Kaleb Dufrene has been immune-deficient since he was a toddler.
His body has a difficult time fighting average infections like the common cold and flu. After countless doctor visits and referrals, Kaleb and his family were finally close to getting more answers about his condition.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit.
When his quarantine started in early March, the 17-year-old Weddington High School senior found himself depressed, anxious and fearful. Kaleb knew he needed to create something to share his story. That’s when he picked up the pen and started writing “uneven sidewalks,” a poem about soldiering on when life gets rocky.
“Life isn’t just a straight and narrow thing. It’s not just this paved road that we walk,” Kaleb said. “It’s uneven and it’s cracked and there’s obstacles along the way, but the beauty of it is we can step over those cracks and get back up again and keep going down the path that we’re going.”
Kaleb would go on to write 89 more poems to himself and others with anxiety or an autoimmune disorder over the next few months. Together, they make up a healing book of the same name, “uneven sidewalks.” He plans to self-publish the book exclusively on Amazon in early November.
The book is broken into two parts. The first is called “stumbling” and the second is “ascending,” to represent the times that we fall and the times we get back up again, Kaleb said. The poems go in chronological order of when they were written, aside from Kaleb’s first poem, “uneven sidewalks,” which sits in the middle.
“You can kind of see where I was between having intense anxiety that wasn’t processed all the way until actually being able to process what I was going through,” he said.
Each poem has a minimalist illustration drawn by his friend, Sabrina Becht, that’s meant to capture the embodiment of the words.
“It also kind of represents what I was feeling during that time that I wrote it,” Kaleb said.
Originally, Kaleb wasn’t planning on sharing his poems at all. It wasn’t until he showed his parents that he even considered doing something more.
Kaleb said his parents have always supported his creativity as an actor, singer and writer. He has been in more than 20 staged productions and performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City, Walt Disney World and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
When they read “uneven sidewalks,” Kaleb said they were in awe.
“I saw something in their eyes,” he said. “It kind of just expressed the beauty of the concept that even though these words may mean one thing to me, it definitely means something to someone else.”
However his poems are interpreted, Kaleb said he wants readers to know no matter where they are in their journey, it’s never too late to heal from what they’ve gone through, and their story can inspire hope.
That’s why Kaleb decided to dedicate “uneven sidewalks” to his cousin, Adam; his brother, Colton; and his great-grandfather, who he calls “Pop.”
In July, Kaleb’s cousin was found unconscious in his apartment in Louisiana. He was on life support for almost two months before making a miraculous recovery. Kaleb’s brother recently re-tore his ACL and will miss most of his high school football season. His great-grandfather has been battling skin cancer for years.
Kaleb hopes the poems in “uneven sidewalks” are relatable and convey a message of empathy, while leading the reader toward healing.
“Even if we’re going through different things, we still have that same process of starting with the tragedy that we go through and then going all the way to healing and to restoration again,” Kaleb said.
Get the book
Follow Kaleb Dufrene on Instagram @kalebdufrene for details about the release of “uneven sidewalks.”