Jeff’s Leap from Cowardice to Bravery

Note: this story originates from a Creative Writing class I taught for middle school students. Its object was to identify conflicts. There are at least 4 conflicts able to be easily identified.

We told Jeff it was too far. There was no way he could make it. Jimmy Landers told him. Marc Coomer told him. I was at the point of tears, begging him not to try. Even Monte Sidebottom, the one boy who cared for no one, told him it was impossible.

“Please, Richard,” the tears were streaming down my face. If you miss…you’ll…you’ll…”

Jeff looked down at me from the tree limb at least 40 feet off the ground. He smiled slightly.

“You think if I miss, I’ll die?” he said. “That’s what it looks like from here. I suppose you’re right. What’s life, though, without chances? The people who do the most are the chance takers.”

There are certain moments that carve images and memories into our brains like a wood burning set. For the remainder of our lives, when we think of those moments, we replay the event. Whenever we go to the physical place where it happened, we replay the event. Smells, sights, sounds, the weather, and the various other parts of the moment make us replay the event. It is indelible.

For Jimmy, Marc, Monte, and me, this event became the fulcrum of our lives. Everything from this point revolved around it. No matter how much we have tried to remove ourselves from it, we just went in a circle and ended up at the same place.

Monte Sidebottom is more to blame than anyone else. His incessant taunting and teasing of Jeff over weeks or months drove Jeff to the top of that tree. When Monte had made fun of Jeff and told him he was nothing more than a momma’s boy earlier that day, and that he was even afraid of his own shadow and let his momma take care of everything for him, that’s what pushed Jeff to climb to the top. He wanted to prove he was not a coward, simply nothing else.

True, Jeff came up with the idea himself, not Monte, but Monte drove him to it. At heart, Monte was a bully, and he enjoyed watching people suffer.

There was a legend among the neighborhood boys that someone had climbed to the top of the same tree years previously and had leaped from one of the highest branches to the roof of what used to be Hodge’s Drugstore, but was now an “antiques” store filled with junk. None of the floors above the first floor were used anymore. The building was four stories high.

Although none of us had ever contemplated such a foolhardy thing, Jeff suddenly announced this particular day, after goading by Monte, that he was going to prove his bravery in a way no other boy had done in years. He was a small, cute little boy, usually shy around strangers, and soft-spoken, even around us. A small birth mark on his neck stood out. When he explained that he was going to make the leap from the tree to the roof, everyone told him not to do it.

It was no use. He began his ascent up the tree, slowly weaving his way through branches. Twice he looked down at us, and each time I believe he nearly talked himself out of continuing. Monte did not make fun of him now. I thought I saw traces of fear on Monte’s face. Certainly, he understood that if anything happened to Jeff, he would be the one people would blame.

Near the top he came. All of us were yelling at him, begging him to stop. Jeff perched on a limb. He was calculating the distance and how much effort he would have to give.

Now bawling, I frantically yelled one last time, something Jeff ignored, just as he had ignored all our pleas. I turned and ran. Not because I was fearful of watching, but because I wanted to get some adult help, someone to talk Jeff out of this leap to death. Monte called me. I did not hear all he said, but there was fear in his voice.

I ran down the street and around the corner to Mr. Stevenson’s house, where I pounded on the door. Mr. Stevenson answered—he was always home during the day—looked quizzically at me, deduced the gravity of the situation after I spouted some incoherent words, and he said, “Take me to him.”

When we got in view, Jimmy and Marc were standing next to the building, wailing great sobs. Monte was nowhere to be seen. As we got closer, we could also see Jeff’s broken body on the ground. Mr. Stevenson somehow summoned help. Police and an ambulance came, but it was no use.

Jimmy, Marc, and I rarely see each other anymore. We never quit being friends after that day, but we also never spent time together like we had in the past. I do not know what became of Monte. His family must have moved out of town. I have not seen him in more than 30 years.

Jeff had proven he was not a coward, but that act that provided the proof removed any reason for proving it. In finality, all it did was condemn Jimmy, Marc, and me—and I suppose Monte—to a lifetime of horror and regret. What a terrible thing for eleven-year-olds to have to witness.


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