It is almost morning, and so far, I have not been able to get any sleep. All night I have been tossing and turning in my bed because I am frightened of what is going to happen to me today on my thirteenth birthday.
It makes me angry that my ten-year-old brother Jimmy is sleeping soundly in the bunk bed above me without a care in the world, and by the smell, I am sure he has once again wet his bed. My only satisfaction is that in three more years, it will be his time.
Above the sounds of my brother’s steady breathing, I can hear my father snoring in my parent’s bedroom at the end of the hall, and I can also faintly hear the ticking of the wall clock below in the kitchen. Through the window at the foot of the bed, I can see that it is starting to get light outside, so I know it must be almost dawn.
Today I have reached the age for my Finding, and I just hope I am prepared enough. I have spent two long hours, three days each week after school, for the last year studying hard with my Guide learning the teachings in the Book of Wisdom, and I think I have thoroughly memorized the section I have to recite out loud. I know everything I do or have done is supposed to be known and considered, so I have even stopped masturbating as I am sure that if it was found out, it somehow might be held against me.
Neither my Guide nor my parents are willing to tell me what to expect when I have my Finding except they say that afterward, things will change, I will no longer be a child. When I ask them how I will no longer be a child and what will change, all they do is tell me, you will have your Finding and that I shouldn’t worry. The only silly thing I can imagine is that maybe it means that afterward, somehow, I will get a larger penis and grow more hair down there.
Anyhow, I wish it were all that simple, and I could stop worrying. I don’t understand why none of the adults will tell us what to expect. It seems that they are all forbidden to talk about it or just want to make us suffer in the waiting. When I spoke about my upcoming Finding with my group of boyfriends, nobody seems to know anything for sure what will happen, but they all have their own bright ideas about what might occur if you somehow fail.
Their silly notions range from that if you fail, they send you away to live in China that they remove your penis or your testicles so you cannot reproduce to that they poke a rod in your skull through your eye socket to lobotomize you. They all seem to dwell on what could happen to you if you fail, and nobody seems to have any great ideas or encouraging thoughts on what will happen if you manage to pass. I didn’t tell them my dumb idea about maybe getting a larger penis.
Charlie, my best friend, even swears he overheard his Guide, saying that if you are found not worthy, you will be immediately executed on the spot, and your body quickly incinerated.
I doubt if that is true since I know there is a big family get together planned after the Finding service since both of my aunts and uncles have flown in from Chicago to join in the occasion, and I doubt they would be here planning to celebrate my castration or death.
I do remember that some boys did not return to school afterward, so maybe as crazy as it sounded that Charlie was right. I tried to remember the names of the ones that did not return, but they didn’t hang around with my crowd.
Since I am the oldest boy in my group, they are all looking forward to me telling them afterward what it was like and what actually happened to me. They even made me do a pinky-swear that I promised to tell them everything.
None of us are sure what happens to the girls when they reach thirteen, and we all wonder if they have a Finding or something similar. Charlie says he asked his older sister Susan what happened to her when she reached thirteen, and all she told him was that she stopped using a training bra.
Somehow I finally did fall asleep because the next thing I remember is my Mom gently shaking me awake and telling me to get up, put on my robe, and come down for breakfast. She told me that she is making my favorite breakfast of waffles so don’t dawdle.
As I get out of bed and go into the closet to get my bathrobe, I hear Jimmy climb down from the top bunk. I yell back at him that I know he pissed himself again, and that I was going to tell Mom. He yells something dirty at me and rushes, crying toward the bathroom.
I know I am mean to him, but I really don’t care since today I have my own issues to deal with. So, after I hesitantly put on my bathrobe, I head down for breakfast.
When I enter the kitchen, Mom is at the counter busily cooking her delicious smelling waffles, and my dad, already fully dressed in his suit except for putting on his tie, is eating his waffles at the kitchen table with its red checkered tablecloth. He looks over at me as I sit down, smiles, and says happy thirteenth birthday Tony, today is your big day. Are you ready for it?
I mumble a reply that I hoped so, but I don’t admit to him how much I am scared.
Dad takes a long sip of his coffee, looks at his watch, and says to Mom and me that we will need to be leaving in about 30 minutes so that we arrive at the prescribed time. Jimmy needs to get down here now if he wants to eat breakfast with us.
I was about to say Jimmy was probably upstairs changing the bedsheets he got wet but decided to be nice and let it pass. What the hell if Charlie was right, I might be dead or gone tomorrow.
Mom brought me a plate with two hot waffles, and I poured on the homemade maple syrup she always made and dug in. I may have been scared, but I was still hungry, and I really loved the taste of Mom’s waffles and her syrup.
A few minutes later, Jimmy came down and timidly joined us at the table. I know he was expecting to get scolded for wetting his bed, and when nothing was said, he looked over at me with apparently what I assumed was a thank you look or maybe just a look of incredibility.
After we all had finished eating, I help Mom with the dishes and Jimmy, and I go back upstairs to brush our teeth. I thought Jimmy might at least say thank you, but instead, he just glares at me and says I hope you don’t come back so I can get the lower bunk. That pisses me off so much that I was ready to punch him, but instead, I just tell him you better hope I don’t come back because the next time you do it, I will tell all your friends that you still wet your bed at night.
When I finish dressing in my new blue suit along with the white shirt and red clip-on tie that Mom put on the hanger, I look over at Jimmy who is lying in his bed reading a comic book, and I tell him to make sure you don’t piss on yourself while the babysitter is here.
Before Jimmy has the time to say something nasty back, Dad yells for me to get downstairs as the babysitter has arrived to watch Jimmy, and it is time for us to leave.
After giving Jimmy the bird, I rush downstairs, where Mom checks me over and straightens my tie. We then go out into the garage and get into Dad’s new Buick sedan he is so proud of and start on the short drive downtown to the Temple of Wisdom.
We have driven by the Temple many times before, but I have never been inside it since that privilege is reserved exclusively for adults, those people over the age of thirteen. Maybe that is all that they mean when they say I will no longer be a child that I will now be allowed to go inside?
The Temple is a large, very modern-looking glass and steel building, and when we arrive, I can see clearly through the side windows as we walk up that most of the front pews are already packed with adult family friends along with my Aunts and Uncles visiting from Chicago. My Guide is waiting for me when we enter the main doorway and tells me I am to wait in back with him until I am called up to the pulpit.
While waiting there alongside my Guide, I try to act brave, but it is not working as I am becoming even more frightened. I am starting to sweat, my shirt collar feels like it is choking me and I can’t keep my hands from shaking, I just hope nobody notices them. I suppose I am lucky. If I were like Jimmy by now, I would probably have also wetted my pants.
Several minutes later, a deep resonate gong sounds, and my Guide gives me a thumbs up and a gentle shove indicating it was time for me to go forward.
With great trepidation, since now everyone is staring at me, I clench up my hands to hide the shaking and slowly walk down the aisle until I am standing alone and by now absolutely terrified in front of the large polished metal and crystal pulpit.
A few moments later, from a speaker dome on the top front of the pulpit, there comes a loud, deep stentorian voice saying, “Welcome Tony, today is the day of your Finding and I will judge you and determine your future life. There are three possible findings I may make for you. The first, if I deem further education is wasted on you, you will be sent away to begin work as a laborer; the second, If I believe you suitable, you will be allowed to remain at home and enter into apprentice training. Lastly, if I find you intelligent enough and worthy, you will be able to continue your education and go to college. Now Tony – please start your recital.”
This is closely based on a story I wrote and submitted back in 1953 when I was fourteen years old as an entry to a contest being held by I believe Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine. I was the junior winner, received a $50 cash prize, which I used to buy a Raleigh 3-speed bicycle, and my story was published in the magazine later that year.