The Shine Journal

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The Diver by Jake Wickenhofer


They were always telling me I was too young. In a few years, I'd be ready to jump off of the high dive. In a few years, I'd be ready to walk to the concession stand by myself. The rewards of growing up always seemed to be a few years away. Kids younger than me walked to the concession stand by themselves, and nothing bad ever happened to them. I wished that just once I'd be old enough to do something on my own.

Uncle Tim used to tease me about being too skinny. His wife Renee always said I'd blow away with the next wind. She'd lather my back with sun lotion and tell me that I needed more protein in my diet. Since the day I was born, my vegetarian mother had tried to keep me as far away from meat products as humanly possible. In the summer, however, I was released to my aunt and uncle for weeks at a time. They tormented me about the way my parents raised me and spoke ill of my mother’s vegan philosophy.

In some ways, they were stricter. When it came to the fun stuff, I was forced to sit back and watch. In a few years, I'd be old enough to swim in the deep end. In a few years, I'd be able to apply my own sun block. I was always just a few years behind.

It was the third week of summer vacation. My eighth birthday was just days away, and I'd be spending it with Uncle Tim and Aunt Renee. I followed my usual routine of grabbing five pairs of swimming trunks, five pairs of pants, and eight shirts. Then I crammed all of them into my small red suitcase. I went into the bathroom for my tooth brush. It barely fit into the plastic bag I had brought upstairs from the kitchen.

I had been preparing my own suitcase before leaving for Uncle Tim and Aunt Renee’s house for two years; it gave me a leg to stand on whenever they told me I was too young to do anything on my own.

My mother walked in just as I began looking through the cluttered floor of my closet for goggles. I didn't notice the sound of her black socks sweeping across the carpet.

"You're not going to see Uncle Tim and Aunt Renee today," she told me. I had just spent the last hour sorting through my dressers to learn that my efforts were for nothing. At first, I was disappointed to find that I'd miss out on another chance to prove that I was mature. It was a hot day in the middle of July, and staying home meant I wouldn't get to swim.

The next several days followed the same routine. I would throw the clothing into my suitcase and set it by my bedroom door. I'd wait for my mother to grab her car keys from her dresser. The search for my goggles in the closet would begin. Each day, my mother would tell me that I wasn't going anywhere. I never found my goggles.

Uncle Tim and Aunt Renee always told me that in a few years, I'd be old enough for a lot of things. In a few years, I'd be old enough to understand why the trips to see them stopped. In a few years, I'd understand the concept of a drunk driver, and how swiftly a car accident could take someone’s life. As soon as I received my first taste of maturity, I wanted to give it back.

In a few years, I wouldn't need anyone's permission to jump off of the high dive or walk to the concession stand. In a few years, I'd be going to the pool without any supervision at all. In a few years, I would be able to drive myself to their old house with the mossy stone steps and I could sit outside in my car as I listen to the grasshoppers chirp and inhale the sweet summer air as I watch the sun fade over the hills.


Jake Wickenhofer is a writer from Bridgeport, West Virginia. He has had 11 stories published online in places such as Alienskin Magazine, Backhand Stories, The Oracular Tree, and others. His inspiration comes from Greg Wickenhofer, Julie Maxey, and Chuck Palahniuk.

Motivation: The death of my aunt and cousin via car crash, and memories of them babysitting me at the pool.

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Email TSJ: Editor: Pamela Tyree Griffin

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