Freshman summer. I spent it working on my grandfather’s farm, but it wasn’t for fun or because I wanted to. It started during the school year when my life started to take a turn for the worse—The friends I was involved with and things I was doing weren’t things that parents want their kids doing. But I was blind, thinking I was always right and that no matter what I did nothing would come from it.

As the school year dwindled on and my life was still spiraling down, I was too blinded by my influences to even notice. It took doing probably the stupidest thing that I have ever done to realize that my life choices hadn’t been so great. One day my friends thought that it would be funny if we tagged this kid’s house. I jumped right in and that night sneaked out of my house and met up with my friends. When I got there they were all bummed because we had no spray paint. Knowing we couldn’t just buy spray paint we did the only thing that would could—steal it.

We went into the store scared and nervous, but I had never been more excited. Blood was racing through my veins and my heart was pumping so fast. Me and my friend went and grabbed two cans each and just ran. One of the clerks chased us as we fled to the nearest neighborhood. Thinking that they might have called the cops, I tried to suggest that we do the tagging another night, but my friends just called me names. Upset, I grabbed the spray paint and decided to just say screw the plan and went to tag the first house in the neighborhood. My friends joined in. I was almost done when the house’s garage door started to open. Not knowing what to do, I jumped in the backyard and laid down, hoping I wouldn’t be seen. But sure enough, he called the cops and since they were already at the store near us they got there quick. I was so scared that I panicked and tried to jump the fence, but I got caught.

They brought me to my house and my dad has never been so mad in his life. He wouldn’t even look at me. My mom took me to my room and told me to go to bed. I didn’t get to speak to my parents that night but I will always remember their words. Mom said “I just can’t take it anymore. I’m losing my son.” And my Dad “You’re going to your grandpa’s this summer.” The next couple of weeks were spent at the house I tagged, cleaning up the mess and anything else he needed just so he wouldn’t press charges. The whole time I was thinking that after those weeks I would be done and able to do what I wanted again…but that wasn’t the case.

Three weeks and a 10 hour car ride later I arrived on my grandpa’s farm, rejoicing that this was the best they could do as punishment. I expected to do nothing, and that night I slept like a baby—until four in the morning came around and water was thrown in my face. “What the f?” I said. There were clothes on the chair next to me but they were overalls and a flannel, which I refused to wear.

As I walked out down the hall to the kitchen a great big meal was waiting for me with pancakes, toast, eggs, sausage, and just everything you could want for breakfast. After I devoured the meal I went back to my room to sleep, but my grandpa told me to go outside because “We got work today”. He said we would go easy to start off. He wanted me to push-mow all 3 acres of his lawn. I threw it off with a laugh and said “Really, grandpa,” and with the blankest stare he told me to get to work. All day I never stopped complaining, and all day it took me to mow the lawn and pick up all the grass. Dead tired after the day’s work I crawled right into bed to go to sleep.

Day after day after day the workload continued and the more resistant I tried to be. One day I ran in to the grain field and lay there all day long and it was so peaceful I just never wanted leave. At about 9 o’clock my grandpa walked out to where I was and laid down with me. He started crying. Why though—I just didn’t know why—so I asked him.

“Grandpa, are you alright?”
“Yeah. I’m fine Christian, I’m just worried for you.”
“Why are you worried?”
And the answer was something I would never expect—He told me that he was just like me when he was a kid. A little rascal who always had his nose in trouble. I couldn’t believe it but the next thing he said changed my perspective.
“Christian, life is what you make it. And if you continue to make the choices you are making, you’re going to get hurt and just get in more trouble. I went down the path you did and I can promise you that nothing good is to come from it. Start to rethink your values…or your life as you know it will be no more.”

He left me there lying in the grain. All I did was think, but as time passed by a tear ran down my face. The first time since I could remember I started to cry, because I knew he was right—I knew what he was saying was true. I ran to him and hugged him. I told him that no one had ever taken the time to relate to me like he did.

I promised from that day to make better choices and give life all I’ve got. The rest of the summer flew right by. I spent most of my time that summer swimming in their little river, feeding the chickens, or even helping my grandpa around the house. That summer I will never forget because to me it was a wake up call.

Essay and Images by CHRISTIAN BRETT