Student Sample: Personal Narrative

Katie Jaques

Professor Jack Rawlins

English Composition I

1 September 2005

Top Chicken

The recess bell shrills and we are outside like so many pistol shots heading for the monkey bars. Out of the shuffling and shouting two distinct lines emerge, one at each end of the metal battleground which looms several feet above our collective heads. I glance cockily at the other team and begin counting. My match is the fourth girl down, Julie Grovner. She is a chubby brunette cry-baby who, for show and tell one Friday, brought in miniature bottles of eau de toilette for each of us girls. A complacent smile spreads across my face. Too easy, I decide.

We have won the first two matches and lost the third, and now it's my turn. I climb up the side ladder and take hold of the overhead bars, slippery as iron snakes, hanging like suspended railroad tracks against the cloudless ten o'clock sky. I methodically swing first to the right, then the left, wiping each opposing hand dry of accumulated sweat as I do so. The yellowed oval calluses gracing each palm attest to my huge success as a chicken fighter, and I note them with a quick sense of pride.

At an observer's terse shriek, "Go!", I lurch forward, anxious for battle. Julie sways toward me more slowly, her stubby legs flailing wildly. I can practically smell her fear and see, from the corner of my eye, her black patent leather shoes as they arc widely in a feeble attempt to encircle my waist. Swinging broadly to the right, I escape her grasp and can hear the shouts from the other kids getting louder, fueling my desire to win even more. To be pulled down to the black playground surface at this point is to lose my reputation. I set my teeth and curl my toes up tightly inside my brown stained oxfords in anticipation.

Julie can feel the pressure too, and releases, for one second, her left hand in order to wipe it dry, grimacing with strain as she does so. Quickly, hand over hand, I close the gap between us and tighten my long legs about her thick waist, squeezing my victim like a merciless boa constrictor.

The shouts are deafening now. Julie's brown eyes widen in surprise as she attempts to return her free hand to the bar. Noting this, I instinctively lock my ankles together behind her arched back and begin to pull her downward, watching her one remaining hand slowly relinquish its grip, knowing all too well the Indian burn sensation the metal generously imparts to the loser's palm.

Emitting a loud squeal, Julie drops to the charcoal turf ashamed and slowly hobbles over to her own side unacknowledged. Amidst the hoopla, I quickly monkey-walk back to my own team, unable to repress a victory grin that stretches from ear to ear. Climbing down and taking my place at the back of the line, I casually pick at an old callus with a shaking hand, barely noticing my aching thighs, counting out my next opponent.

Editor's Note: I love how Katie captures the enormous importance of childhood experience. The battle on the bars takes on the weight of D-Day. Words count here: "Julie drops to the charcoal turf ashamed and slowly hobbles over to her side unacknowledged" is rich with resonant verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, and the last word is worth more than most entire paragraphs. "Too easy, I decide" is a wonderful example of the power of the unexpected staccato sentence.

Rawlins, Jack, ed. The Writer's Way. 6th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005.