Eleven Thoughts on “Walkdog”
1. This is an autobiographical story. It takes place in South Orange, NJ, where I grew up, and I pictured my own house and school as I was writing. I wanted to write about that place, where I was pretty unhappy in middle school and high school.
2. Whenever someone says “pretty unhappy” about their school days, multiply by 1,000.
3. This is a story about bullying. It’s not about my own experience of severe bullying (what I went through could have been much worse), but it’s about breathing the air of a place where bullying is happening. It’s about living in an environment of helplessness and fear. It’s about keeping your head down. It’s about trying to laugh. It’s about being hurt and appalled by what’s happening to someone else, and it’s about silence. It’s about looking the other way.
4. This is a story about a monster.
5. This is a story about a girl. It takes the form of a paper she’s writing for a class. Her name is Yolanda Price. I don’t know if she’d call herself a girl, actually. She might say “woman.” She considers herself grown up. One of the arguments Yolanda makes in her paper is that high school students are adults, but they’re allowed to act like kids. They know they can get away with it. And in her opinion, this leads to some of the worst behavior you find in high schools. The meanest behavior. The cruelest.
6. The monster, as you might have guessed, is called Walkdog. I won’t tell you about it. I’ll let Yolanda do that, in the story. After all, Yolanda knows more about Walkdog than anyone else in the world, except one person. And that person isn’t telling.
7. This story reminds me a lot of the South Mountain Reservation, the nature reserve behind my town. My family used to go up there on weekends sometimes. We’d walk in the forest and have a picnic, and my brother and I would splash in the streams and catch salamanders to take home and keep as pets. The salamanders always died. There was something mournful about those woods. The wind in the trees sounded homeless. It was the sound of nature in the middle of the city. Years later, when I went back there with my kids, my four-year-old son jumped on a rotting log and angry bees streamed out.
8. He got stung about five times.
9. “Walkdog” is a story about nature. Human nature. And other kinds of nature.
10. It’s about kids like the ones my brother and I used to be: passionate, nerdy kids from a mix of cultures.
11. Most of all, it’s about not walking alone.
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