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Kid with amnesia feature

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by Smash Williams, May 28, 2008.

  1. Smash Williams

    Smash Williams Well-Known Member

    This is the roughest of rough drafts. I just finished it and need to get away from it for a couple hours. Still, feel free to rip it apart.

    These are the things I feel I need help with:
    - Length. It's 61 inches right now. My SE gives me a horrified look every time I mention that. I think that means it needs to shrink, I feel like I've cut all the extraneous stuff. Anything that could help me make it smaller would be much appreciated.
    - Ending. I love the ending quote. I do not like the couple grafs I needed to get there.
    - Anything a reader would like to know. Does it need more description? I know so much about the story and left so much out I don't know whether this gives a full enough picture.

    It's running Monday (Monday and Tuesday if we need to split it into two parts. If it's split, "Shaken-Baby syndrome" will be the first part of the second section. If that happens, I'll add first-reference last names and a little more description about the accident at the top of that section.

    It wasn’t a surprise Johnny Harris fell off his roof.
    This was the kid who drank a bottle of asthma medicine at one, tied a rope to the back of car to skateboard faster at four and broke his wrist after being attacked by a raven as a teenager.
    That he would stumble and fall while he was working on the gutters March 1 might even have been expected.
    The fact that the fall erased his memories of the previous three years? That was stunning.
    Even more surprising was how Harris bounced back. The kid who spent a week in the hospital, couldn’t be left alone after he returned home and had to study yearbook pictures to know his classmates signed a National Letter of Intent to play soccer at the University of Texas-Permian Basin on Sunday.
    He’s headed to the place that remembered him.

    ‘He belongs to God’
    In one way, falling off the roof was just another in a long list of incidents.
    The youngest child and only son of Regina and Johnny Harris Jr., Johnny Harris III has been accident prone since he was a baby.
    He reveled in sticking forks into outlets and running in to lamps as a toddler. In grade school, the Harris’s enrolled their son in soccer to burn off some of his energy.
    “Back then I was unnaturally big for my age, so I’d just sit in the goal, and it’d be impossible to score on me,” Johnny said. “So I’d sit in the goal and play with ants, then when they’d dribble up, I’d stand and it’d hit me.”
    In grade school he picked up a love of soccer, joining a local club team. He picked up other sports in middle school, becoming a star on the Lake View football and soccer teams.
    The injuries continued. He tore up his knee in a freshman football game, then dislocated his shoulder and reduced it by forcing his shoulder pads back into place.
    The strangest incident occurred away from the field. Johnny and his teammates were kicking the ball around in a parking lot when his mother heard screaming and came outside to hear, “Mom, a bird attacked me and I think my wrist is broken.”
    The wrist didn’t appear swollen the next morning but the team trainer suggested an x-ray. Doctors found two compound fractures.
    When they removed his shirt as they prepared to set the broken bones, they found multiple scratches on his chest – scratches from the talons of a raven that made its home in the parking lot.
    “That’s when I said, ‘Okay, he is not mine,’” Regina said. “‘He belongs to God, and I need to just let go because there’s nothing I can do.’”

    The Accident
    No one knows quite what happened on March 1.
    Johnny was home alone, his parents both out on a breezy Sunday afternoon, and he headed up to the roof to work on the gutters. He always took care of the backyard, and a cat had knocked the gutter guards awry.
    He’d visited UTPB the day before, returning home with his father late that night.
    “We got back from that trip pretty late, and I didn’t eat all day,” Johnny said. “So we’re guessing I slipped and had a little spill.”
    The first person to notice something wrong was Johnny’s then-girlfriend who called his mother, Regina.
    Regina hurried home from Wal-Mart and arrived to find Johnny awake but obviously impaired. His speech was slurred, his movements slow and his eyes unfocused.
    Her first thought was drugs. Regina led Johnny into her bathroom, examining him under the bright lights using techniques she’d been taught as a policeman in the Air Force. To get a closer look at his face, she asked him to remove his cap.
    “When he took it off, there were these huge knots,” Regina said. “And I said, ‘Woah.’ That’s when I started believing and understanding what was going on.”
    She asked him what day it was, and Johnny said Saturday. When she asked him what happened the day before, Johnny told her he and some friends had been caught skipping track practice and been taken to athletic director Tim Reid for a lecture.
    Reid was reassigned in December, and the incident happened in 2005.
    She took Johnny to the Community Medical Center emergency room.
    “He was stumbling out of the car, and I was thinking, ‘okay, this is not cool,’” Regina said. “We saw the receptionist, and she said they’d get him back there right away. I was thinking, ‘Why are they being so urgent?’
    “This old lady came in who had a gash in her head and was bleeding, and they got him in before her. That’s when I started getting scared. Everyone was acting like something was really, really wrong.”
    Her son was admitted to the intensive care unit.

    Shaken-baby syndrome
    Johnny doesn’t remember the accident. The memories from immediately afterwards are vague, clouded in a dreamlike haze.
    What he does remember is this – he didn’t believe anything was wrong until he looked down and didn’t recognize his clothing.
    “I looked down at my shorts and it said, ‘Class of 08,’” Johnny said. “Then I looked at my track hoodie and was like, ‘Woah. I didn’t get sweats before’… It was like finding something you lost that you don’t remember owning.”
    Scans showed Johnny had suffered a concussion, but he didn’t have the severe swelling or bleeding that can accompany head injuries.
    There was a little swelling all around his brain that caused severe headaches, but nothing serious. The swelling over his eye was a cosmetic injury that disappeared after four days.
    Johnny’s diagnosis was concussion with retrograde amnesia, a symptom of brain injuries where someone cannot remember events that happened before the injury.
    It’s common for people with concussions to be unable to remember what happened immediately before the injury, Dr. Ben Wedro said. Wedro, an emergency physician, compared retrograde amnesia to a damaged computer hard drive. Some pieces of information is permanently gone while others are temporarily inaccessible.
    “The best (explanation) they could come up with is it’s like shaken baby syndrome,” Regina said. “The neuro-chemicals in his brain had gotten shaken, and they moved away from those memories. They can’t figure out a pathway back.”
    In Johnny’s case, he had no recollection of the past three years.
    Well-wishers like Lake View principal Matt Smith and Chiefs soccer coach Joshua Johnson were often strangers, people who’d met Johnny later in high school.
    The already lithe senior lost 30 pounds over the week in the hospital. Like most teenage boys, Johnny was a ferocious eater, and he couldn’t convince the nurses to give him more food than the typical hospital diet.
    As his headache dissipated, Johnny grew restless. He walked the halls constantly and snuck out of the unit one night to walk a friend to his car, dragging his IV behind him and ignoring the strange looks he got wearing a hospital gown outside.
    He was released after a week, parents instructed to constantly monitor him.
    The only time he left the house was to attend the Chiefs final soccer game of the season, watching teammates he didn’t know win their home finale with his name, their captain’s name, written on their sock tape.
    “This is the last varsity soccer game of my high school career,” Johnny told his mother. “I’ve never played a varsity sport before, and now I won’t get to play the last game.”
    A few days later, while driving to Alabama to visit his sister, Johnny’s father turned to his son and asked when he was going to start shaving again. Johnny stared at his father and said, “I don’t know how.”
    “That’s when we said, ‘Oh my God, we are in so much trouble,’” Regina said. “We have to think back what it was like to have a ninth grader. He bounced his debit card and said he thought it was a credit card… We had a lot of re-teaching to do.”

    Like a daydream
    Johnny wants people to know one thing about amnesia — it’s nothing like it is in movies.
    He’s laughed at jokes about how he should fall off his roof again and humored two months of be-careful-with-your-head barbs. He’s used to friends from childhood asking if he remembers them and people trying to jog his memory.
    “People sit there and say, ‘Do you remember this?’” Johnny said. “And I’m like, ‘No, and I’m going to when you remind me.’ I’ve never remembered like that.”
    In the days after the accident, Johnny poured through his journals. He’d written detailed entries since the seventh grade, and the information was invaluable.
    He studied his yearbooks before returning to school, wanting to recognize classmates and teachers who approached him in the hallways. A private person by nature, Johnny said he didn’t want people he didn’t know hugging him but didn’t want to push good friends away.
    “We still don’t know how much he does know or doesn’t know because he doesn’t like to talk about it,” Regina said, “and his coping skills are so amazing that it’s difficult to tell where the memories aren’t there any more.”
    Over the next several weeks and months, his memory has slowly started to return. He returned to school, making a 98 on his first government test.
    He got lucky, he said, because he’d taken his core academic classes in the fall semester. He took his ACT weeks before his fall, and the school couldn’t take away grades he’d already earned, even if he didn’t remember the course content.
    He’s still getting things back, memories returning when he least expects it.
    “It’s like how you daydream,” Johnny said. “You’re talking, but you’re thinking about something else. That’s how I remember stuff.”

    Getting to move on
    While the memories in Johnny's head were damaged by the accident, his muscle memory and reflexes never diminished. As soon as he came home, he could program a new remote control or work on the computer. He even knew how to drive a car, though he didn’t know why.
    His soccer skill also stayed. Johnny took a ball to his backyard after he got home from the hospital, then came inside wearing a grin.
    “I went out to kick a soccer ball. The things I can do with it are sick.”
    Several colleges had been recruiting him for soccer before the incident, and Johnny Harris Jr. called them all a few days after the fall. St. Edward’s, West Texas A&M and Eastern New Mexico pulled out of the scholarship running and a pair of Division I schools that had wanted him to walk on also passed.
    One school kept its offer on the table.
    “I was surprised UTPB was still interested,” Johnny said. “It’s a lot of money to give someone who just fell off the roof and can’t remember two-and-a-half years… But they were said they would respect their verbal commitment. That was cool.”
    Johnny was cleared to play a month after the accident and shouldn’t be at any more risk of re-injury than any other athlete returning from a concussion. He even talked himself out of having to wear special concussion preventing headbands.
    He’s the same kid he was before the accident. Two weeks after he was released from the hospital, Johnny broke a finger tossing a football around.
    Every incoming student at UTPB takes placement tests, and Johnny has steeled himself for the possibility he’ll be in remedial courses.
    It’s just another hurdle and not a big one after all he’s been through.
    “He is so blessed,” Regina said. “That’s what I feel. To be gifted and to be blessed, you’ve got to just know that your life has a purpose, and you’ve got to do everything you can to be the best you can be so you can fulfill it.
    “I’m really excited that he’s getting to move on because I was really scared for a while he would have to stay.”
  2. -Scoop-

    -Scoop- Member

    Interesting read...a couple of thoughts...

    I didn't really care for the lead. Thought it could be better, maybe starting with the roof incident and then going back and seeing how accident-prone Johnny had gotten to that point. I just think the lead could be more.

    Also, if you're gonna split, I'd start the second half with "Like a Daydream". I feel ending before would be even more inconclusive.

    Also, if you HAVE to cut, I'd cut "Like a Daydream". Just add a couple of graphs to "Shaken-baby syndrome", briefly detailing what re-teaching they had to do. I think of all the excerpts, "Like a Daydream" is most expendable.

    It's a good story overall. If you have time, talk to his prep or UTPB college coaches and see what they see in him, especially UTPB, a Division II school which I'm sure can't exactly to be throwing scholarship money around.

    St. Edward's is a conference rival of UTPB so it might be interesting to give varying thoughts from each coach about why one felt it'd be alright for Johnny to stay on and why the other didn't.
  3. Smash Williams

    Smash Williams Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the thoughts.

    I talked to his HS coach, and he didn't have anything particularly enlightening to say. He's a nice guy, but his quotes were very generic. I didn't want to get into what makes him a special soccer player because it didn't seem to fit in the flow of the story, and his quotes about the accident/recovery were very blah. Genuine, but generic.

    As for the college coaches, UTPB can't comment until Sunday after he signs, and St. Ed's probably won't comment. I am thinking of doing a short follow up later next week asking the UTPB coach why he stuck with him, and I might try St. Ed's then.
  4. Smash, the second sentence tripped me up a bit. You say "at one", "at four" ... I thought you were referring to 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. until the end.

    You're also missing a word or three in the second sentence when you're talking about his skateboard going faster.
  5. Smash Williams

    Smash Williams Well-Known Member

    I'm missing a couple words. It's a very rough draft.

    Would "as a baby" and "as a pre-schooler" clear up the confusion about the age vs. time?
  6. Probably. I wasn't trying to nit-pick, just giving you a heads up.
  7. Smash Williams

    Smash Williams Well-Known Member

    I appreciate it, Write. I'm taking all the help I can get at this point.
  8. copperpot

    copperpot Well-Known Member

    Smash, I've only begun to read, as unfortunately I have a lot on my plate today, but here are a couple of thoughts right off the bat:

    - I don't think the lead works. So he drank a bottle of asthma medicine at one, tied a rope to the back of car to skateboard faster at four and broke his wrist after being attacked by a raven as a teenager. Hell, I did a lot of clumsy and crazy things as a kid. That's not to say I was destined to fall off a roof.

    - The second section essentially just repeats the first section. The kid was crazy and accident prone. So now, not only was the lead slow, IMO, but instead of delving into the interesting stuff -- the accident and its aftermath -- you're just going back over the lead material. It just leaves me thinking, give me the meat!

    - There's tons of great stuff in the section titled "the accident" that grabbed my attention. Maybe you can build a lead around that or around any of the parts of the story that point to his losing his memory.

    You have tons of great stuff here. Keep at it, and I'm sure it will all come together.
  9. moonlight

    moonlight Member

    This helps me through times like these...

    From Fitzgerald's "Tender is the Night":

    "You've got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes to learn. When in short, you have only your emotions to sell."
  10. Smash Williams

    Smash Williams Well-Known Member

    Copperpot - you hit on my least favorite section (and the section I worked the hardest on). That section is being totally re-written, and many other sections revised because of suggestions here and on PM.

    This has really been an invaluable resource. Thank you guys so much for helping me out.
  11. AgatePage

    AgatePage Active Member

    ML, one of my top 10s of all time. Thanks for a happy memory, and a great line that we all should keep in mind.
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