From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul IV

Tom(my) Boy

When I was seven years old, I broke my wrist. I had gotten in a fight with Tommy Maducci over whether GI Joe was stronger than He-Man. Tommy had insisted that, because I was a girl, I didn’t know what I was talking about. To prove him wrong, I punched him in the nose. He came at me and pushed me off the jungle gym. My arm was in a cast and he had two black eyes and a broken nose, all in the name of GI Joe. I was one of the few girls in my neighborhood, and as a result, I was introduced to bands named after comic-book characters and anarchists. I grew up in a world of boxer shorts and baseball bats—where Tony Hawk was Hero, and Barbie was Bar-b-cued.

I wouldn’t call myself a tomboy. Tomboys wore overalls and had their own tree-house club. I was somewhere in the middle. I never cared to sell lemonade on sidewalk corners or finger paint in smock and skirt. My weekends were spent catching crawdads in hair nets. On Sunday afternoons I sneaked out of church to go play baseball with Danny and Tommy, who had forgiven me for the playground incident.

When Danny moved to the city, Tommy and I became best friends. We built skateboard mini-ramps, mowed lawns together in the summers and shared slurpees and candy bars bought with our earnings.

Through elementary school everything was cool. Tommy could care less if girls had cooties and I didn’t see boys as anything but playmates. But one day we woke up and we were teenagers. Tommy stopped calling me after school and I traded my skateboarding shoes for flip-flops and bought myself a skirt. Nothing too feminine, denim cutoff. We said “hello” on the bus to and from Woodberry Middle School and partnered up in science class, but that was the extent of our relationship.

Tommy flirted with girls in class and I rolled my eyes and passed notes. It was annoying to me the way Tommy smiled at pretty girls. It made me mad because he didn’t smile at me like that, not even as a friend. In the afternoons after school, while circling the cul-du-sac on my skateboard, I thought about Tommy a lot. One day I went down to the park, where we used to skateboard together, hoping that he would be there. The ramp was gone and Tommy was nowhere to be found.

The next day at school he was holding hands with Kelly Nicholson. I hated them both. The spectacle annoyed me. What made her “hang-out” worthy? What about me?

One day Tommy came up to my table during lunch with some of his new guy friends.

“Hey, Zoe, how’s it going?”

“It’s going,” I said, unwrapping my turkey sandwich from the clear plastic Saran wrap.

“Jason is bringing the ramp over to Mike’s house and we’re all gonna skate on it after school if you want to come.” Tommy nudged Mike and Mike winked at me.

Gross, I thought. Mike was not my type at all, but skating sounded like fun and it was cool of Tommy to invite me along, so I agreed.

“Sure, I’ll come along.”

My friend Alice pinched me. “Mike’s cute,” she said.

“He’s not my type,” I chewed.

“No one’s your type, Zoe. Good grief.”

I changed the subject and finished my lunch.

When I arrived at Mike’s house the boys were already there: Tommy, Mike, Jason and Tommy’s brother, Scotty, who I used to push around when Tommy and I were friends. Alice came with me and Kelly Nicholson came with Tommy. They were an “item,” but I knew it would never last. She wasn’t Tommy’s type, at least I didn’t think so.

“Hey Zoe, I bet you can’t do a crooked grind off that ledge.”

“Yes I can,” I huffed.

Mike shrugged. “Let’s see it.” And in the background I could see Jason shaking his head, flirting with Alice and muttering something stupid, making her laugh a little bit.

“All right boys. This is how it’s done.”

I wiped the sweat from my forehead and pushed off. I made my way up onto the ledge with a 180, but lost my balance and fell backwards, my skateboard launching into the air, feet twisted up and arms outstretched.

Instead of breaking my fall I broke my wrist. I closed my eyes, trying to hold back my tears, more embarrassed than anything else.

When I opened my eyes Tommy was next to me. His eyes were wide and he looked scared. He yelled for Mike to get his mom and the four of us drove to the hospital: Mike’s mom, Mike, Tommy and me.

“It hurts, it hurts.”

Tommy put his arm around me. “Be brave, Zoe. We’re almost there.”

I looked over at Tommy’s sweaty face, hair matted to his forehead, acne around his nose and nodded my head.

It turned out that I broke my wrist in the same place as when I hit Tommy in second grade. The doctors put me in a cast, scolded me for skateboarding without wrist guards and sent me home. Tommy stayed with me the whole time and was the first to sign my cast.

I couldn’t sleep that night and it wasn’t because I was in pain. It was something else completely. Every time I tried to close my eyes, all I could see was Tommy’s face and his crystal blue eyes pleading with me not to cry.

The next morning, Mom opened my bedroom door.

“You have a visitor,” she said.

Tommy peered his head in the door, nodded at me and came over to give me a high five.

“Very funny,” I coughed.

Tommy sat down next to me on my bed. “Because of me, now you’ve broken your wrist twice.”

“It isn’t your fault or anything. I can usually make that move without falling. Sometimes things just happen.”

“Well, you know what I think?” Tommy pulled an old Barbie off my shelf, head shaved on the sides.

“That’s Mohawk Barbie,” I laughed.

“Oh yeah? Well I bet Mohawk Barbie is stronger than GI Joe and He-Man put together.” Tommy dropped the doll on the floor and looked over at me.

“Oh you do, do you . . .?”

And with that, Tommy Maducci kissed me, right there with Mohawk Barbie as a witness and me in my big ugly arm cast, hair unwashed, stinky sneakers on the floor. The room started spinning, my knees got weak and, boy, was I glad I broke my wrist.

“What about your girlfriend?” I asked, pulling away.

“She’s not my girlfriend anymore,” he said, shyly.

“Yeah, she wasn’t your type anyway,” I laughed.

“Nope.” Tommy kissed my cheek.

That afternoon we took a walk down to the old 7-11 at the edge of the neighborhood. Tommy held my casted hand the whole way, and bought me a slurpee and a candy bar. Just like the old days, except everything was different now.

Zoe Graye

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