Project Gus by Andrew Sarewitz

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Project Gus is a personal short story exploring how we see ourselves and the often inhibited guise brought out in social situations by how we believe others perceive us. It is also about friendship and lessons learned. For one middle-aged man, his memories of being bullied as an adolescent sometimes cause him to automatically modify his public behavior. While spending time with Gus, the young son of a close friend, his suppressed insecurities surface. But nine-year-old Gus sees things very clearly – and Gus just wants to play football. A new, personal essay from the author of the emotional nonfiction short My Father.


“You throw like a girl,” yelled my cousin Glenn after receiving the football I passed to him. We were at a holiday celebration at his family’s home in Maplewood, NJ, probably Thanksgiving. I was eight years old and the youngest of all ten cousins (twelve, if you count the cousins from my father’s side). Glenn was a year older. He and I were tossing the football in the street in front of the house. It was the very beginning, possibly the first, of insults I would have to deflect and endure in my life. On the Richter scale, this lightning flash shouldn’t even register. But because of Gus, it does.

In 5th grade at Montrose Elementary School, where I was popular, Jamie Sisto mimicked my standing with a limp wrist while we were in line waiting to play dodge ball. Jamie was one of my good friends and meant nothing stronger by it than childhood teasing. But I tasted implications far deeper than the intended gibe and checked myself.

A year later, I would spend the last of two summers at a camp in Hunter, NY. There I was the target of direct and constant verbal attacks from one Saul (pronounced Sah-ool) Dinnerstein. With his unsheathed weapon being only a single semiautomatic, I had many allies of all ages repelling and returning fire.

I hope this isn’t misunderstood as naming names to reproach ancient childhood wounds. Not at all. I may have had my feelings hurt, but I didn’t feel like a victim. We were all the same in my eyes. Back then, when I looked in the mirror, all I saw was me. A boy probably just too sensitive for his own good. I don’t think these capsuled reflections would be noteworthy, let alone foreshadows, if junior high had not been a battleground for which I was totally unprepared. Unaware, I was drop-kicked into the lion’s den on a warm September morning. Until that time, I had never really known fear. And six years later after graduating from high school, nothing would ever frighten me as much again. It shaped me as an adult with survival instincts comparable to children of family abuse. One significant resuscitating difference being that at home I was safe. 

  • Published by: Untreed Reads

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