A Note to the Reader
While I was waiting in line at the local grocery store, a young man approached me and asked me for the time. I told him ten past four--I remember it distinctly--and continued emptying my carriage onto the conveyor belt. He hovered around the store's exit and approached me again as I left. He held a copy of my first novel, Tru Confessions.
"Aren't you a writer?
I told him I was.
"I've got a great story for you," he said.
"Oh, yeah?" I pushed the shopping cart toward my car. "You know who the best person to tell your story is?
He shook his head.
He smiled, then offered me a bundle of typed pages held together with twine. It looked like a thesis but smelled like the bottom of the earth. I didn't take it.
"There are lots of great publishing houses out there. I'd start in New York. You can always go the agent route too." I finished loading the groceries into my car, then gave him me best nice-to-met-you smile.
"You don't understand," he said. "I'm not even supposed to be here."
I closed the trunk and looked at him. Blond hair--half grown out into its natural brown--serious eyes, slight build, peaceful smile. Seventeen, eighteen years old. He looked vaguely familiar.
"This has to get published." He pressed the papers into my hands. "I don't know what else to do."
He stood on one leg, the other one bent and tucked against it. It was a yoga position my son and I practiced all the time. "Tree pose?" I asked.
He nodded. "I'm trying to stay balanced."
"Aren't we all."
He seemed completely unself-conscious. "I just came back from Walden Pond. You ever been there?"
He pulled the paperback Walden from his back pocket and started to read. " 'To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor evern to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust.' " He looked at me, eyes shining. "Isn't that the best?"
What do you say to a kid standing on one leg while quoting Thoreau? I told him I'd read his manuscript.
"I set it up like a term paper," he said. "Typed it on an old manual typewriter in the woods. Then I pulled stuff from the Web, Added some biblical quotes..." He smiled. "It'll all make sense. You'll see."
He placed his foot firmly on the ground. "If you decide not to help me. I'll understand."
I asked how I should contact him.
"That's impossible," he said. "I'll contact you."
On the drive home, I skimmed through the pages on my lap. I say in my driveway and continued to read, unfazed by the gallon of ice cream melting in my trunk.
I thought he looked familiar. I raced back to the grocery store to find him, but he had already gone.
By the time he called the next day, I had read his entire manuscript.
"Well?" he asked. (His anticipation reminded me so much of my own, waiting to get my first novel published.)
I told him I had another project I was working on but thought his version of the story was important and needed to be told. I asked my editor, Christy, if she'd be interested in publishing the manuscript. After reading it, she was.
Josh also gave me a disk with photos he'd taken; we placed them throughout the book. The epilogue was my idea, to add another perspective.
Working on the book, I sometimes found Josh's story inspirational; other times it seemed eerie and devoid of meaning. In my research, I found some people who said Josh suffered from bipolar disorder or ADHD; one teacher even said he thought Josh had an acute "messiah complex." All I know is, the young man I met several times over the course of a month seemed perfectly normal. But don't go by me--I sit in a room and make up stories all day.
When my editor mailed me the galleys a few months ago, I talked to Josh for the last time. "You realize if we publish this, people will know you're still alive," I said. "The whole mess might start up again."
His voice sounded calm and rational. "It's really important for me to be honest right now," he said. "I just want to write about the truth."
I tried to reach him later to give him some copies of the book, but he disappeared.
This is his story.
· Thu Aug 16, 2007 @ 10:43pm · 0 Comments