The week I started that special therapy to try to get me to walk again,
I knew immediately that the process would be painful and tedious, but there
was that old expression "no pain, no gain." I wanted to be able to
get on my feet so badly. If it took a lot of pain to do it, that
was okay with me.
It started with what was supposed to be basic exercises, but oh, brother, they were anything but easy. I had never felt that much pain in all my life, not even when getting some good shots by the defenses of other teams. I was going through a difficult time in pulling this off, but I knew one day it was going to be worth it. The only question was how soon that was going to be. Would it be months…or years? It didn't matter to me. I would keep going as long as I needed to be able to just stand up at all.
I went into a special room where they would induce shock into my spinal cord in order to stimulate the areas from my chest down. Now, I couldn't quite understand all those electrical terms, so I'm just gonna put it in English as best I can. What they did was stick something at the top of my back. The clip was supposed to then be able to send some kind of shock waves into the spinal cord area. The idea was to see if I had reflexive actions as a result, like when the doctor hits that special hammer against the knee.
There wasn't any action for at least the first month, but Dr. Stansbury said that was very common in situations like these. I just needed to have patience.
Speaking of patience, Billy and his family had been very gracious in allowing me to stay at their home for the remainder of the school year. They treated me like I was a member of their family, which made me feel good about myself. I knew the love of my friends and adopted family was good emotional therapy, as it wasn't just the physical scars I had to deal with. All the mental scars I had with my father's painful words for the last few years were still present. Whenever I felt down, I knew I could talk to Billy about it. His parents were very encouraging, allowing me to work on my homework and letting me watch what I liked on the television. I didn't have to watch tapes of football plays or anything relating to football.
As for my father, he was still in jail and would stay there for 30 days until his hearing with the court. He was determined to do whatever it took to get out and find me. Dad's criminal record had been growing for quite some time, especially in terms of his attitude towards me when it came time for the hearing itself.
When the 30 days had passed, I was required to show up for the hearing, which had me very worried. Dr. Stansbury, though, said he would join me at the courthouse to make sure Dad wouldn't try anything on me again. Also, I couldn't figure out why, but Jamal—I mean, his ghost—was still around me to see I was okay. I had all this support on my side, but I was worried Dad wouldn't take it so well.
On the day of the hearing, I showed up in wheelchair with the doctor and Billy with his family.
The judge looked at me with some compassion. "Young man, it took a lot of courage for you to show up here today. How is your therapy going?"
"Slow, but steady," I told straight forward. "I mean, it's not gonna happen overnight, but I'll be able to walk again somehow."
The moment Dad came out and saw me, he wanted to lunge at me so badly. "You pathetic excuse! You'll pay for putting me in jail! I am your father!"
Who does he think he is…Darth Vader? I thought with annoyance. Honestly, he'll never change. I only wish Mom were still around to help me.
Your mom is with you, spoke the voice of the ghost. She knows what's going on, and she stands behind you.
"Mr. Mitchell," the judge harshly said, "you will sit down and compose yourself. I will have no outbursts in this courtroom from you, understand?"
He took his seat and growled at me. "You'll be coming home with me, you little punk."
I kept looking straight ahead to ignore him.
As the hearing was under way, I was called to testify against Dad, which is something I was nervous about doing. For my own health, though, there was no other choice.
Because I was in a wheelchair, I didn't have to exactly "get up on the stand." I just rolled to a spot in front of the stand. I was then given the oath of truth, or whatever it's called.
"Young man," said the prosecutor, "please tell us about your relationship with your father."
"Well…it hasn't exactly been the best relationship. When Mom was alive, things were going pretty well, even with Dad's career. He always made time to be with us in the off-season, and we were able to have a normal family life. When Mom died of cancer, though, Dad suddenly went from loving father to dictator. He has been so determined to make me play football for my entire life. Me, though, I have some different dreams in life. I would like to get more into sports medicine, be able to help with injured players. I want to help others overcome their own serious sports-related injuries."
Dad looked at me angrily. What a wimp! he thought with such mean attitude. His destiny is on the field, not as a sissy doctor! He will come home with me as of today!
The prosecutor then asked, "When you were…injured the night of the homecoming game, how did your father react?"
"He literally went through the roof about it. My—I mean, his—dreams were shattered. He was so angry because I destroyed what would have been the…perfect life: a college scholarship, two years in school, and a chance for the pros. I like to play football, but I don't want to do it for my entire life. I know I can never play football again, but all that matters to me now is the chance to walk again. I don't want to mope around and stare out the window at what might have been. I want to see the world on two feet…and I won't give up on this therapy until I am on my feet."
I didn't know it at the time, but that ghost stood outside the window and listened to what I had said that day. Josh, I know you can do it. Don't give in to your father's harsh words. I'll stay with you every step of the way through your therapy. I promise, my friend. You won't be alone.
The prosecutor seemed pretty satisfied and took his seat, but now I had to face Dad's attorney.
This guy made me feel like I was in the Spanish Inquisition or something. "Mr. Mitchell, don't you want to make a lot of money and set a nice little nest egg for yourself?"
"I would like to make money and all, but I don't think football—"
"Don't you understand, young man, that you could have had the life most people would only dream of?"
"What do you mean by that?"
"You purposely injured yourself on the field that night to destroy what was meant to be!"
The prosecutor quickly jumped up and yelled, "Objection, your honor. The defense attorney's trying to scare this young man, and the evidence points the football injury as being an accident."
In agreement the judge said, "Sustained." He then eyed the defense attorney. "Mr. Whitaker, I suggest you change your line of questioning because all of those things you say are absolutely irrelevant in this case."
Jamal chuckled in delight about this hearing. "Oh, boy, I can't believe Josh's dad got one dumb attorney to try to help him. He won't have his way, though."
Dad actually had his chance to testify, but he was trying to act his way to get me back to his home. "I love my son," he said as phoney as some of the actors I had seen on television. "All I want for him is to follow his dreams and become the superstar football player he was meant to be. It would mean everything to me…and his mother's loving memory."
The prosecutor's cross examination was able to prove otherwise, though. "Mr. Mitchell, the love for your son is as fake as your tone of voice as you spoke. All you care about is him becoming you to continue a supposed legacy. I'm sorry, Mr. Mitchell, but your all-pro status is not going to help you. You have been nothing less than abusive towards your son, especially after your wife died. Your criminal record over the last few years has proven that you are not a good father setting an example. It's a sad fact in this country that some parents want to push their kids so hard in the world of sports. You have forgotten to understand that your son likes to play the game for fun, but Josh knows he doesn't want to play football all his life.
"He wants something to fall back on. The kinds of grades he's had, Josh could easily end up at a great school like Stanford or even Harvard. Josh knows he must maintain his grades to remain on the team at all. If he can't get into college with his feet, he can most certainly get in with his brilliant mind."
Dad growled with anger. "A brilliant mind? That doesn't translate on the field! I want him to be back on the field by next season, and I won't let anything stand in the way of it!"
The judge slammed his gavel hard. "That's enough, Mr. Mitchell. As a judge, I have to remain arbitrary, but just this once I wish I could send you to the guillotine. I want to call recess for 15 minutes. By then, I'll have the decision as to what to do."
Boy, did Dad get a surprise. He ended up having to spend 30 more days in jail, and pay for all the court costs.
Even better, still, I got to stay with Billy and his family longer, which meant therapy was going to be more fun than before. Billy would come with me to the hospital for the therapy, giving me constant words of encouragement to make sure I was able to walk again.
Less than two months later, I had feeling returning to my legs. It
was the most exhilarating feeling I had in my life because it looked like
I was actually going to beat the odds and be able to walk again and soon.
The doctors were impressed with my will and drive to keep going until I could walk on my two feet once more. I managed to take more and more steps with each passing day. Even if it were only one small step, it was one step closer to achieving my goal of just being able to walk.
Dr. Stansbury held a press conference to announce the stunning news. "I'm happy to say that Josh Mitchell has feeling in his legs again, and he's slowly starting to walk again. The walking exercises and shock therapy to stimulate his spinal cord and legs have proven more successful than we could have anticipated. The only sad part about this is…Josh won't be able to use that wheelchair anymore, and I know he's become pretty attached to it."
The reporters laughed heartily at that comment, but the doctor was right…I was going to miss that fun wheelchair I used for about three months. My "wild wheels" were about to get replaced by the metallic crutches, which became more of a challenge. At least I'd be on my feet, though, which was content for me at that time. At least all that time I had no problems from Dad, since I was able to stay with Billy and his family.
Incredibly, Dad managed to keep his temper in check long enough for me to be able to go home with him again. I was a little worried about it, since I had to succumb to his ways again.
As I was slowly and steadily handled the crutches, Dad's attitude got a whole lot worse. He couldn't stand seeing me with those crutches.
A couple of weeks after I started using the crutches, Dad would continuously pick on me and make me feel really bad about myself.
There was one day I sure won't forget in this mess. When Billy and his family dropped me off at home, Dad immediately pulled me into the house and started screaming at me for no reason at all.
"You good-for-nothing miserable excuse! How dare you be even be related to me! You're nothing more than a total loser, and that's all you'll ever be to me. You ruined everything because of your being paralyzed! I don't care if you ever walk again! You destroyed the dream, and I'm gonna make you pay!" He then ran up and started hitting me! "You worthless nothing! You don't deserve to be my son!"
Suddenly, Jamal's ghost appeared in the middle of the room, with an angry look on his face. "I warned you about harming him, Mr. Mitchell, but you still refuse to understand. Perhaps another trip in the air should knock some sense into you!"
His eyes glowing in angry red again, he made Dad float up to the ceiling, forcing him to let me go.
Dad screamed in fury. "Put me down! Who do you think you are!? You're dead!"
"In case you forgot," said Jamal in near rage, "I still have unfinished business…with you! As a father, you're supposed to be encouraging your son to get better, but instead you put him down and hurt him with your harsh words and your hands. You should use your hands to help him, but you only care about yourself! Since you refuse to support your son after all he's been through so far, I will come to haunt you every night in your dreams, especially with all those images of times you couldn't tackle Dad, since he always scored on you."
I was shocked. "What? Dad couldn't block 'The Rod' from scoring touchdowns?"
"No, he couldn't. Your father was unable to block Dad from getting into the end zone."
I looked up at him and said, "Wow, I never knew that…Dad."
Dad snarled, "That's none of your business!"
"As long as I'm around," the ghost said, "everything you are and everything you do to your son will be my personal business!"
"You can't do this to me!"
"Oh, yes, I can. You can't arrest a ghost, and who's going to believe you!? Right now, nobody believes anything you say, especially the phoney love you have for your son! Until you understand what your son is going through, I will never leave you alone!"
Dad started understanding one thing: This ghost meant serious business.
Jamal was sick and tired of seeing my father hurting me at every turn, and he was determined to get Dad to change his way of treating me. "If you don't start being more encouraging towards your son, he could end up just where I am now, as a ghost. Believe me, I'm gonna make your life a nightmare until you acknowledge your son's own dreams and ambitions. I will start haunting you and keep it up until you finally come to your senses!"
For the first time, I actually saw Dad's eyes widened in fear. Oh, man, Jamal's really going out of his way to protect me. Thanks, pal.
The second the ghost disappeared, Dad fell to the floor pretty hard. He still didn't believe that ghost could really do anything. "I don't care what that…thing says. I'll find a way to make him leave me alone, like I'm gonna make you get back onto the field!"
I couldn't run because of my crutches, but I made due. "Dad, I suggest you take Jamal seriously. Remember what he said about giving you nightmares. Most ghosts are capable of doing things that could scare even the most unlikely of people."
"We'll see about that," Dad said angrily as he finally got to his feet. "Come the new school year, you'll be back on that field and playing hard again." He then stormed out of the living room.
"That's what you think, Dad. I hope you'll live a day in my shoes and see how it really feels."
Floating outside the house, Jamal apparently heard my idea. "Hmm, live a day in his shoes…sounds like an intriguing idea. Thanks, Josh."
Throughout the next few weeks, Jamal would haunt Dad every night with those
moments where he couldn't block Rodney Wilkinson from scoring touchdowns
on him. The ghost told me what kind of plays his dad would do to
get past my father, and I couldn't help laughing about it.
Believe me, it was so much fun seeing Dad wake up with a cold sweat on his face for a change. He got more and more nervous with each passing day, but he was not going to give in to the ghost's demands.
When Spring Break came along, I was ready to go outside and chill with my friends, but Dad wanted to keep me in the house every day instead, making sure he was able to treat me like the loser he thought I was.
"Forget it, brat! You'll never step out of this house with those crutches."
"Dad, I have to get to my therapy. I'm so close to walking again I can almost feel it."
"I don't think so, loser! I don't want you going anywhere during your week off!"
I looked at my watch and realized I was going to be late if I didn't leave right away. "Look, Dad, I don't have time to argue! I have to go now!"
Just as Dad was about to grab me again, something suddenly stopped him. He never got his hands around my throat.
"What's stopping you, Dad? The ghost again?"
"No, it's…the fact you're so close to walking again…and being on the field again to make me proud. Perhaps I should let you go to your therapy."
I was pleasantly surprised by his turn of emotion. "You…mean that?"
"Yes, I do. How much longer will you have to use the crutches?"
"According to Dr. Stansbury, I'll be able to walk completely within the next month or so."
"Well, in that case, go for it! Go get 'em, tiger."
Just as Billy's family van pulled up, I said, "Thanks…Dad. That means a lot to me." I then left for the van and my therapy once again.
What I didn't know was that Dad had something in mind as soon as I could walk again. "You're going to run for the Hawks in your senior year, Josh. And I'll see to it that nothing gets in the way of you being the football star you deserve to be."
Jamal heard everything from the outside and became really upset about Dad's plans. "Why that miserable jerk! He still thinks his son belongs on the football field! I'm gonna use Josh's idea and make his father live a day in his shoes."
That night, as Dad was trying to sleep soundly, he was quickly awakened by the ghost's angry scream. "You again? I…I'm doing better."
"Don't lie to me, Mr. Mitchell!" Jamal shouted. "I heard you saying you planned on getting Josh back onto the field as soon as he was able to walk again. You still don't care about what happened to your own son! I will show you how he's feeling. As of tomorrow morning, starting with the moment you awaken, you will live in your son's body for 24 hours. You'll see just what he's had to go through because of your constant verbal abuse! As for me, I'll live in your body and treat you the way you have been treating your son! I can hardly wait until tomorrow morning." He then disappeared.
Dad had a cold sweat down his back. "No, he couldn't do that. I don't believe him. He couldn't do anything like that to me." He then went back to sleep, but he was in for a big surprise when he woke up the next morning.
Knowing he woke up at about 5:30 in the morning, Jamal went ahead with
his crazy plan. "Your soul will inhabit your son's body while mine
will take yours over. Hope you enjoy your day, because you'll see
just what it's like to be abused."
How Jamal managed to pull this off, I'll never know. Anyway, he made Dad's soul come out of his body and float into my own! As for Jamal, he took on Dad's body like a duckling took to the pond.
In my room, I woke up at 5:30, which wasn't normal for me. I woke up at about 6 every morning. I felt somewhat different, but then, that was pretty normal considering the circumstances of what Jamal was doing to Dad on this day. "I feel…different." As I—I mean, Dad—tried to get out of bed, he suddenly fell to the floor, unable to move his legs very comfortably. "What's going on here?" He looked at his hands and said, "No! I don't believe it! He pulled it off! I'm in my son's body! If that's true, then…that ghost is inside of me!"
"Dad" slammed the door open and yelled, "Get up, loser! You've got to get to therapy this morning! You said you'd be walking in the next month or so. I want you back on the field this fall, and you're not getting any closer to it by sitting on your butt!"
"I" was having some trouble. "But, you don't understand! I can't get to the crutches."
"Then crawl like a baby to those things! You can crawl, so just do it already! Breakfast will be ready in 20 minutes. You had better get down there by then, or you'll get the shellacking of your life!" Dad then left the room with full throttle anger.
As for "me," I struggled desperately to reach the crutches. "If I don't get down there, he'll hurt me. I can't believe that ghost did this to me! Now I'll never be able to function!"
I finally managed to get the crutches and got down to the first floor for breakfast, but not before "Dad" yelled at me.
"You miserable excuse! You are five minutes late! Now sit down and eat your breakfast! Billy and his mother will be picking you up in about 30 minutes, so get a move on!"
I tried to eat as quickly as I could and then get dressed. On the inside of me, Dad was getting the feeling he wasn't going to like this one day. No, I never got injured like this! I'll make that ghost pay for this!
As for Jamal, he was having more fun than he could have hoped, being inside Dad's body. Mr. Mitchell will change his mind after today, I'm positive he will. If this doesn't work, then I may have to resort to something seriously drastic. Yuck! He drinks some strong coffee.
I managed to eat everything on my plate and get dressed in the nick of time. "Okay, I'm ready, finally. But, what will happen to me?"
"Don't you know!? You're going in extensive therapy today. You'll be taking some regular steps hopefully. Now, hurry it up! Billy and his mom will be here shortly!"
The van showed up just in time as Dad quickly had to learn to use the crutches. Rushing so fast to reach the van, he accidentally tripped himself up. "Shoot! I can't get this right!"
Billy looked very surprised at "me." "What's the matter with you, Josh? You've never tripped on those things before. What happened?"
"Oh, um, nothing. I was just in too big a hurry this morning. I woke up late this morning." Thanks to that stupid ghost doing this to me! I am not my son!
After getting dropped off at therapy, Dad hobbled badly with the crutches while meeting Dr. Stansbury.
"Josh, you okay? Are you having some kind of side effect or something?"
"Listen, a ghost put my soul into my son's body!"
The doctor just laughed it off. "Oh, Josh, you and your sense of humor. Come on, we have to start with your electrophysiological treatment."
Electro-what? He's got to be kidding me! I'm a former pro; I don't need this! He dropped the crutches and tried to run away. He fell to the floor, though, as he was in serious pain at that moment. "Ahh!"
Dr. Stansbury ran up to him. "Josh, are you trying to be brave or totally foolish? You've got to wait about another month before you can even consider trying to run again."
"No! I can run! I'm not Josh! I'm his father!"
"Josh, I think you fell and conked yourself pretty good last night. You're acting rather delirious right now."
"I" grabbed Dr. Stansbury by the jacket. "You idiot! I really am Jake Mitchell! That goofy ghost is inside my body right now!"
Two male interns took two tranquilizer needles and injected me with it, knocking me out cold.
"I don't know what's come over him, but perhaps he needs some rest."
After about an hour, "I" finally awakened. "What the…? Where am I?"
"In intensive care," said a nurse. "You're delirious right now. You think you're your father Jake."
"But, it's true! I am Jake Mitchell! My body has been taken over by a ghost!"
Dr. Stansbury walked into the room. "Hmm, perhaps some therapy will jog his mind back to normal. After all, there is no such things as ghosts. Come along, Josh, you've rested long enough. It's time to stimulate the legs first…for about an hour."
An hour!? He's got to be kidding!
In the special room, the wires were hooked up to the legs to shock them into moving by reflex. Incredibly, they reacted just fine.
"Very good, Josh. It seems your legs are almost ready to walk again. However, I wish I could tell your father not to let you play football again to risk further injury, permanent paralysis, or even death…just like Jamal Wilkinson."
"Yes, I did. I was the Wilkinson's family doctor when Jamal was growing up. I was deeply heartbroken about his parents' divorce, and then his mother taking her own life. I told him he could always talk to me about anything. His father, though, wouldn't let me help him with his problems because he wanted Jamal to be a pro player, like your father's trying to make you. When that play happened four years ago, Jamal's jugular vein was ruptured. He was rushed over here, where he was pronounced dead after bleeding to death. We did everything we could to save him, but it was too late. I still feel a little guilty about what happened to him.
"When you were paralyzed on the field, I felt a chill down my back because I thought that night would replay all over again. The fortunate thing was that you were still alive, and I had a chance to make up for not being able to help Jamal."
Dad couldn't believe his ears. Dr. Stansbury wanted to help Jamal, but his father was just like what I am to Josh right now. "Um, how did Jamal's father react when he…died?"
"Rodney was very devastated by losing his son. He learned the hard way that there was much more to life than sports. Jamal had a bright future ahead of him, but he didn't get to fulfill his own dreams because of his father's constant verbal and physical abuse. Your father is heading down the same road. How many young people have to die as a result of not allowing them to pursue their own dreams and interests?"
"I hope…I won't be one of them. I'm sorry about earlier, Doc."
"It's okay, Josh. Some days, patients can become disoriented and delirious because they can't walk or run. It can be very discouraging at times. We've completed the shock therapy. Now, ready for the physical therapy?"
"I guess so."
In that therapy, "I" struggled to take regular steps without falling down.
The therapists were yelling as a way of encouraging "me" to go on. "Come on, Josh! You're so close now! We know you can do it!"
Dad couldn't believe the yelling part. This is what my son is going through every day? This much yelling? This yelling is not like mine, though. They're telling him not to give up, make him push himself harder just so he can walk again. I…I'm not sure if I want Josh to be on the football field again now. He's been through so much. His mother died of cancer, and I haven't exactly been helpful to him…forcing him to take up football. It would be nice for him to follow my footsteps, but maybe…maybe I should let Josh decide for himself what he wants to do. I shouldn't be controlling everything he does. Oh, what have I done to my own son?
"I" had determination in my eyes, not wanting to quit on the most important thing for me to do, which was be able to walk.
The little steps I had for the last couple of months grew into regular steps, and the therapists were applauding the efforts.
"At a boy, Josh!" yelled one of them. "You're almost there! About another two to three weeks and you'll be able to walk completely on your feet again!"
My son has compassion all around him, and they're determined not to give up on him, as long as he doesn't quit on himself. I've got to encourage him not to give up on himself. If I don't, my son will never forgive me. I've put him down so much all these years. I'm so ashamed of myself now.
When "I" got home, "Dad" saw the look on my face. "So, how did your therapy go…Mr. Mitchell?"
"It…opened my eyes. The therapists yell at him, but they shout words of encouragement as opposed to my demeaning words of pain. I had no idea he went through all this."
"I'm glad you see it that way, Mr. Mitchell. Oh, and this came for your son. It's a scholarship letter…from Penn State University."
Dad couldn't believe it. "Wait a minute. Josh is only a junior, and he already got a scholarship letter?"
"Yes. Behind your back, your son has been applying for scholarships because of his high academic standings."
"His own dream."
"Right. He'll be getting a lot more in the months to come. He understands there is more to life than the game of football. Do you understand it better now?"
"Yes, I do. He wanted something to fall back on in case a pro career didn't work out for him. It's beginning to make sense to me now."
"I'm glad. However, I wish you didn't drink such strong coffee."
"Sorry, Jamal, it's been a habit for a long time…just like putting my son down for not concentrating on football."
"Some habits may be hard to break, but you can stop putting your son down. Tomorrow morning you'll be back in your regular body again, and hopefully you'll have a better understanding about what your son is going through. Try going to his therapy with him, and give him some encouraging words from the heart. It'll make a huge difference for him."
"I" smiled. "I will, Jamal, and thank you for helping me see the light."
"You're welcome. Now, um, how about some dinner?"
"Sure. I'm hungry."
After dinner, they had another discussion.
"Um, Jamal, Dr. Stansbury was the doctor who couldn't save you when you died, right?"
"Yes, he was. Why?"
"He's carried some of the guilt from not being able to help you that night."
"I know. I want him to be at peace with himself. I also want my father to be at peace with himself. He's also been feeling guilty about my passing."
"Is there anything I can do?"
"Not sure, to be honest. I have to find a way to reach them both myself."
"Maybe I can do something. Convincing Stansbury won't be so easy, though."
"Lemme guess, he doesn't believe in ghosts?"
"Most doctors don't."
"Don't worry. I think I can get through to him and my father."
"How can you get through to your father?"
Jamal answered, "He visits my grave almost every day, but that's the only place he goes. He never gets out of the house for any other purpose."
"I see. Perhaps a visit to that grave will be of help."
"Agreed. Thanks for the suggestion, Mr. Mitchell."
Smiling, Dad (still inside my body) said, "Glad to help for a change. I will go with my son to his therapy and start shouting encouragement instead of shame. I owe you one, my friend."
"No, you don't. Just seeing you be able to understand your son's situation and try to be more encouraging is payment enough for me."
Soon, both went to sleep peacefully, without a problem.
The next morning, Dad awakened at 5:30 and looked at himself. "I'm
back…I'm back! Wow, I feel better than ever!"
I woke up a half-an-hour later and noticed Dad in a more upbeat mood as he was cooking breakfast. "Dad, are you okay?"
He looked at me and smiled. "I'm fine, Josh. A lot better than I've ever been in my entire life."
"You're not…yelling at me?"
"No, son. Yesterday, I went through an experience that changed my life and the way I have been treating you. I want to apologize for all those times I've forced you into something you weren't comfortable with."
"Yes, Josh, I do. Oh, and you already have a scholarship letter from Penn State."
"Penn State!? Oh, my God! How cool! That's the college I want to go to. It has one of the best sports medicine programs in the country!"
"It also has one of the greatest football programs out there—"
"Dad?" I said forcibly.
"No, son, I don't mean you have to play on the team. Joe Paterno is the legendary coach. He's been there for about 55 years."
My eyes widened. "Wow, he's been coaching that long? That's amazing."
"Yes." Dad then walked up to me and said, "Son, I want you to pursue your own dreams, the ones that make you happy. If you still want to play football, you decide for yourself. Okay?"
I smiled in true happiness. "Really? You'll let me pursue my ambition in sports medicine?"
"Yes, Josh. I've made you unhappy long enough. I need to let you be your own person, not be my shadow. I became a stat about parents trying to be too forceful on their kids when it comes to sports."
"That's true, Dad, you did. I'm glad you're starting to change."
"It won't be that easy for me to change, but here's a starting point now. And…I want to go with you to your therapy…as encouragement. Is that okay with you?"
"It sure is, Dad. Thanks."
For the first time in a long time, we actually hugged each other.
I had never felt this good in my life, and Dad's true love for me finally started to show.
The ghost then appeared in front of both of us. "Congratulations, Mr. Mitchell. You're finally making yourself a better person. You now know Josh's therapy has made himself better not only physically but also mentally and emotionally."
"Thanks, Jamal. Um, what about your father, though?"
"He's on his way to my grave right now. I'm gonna go see him real quick."
"Good luck, Jamal."
"Thank you, Mr. Mitchell. Josh, good luck to you."
The ghost disappeared from our house, and we just smiled at each other.
"Come on, Josh," said Dad happily. "Let's go to your therapy together. I'd love to see what you do."
Meanwhile, about three miles away, at the local cemetery, Rodney Wilkinson
lay flowers at his son's grave, like he had done every day for the past
four years. "Hi, son."
Mr. Wilkinson gasped and suddenly turned to see an apparition. "I don't believe it…Jamal?"
"Yeah, it's me."
"What are you doing here?"
"I came to Earth to help someone, a young star who was being treated badly after going down."
"Son…was it Josh Mitchell?"
"Yes. He needed help with his father, but now they have made amends. I wanted to come here to tell you that I forgave you after I passed on. You just wanted to do what was best for me, even though it was difficult for me."
"You've forgiven me?"
"Yeah. You need to forgive yourself, though. The guilt you carry is unnecessary. Please, Dad. Remember our good times together, not the moment I died. Cherish my life, don't mourn my death."
Mr. Wilkinson had tears in his eyes. "Thank you. Thank you, Jamal."
"You're welcome, Dad. Oh, and, um, can you tell Dr. Stansbury I forgive him, too?"
"You bet, son. Take care of yourself."
"We'll see each other again. My work is done here. Bye, Dad." Jamal finally disappeared, his mission completed.
A few minutes later, Mr. Wilkinson went to see Dr. Stansbury.
He said, "Doc, I saw my son this morning. I know you don't believe in ghosts, but he wanted me to come here and tell you he forgives you for not being able to help him that night."
"Really?" asked the surprised doctor. "Well, I…appreciate that. Hmm, perhaps that ghost was real after all. If he were, he was a catalyst for helping Josh with his therapy."
Months later, I made it into my senior year of high school, and the first
game of the season had arrived.
Everyone at the game that night was very excited not just for the game, but also for something else.
"Ladies and gentlemen," said the public address announcer, "he has given us encouragement and hope after suffering such a devastating injury last year. He has proven beyond doubt that anything is possible with determination and perseverance. By refusing to give up on himself, he has made it all the way back. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Hawkinsdale High's #19, Joshua Mitchell!"
I just ran onto the field, no pads or anything, but it felt absolutely incredible just being able to walk again. I was so excited in the fact I beat the odds, no matter how high they were against me.
Even though I couldn't play football anymore, Coach Simpkins actually gave me a special spot on the team: student assistant coach. I was able to help the incoming freshmen understand what moves they needed and everything, so that was actually nice.
Dad became much better also, treating me with more respect and allowing me to pursue my own dreams after he spent a day inside of me. When I felt down, I was actually able to talk to him, and he would give me some encouraging words to live by. He went through some psychological therapy at his own free will, and he never got into trouble with the law ever again. He literally learned that cliché, "Try walking a mile in someone else's shoes."
When I graduated from high school, I was named valedictorian for the class. I received a bunch of acceptance letters from different universities across the country, but I chose Penn State like I had originally planned because of their sports medicine program.
Of course, I do go to the Penn State home games at Beaver Stadium, too, since I can still love football without being forced to play the game.
There was another secret reason I wanted to go to Penn State University. That secret reason: A certain Penn State player named Adam Taliaferro. I heard his incredible story about his own paralysis and being able to beat odds worse than my own. During the treatment, I always took my mind back to the night he was able to run out onto the field after creating his own miracle.
I know I'm a miracle myself, not as big as Adam's, but it's enough of a miracle to know I'm still alive and still…walking.
I wanted to do this story because of the story of Adam Taliaferro himself. Doctors gave him just a 3% chance to ever walk again, but he did beat the odds. When I heard the story and saw him run out onto the football field in front of the 105,000 fans in Beaver Stadium and the millions watching on TV, I was moved to tears because what he did was truly a miracle.
I also wanted to stress another issue: Parents' treatment of their children about playing sports. Sports is supposed to be fun competition, but increasingly we hear about parents punishing their children for not performing well or parents themselves getting into fights, ruining the fun for the children. When they play a game, encourage them to do their best. If they don't do well, don't hurt their feelings. Just say, "You tried. We'll help you do better the next time."