August 15, 2006
"My Watch Doesn’t Tell Time is an excellent book and by reading it, I learned a few things that made me think a lot. One thing I learned was that friends are like family and they are always there for you in good times and bad times. Something that helped me learn this was that even though some of the main characters friends were in heaven, they still came to help him in his dreams. It was interesting the way the main character, Miguel went to different places and learned something from each place. The way the places were described made me feel like I was in those places with Miguel. Something that surprised me was that Miguel always met lots of people who taught him something that sometimes changed his life. The ending of the story was dramatic but it was well planned out and there were some hints that told you how it was going to end."
--Giulia Calcagno, seventh-grade student (Copenhagen International School)
chapter 18: sample excerpt
“Are you sure there’s enough time?” I asked Aunt Shirley.
“Well, what time is it exactly?”
“12:30. We’ve got to be there by two.”
“I know. There’s always plenty of time, Miguel. After all, it never runs out…since it never existed in the first place. Remember?”
The first time Aunt Shirley had ever told me that was when I was in the hospital at Stanford about to have another one of my main surgeries. I’ll never forget that conversation. That’s when she’d given me one of the most meaningful gifts of my life. My memory of our talk back then also gave me another reason to do something special, to pass along something that helped me keep alive in a similar way like Aunt Shirley had done for me. “I think I want to give that watch you’d given me to Alex today.”
“Your watch that doesn’t tell time?”
“Yeah, the one that reminds me I’ll be around forever.”
“What if time runs out?” is the question that makes 14-year old Miguel Estes sweat almost every night. Miguel’s certain of three things though: he’s here to learn lessons, he lives with a fatal form of the skin-blistering disease E.B., and the clock never stops ticking. In his quest to learn everything from the challenging life he’s been given, Miguel discovers who’s responsible for time being over.
chapter one: excerpt
What if time runs out? That question makes me sweat almost every night. Even though I have recessive dystrophic E.B. and I hurt all the time, there’s still lots of stuff I have left to do. When I wake up every morning, I tell myself not to think about it too much. I do anyway.
A long time ago, Aunt Shirley’d given me my specially-made watch that doesn’t tell time, but they’res still reminders all over the place. I realized I’d be turning fifteen soon. That’s not so far off from twenty. Most E.B. kids finish up before then.
Being wrapped up in fresh bandages every day is just something I got used to. My skin’s totally fragile. My eyes close up sometimes from the blisters inside them. Wounds cover up most of my body, and they never go away. I itch all the time. I practically live in the hospital. And, I don’t let myself go to the bathroom ‘cause it hurts too much. This is my life. I get it. I’d never tell Aunt Shirley this, but it’s all starting to get on my nerves big time. These days, I want to scream out loud, a scream everyone can hear, whenever I’m forced to take one of my Clorox baths. I hate it. “It makes you stronger, Miguel,” Aunt Shirley always tells me.
She says she’s changed. Yeah, right. Aunt Shirley’s still totally impatient about everything. She looks just like she’s always looked, with normal-sized brown eyes that’re actually able to see tons more than most people’s. Her hair’s a little different. She put some new brightly colored rows on top. Green, white and red, ‘cause they’re the ones in the Italian flag.
Getting ready to go to the airport on time made Aunt Shirley act totally crazy. “We can’t be late. It’s the only flight going out today. Where’s the bag with my thesis in it? Have you seen it, Miguel? Oh my God. This can’t be happening,” she said. Although she’s the smartest person I’ve ever met, knowing when to chill out is still Number #1 on her list of lessons to learn. On the plane ride over, I knew I’d study my own To Do list once more. It’s the list that’s kept me alive all these years, Aunt Shirley’s invention. The more you want to do, the longer you’ll hang around to do them. Get it? I figured, I might as well get something done instead of being a lazy ass all those hours just watching other people eating the peanuts I couldn’t.
We were on our way to someplace in Italy, so I could be closer to the new treatment center for E.B. kids in its next-door country, Austria. The eb-haus at St. Johann’s Hospital in Salzburg. It’s supposed to be the absolute best. I was way-excited. Mom and Dad had to stay back in San Francisco temporarily. Mom had some huge charity project that hadn’t finished yet. Dad had immigration stuff he had to get sorted out. For sure, both of them were going to join Aunt Shirley and me soon though. For the moment I could tell things were meant to be…exactly the way they were.
All my life I’d wanted to live with Aunt Shirley, and the time finally came for that to happen. Was this my biggest wish come true? For the past few months I’d kept wondering deep down exactly how long I’d end up living. I don’t know why. Nothing new about it. This is something I’d imagined all my life, but somehow it maybe started feeling like time was becoming more urgent, like it mattered more.
“You OK, doll?” Aunt Shirley asked while wiping off her sweaty and makeup-free face.
Catching me by surprise, I checked out Aunt Shirley like it was the first time, startled by her new patriotic Italian head and answered, “Yeah, sure. I already miss home though. You know, sort of.”
I’d been to Europe tons of times with Mom, but this was only my second time with Aunt Shirley. She says there’s so many things for me to learn in it. That’s like the added bonus of going over there. Plus, Lefty’ll be at the new hospital. He’s my old doctor-surgeon from Stanford. Lefty’s so cool. He’s like a gray-haired, tall genius kind of guy. Lefty and Aunt Shirley are still engaged, but the wedding still has to wait until, as Aunt Shirley says, “for the time to be perfect.” I wonder when that’s going to be. After all, is there ever a right time for anything? Who’s the one who decides that anyway?
Part of me can’t stop thinking about how completely weird it is that they’re together at all. Maybe it’s just a big part of their destiny, that they learned such way-different sophical things from each other. Lefty ended up being a lot more like the way Aunt Shirley thinks, that proof doesn’t need to exist in order for stuff to have meaning. Aunt Shirley never really did become like the way Lefty is. Maybe science was never her specialty anyway. Not one of her keywords.
“It’ll all work out. I just know it will,” Aunt Shirley said while still dripping with sweat and sniffling from the recycled, already breathed-in airplane air.
“What’ll work out, A.S.?”
“Our connecting flight. We’ll still make it. These things happen all the time.”
“Yeah, I guess. Maybe if we don’t though, that’s a sign for us not to go, right?”
Just then, Aunt Shirley realized that her impatience was maybe beginning to rub off on me. She stopped dead in her tracks, took a quick deep, fake-mediation breath, and said, “Perhaps I should just stop thinking about it.”
Sometimes it’s amazing how much people, all people, even the smartest ones, seem to think about time. Being late for stuff. Being on time. Running late. Falling behind. It sure takes up a ton of energy, in my opinion. Personally, it makes me tired a lot. Maybe it’s just been inside my head so much lately ‘cause it’s in everyone else’s, too. Like contagious. That’s how I used to be with fear, by the way, if it’s not already obvious. My worst fear was that I’d have no future.
Fear wasn’t just inside my head either, it was spread all over the place, probably even to my fingernails, the ones that E.B. didn’t take away. That’s the biggest lesson of all I learned from Aunt Shirley. Fear isn’t natural. She says we weren’t born with it, we learn it from the people around us, all the stuff that happens to influence us makes us afraid. Every minute of the day, every part of me is still so glad I unlearned all the fear I was never born with. “Grazie mille, Dio.” That means, “Thanks a ton, God.” I’m learning to talk Italian real good now.
The bad thing though is that I won’t be able to go to school when I get there. None of the schools over there take kids that have E.B. I’ve got to have an only at-home teacher, so that’s going to be kind of strange, not being able to hang out with other kids. My teacher’s going to be some older lady who’s the grandma of the new nurse I’m going to have. We’ll see how it goes. The lady’s supposed to be real smart. They told me she likes kids a whole bunch. Cool.
My new hometown is called Viareggio. It’s on some ocean, I mean, sea. The beach there’s supposed to be totally packed like sardines, full of German tourists in July and August. Maybe it’s just like Santa Cruz, but without all the pot-smoking, stoned surfers. I think that only happens in America. I don’t know the word for pot in German, Italian, or any other language. I think cocaine’s the same in all three. In Italy, states are called regions, and counties are called provinces. Viareggio is in Lucca, Toscana. Get it? Mom said I don’t need to tell anyone all that, because everyone in Italy already knows it. It’ll all be so easy, I thought.
In my head, I was so excited about Mom moving in with us after Aunt Shirley and I get settled in. That’ll be awesome. For us three to be together again, just like we were when Aunt Shirley first moved in with me and Mom on Nob Hill, right after she arrived from Boston. Mom’s always lived in California, but Aunt Shirley’s moved around millions of times. She’s had lots of new lives by now, tons of fresh starts. She says it keeps her on her toes. Not like a ballet dancer though, ‘cause she’s real clumsy. Aunt Shirley’d also be the first person to say to anyone, “and…from way before.” She’s the first one who’d taught me that we’ve been around already. When Samantha died, I had the chance to completely learn this all over again. I sure I hope I get to see her once more, you know, my next time. That’ll be so nice.
Samantha was my best friend. Her whole life changed 100% after she learned to become unafraid of everything. Samantha’s Overcoming Fear To Do list was always jam-packed, and by the end, all the things she got done were crossed off. At the end, she even became unafraid of heaven. Probably ‘cause that’s where she knew she was going. Maybe God does that lots, makes you kind of get ready for what you’re about to do, without really letting you know it beforehand. So, it’s always a surprise, but not.
Heading towards the airport in New York reminded me of how Samantha and me were supposed to go to the U.S. Open tennis tournament together. That’s what Samantha always wanted to be, a professional tennis player. That never happened. She ran out of time, I guess...or it was never meant to be. Maybe both. Whatever. I’m not sure. I always wonder who’s the person who picks when time’s over, God or people.
Glancing over to Aunt Shirley’s direction wasn’t exactly rude, because I waited until one of the songs finished up on her headset. I could tell it was over when she stopped bopping her head up and down like she was disco dancing with the Village People. She always liked the blond construction worker the best. She says he’s a real hottie. Plus, she plays the volume so maximumly loud, you can actually hear it all the way up in business class.
“Hey, Aunt Shirley. What’s the music?”
“What are you listening to?” I shouted as heard another song begin.
“Doll, I’m not really sure. It’s one of those new ones. Greenday. Greenpeace. Green Bean. Whoever they are. I don’t really know.”
After hearing her say that, it seemed to me like Aunt Shirley was just killing time. For her not to know something, a fact, a singer, a song or whatever, was way-abnormal, like she had amnesia. Even whenever she’s not totally familiar, her guesses are right nearly every time. Maybe she’d know the answer to my next question, I thought.
“Yo, who’s the person who decides when time is over again? I forgot.”
“What? Well, that’s an odd one. What makes you ask that?”
“I was thinking about Samantha again. Did she not get to be a tennis player ‘cause she ran out of time? Or was it because she was never meant to do that?”
“Wow. Samantha. Ohhhh, what a sweetie. I miss her. Let me think, hon.” Then Aunt Shirley scrunched her eyes up real tight so you couldn’t even see her subtly-tinted red, green and white eyelashes, like she needed to concentrate extra specific. She does that right before she comes up with her best answers, or the times when she gets those migraine headaches. “I don’t think Samantha ran out of time, hon. It seems to me like she did exactly what she wanted to do in life. I don’t feel she regretted anything. She left here victorious. She won the game.”
“The game of life. She beat the clock.”
“Is that what she did?”
“She got in everything…before her time was up.”
“But, tell me again, who’s the one who decides that? I want to know who. Time being up?”
“Oh, hon. You already know this one. We definitely do. It’s always our choice. Whether you can imagine it or not, every one of us decides when our time’s up.”
“We do? So, it’s for sure not God?”
“Nope. I really doubt it, doll. We were put here to do what we want. It’s up to us to decide what exactly that is, when we do it, if we get it all done before our we’re issued our boarding passes outta here, etcetera.”
“Then, wait a minute. What’s destiny? What’s that mean?”
“Destiny. A definition. Give me another sec, doll.”
It took Aunt Shirley a lot longer than a sec, even longer than a minute. After closing her completely scrunched up eyes for what seemed like forever, Aunt Shirley opened them, but then said nothing.
“Are you done? ‘Cause it’s been way over a second. Time’s up.”
“OK, Mr. Stopwatch,” Aunt Shirley said. Then she told me, “Destiny…is what you create for yourself before you’re even here. It’s like a blueprint,” something that was the opposite of what I remembered her having said already.”
“Before? A blueprint. Like for building the TransAmerica pyramid. So, God didn’t invent destinies?”
“No, hon. I don’t think so. Our life is what we make it, what we do with it. It’s all up to us.”
“But then, what’s God for?”
“You know what? Shhhhh. Wait,” Aunt Shirley said in a hushed voice. Then, she continued while turning into a smart ass, “I think someone’s whispering something to me right now. What is it? God, is that Your name? Yes, yes.” Then she said like a command to me with her drill-sergeant eyeballs, “He says to tell you to take a load off. Take a snooze, good buddy.”
“Oh, brother. OK, I get it. But, later. Yeah? You promise to answer later, right?”
Aunt Shirley nodded her head, ending the conversation by pretending to look around the plane for a while, noticing all the different boring, I mean, bored people inside it. I guess I never found any other flagged-hair people interesting enough to notice, ‘cause I actually did fall asleep. I must have been more tired that I thought, from being so anxious about moving into a totally different, new and unfamiliar life. Definitely a big deal for me, for anyone, duh. Only seconds after being asleep, I began dreaming of a very particular time I remembered liking a whole bunch.
“How long do you think it takes for that barge full of whatever to make it all the way to wherever it’s going?”
“Miguel, shhhhhhh,” Samantha’d said.
I could tell I had gone one or probably more over my limit. So, I did shhhhhh. Instead Samantha, wearing her favorite silver-framed glasses, and I, just looked out at the bay full of its choppy waves in front of us, to all the different huge cargo ships passing by, heading beyond the Golden Gate and into the Pacific Ocean. When I was still shhhhed, Samantha said, “It’s hard to imagine now that I could have ever been afraid of such a thing.”
“I know. Duh. Orange-terror alerts are so whack. I mean, just get over it, people.”
“There’s still so many who remain fearful though. I feel sorry for them. All that precious time they’re wasting...all those fears they absorbed from others.”
“Totally a waste.”
“I feel like walking all the way over to the other side today. Do you as well?”
“Yeah, sure. I guess so. You’re not too tired?”
“No, not now. I don’t get tired anymore.”
“Oh, that’s right. I forgot. Perfect,” I said before we let the foghorns have their turn to speak.
Being with Samantha anytime was always the perfect time. She’ll always be the best.
“You look good today, Miguel. You seem more serene than when I saw you last.”
“Maybe ‘cause I really want things to be perfect for me now too. Maybe it’s time for me to have…this, just like you and Jorge.”
“Only you know when it’s your time.”
“So, you think I’m the one who decides?”
“Oh, absolutely. No one else could ever create your destiny.”
“Not even God?”
“I don’t think so.”
“And, you’re not going to talk me out of it? Jorge tried that before he left. And remember? You did that too.”
“Jorge and I didn’t know any better then.”
“Sometimes I want to go, just so you and I can hang out together more. So we can finally be in the same place again. You know what I mean? My life’s not too much fun, now that you’re gone.”
“But, we still hang out. Now more than ever. I’m always around you.”
“No, I mean like this kind of stuff, walking across the bridge to Sausalito. That doesn’t happen anymore.”
“Sure it does. All you have to do is ask. Whenever you need me, I’m right here with you.”
“But you’re talking about your spirit or whatever it is. Not the real you.”
“I’m exactly as I have always been. This time, the time before, even before that.”
“Samantha, you’re just saying all this to be nice.”
“No. It’s the truth.”
Something about me realized this was the truth, although I didn’t understand too much of what she was telling me. It’s just too hard to imagine. And, no matter what she had been saying, it’s definitely not the same as when Samantha, the real one, was alive. I’m mean, yeah right.
Just to make sure, I had to ask one more question before our time ran out, “Do we really, for sure, get to be together more if I go where you are?”
Something so odd happened as we landed at Kennedy airport to switch planes. In between my old flight and the new one, Aunt Shirley and I decided to eat lunch in one of the dozens of quickie junk food restaurants there. Instead of Sbarro, we decided on deli food. At Hot Dog Hangar, I ordered, duh, a hot dog, the not-so-spicy kind. As we sat down, next to us was a shy-looking lady all by herself at an unclean table full of leftover food, eating a Cobb salad with tons of creamy bleu cheese dressing on top. Even though it looked extra tasty, the woman appeared to be really sad. So Aunt Shirley asked if she’s OK, since Aunt Shirley’s such a big talker anyway. The woman said she was, but you could totally tell she wasn’t. After a short while the lip-quivering lady admitted to us, “My daughter and I are going to pick up my son, his… Michael was killed in a car accident. In Virginia.”
I was as startled as Aunt Shirley. The Mom went on to say that she was mostly concerned about her daughter, who had been in the bathroom this whole time. After what seemed like an eternity, the daughter returned. As she approached the table, all Aunt Shirley and I could do was stare over at each other, semi-shocked. The girl, looking like she’d just lost her very best friend, had pulled back hair, was about fourteen-or-so, was black, wore silver-framed eyeglasses, and even seemed a little timid and frightened. While politely introducing herself, she said, “Hello. I’m Sam.” Aunt Shirley and I both couldn’t even reply.
Get out. Are you kidding me? As a few uncomfortable moments passed, we all four talked back and forth. Aunt Shirley seemed to do her best at trying to make the mother and daughter somehow feel a little bit better right then. As it got closer for our next flight to leave, they both showed just a little bit calmer looks on their faces.
“Thanks for your kind words,” the Mom said above the gate change announcements coming from the loudspeaker.
“No, thank you, dear. I’m so glad we were able to talk. I know it’s soooo hard now. When the time’s right, perfect, maybe you’ll understand why this happened. Your son’ll always be loved, he’ll always be in good hands,” Aunt Shirley said back politely.
Just like Aunt Shirley had done so many times before, something happened with her you could so obviously tell was meant to. She again helped someone be unafraid of heaven.
“That girl looked so much like Samantha...and that was even her name. This was way too weird,” I immediately said to Aunt Shirley after the mom and daughter had gone.
“I’m so certain now, hon. Samantha’ll be around you forever. For the rest of your life. Even if you never realize it.”
“Oh my God. That’s what she’d said from before. ‘I’ll always be around you.’ But, Aunt Shirley, I’m still not sure I get it for real.”
“That’s OK. For the rest of time, there’ll be many things you’ll, we’ll, never get...or else why have a reason to come back. Time will tell. You’ll see.”
“Aunt Shirley, when’s my time going to run out?”
“Never. I keep telling you, doll, time...there’s no such thing. Shhhhhhh.”
Life lessons, destiny and more, June 22, 2006
"Clint dares to write about the biggest questions in life; the meaning of life, fear, what happens when you die, why people die, and timing. He writes about being different, coping with illness and weakness, having close friends, from the perspective of Miguel, a 13 year old that through the course of 3 novels, turns 14 and 15. Miguel is a mixed-race kid with divorced parents from San Francisco with a skin disease that poses a threat to his life and makes him look different than everybody else. He gradually learns to defeat his own fear."
-- Eva Liljendahl, CPCC, Inspiration for Excellence, Editor of Fiction and Non-fiction serving writers world wide (www.inspirationforexcellence.com)
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