Everything has a beginning. Every story has its start. This is my story. And it, like all other ones, starts out with a screaming little pink body, about the size of the loaf of bread. This is me. Thirty seconds old. The doctor severs the bond between my mother and me, and soon enough, I am my own person. I am me.
The doctors dry the now coagulating blood from my skin, and wrap me as tight as they can in a warm, soft blanket. I fall asleep blissfully, like any baby should. No conscience weighing over me. Nothing exact to think about. Objects are objects, identifiable only by a point or a grunt. I have yet to be able to place verbal tags on these items.
My parents also have yet to place a verbal tag on me. They wanted my sex to be a surprise. When they referred to me, they
would simply call me “Felini the Fetus.” So when I came out, I was anonymous. It took them a full week to decide on a name. I left the hospital as Baby Boy Cole, for Cole is my mother’s maiden name.
They came up with a nickname first, Muzi. They tell me the process of selecting a name in this way was “very post-modern.” But they also wanted a Hebrew name for me, preferably one that English speakers wouldn’t bastardize. They settled on Tammuz. They decided to spell it with two Ms because I was born at the beginning of the new millennia, the year 2000, MM in Roman numerals. Tammuz. Not a boring name, like Fred, or Bob, or Joe. I never need to have my name appended with the initial of my surname, Tammuz F; I was always just Tammuz. It turns out there are only three Tammuzes in the world. We like to call ourselves the “conspiracy of Tammuzes.” A triangle, searching for another one with the unique name: Tammuz.
Here I was. At the gates before the journey that would span a whole lifetime.
As a young boy, I was in love with words. I wanted them. I needed them. One day, I found an old label maker in the basement, and began to label everything in the house. The television had a label that said “teLeVIsiOn”; the windows were plastered with transparent (and often not-transparent) little signs saying “WInDOw.” I hadn’t quite grasped the idea of capital letters yet.
When my parents got home, I must say, they weren’t very pleased at first. My father always jokes that he thought I was having a fight with a roll of duct tape, and the duct tape won. They were very pleased to see, however, that I had sabotaged the house with words rather than Playdoh or magic markers.
The next day, my mother came home early from work and took me out of the house in a tricycle. This was a weekly ritual. But this time, I brought a stick of chalk along. I then began to write the first letter of my nickname all over our neighborhood. The letter M, the Mark of Muzi, as I liked to call it. The street cleaners would remove the Mark, and I’d come right back and put it on there once again. I not only classified objects with words, but expressed myself with them. I slapped my personality onto every wall in Brooklyn with that little stick of pink chalk.
I began to write and read them with great ease, and fell in love with poets such as Shel Silverstein. In Kindergarten, I was asked to write a story about the first day of school. My story looked something like this:
on 1 day of scool i meet many people and had fun most children were skared but not i because was shure that i was going to have a good time i love kindergarten
The teacher asked me why I used no punctuation or capitalization. I responded by saying, “I was simply imitating the writing style of e.e. cummings.”
Words have taken me a long way. They have guided me through life. Through my pen I have the power to create worlds. Universes, even. And I had just begun to explore where these words could take me.
It’s my lucky charm, I guess.
You see, it’s all I have left of him. My grandfather. Yair. In Hebrew, the name means “he who will enlighten.” He, like me, went through phases of life. At one point, he was obsessed with coffee. That was all he would talk about, and talk about, and talk about, incessantly.
Did you know there are more than forty types of coffee plants?
He also went through a phase where he was totally preoccupied with water. Water needed to be clean, fresh, and cold. He had a very interesting way of talking about water, the plainest beverage and yet the most complicated and important one. Whenever we have water, we remember him.
What he wanted more than anything was to be an engineer. But that was a dream
circumstances would not permit. So, instead he became the manager of a bus company in Israel. His phases were a reflection on that past life that he had unwillingly left behind.
His most interesting phase: the home. Everything needed to be connected, have proper ventilation, and the temperature of the house needed to be easy to regulate, especially during Middle Eastern bleary, sweltering summers. Every year I visit his apartment. There I am, stranded in the middle of a perfect space. I hug my grandmother, and her voice quietly reverberates throughout every room.
But through all of this change, he held onto one thing: a mirror. A reflection pool. An echo of light. As an echo, it’s only a shade of yourself. You might be ugly. You might be tough. But it’s the inside that really matters, and a mirror will never be able to penetrate there. It cannot convey your personality, or your intelligence, or your way of being in the world.
They call the religious, “Those who live by the book.” I feel that the worst way one can be is to “Live by the mirror.” Some people act like a mirror, repeating everything you say, cracking the same jokes, pulling the same gags. But really, the best among us are the inventors, the creators, the engineers. That’s what this mirror is to me, a shade of him.
Has been gone for the past five years. Or maybe it’s already six.
There’s an empty place I feel in my heart for him, an empty place in the world.
It doesn’t matter, anyhow. It’s just another phase of his life.
A phase of eternity.
A BOY NO LONGER
When does a boy become a boy no longer?
When does he become a man?
I have dreamt about death. I have lived a life, a life in a future. There I am, on the hospital bed. And I close my eyes. And think.
Goodbye wife. Goodbye children. Goodbye life.
These images begin to flash faster and faster in front of my face, blurring as they move along. I don’t know what this means. If I could explain it to you, I would: yet I can’t. In my dream, these visions slowly fade to white. A shade of blank.
I am frozen here in time.
Nothing else happens. This paradoxical state jolts me awake. I surge up. Hyperventilating. Sweating. My knuckles white, clutching the bedside. I am beginning to accept the reality of life: one day it will all stop. I will be gone.
The human mind never stops thinking. Even when we feel nothing, or when we’re sleeping, our mind is working hard to make our heart beat, and our lungs move. This system gets old someday. Tired. And then it ends its journey. A journey that has taken a lifetime. Remember the screaming little pink loaf of bread? Remember the words? In my vision, they’re a pinpoint of light. Far away.
So far off.
Drifting away, into a pool of long forgotten days…
Tammuz Frankel, Age 12, Grade 7, Hunter College High School, Gold Key