Meet The Amazing Patrick Dunphy
He’s quiet. He’s kind. He plays a mean tuba. He’s almost got a girlfriend. He’s scary smart. He’s almost seven feet tall. He’s the center of his football team’s one play. He views the world through rose-colored glasses not because he’s an optimist, but because that his family’s eye prescription. He’s got a train car full of Dead Relatives living behind his house. His chemistry teacher’s a real monster. And nobody in his family—including Patrick himself—is quite who he thinks they are. And that’s about to matter, a lot.
So who is the Amazing Patrick Dunphy?
Take a ride on the Rosemont Car
and find out.
For those of you who are already tired of all the cancer stuff (and all gods know I am), here’s a fun break–I’ve just reached the “official first draft” stage of The Amazing Patrick Dunphy.
This book had its inception on one of our many, many car trips, way back when The Boy was in middle school, and unexpectedly discovered that he had become something of a local landmark. Partly this was because he was The Tuba Player. To my knowledge our town has produced exactly one in recent memory. Apparently whatever municipal gods determined that Milton Freewater needed a tuba player also decided that since there was just going to be the one, they’d better make him a good one, and so it was that Patrick became something of a fixture, marching through local parades in the back row, carrying a sousaphone. In high school he went on to place fourth in the state solo competitions, so there was that, as well.
The second part of his local fame came about because in seventh grade, I believe, he decided to play football. Actually, I think this was less an active decision than it was a gradual wearing away of his resistance by his classmates and the football coaches. I believe I have mentioned that Patrick is, and always has been, pretty much gigantic. I don’t think there was ever a time when he wasn’t the biggest kid in his class, and once he hit middle school that became the biggest kid in school. And that didn’t change, all through high school.
So he went out on the field, blind as a bat because it didn’t occur to me to get him sports goggles, and earned his keep by pushing back against the two to four boys opposing teams stacked against him. It seemed unfair to me, but I am reliably informed that that’s How the Game is Played, so I kept quiet in the stands. I don’t think I ever saw him tackled and taken down, though I’m sure that must have happened. And that was the second thing.
Football is Big in our town. Friday nights are often community parties down at the football field, where we watch our gallant boys in crimson and black mostly go down to defeat. This is really to be expected. Many of our school children hail from Latin-American countries. For them, soccer is The Sport. And our soccer team kicks, well, butt. Our football team, composed of some big boys and lots of not so big boys, doesn’t fare so well. But they’re ours, and we love them, and comfort ourselves that learning to lose is an important part of sportsmanship.
So into this mix drop The Boy, a defensive coach’s dream. From his first game, our rival schools tried to recruit him. And he didn’t care. He approached football like he approached math: he went out on the field, turned in a workmanlike game, and went home. Football didn’t touch his soul–something he acknowledged at the beginning of his junior year.
But by then the die had been cast: Pretty much everybody in town knew him, and most everybody liked him. No one knew me–something that became painfully clear one day at lunch, when the nice lady preparing our food asked if I had been in town long. Several years, I admitted, and then I mentioned that I was Patrick’s mom.
“Oh,” she said. “We know Patrick. He’s such a nice kid.”
On the way home I joked that I was the mother of The Amazing Patrick Dunphy. The name stuck. We began bragging to each other about things that were part of our amazingness. And then one day I said I was going to write a book about it. I was joking–I tend to shy away from writing stuff that can be too clearly tied to us here in our home town. But Patrick liked the idea. We started noodling around with ideas.
And the Amazing Patrick Dunphy and his mom were born on the page. They are not us, though many of the things in their lives are drawn from our own. They are exaggerations–bigger, better, in all ways more amazing, even magical (though not reliably so). It’s a fun book, a flight of fancy, a playing with ideas. It’s a written version of the kinds of conversations we sometimes have, where the sounds of the words and their interplay take over, and ideas attain lives of their own.
I’ve been working on this for quite a while, but the cancer diagnosis (you knew I’d get there sooner or later, didn’t you?) has stripped away the comfort of the word “someday.” “Someday” has become today. Instead of finishing this book “someday,” I need to work on it, every day. I need to Make Progress. And then I need to move on to the next book.