The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.
I discovered this in KoKo's bookshelf a few weeks ago and have been carrying it around in my bag for weeks now.
I have an incredibly soft spot in my heart for this book. It wasn't the first book I ever had to read for school, that honor goes to Bless the Beasts and Children in Mrs. Matzke's 8th grade English.
We read The Outsiders in Mrs. Christianson's 9th grade English class. And I don't know what it was about that book, but it came a long at the perfect time for me. I probably was a lot like Ponyboy in the book, struggle to come to grips with who I really was and how I fit into the overall scheme of things, totally unsure of myself, self-conscious, and longing to be part of something wonderful. Whatever it was, the book has stuck with me all these years.
On Tuesday I found myself having to spend two hours in the LHS commons handing out spring yearbook supplements, so I pulled the book out and began reading it.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized it was 30 years since I read it (I was a freshman in good, old 1988). A lot has changed over that time. I was able to finish it by Tuesday evening. I think it probably took us a couple of weeks to read it in 9th grade English.
But what I remember most vividly about the novel was the creative assignments Mrs. Christianson had us do. I recall writing a creative piece class where I re-imagined Johnny's encounter with the socs in the blue Mustang.
As I was reading in the commons, I was reminded of this assignment and quickly went up to my room to find it, which I keep in a treasured folder called "9th Grade English."
And there I found this -
I read it over and couldn't help but smile. Here is a young writer who easily got into the mind of a character in the book. I also can see how heavily influenced I was by the Stephen King novels I had been devouring (poor Johnny in this piece has an interior monologue going with his father that King uses in every one of his novels). I can also see how good my vocabulary was for a ninth grader. Again, that was thanks to all of the reading I had done (magazines like Hit Parader and Circus and the novels of Stephen King and Dean Koontz). I clearly had no idea how to organize my paragraphs yet or how to properly punctuate, let alone spell.
And that cursive? Mrs. Christianson is a saint for having to put up with that hand writing.
I spent a few minute re-typing the creative piece just for fun. It's below.
The park was so dark he could barely make his way around sevreal big pines before walking into them. It was cold and the wind was out – blowing the urgent, almost unanswerable question in Johnny’s ear, Where you gonna spend the night? But he didn’t have an answer. Where, where, where Johnny where? It kept insisting.
He needed an answer.
It’s cold out John. Why, I’d say it’s freezing out. Wouldn’t you? It wasn’t the wind but his father’s deep, drunken voice.
Burr – John cold. Yeath, that it is my boy.
He suddenly felt sick.
Yep, it’s cold, but I’m warm and if that waste of flesh called your old lady yells at me one more time, John, you know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna break this bottle over her thick, empty head – of course- after it’s empty. No need to waste any Mr. Beam on a bigger waste like her. Yeah, you’d like that, wouldn’t you, John my boy? Wouldn’t you?
He clapped his hands over his ears as if to try and shut it out. Aaaah, John. You can’t shut out the truth, you know. So where you gonna spend the ngiht? In the tunk of blue Mustange maybe?
His heart stopped and leaped into his throat. His eyes bulged, fixed on the slowing vehicle. He never heard his father’s last words, And if you do happen to come how tonight, I’ll break a bottle over you’re head too, Johnny my boy. His heart thundering in his chest was all he ever heard.
The Mustang stopped and five socs exited there transpo – no – the same guys that beat him before. The trees began swaying slightly and a gust of air rushed past him. He fet dizzy, but he realized it wasn’t him – the wind was rising.
Soon he was rising too . . . up a monstrous pine tree that he had been trying to hide behind, but he could have been invisible and it still wouldn’t have done him any good. He was too scared. He was a good ten feet up now. Johnny tried to imagine what Dally would do. He wouldn’t have climbed a stupid pine tree. That’s for sure, he answered himself as sharply as a pine needle answered his butt as he tried to sit down on a branch. Then he thought of Dally trying to climb a tree. No, not Dally. King of the asphalt jungle. Then Johnny giggled.
“What are you laughin’ at greaers? Ain’t it late for bird watching?” The others erupted in laughter. They were now 20 feet below Johnny.
A shudder ran through Johnny’s person as a humorously bizarre thought placed itself in his mind. He imagined himself falling out of the tree and getting bounced around like a pinball in a machine being tortured by one of those pinball wizard types that occupy every arcade in town.
There Johnny would lay on the ground with every bone broken and countless pine needles stuck in him. He would looks so bad the socs would wish they could have done such a good job. Some might even say that they did. That’s a typical soc trait, to take the glory even if it’s not yours.
Johnny tried to think what Dally would do. Dally would get out of his car with a broken bottle in one hand and a baseball bat in the other hand and his best “this-is-your-lucky-day” grin on his face ever. And the socs would be the ones in the tree. That’s what Dally would do. What would Johnny do?
“Come down, kid. I’ve got a new ring, a real big one. I bet it could take out your nose and a couple of teeth. All at the same time. What do you think?”
Johnny let out a small whimper.
“Maybe I’ll come up and show it to you,” the soc said before he lifted himself up to the first branch.
Johnny couldn’t move, even though ten feet still separated the two. Eight feet. Five feet.
The soc reached for the tree branch above him. He wasn’t even sure that stupid greaser, who would be within his grasp after this next branch, was really worth all this trouble. There were already several pine needles stuck into his jeans. “When I get my hands on you, boy, I’m just gonna throw you out of this tree,” he said, trying to take his attention away from the height.
Johnny, what is Johnny gonna do? Johnny kept asking himself as he grasped the branch above his head. He pulled himself up onto the branch and looked down. Four feet now were all that was between Johnny and a lot of pain and, even worse, all the humiliation. Dally would be ashamed. He’d never say it, but he would be. “No. No, more,” Johnny spoke quietly and strongly. “Why don’t you just get outta here?”
Bob looked up in mild surprise. “What will you do, greaser?”
“I’m tired of you socs,” Johnny said. “You think you rule the world or something. I know a guy whou could put all of you guys in this tree faster than you could say greaser,” Johnny finished proudly.
“Oh yeah? I think I’d like to meet this –“
There was a crack. The branch that supported Bob no longer did. It was now pointing directly down. Bob screamed and fell.
He landed on his back on the branch that was below him. The air was blown out of him, robbing him of the last taste of oxygen he would ever have. The branch broke his fall by catching him in the small of the back.
Bob stayed there a second before he plummeted down six feet and encountered the next branch. This one caught him in the throat, making him swallow his Adam’s apple along with half a dozen teeth.
He did a full 360 degree flip, head over heels and hit another branch, bounced off and fell eight feet, only to find himself straddling a branch that had to be the thickest on the tree. A throbbing, unforgivable pain seized his stomach. He found his face with his three fingered left hand. It immediately turned red The index finger found no teeth.
Bob managed to half yell and half gag out, “You did this greas –“ then a gurgling sound was all that was left. Then pain mercifully claimed Bob’s consciousness. He blacked out and died falling the final ten feet to the ground.
The four reaming socs just stood with their once-silver-spoon-occupied mouths open, a few even crying and shaking. One soc who was their answer to Dally, tried to climb the tree but slipped off the first branch because the whole tree was slick with blood.
They all made for the car in the same second. They were gone in the next.
The walk home was cold and lonely for Johnny. Dally wouldn’t be proud, but at least he couldn’t be ashamed. He found the field where the socs had first beaten him. Johnny collapsed there and slept.
“You crazy, Johnny or what?” said a voice that pierced his sleep and reeled him back to the sunlit and awake world.
“Just tired,” he answered.
Dally messed up his hair, and they both walked into Ponyboy’s house. If they would have had the T.V. on, they wouldn’t have missed the news: “Teenager dead in park, fell out of a tree.” The other greasers found out from Shepard.
Johnny never said a word. He just remained the pet.