Horace Greeley High School
Claudia Ann Seaman Award
Winner for Fiction
Inspired by “Boys” by Rick Moody
Here is the apartment where I used to live, here its scuffed edges and peeling paint; here is the hallway (always enter a room standing tall), here is the light bulb we never fixed; here is the doorway, all brass locks and cinder block gardens; here is the street corner, here you taught me how to ride a bike (chase the wind), skidding on the curves of the sidewalk, here you let me go when I did not know I was ready; here is where I asked you why about everything and absolutely nothing—you had a different answer each time; here is the street that reflects rain after dusk so perfectly, here the streetlight that we ran under as the rains fell hard, laughing until it hurt, here is where we once stood, underneath the silhouette of the Empire State Building; here is where you taught me how to love jazz (this is music with soul, with freedom), where you taught me how to listen to the way it swings, the slide of the saxophone, the conflict and the compromise and the beauty of it all, here is where you taught me how to listen to the rhythm of the world; here is where you taught me how to ice skate on Christmas, like learning how to walk in reverse; here is where you taught me how to throw a ball, in the center of this jungle of concrete and skyscrapers, here is where you taught me how to catch with both hands, gentle and firm, here is where you taught me how to hold beautiful things; here is where you showed me how to feed the ducks floating on the lagoon as they called out to one another; here are the constellations we traced when we were too tired to sleep, lying on the apartment rooftop above the neon lights; here you taught me how to walk like a New Yorker (walk like the world is at your mercy), here is the subway that is never on time, here its tired passengers with aching joints and stories of mundane, extraordinary lives, here is where you taught me that everyone is extraordinary, here is where you taught me what it meant to be son, human; here is where you guided me with too much love but never any luck; here is where you walked me to school, here is where the playground used to be, the metal fence rusted over; here is the tree I jumped from to see what it felt like to fly, here is where I broke my arm crashing— you told me I laughed through the pain, although I had passed out by then; here is where I collected abandoned toy cars and sold them to the other kids, here is where the older kids cornered me and took the money and the cars, here is where I learned anger; here is where you taught me how to love a girl who laughs like a question I did not know I had asked; here is where you taught me how to love a girl who breaks your heart, here you taught me how to cry, here you taught me how to lose parts of myself I thought I needed; here is where I discovered the word “fuck,” scratched onto the bricks of the wall, its syllables rough and unfamiliar in my school-boy mouth—I did not know that I had lost something important in that moment; here is where I asked you why we were so poor and you did not have an answer, here is where I learned what it meant to be parent, human, here is where I learned what it meant to grow up; here is where I realized how hungry everyone is, always searching for something more; here is where I learned the phrase “not good enough” and wondered if that was all I would ever be; here is where I tried booze the first time, behind the bleachers—it burned going down; here is where my hands learned to curve around hidden bottles, staining my fingers cold, here is where I drank the musician, the human out of me; here is where I stood, an unbroken shadow cast across concrete, a fighter against the world; here is where I learned to take a punch, where I tasted blood and alcohol in my mouth, laughed through the pain at the others who now feared me; here is where you slapped me, underneath the weeping willow trees, heads bowed, here is where I learned shame (only cowards use fists to escape themselves), where I learned true pain, here is where you wrapped my splintered knuckles one by one like they were fledgling birds, here is where my scars became lessons; here is where I was young and foolish, here is where I told you I hated you and did not mean it, here is where you understood what I tried to say when I did not know how to say it, here is where you taught me the power in yielding, in silence, in forgiving; here is where you held me when the noise of the world became too loud to bear alone; here is where I slit my wrists and bled music until I had nothing left to give, here is where you listened and that was enough; here is where I stood, dreaming of skyscrapers and endless staircases, here is where I stood, dreaming of a future you convinced me that I had; here is where I stood when I forgot what it meant to be son, boy, here is where I stood when I forgot rainfall and burning laughter, here is where I stood when you collapsed, blood staining your mouth like fallen rose petals, here is where I stood after I tucked you in that night, turned off the lights, here is where I stood when the diagnosis came back (I’m sorry), here is where I stood when you said you were dying dying dying, here is where I stood when I asked why and there was no one to answer, here is where I stood, waiting for you to come back but you were already gone, here is where I stood when you let me go and I wasn't ready, I was never ready.
Here is where I stood, New York City: loud and dirty, here is the legacy I inherited from you, here its waking creatures, its businessmen and waitresses, its agnostics and insomniacs, a godless religion of truth, here its dreamers and sleepers, its honking horns and learned impatience, a skyline shaped by the hopes of the collective forgotten, here its languages from so far away; a city of travelers, strangers bound together by unshared pasts, struggling and stubborn in the face of the inevitable; here its inhabitants, alone together, never looking up to see the towering, infinite sky, always walking forward, always waiting; here its lovers and unloved, here its dying fathers, here its lost, flightless boys, here its unspoken apologies, here its indelible, intangible things, here its extraordinary and utterly human beings, here I am, here I am, I am here.
I love how the author ties together elements of whimsical and heavy language to describe the multi-dimensional nature of life. The structure of highlights the causality of life as each event/thought unfolds into the next. The narrator progresses from innocence to greater wisdom after being shaped by the city.
PRAISE FROM JUAN MARTINEZ, FICTION JUDGE
Hard-edged and beautiful, this story is full of life. It's finely attuned to the music of language and the music of the world.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Linda Zhang is from Westchester, New York and is part of the 2019 class of Horace Greeley High School. She has attended both the Iowa Young Writers Workshop and the Kenyon Young Writers Studio. She has won various keys and one Gold Medal from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.