The Best Short Story

Jake Hallman's Reality Bites--and Freakin' Hard

I've always believed that everyone has a point in his or her existence when life throws a curve ball, a monster, fall-off-the-table bender that grabs you by the balls and makes you stop everything you're doing. Though you might not realize it at the time, it's a cataclysmic moment that will decide who you'll be the rest of your life.

I can pinpoint the day when my world stood still. It was the spring of my senior year in high school and my girlfriend of three years, Tara, and I were doing what every other 18-year olds were doing: whittling down the college list, picking out majors and clinging dearly to those last days of high school.

Tara's period was three weeks late and I finally let her talk me into getting her a pregnancy test. As I sat there, staring at the maroon throw rug in my parents' bathroom, I felt there was only one possible answer. But as I waited for that second pink line to appear to signal a negative result, I felt a jolt to my psyche that hit me like a 300-pound lineman. I stared at that pencil-shaped piece of plastic as if my menacing glare alone could change the outcome. But after about 10 minutes of waiting for a miraculous genetic reversal, I came to realize that I was going to be a father in nine months. And nothing made me more mature in life than that second line on the EPT.

I'd like to say we handled the earth-shattering news with the storybook joy of most yuppie couples on TV: husband and wife holding each other, crying over the excitement and anticipation of a new life as they plan the gender-appropriate wallpaper in the baby's room. Back in reality, I charged off to my room, firing off a slew of four-letter words better suited for the Jerry Springer show. While I buried my face into the quilt of my bed, the same questions kept scrolling through my head: How can we do this? Why me? How can I tell my parents? How will I ever be able to face my family?

I remember the day I told my Dad the news. I shadowed his every move in the garage, just waiting for the opportunity to insert the pregnancy between a discussion of spark plugs and oil filters. The thing that floored me was that he said he already knew, he'd dreamt about being a grandfather the night before. And get this; he said he knew it was going to be a boy. Tara's parents really couldn't criticize us too much--her Mom aborted her first child at 17, and then had Tara a year later.

The news was harder to break to our friends. We had to be extremely cautious of who we told, as teenage high school girls love nothing better than juicy gossip to spread from gym class through the hallways. Our closest friends were surprisingly excited; they knew Tara and I were going to get married, and this was just a natural progression five years ahead of the fact.

I think I took the news the hardest. The following week of school felt longer than a Quaker worship service. The only event I can really recall is sitting propped up against the cafeteria wall, a blank stare enveloping my face. While my friends planned the next drinking binge, I had to worry about being a "Dad." It was at this point that I realized I could never really deeply connect with anyone my age again-I matured instantly from an 18-year-old high school senior to a middle-aged family man.

Once Tara got over the shock, she was the most excited--she was always that motherly type that just seems to know how to handle children (a major reason why I fell in love with her). But a baby can shatter a lot of dreams for a high-school senior planning to attend college. Tara had to trade in her acceptance to Millersville University and a quick, four-year trip through college for classes at a two-year community college. And though both of us wouldn't have it any other way today, Tara still wonders what life would have been like at a four-year college, playing on the field hockey and lacrosse teams that her sister now enjoys.

And while members of my freshman class were at home doing as little as possible on winter break, I was at Grand View Hospital on December 28, 1998 as Ezekiel Jacob Hallman came into this world.

Immediately, the focus of my world shifted-things that were so damn important a few months back didn't matter anymore. Sure, we were both still at home, but I now had to worry about my family. And a year later came marriage and our own place, but the mindset stayed the same--and I wouldn't change a thing. I always liked being just a shade different than others and pushing the limit (hell, we got away with unprotected sex for three years).

So what's the moral of the story: Wear a condom? Don't have sex? There's no prescription how to handle events like these or how to predict when they'll happen; some aren't even sure when the moment arrives until long after the fact. But like it or not, there comes a time when every person has to stare reality right in the face and make a decision--whether it's to bring a life into the world or pick a career. And though you might not realize it at the time, that decision can mean a hell of a lot more than you'd expect.

 

Prizes:

George S. Diamond Prizes
Beck Shakespeare Prize

English Prize
The Erskine Prize
Zinzendorf Prize
Beck Oratorial Prizes