices. They’re like a cancer. Once you think you’ve beat it, it comes back, possibly in a different form or place.”
Ok. This makes sense. Mr. Lamar isn’t crazy.
“Well, thanks then. You have a good day.”
Joe gets back to the car and the family takes off towards their destination: Disney World. The happiest place on Earth. They could use some happy. Jared still looks a little down. He just sits there, without his head phones on reading through the pamphlet. Joe looks back and notices that the pamphlet is actually a transcript of Martin Luther King, Jr’s famous speech. Jared just reads it over and over. As they drive down the highway Joe goes back and forth between watching the road and glancing at Jared in the rear view mirror. He can’t explain it, but he sees something else in Jared’s eyes. It’s something different than what he saw earlier that day, but he can’t figure out what it is.
The family arrives at the hotel late in the evening and they all go straight to bed. The next morning, they wake up and take off to the Magc Kingdom. They spend the whole day riding roller coasters, watching spectacular shows, and just taking in the sights. It’s safe to say they are not acting like themselves. There is little fighting and a lot more just having some great family fun. They spend three days in the area, visiting three different parks. Despite the distractions of the most magical place on the planet, Jared reads the entire “Dream Speech” each night before going to sleep. Joe still hasn’t figured out what it is he sees in Jared now. Each day he hopes the theme parks will take his mind off the museum. He’s afraid that Jared just wasn’t ready to see these things, even though he is turning 13 soon. He’s afraid Jared is haunted by the sights in the museum.
“Susie! Let’s go!”
“What’s she doing,” asks Joe. “She’s being rediculous,” Nancy huffs. “Susie! You don’t need to do your hair to sit in a car for 17 hours, now get out here!”
“I’m coming, gosh.”
The family packs up the car. They take off for home. They had fun on their little vacation, but nothing matches home. The ride home is much more quiet. Susie listens to her music, Joe listens to NPR, Nancy is either listening to a “book on tape” or reading a magazine, and Jared goes back and forth between listening to music and reading the speech. Now when he reads it though, he mouths along. He’ll also hide the pamphlet for a minute and mouth something. Confused, he’ll look back at the pamphlet and mouth something else. Joe is near heartbroken. His son is wrestling with something which Joe has no idea how to manage.
“So,” Joe breaks the silence, “what was everyone’s favorite part of the vacation?” At first there is no answer, so Nancy begins the discussion. “Well, I had fun on the safari ride. What about you Susie?” “I dunno… I kinda liked the Rockin’ Rollercoaster.” “Oh ya,” mom says a little surpirsed, “you didn’t like seeing the animals?” “Mom, please,” Susie is amazed at her moms ignorance, “I can see animals on Animal Planet, but I can’t ride an indoor roller coaster.” Joe rustles the conversation a little by adding, “you can see roller coaster videos on You Tube.” Susie points out it’s not the same. “Or you can play that theme park video game your brother had, which lets you ride the coaster you built yourself.” “Whatever,” she scuffs, “I just liked it.” Joe and Nancy chuckle. Joe states his favorite ride. “I really liked the Mount Everest roller coaster. What about you Jared?” Jared just looks at the pamphlet, unsure of what to say. A little embarrassed he says, “the Martin Luther King, Jr Park.” “Really,” his dad asks, confused? “Surprise,” Susie says sarcastically, “he’s been memorizing that speech the whole vacation.” Jared pushes Susie’s shoulder and tells her to shutup. Nancy asks with a disbelief, “really, Jared?”
Now Jared is embarrassed. Of course his family would be surprised. They should be surprised. Boys should love roller coasters. Out of three days of rollercoasters, other intense thrill rides, and death-defying stunt shows, how could he still be so encompassed by the sights and stories from the Civil Rights museum?
“You’re such a dork,” mocks Susie.
“It could have been Steven!”
…The family is shocked by Jared’s outburst. Niether Susie nor Nancy have any clue what is wrong. Joe ventures into Jared’s thoughts. “What could have been Steven?”
“In Birmingham, Alabama,” teary-eyed Jared explains, “those kid’s were my age… and Steven…”
Jared can’t talk, but the family seems to understand the logic. They picture what Jared might have been imagining the whole vacation. His friend, Steven, who is an African American being blown against a wall with a fire hose. Jared can only sit by and watch firemen, who are supposed to save people, intentionally causing them harm. He sees police officers, people who are supposed to keep us safe, releasing dogs on his most trusted friend. He sees senseless violence against a peaceful group asking for no more than equality.
A somber tone fills the interior of the car. Mom, dad, and Susie pretty much understood what happened during the civil rights movement. They had historical and practical knowledge of the struggle and hardships people of color, as well as any supporters went through. The somber tone came from the fact that Jared just found out, and it hit him so hard… and so personally.
Just then, Joe realized what it is he sees in Jared’s eyes. He takes the next off-ramp to a rest area. Susie and Nancy get out to go to the bathroom. Joe, realizing what Mr. Lamar meant, turns around and looks at Jared. “Now that you know,what are you going to do about it?” Jared just looks at his dad, puzzled. “You can’t just sit there and sulk about it. So,” Joe repeats himself, “what are you going to do about it?”
While I’m not quite sure what Jared is doing now, I do know that he went on to be a lawyer. Out of all the things he had heard about the Civil Rights Movement, he never heard it from someone who was there. He never heard it explained from a representative of the actual, living history of a participant in the movement. This encounter no doubt shaped Jared’s life.