I hope you find it in your heart to forgive me for writing stories in related batches. Like any storyteller with a labyrinth of brain cells, I find myself wandering between branches of the same story. At times, what seems interesting to others is evident to me. In others? I’m clueless.
As I attempted to finish this, I thought of the innumerable times I’ve wondered about how I acted and what I was trying to say with this story. I’m not sure. It’s an apology at heart, though inexpertly written. It’s a wildly imperfect recounting, too. And that’s good enough for me. The day is too long to slow the urge to share. One of these days, as I write, it will be the last time I do so, though I won’t know it. As with the millions of stories everyone holds close to their secret hearts, they will vanish and with no witnesses to bring life to them.
As my senior year in high school ended, I moved to Elm Springs. I’ve written a few stories about it, both the violent end of my parent’s marriage and others about the whimsical encounters of life I experienced there. Nostalgia paints it in a way that evades mundane description.
This one is an apology. Though it is likely that the person I needlessly harmed doesn’t recall, I do. I’ve done so many things that are much worse than this. Trying to explain why my brain zeroes in on this relatively small story and goes back to my choice to be cruel offers no explanation.
A friend I didn’t initially know very well named Don Braden occasionally came over in the summer. I can’t even remember how it started for him to visit. For anyone to come over to my house was an anomaly. Only a couple of people in my childhood knew the shorthand of dread that I experienced at the idea of others knowing the content of what passed as a homelife for me. Many of us experienced this, and it is a strange common ground upon which to stand with human beings. A couple of childhood friends knew: Troy Duncan, Mike Hignite, and others to a much lesser degree. It is no accident that, despite the intervening distance, the fondness I feel for them is distilled nostalgia. I can’t explain why there were some people I could just say, “My parents are violent and drink too much. It might not be safe at my house. Also, I don’t know what the heck I’m doing.” I have no gauge or measure to explain what allowed or compelled me to be forthcoming to some and guiltily silent with others.
Don would sometimes ride my terrible bicycle (or his, too maybe? – please pardon my lack of recall) as I ran several miles around the long circuit of the lake’s roads. He was an awkward guy – but certainly not to my level. I’m confident I misjudged how smart he turned out to be. He had a quick wit and smiled relentlessly. While I ran, having him talk to me was a welcome way to relax and melt the miles away.
One of the things Don didn’t know was how uncertain the storm of my Dad’s anger could be. I don’t recall Dad exploding in anger in front of Don, but I remember snarled mumbles and veiled complaints. Due to my limited ability to warn people, I didn’t know how to navigate the implications of just yelling out, “It might not be safe here.” Don gave no indication (that I remember) that he had any idea of what a terrible family life might be like. As I grow older, I am still astonished to discover that people precisely like me were hidden in plain sight. Some make my stories of vulgar violence seem meaningless. I think and hope that Don’s childhood is what shaped his effortless ability to laugh. And that he still possesses the superpower of humor.
If I did yell out a warning about my parents and didn’t remember doing it, I know that I wasn’t entirely honest. There were a couple of times before Dad ran off to Monroe County to start a new life that Don barely missed an outburst, both coming and going.
I liked running and riding with Don. But the fear of ‘something’ happening convinced me to be a lesser human being to him.
One early afternoon, Don drove over. He knocked. Instead of answering the door, I hid in the back. The console tv in the living room, visible from the front windows, blared. He waited. Finally, he retrieved a large watermelon from his vehicle. He broke it on the concrete porch in front of the house, creating a delicious mound of watermelon pieces and running juice. Instead of coming out and admitting I was at home, I went out the back door and waited. How long I waited, I don’t remember. Don ate handfuls of the watermelon. At some point, he decided that no one was at home or coming out. He cleaned his hands with the water spigot outside and left.
It was a dumb thing to do. In my defense, I was an idiot. I don’t know if it would have helped him to know that my stupidity and lack of understanding of how to deal with people was the problem – not him. I don’t understand how letting him stand outside with a broken watermelon could have saved him from any potential craziness had my Dad came home, much less violently. That seems to highlight precisely how muted my ability to be logical regarding my situation was.
I didn’t keep up with Don. I didn’t keep with most people. Don went to the Air Force, someone told me. And I was glad for him.
Though I found Don on social media. I didn’t reach out to him. He is smiling and apparently living a good life. I wouldn’t want him to remember that I was a jerk, nor to disturb his life. If Don miraculously ever reads this, I, of course, later figured out that Don could have been a great friend, especially if I could have been honest so he could see that I was just an idiot. It’s easier to be friends with an idiot than a bad person.
Not that my blip of hideous behavior could deflect someone from the trajectory of a great life, but it is increasingly evident that we have no idea whatsoever what the smallest thing can do to affect another person’s life. Given the terrible things I’ve said and done in this life, I haven’t been able to put this one aside. I can’t explain my reluctance to share other stories of pure craziness and yet find this one stuck in my throat.