“I do,” I would counter.
“You are stupid.”
That is where I would stop defending myself. That is where he was right. It is a phrase I hear daily. Whether it be from friends, teachers, or my father himself. You are stupid. Sometimes it’s blunt, other times it’s hidden within the words being spoken, only visible as an underlying tone that doesn’t pass by me.
Reach for the Stars The winning fictional story from this year’s Northwords Youth Writers Contest by LAGURENH JANSE VAN RENSBURG Three judges from Yellowknife, Hay River and Inuvik selected this story about a resilient teen as the winner of a trip to the summer 2019 Youthwrite Camp in Calgary. Congratulations to author Lagurenh Janse van Rensburg, 17, of Yellowknife. A SLIGHT BREEZE blew my hair back. The only sounds were the crickets chirping and the whirl of the wheels from my bike rolling over dirt. The night air was cool, fresh, but it burned my lungs and stung my eyes. Trees towered over me, surrounding me. They blocked the little light I was given from the moon, but I wasn’t worried. I knew the trail like the back of my hand; every bump, every dip. Around me on the branches of trees hung rotten peaches, their sweet juices dripping to the ground. The smell intoxicated me, pulled me away from the judgmental father who slept soundly back at the house. It wasn’t until I got to the pond that the smell was replaced by one of wet earth and algae and fish. I didn’t slow down as my bike raced through the mud, a sucking sound following behind me. Mud flung up and splattered across my back and my legs. I had escaped through my bedroom window not even an hour ago. I had climbed through it, grabbed my bike, and pedalled like Hell was on my tail. There was only so much lecturing a person could take before they needed to find peace and serenity again. It was like this every time a report card was sent out. Every time there was a call home or a three-way conference. My father would huff the second he stomped through the door, loud enough for me to hear and my stomach to drop. He would find me in my room – locked away from the world – and begin throwing insults.
“You are lazy,” he would say.
“I am not,” I would respond.
“You don’t pay attention,” he would go on.
You should practice more.
Have you considered extra credit?
A tutor would help.
It had all started to sound the same to me.
My legs burned as I finally pedalled past the pond and onto hard dirt again. I stood, gaining speed as the meadow stretched out on flat ground. The stars watched me from above, keeping a careful eye on what I was doing. They beckoned me to a place I will never reach. With failed classes and barely passing grades, it wasn’t a surprise that people thought I didn’t have a single brain cell between my ears. The world would band together in spite, lashing me with words that stung my skin. Insults fired at me like torched arrows that burned through my flesh. They stuck inside me, the sharp points splintering and scratching my veins when I tried to pull them out. To save myself from crumbling apart, I built a shield. It protected me from the words that clawed at me, but unlike the unlimited supply of ammunition, my shield didn’t last forever. It split and it broke, sometimes falling to pieces. An afternoon picking peaches or pedalling to the meadow always sealed it back together. I stopped pedalling, the bike raced forward another couple yards before I was too still to balance. I climbed off, dropping the bike to the ground. I lied down in the grass and the stems itched my back. Throwing my arms behind my head, I stared back up to the stars. They call me stupid. They say I will never make it past high school. A smile dances across my lips, the stars gleam brighter as they move closer. I will prove them wrong. The insults my father throws at me, the disappointed teachers, the mocking friends. They can call me stupid, they can add fuel to the fire burning within me. I will set flame to the meadow, to the orchard. I will create my own star.
You’ll never get there, they will snarl.
I will reply, eyes narrowed, shield raised, and my own weapon crafted from burnt wood and melted steel in my hand: Watch me. The 2019 NorthWords NWT Festival will take place in and around Yellowknife from May 30 through June 2. For a complete schedule of authors, workshops and events go to northwordsnwt.com