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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Write something in the YOUNG ADULT or TEEN genre (06/07/07)

TITLE: Shame
By julie wood



“Katie, are you in here?” Footsteps are clumping through the hall.

They’re coming. I snap shut the book and shove it hastily back beneath my bed. My heart roars in my ears and my hands are shaking, slick with sweat. Shame blazes through me, burns my cheeks.

Mom and Dad must never find out what I am reading! They would be so shocked—no less horrified than they acted on the day I walked home and proudly announced: “My friends taught me a new word today!” When I bleeped it, Mom about hit the ceiling and Dad threatened to scrub my mouth with soap. They told me I must never say that word again. So I won’t, for the rest of my life. That vow is easy. But if, on the other hand, they were to discover what I’ve got stashed away beneath my bed…

I read the books at midnight, huddled within my blanket-tent. My mini-flashlight bobbles in my still-trembling hands, flashing dancing polka dots upon the secret pages. One creak of a floorboard just outside my door and I’ll click that flashlight off, shove my contraband down low to toast my toes. And the rest of me will sizzle in my shame.

In movies, the culprit always is a boy—a teenage boy, maybe three years older than I am. His stash invariably consists of Playboy. If my parents caught me reading that, they’d of course be grieved—yet nothing, I feel sure, compared to how they’d react if they discovered what I actually am reading. A teenage boy sneaking peeks at unclad glamor girls is normal, at least, however reprehensible. What I am devouring like a half-starved waif is not.

Daytimes, I spend hours gazing into the bathroom mirror. My fingers poke at the inner corners of my eyes, pulling, stretching skin like Silly Putty. But when I let go the flesh always springs right back. My eyes remain round and wide and glimmering with questions…yet still quite normal, at least on the outside. Revealing nothing.

How can a girl who looks so normal bury such an abnormal passion? Carry within her being such a secret shame?

Shame. The word is a greasy finger stabbing slime into my gut, following me everywhere I wander. “Katie, I was so ashamed of you back there!” That’s what they say when they catch me flapping my hands or mumbling to myself in the grocery store, or gnawing upon my knuckles and my soggy sweater cuffs. Or when I ask the shoe salesman, “How many moons does Pluto have?” They’re ashamed of my uncombed hair, my collar twisted wrong, my shoes on the wrong feet with the laces always dangling. They’re ashamed of the way I spin in order to weave stories through my head, and the way I bang my fists together whenever I grow excited.

But if they knew what kinds of books I covertly devour, they’d feel the most ashamed of all. Worse then when they caught me looking up dirty words inside the dictionary. That, at least, was something normal.

The strange child of twelve grows into a strange girl of sixteen. Little changes about me—except that my passion grows more intense than ever. My secret shame deepens…until the day I catch my mother reading the book. One of those kinds of books. My heart thunders: Is it one she’s plucked from my now-discovered stash? I stiffen, brace myself for the tongue-lashing of my life….

“I picked this up at the grocery store today,” Mom says brightly. Could it be? She is actually smiling at me! “It’s very interesting. It’s about a little boy with autism. Funny thing, but in some ways he reminds me of you…. Would you like to read it?”

Would a parched man in the desert like a glass of water? I feel the release from shame drench me like a tidal wave. I am free! And it’s okay! All those years of absorbing hidden knowledge about Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, schizophrenia...a mental hypochrondriac, hungering and thirsting for unanswered questions about self. Skulking in the shadows, eaten up by shame worse than that faced by any porn addict. But this “porn” is apparently acceptable.

I step out from my shadows and snatch the book from Mom, a sunrise blooming behind my smile. I will flop down by the window in plain sight of my parents, and I will read for the first time in shameless sunlight.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Dee Yoder 06/19/07
Wonderful story! Teens may not have much experience with others who have this problem, so this story could be an educational reading for them. It's good for kids to learn something outside their own sphere of knowledge.
Jan Ackerson 06/19/07
Oh, wow! As a special ed. teacher who has worked with students at all ends of the Autism spectrum, I can tell you that this piece absolutely took my breath away. From its perfect title, to its portrayal of a fascinating MC, to its build-up of suspense (what is she reading?)...every word perfectly chosen and perfectly placed. Bravo!