Thirteen | by Sam Wachman

5 mins read

You are thirteen years old, and your best friend is helping you study for your Bar Mitzvah. This is how you will become a man – not little by little, but all at once, at the bimah, with your family and friends witnessing the entire hideous metamorphosis. The faltering voice of a thirteen year old boy reciting memorized mumbo-jumbo – this is the sound of manhood. The words of God taste like lies on your lips. If only it were as easy as shedding your skin. You wish that your religion could be no religion; your God, the boundless sky. Does this condemn you to eternal boyhood? You take the long way home from school with your best friend, whose lips you imagine taste like the truth, and you find faith in the casual worship of sunlight and skin, all the natural things, everything warm to the touch.

As stilted Hebrew passes your lips, the sky sinks lower, and the future draws closer, and its teeth grow sharper. You envy snakes for molting.


You are thirteen years old, and you are doing math homework with your best friend. As he sits next to you, you pay attention to his hands: he writes with his left and bites the nails of his right. You watch the nimble flicker of the thin bones and tendons under his skin. You never knew there was so much of him in his hands. You wonder what would happen if he stumbled off a cliff. You imagine grabbing his hands and free-falling with him, his heart beating in synch with yours as you plummet. You imagine being together, and being helpless. Your body wishes. Your bones wish. You imagine a world where there’s only the sky and the ground and the gravity that binds you to it – a world with nobody watching, where you could make two equal one. You wish you could pull that terrible ticking thing out of your chest and pitch it into the sky, or the ocean, or one of the rooftop junkyards where Frisbees tend to wind up.

You think about caterpillars, and chrysalises, and the wings that lay dormant just under the skin of your back.


You are thirteen years old, at once the world’s newest man and the world’s oldest boy, and you are lying in bed and wanting. He came to your Bar Mitzvah and you stared at him from the bimah. You stumbled around the room holding the Torah, its heft a burden on your arms and shoulders, and your kippah slipped off twice. As you became a man, you fell in love with a boy. Afterward, he threw his arms around you, and it terrified you how much softer and lighter it felt to hold him than to hold the Torah – how much easier it was to breathe without God’s weight on your body. Back home, you played video games in your bedroom together and he kissed you for practice. You kissed him because the world would end if you didn’t. His lips were chapped and tasted like toothpaste. Your braces hitched up with his. Afterward, he laughed and said, “That was weird,” and you laughed along. You promised each other never to tell, to keep the kiss shackled up inside of you – so you lie in bed, and you want.

You run your tongue over your lips and listen to the rain whisper its old refrain, the truth you dare not speak aloud.

Sam Wachman’s writing has been published in The Hunger and The Best Teen Writing of 2018. Earlier this year his story collection won the Scholastic Publishing Gold Medal Portfolio in writing, which Scholastic Publishing awards annually to eight young writers among hundreds of thousands of submissions. He is from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a freshman at Brandeis University.

Photo by ian dooley on Unsplash