“Thumbs-up for this debut!” —James Frey, best-selling author of A Million Little Pieces
After growing up heartbroken with an endless series of struggles, Maria Michaels creates a picture-perfect family of her own. But life changes too quickly, and she loses her grip on herself and her two troubled sons. In spite of her desire to give them a better life, they spiral downward on the paths they choose. They must fight through sadness, mistakes and tragedy to find redemption and the love that only a mother can give. Told from a dual perspective of mother and son, we follow the family’s battles with divorce, drugs and depression. You will laugh and cry, and probably want to call your mom to tell her you love her.
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AGE OF INNOCENCE
Being in a new town, and leaving all of my old friends, scared me. I knew I was good at baseball and basketball, but I worried whether I would still be good in North Andover. Summer was ending, but I couldn't complain. We'd had fun times camping in Maine, while my little brother, Jared, and I got into mischief. My friends from Andover called me and said we should still hang out, even though we would be in different towns.
The summer came to an end and I was ready for third grade at my new school. Monday arrived and I looked out the window at the playground and saw all the kids. Living across the street from the school wasn't all that bad. I grabbed my bag and kissed my mother and high-fived my dad before walking over to the school yard. There was a steep hill I slowly ran down, and then I ran across a field of kids kicking a soccer ball. I aimlessly walked around, checking out the playground, kicking my feet, and watching the kids play before the bell rang. Our house was so close that I could see my mom staring through the window at me.
The bell rang as I watched kids line up. We "pledged allegiance" outside and then walked to class. Being the new kid sucks, I thought, as I sat down next beside a boy named Grant.
"What's your name, kid?"
"Logan," I said.
"Got a last name?"
"Michaels. My name is Logan Michaels."
"You play any sports?"
"Yeah, baseball and basketball," I replied.
"You any good?"
I laughed and said, "Let's play at recess and find out."
Recess arrived; we grabbed the basketball immediately and ran over to the hoops. After a couple of shots, the fifth-graders came over and tried to kick us off the court. Grant and I were not giving up that easily, though, and we said, "Let's play for it."
They laughed as they confidently threw the ball to me. I caught it and shot. SWISH!! The game started out with two people watching, and by the end of recess, Grant and I had the whole recess crowd around us cheering. "ICE! ICE! ICE!" the older kids yelled. My last shot was in the air as everyone was watching: game point and SWISH!
We won by one point, and that day established my new nickname, Ice, because I had taken about twenty shots and had missed only two. The older kids said that we could play with them anytime, and I became popular on my first day. I ran home right after school, ready to tell my mom everything.
I walked in the house and saw Jared playing in the kitchen while my mom prepared dinner. The fall air was warm and crisp, with a sourdough bread smell lingering. I threw my bag down and told my mother about my day. She smiled and looked content as she continued to cook dinner. My mother would always smile when she saw me and Jared. We would hang out until dinnertime, and wait for Dad to come home. We would play video games, run around the house, and play in the yard; we always had so much energy.
My dad would come home, kick off his work boots, kiss my mom, and roughhouse with us. We typically tackled him as soon as he came through the door. Jared and I would lose to Dad, of course; he seemed like the strongest guy in the world. After dinner, we would rush outside to play basketball with our small hoop in the yard until it got dark. My mom would yell out the window about how we needed to do our homework, and we would come inside once the sun set.
Realizing that I might have a career in basketball, I had Dad sign me up for the North Andover booster club team. We walked into tryouts; he was definitely the youngest father in there, being only twenty-eight years old. Most dads were in their late thirties. As tryouts began, he introduced himself to the fathers. Everyone made the team, but I guess the tryouts were to see how they could split up the kids to make fair teams.
After waiting a week for the results, I finally received a call from Mr. Stone, the coach of the Hawks. He welcomed me onto the team, told me the practice schedule, and said, "See you there, Logan." I hopped off the phone and ran into my parents' room to tell them the good news. I jumped on the bed and then noticed something strange: my mother was crying and my father was rubbing her back with a worried look on his face.
"What's wrong?" I asked. My mom hugged me. My brother walked in quietly, looking unsettled as he hugged my mom and dad.
"It's my mom, Nana," she said. "She's been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and is very sick."
"What's Alzheimer's?" I asked.
"It makes you forget who you are, Logan." I was confused, but just hugged my mother back as she wiped her tears.
We had been a tight-knit family before moving. My mom and dad grew up on the same street and met when they were children. My grandparents on both sides were always coming over to visit us, and we would go to their houses. We even went to church with them on Sundays. Jared and I called my mother's parents "Nana" and "Papa;" we called my father's parents "Granpy" and "Grammy." I was closest to Nana.
Sitting in my room that night, I didn't know whether I should be excited for basketball season, or sad for my Nana. It made me understand that pleasure and pain always went hand in hand. One minute you're up, and the next, you're down, I thought as I shut my eyes.
We all visited my Nana that weekend, and I just couldn't look at her the same way I had before. She was no different, but when I saw her, all I could think about was the Alzheimer's and about whether she would one day forget me. It made me sad to see her like this, and to then look over at Papa and see him in the rocking chair shaking his knees; it was nice to see that he was smiling. He would always talk so loudly; I guess he had trouble hearing, but was never afraid to say what was on his mind.
Several cousins and their parents were visiting Nana and Papa. There were so many kids of similar ages on my mom's side of the family. My mother had two brothers and a sister, and between them they had six kids, all roughly my age. We would spend the holidays together and go camping on the Cape and have a blast playing sports.
I was the closest with my cousin Tim. We would sleep over at each other's house all of the time, and would often get in trouble together. We would talk about being confused when we found out that Nana was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, but agreed that we couldn't tell any difference in her behavior.
It was always a bit scary visiting my father's side of the family. Some days, we would go over there after visiting Nana's and Papa's house. Dad's parents' house was old and scary, but must have had a million rooms. It had an old bar with tools and old rusty cars, which was kind of creepy. There was a large pit underneath the garage and I always wondered what the heck was down there, but was too afraid to go see.
My dad had three sisters and a brother, and they had seven kids between them. I was closest to Ryan, but he wasn't really into sports like my cousin Tim and me. Ryan was more occupied with playing in the garage with tools, making traps, and playing in the woods. The one thing that really got my blood pumping was the rope swing the two of us had made.
It was attached to a tree above the garage, directly over a pit. We would swing over the pit, twenty feet in the air; it was such a rush. My brother Jared always wanted to try, but I would never let him. I tended to be kind of hard on him because he wanted to be right next to me all of the time.
* * *
Basketball season was starting and, after my first practice, I was selected to start on our team. I loved the attention. I was the only kid on the team who wanted his parents to show up for the games. The reason was simple: my mom was beautiful and young, and my dad was tough-looking and muscular and looked like a kid. I wanted to show them off.
The season was great, and I was one of the best players in the league. The kids at school would talk to me about the games and about how good I was; it felt amazing to have people counting on me each game. The girls noticed me even though I was barely ten years old but I was very shy when it came to the opposite sex.
Katrina was her name — my first crush. She had beautiful, long, straight blonde hair and a killer smile. In class, I would stare at her out of the corner of my eye. Once I noticed her, I promised myself that I would talk with her someday. I just had to work up the courage. Guess again! Third grade and fourth grade passed and still not a single word!
Was it possible that the girl of my dreams would get away? I couldn't believe that two years had gone by, and I still hadn't even spoken to Katrina.
How was it that my basketball team won the championship two years in a row, I started as the pitcher for the Little League's National League Rockies, got straight A's in school, and had tons of friends, but still could not talk to a girl? Hard to believe that even with so much success, I still couldn't do it. I will work the courage up one day, I thought. After all, I was only eleven.
Although school was great, things at home were getting kind of shaky. My mother and father would fight almost every night; Jared and I would listen from outside of their door some nights. A lot of what I heard concerned money and problems with elders. Mainly, things were tough with my Nana, and she could hardly remember who anyone was anymore. It was hard to see my mother, beautiful like an angel, and imagine that one day she might not be able to recognize her little boy when she looked into his eyes. It made me sad. No one deserves this, I thought.
North Andover was treating me great, however. I had two best friends who lived up the street, cousins named John and Jason. There must have been twenty kids that lived on my street. John and Jason came from wealthy families. Their parents were much older than mine, and they had big houses with swimming pools and huge yards with manicured lawns. I loved staying over at their houses, and dreamed that one day I could have a house like that. They were my first real friends when I came to North Andover; we would play sports together, go to the beach, and do other normal kid things.
The best nights I can remember were when we would get the whole neighborhood of kids together and play "Manhunt," a game when one team of kids would hide throughout the neighborhood while the other team would try to find them. Jared would play sometimes, but I didn't want him to get lost in the neighborhood. Jared was much younger than me, which made it hard on him. I was going to be twelve years old, and he was only eight. Don't get me wrong, I think we were probably two of the closest brothers anyone could imagine, but when it came to me hanging out with my friends, I treated him cruelly and often told him that he couldn't play.
Jared would often get hurt playing with my friends and me. However, whether he was hurt from smacking his head, falling off his bike, or scraping his knees, he always managed to continue playing. The day that still haunts me is July 9th during the summer before middle school.
Jared and I were playing in the backyard beside a small crabapple tree that produced small apples we picked to throw at cars in the street. I know it wasn't the best idea, especially since we lived on a street that was busy. We would both look around the house and wait for a car to come flying down the street. As it approached, BAM! We would throw the apples and then run into the house. We got caught one time and, trust me, Dad screamed at us until I never wanted to look at that tree again. That incident stopped us for a couple of weeks; instead, we would throw water balloons at the local paper boy when he walked by. After getting bored with that, though, we returned to that old leaning crabapple tree.
SMACK! We laughed and watched the car speed up the street, confused. We both ran around the house as quickly as possible. I made it in the house first and shut the screen door behind me, locking Jared out.
Our door was old, lightweight, and made of glass; Jared banged on it and yelled at me as I laughed. He continued to knock on the door like he was being chased. Bang! Bang! Bang! He hit the door harder and harder as I laughed on the other side. My mom was ignoring our antics from the other room. Again, Bang! Bang! Then SMASH! As the door shattered and glass flew everywhere and into my face, I ducked to cover myself. Jared screamed.
Looking up, I instantly panicked; I had never seen so much blood in my life. Blood was rushing down Jared's arm, and it looked like he had dumped a bucket of paint over his wrist. He cried and I started to scream and cry even more than he did. My mom sprinted down the hall and grabbed Jared. She covered his wrist while I apologized, crying hysterically; I felt so guilty for what I had done. This is all my fault, I thought.
Mom sped to Lawrence General Hospital while holding a crying Jared, his whole arm covered in blood. Mom remained calm during the ride and got us into the hospital. The doctor immediately grabbed Jared and took him into the emergency room. I was so sad to see him on the stretcher, screaming. What the hell have I done, I thought, as I continued to pace while my tears dripped onto the floor. Jared's screams were so loud that the whole waiting room could hear this poor eight year old boy for a half-hour straight. As I was pacing, I realized I had a sharp pain in my back, so I reached back under my shirt. I had been so worried about Jared, I didn't even care, until I pulled a two-inch-long piece of glass out of my back.
I needed Jared to be okay. I didn't need stitches, just a big bandage, and after a couple of hours, Jared emerged with five stitches. He had cut his wrist and the doctor said he had missed his tendons by a centimeter — if glass had hit them, he possibly might have never used his wrist again. Everyone was silent on the ride home. I think that we had all had enough for a while, and just wanted to let Jared get some rest. It was hard for me to look at myself, knowing that I had caused my brother's pain, but life went on.
For the rest of the summer, Jared and I took it easy. His arm took a couple of months to heal, and he was soon back to normal. I mainly practiced basketball at the school across the street every day to take my mind off things. My dad and I would play baseball across the street, too, since, after all, I was going into middle school in a month and would need to try out for the travel team. I needed to step up my game.
My brother got into hockey, and he would rollerblade and play with a couple of his friends at the school after his wrist healed. He was getting big for his age that summer, and had a killer slap shot. My dad signed him up to start playing so that we could both keep busy.
By the time middle school started, I was excited to play basketball — after all, I was Ice. I knew most of the eighth graders and, as for the ones I didn't know, I wanted to impress them with my game on the court. Tryouts came soon, and I immediately impressed my coaches and got drafted to play on the Merrimack Valley starting travel team as a starting shooting guard. Jared was playing defense on his hockey team; things were back to normal and going well.
My best friends, Jason and John, were not in my classes, though; they were a little more "advanced" than me in most subjects. It didn't really bother me; I mean, I was on the starting basketball team. I met a lot of different kids on my team and I liked them a lot. So Jason, John, and I started to separate a little bit, but we always managed to walk home together after school, since we lived right down the street, after all.
Middle school was my chance to shine. I was going to show the school how good I was at basketball this year. The first couple of games we played were so awesome; I loved traveling to different towns on the school bus. The feeling of butterflies, and feeling like my heart was in my throat, was a rush every game.
I quickly passed the ball to Tim and cut to the hoop; a back door by Michaels, yes! Dribble, crossover, behind the back, jump shot, swish! "Player of the Game goes to Logan Michaels." The feeling was almost unimaginable. My parents would proudly watch their son score twenty points a game, quickly making a name for himself. Jared would also watch from the crowd, although he usually seemed bored: he wasn't really into basketball. He was more focused on hockey, at which he was amazing: when he put on his skates and padding, he was almost as tall as my dad. He had grown overnight, it seemed. He was by far the biggest kid on the ice. He outskated, outshot, and outplayed everyone. I'm not sure where our athleticism came from; I knew my dad had played recreational sports and so had my mom, but Jared and I were all-stars.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Crossroads of Logan Michaels"
Copyright © 2018 James M. Roberts.
Excerpted by permission of Koehler Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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