Count To Ten In Words and Worlds: Sam Seaborn, Deconstructed
As a child he loved poems.
He would sit on his grandfather's lap, which was bony and comfortable, and home, listening to made-up rhymes that built him a playpen of words, poles of letters through which he could glimpse the thrilling, indiscernible world of adults. He lived in his own world, but he learned that words were a way to connected the two worlds. Grown-ups used words, words like "no!" and "clean up your room" and "don't do that" and "I love you". But he used words too, words like "ice-cream" and "cookie" and "Christmas" and "I love you". And because they all used words, they could all understand each other.
So began his love-affair with words.
A couple of weeks into first grade, Sam Seaborn realizes that he does his math homework different than the other kids in the class. His best friend Timmy Spencer wants to show him the smiley sticker he got for his assignment, and Sam realizes that Timmy and the other kids do their homework by writing down numbers and symbols, all 1+3=4, 3-2=1, and Sam stares down at his own worksheet feeling strange.
One plus three is four, he's written, and three minus two is one, struggling with his tongue between his teeth on how to spell minus, remembering the "w" in two and the "o" in four every time, filling a whole page where the others still had room to draw a picture for extra credit.
From then on, Sam writes numbers, just like the others, but privately, he still thinks his way of doing it makes a lot more sense, and it's harder too, so you learn more. And for someone who'd rather be reading Charlotte's Web in a corner of the playground than playing softball with the others, words are more important than numbers, anyway.
"Sam!" His AP Spanish teacher, Señora Mendez, catches him as he's about to file into calculus class. He lingers, unsurely. They've been turning more assignments recently, and he still hasn't quite gotten the hang of the subjunctive. Hable, hables, hable…
"Sam, tendría que limitarte a menos que 500 palabras en tus composiciones," she tells him, shortly, briskly. He notices a stack of papers in her arms, most of them covered with his cramped handwriting.
"Oh," Sam mutters. "Sorry. I just… kind of get carried away."
"It's fine," she laughs, switching into English, "but the more you write the more mistakes you make, and that means the more points I have to take off, you know what I'm saying?"
Sam nods, feeling too awkward to manage a smile. The bell for the next class rings. "Gracias, Señora," he tells her, making to leave. He can't help feeling annoyed as he thinks to himself, you try writing only 200 words when the assignment is "Leed y reaccionad a 'América, Insurrecta' de Pablo Neruda."
He cautiously approaches the door of his Race and Class In American Fiction professor's office, runs his finger over the list taped to it, and finds, jammed between Sartano, Luisa and Steinberg, Ruben, his own name, with a small but defiant "D" staring back at him. Sam swallows heavily a couple of times and makes to leave as the door flies open and the professor -a heavy-set, cheerful woman who leaves a trail of eraser crumbs and gourmet potato chip crumbs whenever she leaves her office- eyes him critically.
"Ah, Mr. Seaborn. I suppose I owe you an explanation."
"Not really," Sam sighs, focusing on the poster of Toni Morrison hanging in the corner of her office rather than her face. He knows where he went wrong. The stubborn part of him that still thinks that words, words crafted together and written down, matter, and matter more than what they mean, ran amok with him while he was writing this.
She smiles. "It's not a bad paper, except that I asked for an argumentative analysis of Beloved, and while you delivered the argumentative portion of the assignment very well, the analysis…"
"I know," Sam mumbles. "It's fine."
"You just need to reign yourself in a little," she says, bracingly. "I appreciate what you were trying to do, and it was very well written, but next time? Try to focus more on the assignment."
Sam nods. The thing is, he doesn't really know what else do.
He's got a criminal law final next week, and there are three piles of books and case studies piling on his desk, but instead, Sam's sitting on the floor, legal pad propped up against his knees, fingers flying over paper, writing, writing, writing. Guilt bites at him like a dog snapping at his ankles, but there's nothing he can do because this is what he does, and he can't make himself stop. Words form on the page, turn into sentences, paragraphs, he started out writing a short story but he thinks it might be turning into an essay, he'll know in the end.
He pauses for a second, grasping in the wide space between mind and pen, for the perfect word, and the ballpoint leaves a pool of navy ink on the yellow page.
He looks up. Cases and Materials Of Criminal Law glares back at him.
Sam hangs his head, not in defeat but in defiance, and returns to his page. He's building a world here. Everything else will have to wait.
"Did you type up the schedule for next week yet?" Sheila Brooks, a deputy in the California senator's office mainly in charge of dealing with annoying interns, asks him as she leans over his cubicle wall.
"I didn't," Sam admits, cowering. She's not much older than he is, but she's got a proper job in this office and actually gets paid for it, and that is a huge deal. He's just an intern who's working for a senator from the wrong party because they both happen to be from California and Vinnick was the only one who'd hire him. "But.." he starts, quickly, because he senses she's about to snap and he's terrified of her, "I kind of wrote a speech instead?"
"You wrote a speech?" Her eyebrows shoot up.
"I heard you and the senator talking about the speech at the Freedom House dinner this morning, and I, uh, jotted down a few ideas." Before she has a chance to yell at him, he hands her a few papers in his messy handwriting. He watches, tense on his toes, as her forehead knots and her lips form the words "burdens of global citizenship" with eyebrows raised.
"Go back to typing up that schedule," she tells him, amusement in her voice. "I'll go talk to the senator."
"Sam!" Toby storms into his office. "You're supposed to be at the damn meeting! You were supposed be there twenty minutes ago!"
Sam flinches, hastily pressing the save button on his computer and rising. "Look, I'm sorry, but I wanted to finish-"
"What are you even doing?" Toby asks, hands at his forehead, practically shooing him out of his office. "We don't even have any events going on, just the thing with the girl scouts- oh, Sam!"
"What?" Sam asks, defiant now.
"Sam, tell me you didn't just piss off a bunch of Republicans for a speech about cookies!" Toby thunders.
"It's not a speech about cookies," Sam snaps. "It's about volunteering and restoring America from the bottom up, it's about having faith in yourself so that everyone else can have faith in this country; it's about an eleven-year-old girl from Scranton who baked a hundred cookies in an afternoon and who gets to shake hands with the President, and if you think I'm not gonna write a good speech for her, then, I swear-"
"Go," Toby growls, looking at him like he hates him.
"Just go," Toby mumbles. "Go finish the damn speech; I'll go to your meeting."
He's supposed to be reading a briefing from one of the junior associates for a case going to court next week, but he somehow doesn't quite have it in him to be struggling through split infinitives and California divorce law.
Instead, he does something he's been meaning to do since he caught ten minutes of CNN last week and noticed two split infinitives. He googles "Santos Stump Speech", and starts first reading then, despite himself, correcting, replacing the nearly-right word with the just-right one, getting rid of a few awkward rhymes, testing out sentences in his mind.
He's about to email Josh the heavily-corrected version when something catches up with him.
This isn't him anymore. He's still got words, he still knows what he's doing with them better than almost everyone else, but he left that world, his world, for the air-conditioned, floor-to-ceiling windowed glamour of an LA law firm, and that's all there'll ever be for it.
"I quit," Sam says, sitting on the couch in Josh's office and staring at the framed picture of Leo that sits on his desk, head in his hands.
"Seriously?" Josh looks like he's just been shot. "Sam, you lost the vote, that can happen to anyone- it happened to me, I don't even know how-"
"That's not it," Sam shrugs. "I'm lousy at this." He holds up his hands as Josh makes to disagree, he knows it's true, and so does Josh. "I am. I don't like the dogfight, I don't like the powerbrokering, it's not me. I know it has to be done, but I don't really want to be the one doing it." He sighs. "Give it to Lou. She's good, better than I ever was."
"You want Lou's job, don't you?"
Sam smirks. "I kind of do." He hesitates. "I've missed writing, and I thought that…"
Josh just holds up his hands. "You got it."
"Sir, you should get changed," Josh says, walking into the Oval, and smirking to see Sam siting on the floor, head against the desk, a draft copy of the State of the Union balanced on his knees, and ink all over his fingertips. "I'm sorry, what are you-"
"This isn't quite…!" Sam mutters, scratching out an offending passage and scribbling something in the margins. "It's gotta sound more like…"
"We'll change it," Josh interrupts. "But you need to go upstairs and get ready now."
"I'm ready," Sam mutters, "just need a better tie. But this is not okay, there's a dangling modifier and-"
"Sam!" Josh interrupts, loudly, not going for the prerequisite "Sir" or "Mr. President" for the first time in a year. "That draft copy's from, like, last week, and you need to calm down. Go upstairs, take a shower. The speech is fine, and it's locked."
Sam scrambles up from the floor, looking defeated. "Sorry."
"Don't worry about it," Josh grins, reaching put a hand to pull him up.
"It's just…" Sam shrugs. "This is what I do."
Josh takes in the Oval with a smile. "Not anymore, buddy. Not anymore."