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When I was a Kid
When I was a kid we left the dirty streets of Brooklyn, New York for the quieter suburban streets of Connecticut. We moved into a large house in Norwalk, Connecticut. Norwalk is the sort of town that dreams of being a big city but will always be just another small port on the Connecticut coastline. Like out of some horror story, the south side of town offers plenty of frightening images: ghettos, drug dealers, prostitutes, graffiti, and even young urban professionals. The south end was a popular place to work, but when the day ended, these young men and woman got into their BMWs, Porsches, and other toys and drove to safe ground. Most found their way to surrounding towns: Westport, Wilton, New Canaan, and others. Other people, like my parents, crossed town through East Norwalk to our home in the northern end of town. Sometimes I would hear my father boast to far off relatives that we lived in a nice residential neighborhood (otherwise known as "the good area") In most horror stories, as the hero approaches some haunted house (or some other terror) you can shout, "Don’t go in there! Stay away!" People moving into Norwalk have no such luck; they move into the charming town without a clue of it’s underlying sickness and disagreeable citizens.
One of my first discoveries was the river that passed through the middle of town. I was only a kid, maybe ten, when I started fishing by the edge of the river. It wasn’t easy finding the perfect location; this was a place where I would want to be alone, a place to get away from the unhappiness that would spread like fire through my home on occasion.
This time away was possibly the most important thing to me then. When I turned eleven years old, one of my favorite gifts was a large book. When the moment was right, I ran upstairs to my bedroom, opened the book, and found the word "fish." The brown book, Funk and Wagnals (the name made me giggle), defined the word: to catch or try to catch fish. to try to get something in an artful or indirect manner.
To me, good old Funky Wagnails couldn’t be further from the truth; the true meaning of fishing. It wasn’t about hunting fish or about rods and reels or fishing lines. No, it had nothing to do with that. Fishing was a time, not an action. When I climbed the hill, crossed the path everyone else followed, and finally reached the surging river my spirit soared. I was no longer little Steven Stepleman, son of Leonard (a tough man who "gave you a shot" for "your own good"), brother of Howard (an even tougher, bigger man who played football and everyone expected to get a sports scholarship), the baby to Ellen (a loving but timid woman who swore that it was a busy schedule that made Len sometimes mean, but I knew better). No, I was none of these people. I was Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, The Fonz in Happy Days, or Roger Staubach throwing a touchdown pass for the Dallas Cowboys. I was all of these people and more, rarely catching fish, but always fishing.
Back at home my mother was usually busy in the kitchen. My mother, a large woman, seemed to enjoy cooking. She let us believe that lie, the truth was that she enjoyed eating. Mom wasn’t simply fat, wasn’t just overweight, chubby, hefty, plump, or any other word one would choose. She was huge. Her weight did fluctuate, of course. At times she would lose twenty or thirty pounds and we would all be proud of her and then she would start to put it back on. Although she was occasionally aware of her ominous size, she usually ignored it. These were times where she would come face to face with the dark shadow her weight had cast on her life. Like when we would go to the movies and she would be uncomfortable in the small theater seats. Sometimes people would stare at her as she tried to casually manipulate herself into her chair. There was the time
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