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The Age of Amy:
The Thumper Amendment

Chapter 1


"Somebody help me!" I cried, knowing that my plea would go unheard over the clamor of school children at recess. Two large boys held my arms tightly behind my back, laughing as I struggled to get free. A third boy circled me, like a wolf taunting its helpless prey, his cold stare never leaving my face. Elementary school was supposed to be a wondrous place to learn and grow, to discover reading, writing, and finger painting. But for naive school girls like me, we sometimes get more education than we signed up for.
   The pacing boy stopped and faced me, then held a large, rubber ball up to my nose. "Looking for this?" he said. An out-of-bounds pass in a friendly game of four square caused me to chase the ball behind the cafeteria. How was I to know that I had wandered into enemy territory?
   I took a futile swing at the boy's shins with my foot.
   "A real hellcat, we got here," said the leader of the band of juvenile delinquents. Then he tossed the ball over a chain-link fence, where it was immediately flattened by city traffic.
   A sharp pain shot up my spine, as the boys behind me pulled my arms back even harder. My shoulders felt like they would pop out of their sockets at any moment. "You're hurting me!" I shouted.
   The boy in front of me grabbed the back of my hair and pulled it down. My head lurched backward. I could smell the potato chips on his breath as he leaned into my face.
   "What are those train tracks doing on your teeth?" he said, staring at my braces. I didn't want to grow up with crooked teeth, so I agreed to have those ugly things put on. Now I was starting to wonder if I would live to see them taken off.
   Then the boy's eyes shifted to the charm I wore on a gold chain around my neck. Gold letters spelled out my name: AMY. It had been given to me by my grandfather, who taught me never to back away from confrontation. He also taught me a few self-defense moves that, had I not been restrained, would have my captors reeling in pain.
   Clenching his fist around my charm, the cold-hearted boy yanked it clean off my neck, then tossed it over the fence, where it suffered the same fate as the rubber ball.
   The school bell signaled the end of recess.
   As the playground emptied, the boys that had held me captive released me, and ran off to resume their roles as elementary school students. Their leader remained behind.
   I stood there, as the sound of children at play faded into silence. What had I done to deserve such abuse? I rubbed my neck where my cherished medallion had been, and wept.
    "Tell anyone about this, little girl, and I'll box your ears!" was the last thing that bully said, before he joined the others.

   He was a 6th-grader.
   I was in the 3rd.

   The day had started out so well, too.
   I awoke to the savory smells of pancakes and eggs. Toasty and warm under my covers, I scarcely felt the cold air breezing through my bedroom window. I had stupidly left it open all night, but the promise of a scrumptious breakfast quickly thawed the chill of that crisp, autumn morning. Not even the noisy traffic whizzing past our third-story, city apartment could sour my giddiness.
   "You'll be late for school, Amy," shouted my dad from the kitchen.
   "Be right there!" I shouted back.
   Braving the frigid, bathroom floor tiles, I rose onto my tip-toes to brush my teeth. Navigating around my new braces was still a bit tricky. A hairbrush across my head and a face-full of brisk tap water, and I was ready to take on the world!
   I bounded to the kitchen table, high-hurtled into my seat, and proceeded to drown my morning meal in maple syrup.
   My mom entered the room with my wool coat that had hung in the hall closet all summer long -- a summer that had left behind fond memories of grand adventures in childhood.

   Those lazy days from June to September were the best. Warm evenings would find me out on the fire escape, staring up into the twilight, with the best girlfriends anyone could ask for. There we confided our innermost secrets with profound seriousness, then giggled at how silly boys stole kisses from us, then complained of contracting cooties.
   My family was pretty close, and we rarely got into any domestic disputes. But so much idle time at home can often put a strain on family relationships. Inevitably came the feuds with my big sister, usually over something utterly unimportant, like who was sexier: Johnny Depp or Brad Pitt?
   Some of these silly battles got so intense that they would escalate into an all-out war of words. Finding myself hoarse from screaming insults at my sister was not uncommon.
   That's when my grandfather would step in. "Come here, Amy!" he would command, his deep voice rumbling through the small apartment.
   With a look of disappointment, Granddad would then calmly sit me down. "Remember that cartoon," he would say, "that movie about the deer and the rabbit named Thumper, who said: 'If you can't say somethin' nice, don't say nothin' at all?'"
   "Yes, Granddad," I would say, with a sigh from having heard the speech a hundred times before.
   "Remember that always," he would end his sermon. A kiss on the forehead, and I was off to apologize to my sister -- another rule that was rigidly enforced in our house. I recall those little therapy sessions with great affection. My grandfather's wisdom was always noted, even though Thumper's advice was usually forgotten.
   One nice thing about grandparents is that, whether you're as saintly as an angel, or wicked as a witch, they love you just the same. The other is that you can always go to them when your parents are inaccessible. That was my granddad. He was a trip: kind and unselfish, yet stubborn and unshakable at times. He could be a real pain when he wanted to, but to me, he was always tenderhearted and supportive. He stood by every endeavor I pursued no matter how misguided. Even on his death bed, I felt the reassuring grip of his hand, that would slowly slip from mine, as he silently ascended into another world -- and out of my life forever.
   Granddad's passing left me heartsick and lonesome. Never again would I be forced to listen to his lectures on morality -- that I now craved. The emptiness I felt was excruciating. Then my mom showed me something that would ease my suffering: a charm necklace he had made for me with my name in shiny letters. An engraved inscription on the back reaffirmed Thumper's simple instructions for how to get along with people: "If you can't say something nice . . ."

-- End of Excerpt --

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