Authors: Tommy Greenwald
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For the nonreaders
who became readers
Youth is wasted on the young.
âGeorge Bernard Shaw
âCharlie Joe Jackson
My name is Charlie Joe Jackson,
and I used to hate reading.
Guess what? Now I hate it a little less. (Let's keep that between us.)
I guess that's what they call part of “the maturing process.”
Which brings us to the topic of this book.
I used to be all for it. I used to think the idea of being an adult was totally awesomeâI could drive a car, and play video games whenever I wanted, and watch movies that my parents won't let me watch now.
But then one day I realizedâthat's
What was I thinking?
And when I say “one day,” I mean, one actual day.
The day I realized that being a kid was the best job in the world.
The day I decided to
I had to act fast, because it was already happening. I was getting older, and I was about to lose the most carefree part of my life. Forever!
You don't have to tell me it was a crazy idea, I know that already. Childhood is fleeting, nothing lasts foreverâblah blah blah. Trying to stop time is impossible, right?
When it came to growing up, I wasn't going down without a fight.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
So anyway, not like I'm making excuses or anything, but hopefully that helps explain why, at exactly 5:51 on a lovely spring evening, there was a graduation ceremony happening at Eastport Middle School, with 183 students scheduled to graduate, but only 182 of them were present.
Want to guess who was missing?
Yup. You got it. Me.
Instead, there I was, sitting in a dark room by myself, wondering what the heck happenedâand if it was somehow my fault, as usual.
There was a knock on the door.
“Charlie Joe? Are you in there?”
I closed my eyes and sighed. I wasn't exactly in the mood to see anybody right at that moment.
Oh, yeahâone more thing I forgot to mention.
It was my birthday.
“Yes!” I said to myself,
as my eyes opened for the first time that morning.
Which, I can honestly say, had never happened before. Usually, the first words I say when I wake up are “Go away,” and it comes out sounding more like “Murfleblorg.”
But this was a morning different from any other. This, people, was a morning that I had been looking forward to ever since my mother first dragged me kicking and screaming to the school bus way back when. (I think you can still see the skid marks from my shoes at the bus stop.)
First of all, like I said, it was my birthday. Already a reason to celebrate, right?
But there was moreâmuch, much more. Because this was the morning of the day I was graduating from Eastport Middle School. The first day of the rest of my life. The day I put the past behind meâall my crazy behavior and silly ideas and goofy troublemaking waysâand started acting like a mature person.
I flipped over on the bed and reached for my phone, which was charging on the nightstand. I liked to sleep with my phone close by, and by close by, I mean approximately three inches away.
I texted my friend groupâwhich included Timmy, Jake, Pete, and Nareemâtwo simple words:
Timmy texted back:
See you at Jakes noon.
Nareem texted back:
Very much looking forward to it.
Pete texted back:
Rockin' high school baby.
Jake texted back:
If you guys break anything in my house i'll kill you.
I was about to settle in for a nice long text war when there was a soft knock on the door.
My mom poked her head in. She had a big blue balloon in her hand.
“Oh, hey, Mom,” I said, putting my phone away. I didn't need her to start in with the you're-on-that-thing-too-much speech. There would be plenty of time for that later in the day. And for the rest of my life.
She kissed me on the cheek. “Happy birthday! Can you believe it? A birthday and a graduation all in one day!”
“Totally!” I said. “Although I do feel like I'm kind of getting ripped off. It would be nice to spread them out a little bit.”
“I get that,” Mom said.
I sat up in bed. “But, yeah, this is basically the best day of my life. No more middle school!”
“I thought you liked middle school.”
“I guess so,” I said, shrugging. Sometimes it's hard to explain to parents that you can like something but still want to never do it again. Sure, middle school
fun, but by the end, enough was enough, right? Time to move on.
“I better get going,” I added, stretching. “Lots to do.” But my mom wasn't moving. She was just sitting there, on the edge of my bed. This was weirdâusually she had to beg me just to get up.
“Like I said, I think I should probably get up.”
She sighed. “It all goes by so fast.”
“All of it.” Then she took a tissue out of her pocket and blew her nose, which was also weird, since she never has a runny nose. “Megan's about to go to college. You're going off to high school. And you were both born yesterday.”
She smacked me on the head with a pillow. “Not literally yesterday,” she said. “You're too young to get it, but timeÂ â¦ you blink and the years fly by, just like that.”
That was when I realized that my mom was blowing her nose because she was crying a little bit.
“Don't be sad!” I said. “I'm not going anywhere! And neither is Megan! We love home! Home is awesome!”
“I know, sweetheart.” She smiled, but it seemed like part of the smile wasn't actually there. “It's just that these big milestone days, they're not easy on a mother. It was hard your first day of kindergarten, and it's hard now.” She wiped her eyes one last time, then got up and went to the door. “See you downstairs, birthday-graduation boy.”
After she left my room, I decided to close my eyes for just a few more minutes. I couldn't believe my mom was talking as if my first day of kindergarten had just happened. I could barely remember it at allÂ â¦
“MOM! I CAN'T FIND MY LEFT SNEAKER!”
Young Charlie Joe Jackson was already late for his first day of kindergarten.
He stormed into the kitchen.
“I'M NOT GOING WITHOUT MY LEFT SNEAKER!”
“It was just in your room,” his mother said, shaking her head. She knew what the real problem was. She knew he didn't want to go to school at all.
Together, they marched up to his room.
“SEE?” he announced. “IT'S NOT HERE!”
Without a word, his mother walked over to the closet, moved the toys, picked up the clothes, kicked away the balls, reached down, and pulled out a single blue shoe.
“Well what do you know?” she said. “Here it is.”
Charlie Joe took one look at the shoe and burst out crying. “I CAN'T FIND MY FAVORITE SOCKS!”
After ten more minutes of crying, whining, and trying to make almost everything he owned disappear, Charlie Joe Jackson reluctantly walked with his mother and father to the bus stop.
“Are you coming with me to school?” he asked.
“No,” they said.
“WHY NOT?!” he asked.
“Because school is only for children,” his mother said.