The so-called beach in this small town that I found myself in was no more than a sandbank. The gravelly sand rose abruptly from the still waters. Discarded trash and grey, lifeless tree limbs were abundant. To my surprise, there was a large crowd of people strewn about, each as if poolside at a vacation resort.
My feet sank deep into the sand at every step, the shoes I was wearing an unfitting defense for the damp, invading particles. Trudging along as I did, I finally spotted the reason for my visit.
His back was turned to me but there was no mistaking the curly mess of red hair, or the demure of his posture, how he was hunched over something in his lap.
I came around the fallen beam that served as the boy’s bench, softly, and sat down at the opposite end. He seemed ever as before withdrawn, all his focus bent on the crumbled notebook before him.
Waiting for some perceived opportunity of right timing, I finally spoke up. My greeting however went unnoticed, and so we sat in silence for several minutes. In the meantime, I emptied the sand form my shoes and deliberated if it was warm enough to remove my jacket—the weather was as seemingly undecided as I. For as much as I wanted to fulfill the purpose of the sponsorship program, I was not without serious doubt.
I think what most helped me through the uncertainty was the link I suspected we shared. After all, I had been his age once. Our circumstances growing up were vastly different in other regards: he having endured impoverishment, and I with more than adequate opportunities. Yet still we shared that introspective hurt, that turmoil which can be so rarely expressed but is more readily felt. I had seen it before in his eyes, the thoughtfulness behind an otherwise vacant countenance. He only needed to see that his isolation was not so far removed, as it seemed to be. And I had an opportunity to be the contact he needed.
The silence between us was filled by the sounds of cars on the nearby freeway, by a dog yelping at the tree line, and the escalating conversation of a couple passing through—and with them, wafting a strong smell of cigarettes.
With what I thought to be a glance my way, I began the conversation attempt anew. This time, however, I presented to him a drawing pad that I had carried with me: a token, I hoped, of my intentions and goodwill. For a second, I caught the glimpse of interest, but it was just was quickly lost again, dark eyes turned hard and narrow.
“I don’t want your pity gift,” he said pointedly. “You people think money fixes everything.”
It was clear to me that the boy was jaded from past attempts to console him. Perhaps they had never taken the time to understand him fully, or maybe they had tried and failed. Now, I am not a professional councilor nor was I informed on the prior situation, so I won’t claim to know the answers. All that I knew at the moment, however, was that I had to try.
“It’s not a pity gift, Daniel.” I placed the drawing pad beside him. “I thought you could use a proper sketch pad. That’s all. That notebook looks pretty worn, how long have you had it?”
“A few years…”
“When I was about your age, I used to draw a lot of monsters and aliens. Superheroes too, but they were always sorely out of proportion.” I laughed to myself in reflection.
Daniel kept working in his notebook, but at least I felt like he wasn’t completely ignoring me anymore. So, I continued, “What do you like to draw?”
After a pause, he replied: “Fantasy stuff, mostly.”
“That’s cool. Do you mind if I take a look?”
More hesitation. Then he relented. His notebook fell into my outstretched hand, its worn and tattered edges speaking of a distinct personality. This simple, spiral-bound notebook of lined paper was, in fact, Daniel himself. The notebook bore his soul plain to the viewer—the very core of his person revealed. Perhaps this notebook was the best glimpse into that hidden part of Daniel than anyone had ever known.
Recognizing this fact as a matter of inspiration, I opened the notebook and began looking through the contents. Layers of pen and pencil markings filled each page, each a complicated but intriguing mural of emotion and thoughtful musing. I could barely make out where text had been eased and over-written in pen, fanciful cursive buried beneath layers of typographic designs and bizarre creatures.
To be honest I was enamored in that moment, for each page was powerful conviction against the long-since-abandoned longings of my once-creative self. There was nothing traditionally masterful about the contents of that notebook; and yet, something about the drawings touched me. Maybe, just maybe Daniel and I shared that similarity I had suspected.
Realizing that I had been gaping at the boy’s notebook for some time now, I looked up. “This is really good, I’m impressed.”
The look on his face was hard to read, but somehow I knew he understood my genuine interest. I returned to viewing his notebook, turning from page to page until I came across a full-spread composition that was so delicately designed I felt my jaw drop. A series of ornate, interweaving shapes framed a dramatic scene of two heads—grotesque and deathly—locked in a passionate kiss. It was hideous, and yet simultaneously entrancing. My eyes followed the complex line-work, over and over and over again.
With new respect and curiosity for this boy and his notebook of artwork, I asked him more about the drawing. I wanted to know how he conceived of such remarkable concepts. With earnest presence then to match the sketch, Daniel told me of the story behind it.
And so began our friendship.