All posts by thome2040

I'm a librarian living near NYC, having had 3 poems published in the past year in The Basil O'Flaherty and have recently had a story and 2 poems accepted to Tuck Magazine as well as two poems just accepted in the Ann Arbor Review, and had another story just accepted at Litbreak. I also have 3 book length manuscripts at publishers awaiting decisions. One of these (a novel) has just been accepted for publication by Black Rose Writing and is due out October of this year.

Installment #16 / But I Didn’t Die / a fictional memoir

Then something occurred that put a slight crimp in my plans. We had classes called “modules,” a new educational method of some sort they were experimenting with at the time. What that meant specifically I didn’t know or care, but what it meant in my case was I had almost all of my Fridays free to do what I wanted as long as I didn’t leave school.

Usually what I wanted to do was play basketball in the gym all day and every so often John would play also. On this particular day we had made plans to play that afternoon but then John realized he had left his sneakers at home. Why don’t we leave school and go get them? he suggested. I’ve got my car and we can stop up at Bihr’s (a nearby deli) and get a sandwich, my treat. You think it’s ok? I asked. Of course Barnesy, he replied, would I steer you wrong? So I agreed to go. Looking back on it I suppose just the fact that he offered (he and his father were notorious skin-fliints) to buy was a bad omen

We weren’t gone a half hour and everything seemed cool until we were called to the Assistant Principal’s Office not long afterwards. He was a real dick, much like Lumpy’s father in “Leave it to Beaver,” someone who enjoyed handing out demerits and suspensions. He seemed to relish the fact that he’d nailed John Chambers and, although I was merely collateral damage, I was worried about what Mrs. Barnes would say, while John shrugged it off defiantly, directing a few wait until I tell my father and f-yous toward Mr. Hoak for good measure. I was both embarrassed and gratified by his reaction, but mainly just wanting to get the hell out of there.

On top of that, a few days later I found out that there was a rarely enforced clause in the suspension rules that said if the student was participating in a sport that semester, the student would be prevented from playing said sport for the duration of the suspension retroactive to when the sport began, or, in my case the suspension wouldn’t begin until the beginning of track season.

The reason I heard about it was that they had decided to enforce the clause this time, which didn’t hurt John a bit as he wasn’t even playing a sport, but would hurt me a great deal, as track season would begin in a month or so, and it looked like I would miss the first three meets.

When I had my “hearing” with the Principal I pointed out that I was counting on getting a scholarship to run at a local college (while technically that wasn’t true but Big Ed said he was working on it) and missing three meets would jeopardize that. The suspension was upheld and I would have to serve it in a month.

Mrs. Barnes wasn’t too happy about it needless to say, and I couldn’t help noticing that while she was making a big deal out of this, my superior academic achievement of the prior semester had gone totally unnoticed. Making things infinitely worse was the fact that, as she was doing more and more lately, Mrs. Barnes waited for Friday night immediately after Mr. Barnes got home from his business trip to tell him about my suspension.

He didn’t take it very well, bounding up the stairs as he always did and confronting me. Then he suddenly stopped and sat down on the bed, sweating and breathing very heavily. It was then that Mrs. Barnes arrived in the doorway and said, Well, aren’t you going to punish him Jack? I’m tired Mr. Barnes replied, can’t you see that?

Still Mrs. Barnes kept on badgering him and he kept refusing as I sat there waiting for whatever came next. Suddenly Mr. Barnes exploded and practically smothered me when jumped on top of me, pummeling me all the while. I heard Mrs. Barnes screaming in the background and could smell Mr. Barnes’s Kreml hair tonic mingled with his sweat, and when it was over and Mrs. Barnes had left the room he sat on my bed sweating and breathing very heavily and apologized, though by then it was too late.

I hadn’t even known until Rory told me afterwards that something even worse had worse had happened to him the week before: Mr. Barnes had grabbed him by the hair in the basement and literally coldcocked him, knocking him briefly unconsciousness as Mrs. Barnes stood on the cellar stairs and goaded him on. He hadn’t told me because he was ashamed, both for being caught drinking bottles of Mr. Barnes’s  Ballantine Ale down there, and because he’d been knocked out. I could just sense somehow that things were coming to a head.

—-o—-

That next Friday was Valentine’s Day and it was as bitterly cold as only a mid-winter day in Buffalo could be. As usual I had spent most of the day playing basketball. The cafeteria was abuzz, with seemingly everyone in the cafeteria talking about what they were doing that night. As I had no plans I said nothing, although I wish I did have as anything I could do to get out of that house was a blessing, especially lately.

A kid I knew from church, Ron McKenna, was giving me the business about not having any plans. He was pretty obnoxious, reminding me of Ackley in Catcher in the Rye (minus the zits), a real prince of a guy, and the victim of many pranks in the boy’s locker room. In fact if you looked up the word “obnoxious” in the dictionary his picture would be there, but, as in most cases concerning people of this type, he just didn’t get it, had no self-awareness, but I still felt a vestige of loyalty to him I suppose because he went to my church. Or more likely, because I was a sucker, and those kind of guys can spot one right away.

What he didn’t know (because I would never tell him such a thing) was there was a girl named Linda  I was thinking of asking out. I’d heard she liked me but wasn’t sure what we could do, as I didn’t have any wheels, and it was probably too late to ask her now anyway.

Ron kept needling me, saying he had big plans for his date, but when I asked them what they might be he said it was a surprise so he couldn’t tell me, but I could double with him and find out. That is, if you have a date, he continued, smiling as though he doubted it. Before I knew it I was agreeing to go with him, knowing at once it was a mistake, but being desperate and not having a car I had few options. At least this way I could finally ask Linda out, which I did when I saw her in the hallway after lunch and she blushingly said she’d love to.

The next hurdle was asking the Barnes’s for permission which lately hadn’t been a big deal except for the 11 o’clock curfew I had to be home by or the doors would be locked, which I knew they wouldn’t budge on. This curfew was going to be an even bigger pain than usual, as Ron had no curfew at all. In addition he had his own car (a brand new Cutlass, courtesy of his parents) and I would have no say at all about when I got home, I was completely at the mercy of someone who had none. For now I wouldn’t mention the curfew and deal with it when the time came.

Then something happened that put the whole plan in jeopardy. I sprained my ankle very badly after coming down on some clod’s foot during my Friday basketball session, writhing on the gym floor in pain, feeling as though I was going to pass out. With the help of some friends I was able to hobble to the Nurse’s Office, where she assured me it wasn’t broken but still a very bad sprain. She wrapped it in a bandage, gave me some crutches, and warned me to stay off it as much as I could. It’s going to get very swollen and painful, she said, sending me off with some aspirin for the pain.

After I got used to the crutches I was feeling pretty good and decided I was still going out and ditched them in the basement as soon as I got home. Mrs. Barnes noticed my limp and asked me what had happened. I told her it was nothing, even though it was very painful, it seemed to loosen up the more I walked on it. When I asked her later about going out she said maybe I shouldn’t, but I said I’d be fine and surprisingly enough that seemed to satisfy her.

Ron was in his glory that night, showing he was going all out by picking me up in his parent’s burgundy Imperial instead of his Cutlass, his arm around his date who I recognized as a new girl in school, Diana Lewis, plain but very personable. Being new and a sophomore she was probably unaware of Ron’s reputation but I had a feeling she’d be totally clued in before the evening was over.

As soon as I got in the car Ron patched out on the street before I could even say hello, showing off as usual, the car fishtailing when it hit some ice. He straightened it out as though nothing had happened and barreled up the street. He was a good driver, I had to admit, but way too cocky (undeservedly so) in everything he did.

He was very materialistic, judging people and things by how much they were worth, and what he wanted that night was Diana, who was having none of it. She fended him off while he drove, gradually moving so far away from him she was almost right up against the passenger door. I got the distinct feeling it was going to be a long night.

We arrived at Linda’s house and as I crunched gingerly up the walkway to her front door I was very nervous as I hardly even knew her. She went to my friend Greg’s church and I’d met her there once and had seen her several times in the hallway at school. She was a blushingly shy beautiful blonde, tall and slim with big blue eyes and hair like Danny Kirwan’s, almost wraith-like surprisingly well-endowed for a girl so slight, reputed to have a boyfriend at another school.

I rang the doorbell, which chimed richly in the quiet clear frigid night. The front door opened immediately and Lindanette emerged, slammed the door shut behind her and said, Let’s go, it’s cold, slipping her arm through mine as we headed to the car. She noticed I was limping and asked what happened, then suggested I put some snow on it because it was really starting to hurt. Ron wasn’t too happy when he saw what I was doing, didn’t want to get his old man’s rug wet, but it made it feel a lot better and I didn’t care.

I introduced Linda to Diana and then Ron, who, barely acknowledging her, asked what we wanted to do, which turned out to be a rhetorical question as, not waiting for an answer, he suggested we go to the airport to see if any flights were coming in. He chuckled when he said that and now we all knew what he had in mind for the evening as the airport was the biggest makeout spot in town.

I was fairly certain Diana didn’t know this and felt I should say something to alert her but all I could do for the time being was stall by saying, Not now, we can do that later. Lindanette nudged me and spoke right up saying she was cold and could we go to the Double Dip for some hot chocolate.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Everyone seemed relieved by this suggestion, everyone but Ron that is. He popped in his tired old “Grassroots Greatest Hits” tape and proceeded in the opposite direction of the Double Dip, announcing, I know a better spot. Smiling and looking over at Diana he added, and it’s closer to the airport.

I knew part of the reason Ron was doing this: the Double Dip was a popular hangout and he was likely to run into plenty of people who could potentially embarrass him in front of Diana. He couldn’t risk it. I understood and felt kind of sorry for him even though his unpopularity was mostly his own fault as far as I could see, but at the same time could tell Diana was disappointed and surmised she probably wanted to go to the “in” place and meet people and feel like she was finally fitting in.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Meanwhile, I was attempting to talk to Linda, trying to get better acquainted, but she seemed preoccupied with where Ron was going and implored me to please stop him. I acquiesced and asked Ron if we could turn around and go to the Double Dip, which is where everyone else wanted to go, that he’d been outvoted, but there was no stopping Ron now, it was his car by god and he was going where he wanted come hell or high water, and I could see by then that where he wanted to go was Charley Brown’s.

Charley Brown’s, the most uncool spot in town, barely even in town, on the very edge, a large chain greasy spoon where mall shoppers and truckers congregated for burgers and fries, and where Roy went for interminable coffee refills and cigarettes with the one or two friends he had (people he wouldn’t even admit to knowing in school), impressing his captive audience with the money-making schemes he’d hatched up and would implement the moment he graduated high school.

Aside from the fact that we all felt very out of place except, of course, for Ron, who knew the waitresses, cashier, hostess, even some of the regulars, and was playing big shot for Diana, smoking furiously and drinking cup after cup of coffee, it was obvious to everyone this place was square as hell and that we were missing out by not having gone to the Double Dip, and were hoping not to stay one minute longer than we had to.

It wasn’t too bad, I rationalized, the hot fudge sundae Lindanette and I shared was more than ample, and Diana got her rich warming hot chocolate, but just as it seemed we were making the best of it, Diana blurted out finally, after Ron’s umpteenth cup of coffee, If you can’t take me someplace where everyone our age is hanging out, then take me home.

Ron got noticeably flustered, his face more red than usual, for once not knowing what to say. I could literally the wheels spinning in his head, and if there wasn’t already a Plan B, knew he would come up with something, however lame. He made a big show of paying the check and leaving a generous tip, saying goodbye to everyone he knew as we left, but you could tell by the time we were out in the cold silent car the evening was unsalvageable.

At last, out of desperation Ron asked us again what we wanted to do. None of us could come up with anything other than the Double Dip, which seemed pointless now that we’d already done what we had intended to do there. It was now 10 o’clock and no one even said a word when Ron set out toward the airport.

I was frustrated with the way the evening had turned out. Why couldn’t I stand up to Ron and say what needed to be said? I’m sure Linda must have been wondering the same thing if the looks and nudges she began giving me were any indication.

The thing that really got me was Ron could have gotten the same result by himself, he didn’t need us along, but realized that Diana had probably insisted they double with someone, for which I couldn’t blame her. And now we were headed for a make out competition, which was what Ron would make it, the object being to see who got the furthest. But even then I said nothing and when we got to the airport Linda moved way over to the other side of the car, so I made do with watching the planes land and take off, something I hadn’t done since I was a kid. Not a good first date and not looking too promising for a second.                                                                                                                                         As it turned out, even though it was dark in the car, it was obvious that Ron was getting nowhere when suddenly we heard a loud snap followed by an even louder slap, and Diana was out the car door, slamming it behind her and, cold as it was, stomping across through the expansive concrete parking lot. Ron went after her and was soon following behind, pleading his case. They were gone for a little while but then they returned and, unbelievably, he went back at it in the front seat, this time not taking no for an answer.

While they were gone I had apologized to Linda and pretty soon we were kissing too, oblivious of everyone and everything it was so cozy in the car and she smelled so good. Not for long, though, as I suddenly realized it was 11 o’clock and blurted out, Ron, I have to go home right now, I was supposed to be home by 11.

Ron did come up for air, however briefly, I’ll give him that. As his head popped up over the front seat I saw he was annoyed and couldn’t really blame him. Now’s a great time to tell me that! he said, and paused for a moment. Don’t worry about it. We’ll leave in a minute, he finished. Then he went back down for more while Linda and I just sat there but then I finally had to interrupt him again and say, Ron you know how my parents are.

He didn’t say anything this time but in a few minutes started the car and I was very relieved, thinking maybe it wouldn’t be too bad, I was only a little late so far, but, though I couldn’t be certain, it seemed he wasn’t driving nearly as fast as when he was showing off.

When we got to Linda’s house I walked her as quickly as I could with a messed-up ankle to her door and kissed her one more time. I remember her distinctly saying that night in the clear silent air not to worry, that everything would turn all right, and I had a bad feeling right as she said it that it wouldn’t.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      And sure enough by the time we finally reached my street it was pushing midnight and I knew it was all over. Beyond disgusted I had Ron drop me off at the top of the street and got out. Sensing I was upset he said, You should have told me about your curfew, I would have gotten you home on time.

Right, I thought, beginning to walk away when I heard Diana’s voice trailing off, I hope everything turns out okay Wes. I looked back and said goodnight, embarrassed at her knowing about my curfew, but feeling even worse because I had to admit a part of me had wanted to come home late, but who could blame me? I felt sick as I went down my street, not daring to think what could happen when I arrived there or I couldn’t have kept going.

I had just reached the driveway when I noticed a light on in the den and someone sitting in the chair by the window. My heart went into my mouth as I inched closer to see who it was, not daring to make a sound. I assumed it was Mrs. Barnes but it was Mr. Barnes.

He must be waiting up for me I thought, which meant the door was locked. There was no way I was going to ring the doorbell and ask to be let in. I stood there for a moment wondering what to do and headed back up the street, looking back over my shoulder to make sure he hadn’t noticed, cursing Ron as I did so.

A feeling of total helplessness overcame me as I stood there in the clear frigid night. I’d felt somewhat that way the time I’d run away just the year before, on another freezing winter night, sleeping in a car parked in the custard stand parking lot overnight, and returning the next morning, where it seemed my absence hadn’t even been noticed, Rory covering for me until I snuck in a cellar window and was in bed before anyone was the wiser.

But I could tell this was different, that this time I was never going back again. While that determination made me resolute, where would I go?  I knew I shouldn’t be walking on my bad ankle and didn’t dare look at it. The cold actually helped and it felt better if I kept going so I did, walking the route I had walked every day on the way to middle school straight to Ron McKenna’s house, my ankle killing me, still cursing him each step, not knowing what I would do when I got there, becoming painfully of the true meaning of the cold, cruel world, and the dark night of the soul I’d heard so much about.

When I arrived, as I expected there were no lights on and I didn’t know which upstairs room was his bedroom, so I decided to throw snowballs at the corner room to start with, throwing loosely packed snow as softly as I could against the window to see if I could rouse whoever was in there, hopefully Ron or one of his brothers.                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I was pretty cold by then and growing more desperate the colder I got. Suddenly I saw a light come on in the room and damn if Ron didn’t poke his head out the window like the little gopher he was. What the hell are you doing? he said. I got locked out of my house, I responded, and need a place to stay. That’s not my problem, he said, and made as if to close the window. Incensed, I said that indeed it was and if he didn’t let me in I was going to wake everybody in the house up. After a brief pause he said, All right, I’ll be down in a minute.

It seemed as though Ron took his sweet time getting there but finally he opened the door and stood there as though waiting for something. I told him what had happened after he dropped me off as he stood in the doorway with a blank look on his face, and when I finished he shrugged his shoulders and said once more, And this is my problem how?

I was taken aback a bit but managed to splutter, If you hadn’t ruined all our evenings in the first place by begging me to go with you none of this would have happened, and if you don’t let me in I’ll make it a big problem

Shhhh, you’ll wake everyone up, he said, still not budging.

I wanted nothing more than to head butt him in his soft gut right then but managed to say, Don’t you care what happened to me? Again he shrugged his shoulders which further flummoxed me, leaving me speechless that someone could be so obtuse and egomaniacal, but that was Ron in spades.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Knowing I was utterly defeated, that I didn’t have a leg (and barely an ankle) to stand on, I abased myself even further, desperate to get through those next few hours until daylight, saying, I have nowhere else to go. Please let me stay until morning. That must have been what Ron wanted because he immediately stepped out of the doorway and ushered me in, again cautioning me in a hoarse voice to be quiet.

We crept upstairs to his room where he pulled a sleeping bag and pillow out of the closet and handed them to me. I spread it out on his floor and fell into a deep sleep in the unfamiliar room.

When I awoke a few hours later Ron was still asleep. I was thinking about trying to sneak out of the house before anyone else knew I was there until I saw my ankle, which was almost black by then, and doubted I’d be able to pull it off.

Waiting until I couldn’t any longer I woke him up and asked him how I could get out of there. Still half asleep, he looked at me in surprise, as if he’d forgotten what had happened the night before and reluctantly got up to regroup.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                He left the room, telling me to stay right where I was, and when he came back he said the coast was clear but to follow him and not make a sound. We got to the front door without incident and, sensing I was about to thank him, Ron shooed me out the door.                                                                                                                                                                                    It was just getting light out and still frigid but I was glad to be outdoors. Feeling like I was hung over and trying not to think about the night before, I instead concentrated on what my next move would be. Our old middle school was just down the road and I remembered there were always pickup games there on Saturday mornings.  It was still too early for that but I thought I’d kill time at the deli next door.

Although it was very difficult to walk, my ankle having stiffened noticeably overnight, I gradually made it there. Once inside I looked around a bit, planning my purchase carefully as I had to make what little money I had last, taking my time looking at the magazines and the morning paper.

No one seemed to be around, but I couldn’t resist the smell of coffee brewing on the front counter and the tray of fresh donuts arranged right next to it. The owner came out and I bought a jelly and a cream donut, and a Styrofoam cup of hot black coffee then headed toward the middle school.

It was broad daylight by then but I still had to hang around a bit, nibbling the donuts and sipping the coffee, feeling like I was really roughing it, wanting to make them last until someone arrived. It was the loneliest feeling in the world having to kill time like that, having no real place to go.

Gradually a few cars began to arrive. I was standing too far away to recognize anyone but when someone unlocked the door I forged ahead if only to get in out of the cold. Being in a public place as opposed to a strange house made me feel much better for some reason, and the familiar gym smells were more than welcome.

There were a few guys shooting around already, one a short guy with a brush cut I recognized as Mr. Ronker (nicknamed “hacker” because of the brutal karate chops he employed when guarding you), who owned that clothing store in the village I stole my DayGlo pants from.

I felt out of place as I didn’t have my gym clothes but at least had my ankle as an excuse if they asked me to play. No one did and I made myself as inconspicuous as possible to watch the proceedings. I gingerly settled in on the sideline, my back against the well and found myself getting relaxed, even comfortable, and, most of all, warm.

People were arriving at a steady pace by then and soon there were enough to play a five-on-five game. I knew a few more of the players though none really well and expected even more to show up soon. I tried to avoid thinking about the night before as the import of what I’d done was finally beginning to hit me.

Just then John Chambers strolled into the gym, escorted by his usual entourage of underclassmen and Stell, his massive cousin/unofficial body guard, an immovable anchor on the offensive line of the varsity football team when John wasn’t ordering him around like a whipped puppy.

When John spotted me he came right over, Stell, who didn’t know me that well, following in his wake, eying me suspiciously as he did so. Come on Barnsey, John said, lace ‘em up, let’s get with the program.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             I replied that I didn’t have my stuff with me so was just there to watch, which surprised John who then asked me why I didn’t want to play. When I explained about my ankle he shrugged his shoulders and said, OK Barnsey, watch and learn. Keep an eye on my gym bag will you?

Where we at? he called out to the players on the court, I’ve got next game, loser’s side. He went over to center court to watch for a moment, then did a few jumping jacks, deep knee bends, and toe touches, then took off for a few laps around the gym. By the time he finished, having worked up a good sweat, the game was ending and everyone was taking a blow.

John trotted back over to me, smiling as he bent down to open his enormous tooled leather gym bag to retrieve a brand new basketball. He bounced it resoundingly on the floor several times and said under his breath, I’m feeling it today Barnsey, watch me school these guys.

He wheeled around, palming the basketball, and said, Guys, this needs breaking in, all right if we use it? Knowing full well it was a rhetorical question he looked back and winked at me before he ran out on the court to join in the game.

He dominated right from the outset, hitting shots from everywhere on the court, rebounding, passing, setting up plays, picks, blanketing his man on defense, seemingly effortless against the inferior competition. He worked up a terrific sweat, playing five games over the next couple of hours because his team kept winning until they finally called it quits for the day.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 John flopped down on the gym floor next to me afterwards. There’s no better feeling than a good honest sweat Barnsey, he said. Get my water bottle and a towel out of my bag, would you? How’d I look? he asked, taking a long pull from the squeeze bottle and toweling himself off, obviously fishing for a compliment, which I immediately provided.

Terrific, I said, you were unstoppable.

What’re you doing today, he asked, want to hang out? Come home for lunch. I have to shower then me and Stell and a bunch of people are going over to Transit Lanes.                                                                                                                                                                                                 I was mildly surprised at the invitation (which couldn’t have come at a better time), never having been to his house before, but before I could even answer John yelled out to his cousin, who was shooting around with John’s acolytes at the other end of the court, Stell! Come on! Let’s go? Barnsey are you coming or not?

You bet I’m coming, I thought, not quite believing my good fortune and my growing sense of freedom. As we began to pile in John commanded Stell to get in the back. When I said that wasn’t necessary, that I would sit in the back he reiterated once more, Stell! In the back!

That afternoon was a whirlwind of activity. I’ll say one thing, John sure was enthusiastic in everything he did, a natural ringleader. Besides him, Stell, and me, a couple guys from the football frat I knew of but not well were coming, and once again I was on the fringes, observing but trying not to be singled out.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I wasn’t much of a kegler either, so that left me out, using my bum ankle as an excuse. The first order of business was ordering several pitchers of beer. I’d be legal in two weeks, but I didn’t want to drink, I was saving myself for the upcoming track season, figuring I’d be behind enough as it was, missing those early meets.

Although all these guys were decent athletes, they looked like fish out of water on the lanes, except for John, who had no problem rolling consistently in the 200s, with a great approach, stroke, and follow through.

I couldn’t help noticing that between games, even as often as between turns, one or more of them would disappear for a while and eventually return with smirks and red faces. It was obvious they’d been outside but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I was soon to find out when, after the disappearing stopped, John said to me, Barnesy, it’s your turn.

My turn for what, I said quickly, already flustered, thinking he meant my turn to bowl. Several of the guys laughed at that and John smiled and said, your turn to get your nose wet. This only served to confuse me even more and I turned beseeching eyes on John for some clue as to what he meant.

It’s time you met Lorna Doone and Candy Kane, he said, at which point all the guys burst out laughing, my face growing redder and redder. John finally put me out of my misery by revealing that they were two loose girls they’d picked up there so many times it became a regular thing.

You go out to the car and do whatever you want with them, John continued, as long as you don’t mess up the car. I’ll pass, I said, without hesitation, repulsed by the idea.

Come on Barnesy John said, a couple of the other guys piping in, you have to, it’s part of the deal. I could see I wasn’t going to get out of it, not wanting to embarrass myself any further. John sensed I was hesitating about what to do next and whispered to me, Just go out to the car, they’re waiting for you, you don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to, no one will know.

I went very reluctantly if only to get out of there, taking as much time as I could and wondering what the hell I would do when I got there. The windows of John’s car were not only steamed up but already frosting over, making it difficult to see inside. Still, I tried to, not wanting to startle anyone, and gradually made out the outline of the two unfortunate girls, who, were seemingly unaware of their plight, rather quite the opposite, I heard them giggling as they appeared to be beckoning me inside.

When I opened the car door the overpowering odor of sex and cheap perfume hit me in the face. You must be Barnesy, the girls said in unison, giggling again. They looked to be my age if not younger, which was very disconcerting, not that I would have participated even if they had been legal age.

At first I didn’t say anything but before they got the wrong idea I blurted out, Sorry girls, I can’t do this. While you’re obviously nice enough and all-right looking, I just can’t do it, I said. I could see they were startled and hurried to reassure them it wasn’t them it was me and couldn’t we just talk?

It’s your half hour, they replied, so yeah, we can talk. What do you want to talk about? The first thing that came out of my mouth was why are you doing this? They both looked indignant and I thought I’d make them angry, but then noticed there appeared to be tears in their eyes, which made me feel like a real horse’s ass.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         There was dead silence after that so I began telling them all about myself, how I was a twin, about my home life, things I wouldn’t normally tell anyone and they seemed enrapt, hanging on every word I said.

When I thought enough time had elapsed I told them I’d be going and not to tell anyone and they assured me they wouldn’t. As I was getting out of the car they each gave me a peck on the cheek, wished me luck and I them. As nice as they were and even though we had done nothing wrong, I’m ashamed to say that by that point I was repulsed and couldn’t wait to distance myself from the whole sordid situation.                                                                                                                                                                                                                            When I got back to the lanes naturally they all wanted to know what had happened. I merely shrugged my shoulders and said a gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell and neither do I, making a point to thank John, and that seemed to satisfy them. We left soon after, several of the guys stumbling drunk.

Before we got to John’s car I wondered briefly if the girls would still be there but they weren’t, in fact, to my relief that, save for vestiges of the aforementioned scents, there was little sign they even been there.

John dropped Stell off and asked me if he should take me home. I told him what had happened the night before and he replied, That’s a bummer, Barnsey. That would never happen with my parents. You can stay at my house for as long as you want, they won’t care.

Incredulous, imagining how the Barnes’s would react if I had made a far less preposterous invitation, I asked him if he shouldn’t ask his parents first, but he merely waved my suggestion away, instantly erasing my remaining doubts, and I never gave it a second thought. Despite the circumstances I couldn’t help but this a pyrrhic victory: I was finally going to get to stay over at someone’s house and there wasn’t anything Mrs. Barnes could do about it.

—–o—–

I’d known John Chambers since our Little League football days and my first impression was not a good one. One Saturday a bunch of us were about to pile into his father’s Coupe de Ville to go to an away game when John opened the front passenger door and, sounding like a car salesman, said, Look at this car, it’s got power windows, seats, locks, and mirrors, air-conditioning- everything- I bet your father doesn’t have a car like this.

No one knew what to say as we hardly knew the kid, but I for one wasn’t impressed, it certainly wasn’t a Rolls Royce or one of the Jaguars we saw at Wilcox Motors when Rory and I passed by there on our way to church and hoped to own one day.                                                                                                                                                                                                             Besides, Mr. Barnes being a traveling salesman and all traded in his top of the line Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Luxury Sedan (except for the lone Starfire the year it came out) every other year for a brand new one after having put 80,000 miles on the old one, so we were quite familiar with luxury automobiles thank you very much.

I held my tongue but thought him to be a crass spoiled brat whom I took an instant dislike to. As kids we rated our peers by how good they were in sports and to this point he wasn’t that good in anything as far as I could see. Oh, he had the best equipment all right, and his father was one of the coaches so he started at right end (the same position I had tried out for), and, although he had better moves, I was twice as fast and could catch the ball as well as he could, but wouldn’t be given a chance to compete as he was given the starting spot not having earned it and what could I do but accept it. We were undefeated three straight years and you couldn’t argue with success but I was damn sure I wasn’t going to be impressed just because his father drove a Cadillac I can tell you that.

As we didn’t go to the same school or live near each other nor were ever in the same social circles, our paths never crossed after that so I completely forgot about him until we were reacquainted in high school, again through sports, this time basketball.

It was common knowledge they were one of the oldest and wealthiest families in Williamsville, his father owning several large tracts of prime real estate strategically located throughout the village, which was on the cusp of becoming a burgeoning suburb, and thus highly coveted by local developers.

Mr. Chambers was living the life of the landed gentry his Scottish forebears had sweated blood to make possible with (as was often the case with inherited wealth) more money than brains. Leave it to Mrs. Barnes (as she often did) to put the picture in a frame, referring to him as a skinflint Scotsman, a lumbering fool who didn’t have the sense God gave him and was running the family fortune and name into the ground.

From that time on I noticed that Mr. Chambers had a vacant look about him and never seemed to do much of anything. Unlike the other fathers who worked regular jobs and thus couldn’t make it to our practices until they were almost over he and John were always the first ones there. I later found out that not only was he a coach but owned the very land we practiced on.

As we neared John’s house I got nervous about meeting his family and what they would think about my staying there. I needn’t have worried because after we arrived we went through the garage and straight up to his room without seeing anyone. So far so good, I thought, it was as though John could read my mind and saved me from all the social niceties I hated and suspected he did too.

The minute we got in his room he went over to the other side of the bed and pulled a plastic garbage bag out from under it. Holding it aloft he said, Guess what’s in here Barnesy. I thought laundry at first, wondering why he’d show me that, but when he dumped it out on the floor I saw it was large amount of marijuana wrapped in tight bundles.

Attempting not to appear dumbfounded (which I was), I asked, Why so much? Some for me and the rest to sell, he replied. I couldn’t believe that a kid as wealthy as he needed to do that and when I asked him about it he backtracked a bit, saying, Well actually I don’t sell it, I’m a middle man and front it to local dealers. I immediately thought so that’s the reason those younger kids hang around him and wasn’t sure if I believed him, the middleman part that is.                                                                                                                                   Suddenly he called out, Ma! What’s for dinner? startling me. There was a pause then a woman’s voice replying, Chicken. I didn’t even know you were home, John. A friend of mine’s here, John said, and asked if I could stay for dinner.                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Embarrassed that he was being so casual about it all I began gesticulating wildly for him to stop but John was waving me off and shushing me, smiling the whole while. He’s going to stay here for a couple of days while his parents are out of town, he continued.

Why don’t you come down and introduce him? she asked. When’s dinner going to be ready? he replied. In a half hour or so, she responded. We’ll be down then, he said.

I sat in a chair and began devouring his back issues of Sports Illustrated while John talked on the phone, lighting up a joint as he did so, opening the bedroom window, letting the frigid air in. When Mrs. Chambers called up that it was time for dinner John took one last hit, offered me some (which I declined), then roached the joint, put his fingers to his lips, fanned the air, and closed the bedroom window.

Out of habit I was thinking of changing my clothes for dinner, as I was did every night at the Barnes’s, as one never wore play or school clothes to dinner, no, one “dressed” for dinner, when I realized I didn’t even have one change of clothing, never mind dinner clothes. When I mentioned this to John as we went downstairs he said he’d find some for me later and not to worry about it.

I was extremely nervous, entering the Chambers’ kitchen with much trepidation, expecting the whole family to be at the table, but when I saw it was only John’s parents I relaxed somewhat. Still, I realized it was going to be an ordeal as I’d never done this before, eaten dinner or stayed over at anyone’s house. I looked to John for an introduction, and sure enough he provided one.

Barnsey, you know my parents don’t you (his father a little I’d just seen his mother from a distance maybe once), Bloody and Lurch? I almost choked and was immediately embarrassed for both of them, but when I looked at Mr. Chambers he was wide-eyed and smirking as if to see how I’d react.

Mrs. Chambers had ash-blonde hair, and must have once been a stunning beauty. She nodded peremptorily at me, took a drag on her cigarette, a sip of her drink, then got up and went over to the stove to serve dinner.

Thank you for having me for dinner, I quickly murmured, which sort of trailed off into nothing when I saw that neither of John’s parents were paying the slightest attention to me.

By that time I had recovered from my initial shock at how John had referred to his parents, and had even parsed it: Mr. Chambers was Lurch because he resembled and walked like the Addams’ family butler, and Mrs. Chambers Bloody because her first name was Mary and she was known to have a drinking problem.                                                                                                                                                                                                                       It boggled my mind that they allowed it and couldn’t help but see it as an ominous beginning. There was seemingly nothing to worry about, however, because not much was said at dinner, the Chambers’ carried on as if nothing had happened, just as I imagined they would have if I wasn’t there.

There was some cursory talk about sports between John and his father, and he asked his mother where his brother Charley, and his sisters Roberta and Jill were, about which both his parents seemed rather vague.

I marveled at the difference between our families but mostly looked down at my plate throughout the whole ordeal, trying to avoid Mr. Chambers’ bemused stare, as if he was trying to see if I was taking it all in. When I ventured to mention how delicious the chicken was I was mortified to hear John snicker and say to his mother, Barnsey’s just saying that because he’s going to be here for a while, right Barnsey?

No John, it really is good and my name is Wesley, I protested, looking to his parents for support, but they left me hanging, which made me feel even more stupid about saying it in the first place. By then I couldn’t wait to get away from the table, but just before I did I asked in all sincerity (and partially to spite John I have to admit) if I could do the dishes. Mrs. Chambers seemed quite surprised but quickly replied, Oh, no, that’s not necessary, we have a dishwasher, but thanks for the offer.

The rest of the evening was ours, I quickly learned, with seemingly no limitations, not the least of which was no 11 o’clock curfew. That was huge. It was unbelievably exhilarating for me to be able to, for the first time in my life, call a girl without asking permission, say who was calling, talk for as long as I wanted without having to worry who was listening in, and not be grilled about what plans I had made when I hung up. I could get used to this, I thought.

This particular conversation was brief, even though I hadn’t even told Linda what had happened yet, despite her noticing something was up and asking me about it, as I couldn’t wait to get over to her house after she informed me her parents had gone out for the evening and she was babysitting her little brother so we would be alone.

John was in a hurry too, having plans which he didn’t divulge and obviously didn’t include me, and dropped me off at her house shortly after, telling me I was on my own for a ride home.                                                                                                                                                                Linda seemed very happy to see me which I took for a sign she was eager to get things started, but she quickly cooled my ardor by explaining that while her parents did not know I was coming over her little brother Stephen did, and he was using said knowledge to wangle an extra half hour of television for himself.

I had to admire his resourcefulness as we sat in the den watching Bonanza, which Stephen was seeing for the first time in its entirety, as he never tired of mentioning at every commercial break. I understood how he felt, though, as I, too, hoped to be exploring new territory shortly, if those meaningful glances Linda kept sending my were any indication.

Before long (although it seemed forever at the time) it was Stephen’s bedtime. I said goodnight and pretended to watch television while Linda got him ready for bed, but I was trembling with anticipation. I could hear them down the hall, laughing and whispering, then her reading to him.

Soon the Jackie Gleason Show came on, which made me think about Mr. Barnes and Rory because we usually watched it together most Saturdays. I wondered if they were worried by now, wondering where I was. I’d never been away from Rory this long either.

I knew then Mrs. Barnes would be livid at what I’d done (how dare you do this to us you little ingrate she’d say), more for how it would look if the neighbors found out than the fact that I’d run away. I began to be worried for the first time that they’d called the police and they might be looking for me, and planned to take the back roads to the Chambers’ when I left. Then the old resentment returned and I no longer cared.

After a bit I noticed it had gotten quiet and just then Linda came back in the den and turned off the TV before she settled down next to me on the couch. Stephen is usually pretty good, Linda said, and she figured we had the rest of the evening to ourselves.                                                                                                                                                                                     So, Linda said playfully, where were we, little knowing that at that very moment I was agonizing over whether to tell her what had happened at home or begin fooling around, and then suddenly I was telling her everything, pouring my heart out to her, which I had never done with anyone before.

She was incredulous, had no inkling I’d been through all I had since she last saw me, and very sympathetic, so sympathetic in fact that before I knew it we were all over each other.

Things were getting pretty hot and heavy, with me getting further than I ever had before without really trying, uncertain what to do next but enjoying the hell out of finding out. I already had my hand down her jeans and was stroking her incredibly smooth buttocks, wondering if I should go around front to the forbidden cove and what I would do once I got there, her smelling so good (certain perfumes just knocked me out and would ever after remind me of the women who wore them), our tongues down each other’s throat, me hesitant even in the throes of going too far and ruining everything, when suddenly Linda fulfilled my wildest fantasies, unbuttoning her top, undraping and tossing it away like so much gossamer, giving me a full frontal view of her white breasts with their milk chocolate nipples, their amplitude amazing for a girl with her body type.

I cupped one of her breasts and was just about to zero in on the oh so desirable target of her nipple when I saw car headlights sweep past the window into the driveway. Linda scrambled up to find her top, putting it on as she rushed to the kitchen wailing, It’s my parents! Not far behind her, I whispered, Which way should I go? Linda thought a minute and told me to go out the front way and stay on her street so that way her parents wouldn’t see me.                                                                                                                             What a rude awakening it was after so nearly reaching the promised land to slip out of the door into the cold clear night that felt exactly like the night before when I left home as I knew it for the last time. In addition to the cold, a physical and spiritual ache gnawed at me, impelling me to walk as quickly as possible to John’s house just a little over a mile away.

When I was finally inside, knowing what I’d just missed made me ache so badly I wanted to bang my head against the nearest wall, but even then, when it came down to it, I was really glad the Chambers’ doors hadn’t been locked when I got there, that I at least had someplace to go.

The Chambers’ house had looked pretty dark from the outside, as if no one was home, but as I went to the front I saw the kitchen light was on and as I passed through the kitchen saw there was also a desk lamp lit in the den, although no one seemed to be in there. Not quite sure what to do next I stood at the foot of the stairs leading up to the second floor a while, then trod on the first step to see if it made a noise which it didn’t.

Is that you Barnsey, I heard a voice say, and recognized it to be Charley (or Chucky as he was better known), John’s younger brother. Come on up, he continued. Relieved, I went upstairs to his room, which was adjacent to John’s, and asked him where everyone was. He said his mom and sisters were asleep but his dad and John were out who knows where. I liked Charley from what I knew of him, he was more laid back, more approachable than his brother, who must have been a tough act to follow.

I told him a little about my night and he immediately said, Want a beer? I’m having one, and you look like you could use one. I wasn’t so sure about that, but when he came back with a couple of cold ones I gratefully accepted one and it hit the spot, relaxing and refreshing me all at once. Charley appeared to have a world of experience for one under legal age, chugging his beer, burping, and asking me if I wanted another. I declined but when he came back with the rest of the six-pack anyway, I wavered from my usual one beer. Why not live it up a  little (as Mr. Barnes would say) I figured, but drank the second one more slowly as I didn’t want to be smashed on top of everything else.

Charley was a couple of years younger than John and the one thing I knew about him (besides the fact that he wasn’t at all like John) was he was a huge Who fan. I was certain he had all their albums and when I saw him perusing his record collection and he asked if there was anything I wanted to hear I requested Happy Jack or My Generation, my two favorites. He put on Happy Jack and as we sat back against his bed on the floor of his bedroom I couldn’t help but think that drinking beer and listening to music sure beat not having to go to bed at my set time, polishing my shoes for church, generally laying low so as to avoid Mrs. Barnes’ wrath, and turning into bed early, my regular Saturday night routine.

Then I remembered Rory was probably doing that at this very moment, which put a damper on my enjoyment. I wondered what he thought about what was going on, he must b

e wondering where I was and what had happened and I would have loved to have told him but knew I couldn’t. As it was, I still expected to hear the police knocking on the front door at any moment, looking for me.

Just then the phone rang (yes he even had a phone in his bedroom, something else I could never fathom), startling me. Charley answered it, handed it to me, and stepped out to give me some privacy. I was shocked that anybody would even know I was here much less call me here, and I was hesitant to take it as it flashed through my mind that it could be anybody- the cops, even worse Mr. or Mrs. Barnes.

But it was Linda and my heart lifted when I heard her voice then sank when she said she couldn’t talk long. Her parents, it turned out, hadn’t suspected a thing, and she wanted to keep it that way. Stephen had slept through all the commotion so she figured he wouldn’t say anything. I asked her why they’d come home so early and she told me her mom felt sick just as they were starting to eat so they had to leave.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       That’s too bad, I said, by then feeling pleasantly buzzed, Is she okay now? She seems fine now, Linda said, she went to bed right away. I told her what a good time I’d had and artfully (or so I thought) asked when they would be going out again. Oh, she said, they go out almost every Saturday night, but, catching my drift, said, I still have my brother to contend with. But it’s worth it isn’t it? I asked, it was nice wasn’t it? Oh Wes, she said, I’m so glad you feel that way too, I had such a nice time, and hope to have an even better time next week, if you know what I mean.

There was a long pause after that until Linda broke it, saying with a sigh, I’d better say goodnight now, I hear my father coming up the stairs. Good night Wes, she said again, and gave me what was undeniably a kiss, I wish you were here with me. Me too, I said, and snuck in a belated kiss, which I’m not sure even registered before she hung up.

Well I was hung up for certain after that, a real goner. I went on and on about her for the longest time to Charley, who, if you remember, I hardly knew. I could tell he was tired but he was a good sport about it, interjecting a perfunctory “That’s great Barnsey,” every now and then throughout until he finally fell asleep.  As I made my way to John’s room I even thought it might be love, what little I knew about that, and imagined I was experiencing all the highs and lows it brings.

Yet it was all to end before I even knew it. The two weeks at the Chambers’ would fly by. Who knew I would never make it over to Linda’s house again much less ever meet her parents, that she really did have a boyfriend from another school (our archrival to boot) and he’d make it known he was coming to our school cafeteria to kick my ass? Not to worry though, when the football frat boys heard this they told me to punch him once and they’d take it from there but I couldn’t do it I told him what would happen if we fought and that it was over between us now that I knew she had a boyfriend and he left with no further trouble.

I would pass my 18th birthday there, mostly unobserved, my first one (as far as I knew) apart from Rory, which meant I was legal now, could vote and drink but was also eligible for the draft. I would witness John throwing a whole plate of food against the kitchen wall one night at dinner, shouting I want steak every night! I watched in stunned amazement as he hefted the garbage bag with the kilo of dope in it and lug it downstairs to brandish it in Mr. Chambers’ dumfounded face and ask, What do you think’s in here Lurch? What are you gonna do about it? I had gotten a little drunk a few times, which I wasn’t proud of, smoked my share of dope, and through it all managed to live a semblance of normal life going to school every day though I no longer bothered keeping up with my homework. I avoided Rory for the most part, which I’m not proud of. He pleaded with me to come home every day in the school hallways, reiterating that Mr. Barnes was sick, that he hadn’t been waiting up for me, he’d just been up because he couldn’t sleep, that he wouldn’t punish me, he just wanted me to come home. Rory was really torn up, I could hear it in his voice, but I’d hardened my heart, as I had to if I was going to keep my resolve never to go back there.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       I was playing basketball at the middle school gym late on a Wednesday afternoon three days after my 18th birthday when I suddenly saw Mr. Chambers enter and I knew right away he was coming for me. When he spotted me he waved me over to the sidelines and my heart went into my mouth because I knew he had come about Mr. Barnes and that it was bad. You have to go home now he said, more emphatically than I’d ever heard him speak, something has happened to your father. What, I asked, even then still trying to buy time or find out it wasn’t that bad and I wouldn’t need to go home, but Mr. Chambers didn’t answer, wouldn’t even look at me. On the drive there I tried not to think anything as my life flashed before me, all the while hoping we’d never get to the Barnes’s and I’d never have to get out of the car.

But we got there and when I got out of the car everything seemed surreal: the blasted roots of the huge elm tree near the end of the driveway looked as though they were going to erupt through the tundra-like ground, with an eerie silence prevailing and the night sky cobalt blue in the streetlight. I arrived just in time to see them carry Mr. Barnes down the front steps of the flagstone porch he was so proud of strapped to a gurney, his lifeless body wrapped in a white sheet, as Mrs. Barnes stood at the front door and screamed at me into the frigid still air Murderer! Murderer! Murderer!

Advertisements

Installment #15 / But I Didn’t Die / a fictional memoir

Summer was almost over, and I was looking forward to school in the fall, especially running cross country. Mrs. Barnes was acting more bizarre than ever, drinking heavily, and, convinced I had a secret girlfriend, keeping a close eye on me (us), hardly allowing me (us) to go anywhere at all by myself. Her latest threat was that for every dollar Mr. Barnes had set aside for college (I was unaware that this had been done), she would spend it so he wouldn’t have it. College! As if we were thinking that far ahead never mind the fact that Mrs. Barnes reminded us constantly we weren’t college material. We were just trying to get through each day with as little trouble as possible.

Just before it was time to go back to school I decided to tell Mr. Barnes what was going on, but also wanted Rory to be a part of it. I’d thought long and hard on just what to say to him, rehearsed it over and over in my head, now it was just a matter of having the courage to do it. As usual it was difficult with Rory because I couldn’t get into any specifics and he was offering very little about his experiences alone with her.

We eventually decided to present a united front with the same grievances, which was for the most part true. Saturday was the best day, as we were usually outdoors doing chores and only saw Mrs. Barnes when we went in for lunch. Each Saturday the lawn had to be mowed and the clippings bagged, Mr. Barnes’ car washed, the vegetable garden by the garage weeded, the patio and driveway swept and hosed down.

In addition we were pruning the fruit trees as we did every year at this time and burning the branches in the fireplace behind the garage. That was where we decided we would tell him as it was the one place Mrs. Barnes couldn’t look out the window and watch us.

We started in the side yard after lunch with the plum trees because they were the oldest and partially blighted, lopping off the dead branches and trimming the overly lengthy ones, then moved on to the adjacent cherry trees which weren’t that bad, and finally to the apple trees in the back yard, which needed little attention as the apples had yet begun to fall.

Next we gathered all the branches, leaves, and twigs we had left on the ground and piled them into the wheelbarrow, making several trips to the fireplace to dump it there, only losing one load when the wheelbarrow tipped over. Mr. Barnes didn’t seem to mind and we wanted the job to take as long as possible as it would delay the moment when we had to confront him.

When we finished there was so much to burn we had to dump the last few piles to the side of the fireplace to be burned later in batches. When Mr. Barnes went to the garage to get the gas can we decided the time would be right once the fire was started and we stood watching the pyre being consumed as we always did.

Too soon Mr. Barnes was back with the gas can although the part I liked best came next. We took turns for who got to douse the pile with gas and light it and it was my turn this time. I loved the smell of gas and tended to pour it too liberally, making sure I got some on my hands to savor afterwards, always a source of contention with Mr. Barnes.

I stepped back, threw the lit match into the pile; there was a slight pause and suddenly a whoosh, after which the fire began burning like crazy, the gasoline being consumed by the flames which then engulfed the bundle in the fireplace, turning the branches into red-hot pokers, then white, until it was all a pile of ashes. There was nothing quite like a good clean burn.

The time had finally come to tell Mr. Barnes. I was going to speak for both of us and was just about to when a sudden gust of wind came up and the burning pile collapsed, some of it spilling over to the ground in front of the fireplace where it ignited the gas I had spilled while pouring it. It was about to spread up a lattice next to the fireplace but Mr. Barnes moved quickly to stomp it out. We helped him put the fallen debris gingerly back on the fire, rebuilding it as we did so. Next time don’t pile it so high or put so goddamn much gas on it, Mr. Barnes cursed. I’ve told you that before but you don’t listen! he continued.

I’d almost lost my nerve as it was and now I’d made him angry. I went ahead anyway, realizing it was now or never, not quite knowing how to begin, forgetting everything we had rehearsed, finally blurting out whatever came to mind: Mrs. Barnes’ threats about college, ruining things for us with girls, constantly getting him riled up against us when we had done nothing more than what normal kids my age did, her physical threats and abusive punishments, her constant drinking, and lastly, what she had been doing lately in our bedroom and all.

I hadn’t told Rory about the last part and was very vague about it when I told Mr. Barnes, a combination of watching my step and not quite knowing or believing what had actually happened.

Stunned and silent, Mr. Barnes suddenly exploded. BULLSHIT – YOU’RE A LIAR. I backed away because I thought he was going to come at me, pleading with him that we weren’t lying, that it was true, every word of it, right Rory, you’ll back me up on this won’t you?

Rory didn’t say anything, but nodded, which seemed to convince Mr. Barnes somewhat, and, as we watched him, it seemed like he collapsed slightly before our eyes, he suddenly looked very tired, older, his face drained of color. The change that came over him was palpable but I was determined still to stick to my guns. I was hoping he wouldn’t march us straight into the house to confront Mrs. Barnes, that he’d decide to keep on working the rest of the afternoon, later than usual, until everything was finished (although it mostly was) and that’s what he did, saying resignedly, Let’s get these chores finished.

We were relieved but immediately dreaded the moment our work would be over, which was usually the opposite case. To my great relief, after we were finished working and all the tools had been put away, he called us over and admonished us to say nothing more about this to anyone, certainly not to Mrs. Barnes, that he’d handle this his own way, and promised us things would be different from here on out. It couldn’t have been handled any better as far we were concerned,  and certainly would improve things from here on out we thought. We were glad we had cleared the air in spite of the great effort it had taken, greater than anything we’d done before.

Mr. Barnes was as good as his word and for a time things were different. Mrs. Barnes ostensibly stopped drinking, stopped prying into my love life (such as it was), generally left us alone and the dwindling days of the summer went by smoothly.

—–o—–

I couldn’t believe it and wondered how Mr. Barnes had accomplished it. We’d heard no loud scenes and there were as yet no recriminations from Mrs. Barnes. Still, it wasn’t like we were one big happy family by any means, and I was ever vigilant, though determined to enjoy it while it lasted.

From past experience, however, I couldn’t help but wonder when it would come to a screeching halt, or what the repercussions would be when Mr. Barnes resumed his business trips. On top of that I sensed that an ineffable change had taken place between Mr. Barnes and us, that we had lost something that could never be recaptured.

While he had never been outwardly affectionate with us I sensed that he cared about us, maybe even loved us a little though he had never said it. He seemed to enjoy being with us, something we hadn’t experienced all that often, and was always up front and honest with us as far as we knew. When we displeased him he let us know it and vice versa if we made him proud, which truthfully didn’t seem that often. We were never worried or afraid where he was concerned, unlike with Mrs. Barnes. Mainly we felt secure around him, which meant everything to us.

Now, though, it seemed he looked at us in a different light, as if we were damaged goods. He no longer ventured much when he was around us, as he had so freely before- joking, teaching, even admonishing us. Worse, we felt that he resented (even hated) us for telling him what Mrs. Barnes had done to us, and that later on, when things would inevitably revert back to form, we’d no longer have him as an ally. Not a pleasant prospect to look forward to.

Of course it all came about just as I feared it might, with things quickly deteriorating as soon as Mr. Barnes went back out on the road, intensifying over the next year, culminating in the harrowing events of our senior year.

Mrs. Barnes was now the implacable enemy, she let there be no doubt about that, and, although no open declaration of war had been made, we were watching our backs. Mrs. Barnes kept a vigil for the slightest misstep, and quickly pounced on it when it inevitably occurred, ready to make a mountain out of a molehill at the slightest provocation.

On top of everything, Mr. Barnes’ health problems had begun again, making for even more tension. Although it wasn’t the cancer reoccurring, he was diagnosed with heart disease, glaucoma, and diabetes in rapid succession.

To compound things I got kicked out of Chemistry for sassing the teacher and soon after we were found out for getting drunk at a friend’s house, having stolen Mr. Barnes’ glass flask full of scotch out of his bureau and broken it. Mrs. Barnes had a field day with that and the punishment meted out by Mr. Barnes was swift and terrible.

It was the minor offenses Mrs. Barnes was really on the lookout for, being able to push Mr. Barnes’ buttons with these, starting in on him the instant he arrived home on Friday night. In bed we could hear her insistent sibilance, somehow blowing up a minor offense into the crime of the century, and more clearly Mr. Barnes’ desperate protest. Please Sal, not now, for chrissakes, can’t you see I’m tired?

But still she went on until he finally exploded and came charging up the stairs two at a time. We lay transfixed in bed awaiting the inevitable, wondering which one of us it would be or both, to be dragged out from under the covers and pummeled.

Mrs. Barnes would linger at the top of the stairs as though she had nothing to do with it but once the hitting began couldn’t hold herself back any longer, like a shark smelling blood in the water she rushed down the hallway, her stockings swishing audibly together, suddenly appearing in the doorway like a cheerleader urging her team on, shouting, Kill him (them), kill the sonovabitch(es), kill the ungrateful bastard(s).

It was obvious he took no pleasure in it, he would be spent shortly after he had begun, and always apologetic the next morning. Can’t you just straighten up and fly right, obey Mrs. Barnes, he would say in a resigned voice. Do you think I enjoy doing that? Well, I don’t.

Whether he enjoyed it or not I was at the end of my rope and I believe Rory was too, and knew I had to do something about it, though I had no idea what, being a powerless adolescent. I just wanted to get away, I decided, and knew I would eventually, somehow someway.

—–o—–

In the meantime I had running, and threw myself into it with a passion I hadn’t known I possessed. When the time came time to begin our junior year Big Ed suggested we get physicals from the school doctor and have him clear us for running, that way we’d have the evidence we needed when it came time to convince the Barnes’s to let us try out for the team. Everything went smoothly after that, they couldn’t find a reason for us not to run now. Besides, we’d be out of Mrs. Barnes’ hair, the only caveat being that we had to get better grades or we wouldn’t be allowed to continue and not let it get I the way of our chores, which we promised it wouldn’t.

I had finally found my identity, I was a runner, and would be renowned as one from then on. Rory was into it too and probably had more talent and speed than I, but fell in with a group of slackers who cut corners on the cross-country course in practice or even hid in the bushes along the way, jumping out after everyone had passed by and finishing with hardly a sweat.

Not at all confident at first, as we didn’t know what to expect or what was expected of us, I did all the assigned workouts, deferring to the older runners in all things, even as far as literally keeping the place that had been naturally determined after a number of races, that of 8th man, one short of counting in the scoring, Rory usually finishing one ahead or behind me.

The workouts, seemingly difficult at first, grew easier as the season wore on, so much so that I was tempted to do more, though the older runners cautioned against it, advising me to reserve  my extra energy for the meets. Perhaps I was a tad too serious but that’s the way I did things, tightly wound, keep along the straight and narrow, never cut corners.

I enjoyed it immensely, though, I felt like a whole new person, and had already achieved a measure of success, in contrast with other guys with no talent at all, just wanting to be on the team, trying as hard as they could, though no matter how hard they tried never improving and with no hope of ever improving. All that could be said was they showed up for every practice and meet but at least that was something.

About the third meet of the season (we would run one meet a week against a local school in our division), an away meet against Lake Shore run on a golf course, Rory and I were running along as usual, in the middle of the pack halfway through the race, when we suddenly looked at each other and, feeling so fresh and strong, took off and passed everyone, falling in just behind the first guy on our team, where we finished, Rory second and me third on the team, knowing we had plenty left, knowing we might have even finished one two but weren’t ready for that quite yet. From that point on there was no turning back; our team won the remaining dual meets and all that was left was the conference championship.

We really weren’t all that surprised we had outstripped the rest of our teammates but one, in fact it seemed like our natural place, but realized the conference championship was quite another thing, another hurdle in the unknown. We had seven dual meets that culminated in the conference championship, which counted for a total of seven added on to your regular season record (seven if your team came in first, six for second, and so on).

We were in pretty good shape, having gone 6-1 for our dual meets, surprising everyone in the conference, but, due to an imbalance of teams we hadn’t met the real powerhouse in our league, the Lancaster Redskins, undefeated for five straight seasons, and boasting the top two runners in the conference.

Not that we had even contemplated the possibility of winning the championship. Our coach, in fact, said as much, confirming what we felt but had left unsaid, telling us he would be proud if we came in second and just to do our best. But at the starting line, standing next to the Lancaster team, their top runner said to his teammates with a smirk on his face, let’s try not to take the first five places. I looked at Rory and the rest of my teammates as if to say, No way.

The race was a blur and once we got into the woods there would be no passing so we ran hard before we got there not really knowing where we were placed then burst out into an open meadow toward the finish, which went up a hill (a toboggan run in the winter), and we gave it our collective all, charging up the hill still unaware of where we were, not daring to look around or even ahead, spent, gasping, some collapsing at the finish line.

When all was said and done we had taken 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th, and 9th, ending the prohibitive favorites’ unbeaten streak, and it wasn’t even close. What a feeling that was when we realized what we had accomplished, having to pinch ourselves as our names were called to get our first place ribbons and individual medals and hearing the applause as they were called.

To his credit the winning runner, the guy who had the smirk on his face at the beginning of the race, came over and congratulated each one of us on our upset, still in shock but grudgingly respectful. Of course our coach was ecstatic, his look of shock belying his selective memory as he reiterated, I knew you could do it, didn’t I?                                                                                             —-o—–

As unused to the rarified air we were now breathing I would say that we handled it pretty well, not even mentioning it to the Barnes’s who we figured wouldn’t be that interested anyway. When we went into the cafeteria at lunchtime the following Monday several cool (meaning they were football players) people we recognized but had never spoken to approached us and congratulated us on our performance, which had been announced over the loud speaker during homeroom. They were frat guys also and while the brief notoriety was appreciated that was as far as it went, as we had nothing in common with them except that now we were considered athletes and had done the school proud.

Classmates seemed to see us in a different light. Girls we’d noticed from afar smiled at us and our friends kidded us about being too good for them now. In other words we were officially jocks, although we never considered ourselves that and abhorred the thought of being classified as such, of being classified as anything for that matter, which unfortunately was the case with everyone in high school.

That girl was a slut, a brain, that guy was a hood, a fag, or was from the Juvenile Home, those kids were poor or lived on the wrong side of the tracks, worked on the stage crew or were in DECA, each naturally segregated and pigeonholed, with the initial label given you usually remaining intact for the rest of your high school days. A homogenous community otherwise, no minorities need apply.

Eventually Mr. Barnes noticed and commented on our newfound success. I guess it was inevitable as the top 10 runners from the meet made the all-conference team and got their pictures in the paper. We were still whipped from the race and you could tell from the picture, but Mr. Barnes didn’t seem to notice. Are you really that good, he asked? I guess so we replied, hoping he might even come to a race and see for himself. Mrs. Barnes never acknowledged any of it and that was the end of it.

—–o—–

Our annual comeuppance took place that winter when, ever hopeful, we tried out for the varsity basketball team. We somehow thought our recent notoriety would elevate us in the eyes of Coach Curtis, our cross-country coach who was also the varsity basketball coach, but we barely made the team and were buried on the bench for the duration of the season.

Once again it was primarily the football players who made the first team, and the results were predictably desultory. We were on the second team, which was also comprised of my friend Greg, John Chambers, a tall newcomer named Paul Nichol, and another frat boy who hung around with the football players but wasn’t one.

We would scrimmage the first string in practice and more than hold our own, but when game time came it was back to the bench. In spite of the circumstances we’d developed quite a camaraderie, rooting for one another if by some miracle one of us was inserted into a game to give a starter a breather. Chambers and I would actually bring a Sports Illustrated to the game and read it on the bench, not even attempting to hide it as we knew Coach Curtis (nicknamed Curly) would never notice.

One night we cracked everyone up when Chambers brought yellow tinted granny glasses and we spent most of the game looking up at the lights, pretending we were high. Coach Curtis never even noticed the commotion.

Low and behold Rory was actually put into a game one night and scored 18 points in one half! Though Chambers and I were laughing and kidding him about how much he was shooting, we were really happy at how he had done, thinking it would change things for us too because he’d done so well and they had even won a game, perhaps give we’d get our chance to play also, but it was not to be. Strangely Rory never played another minute the rest of the season and we remained cemented to the bench. No explanation, nothing, it was just the way things were done.

The most memorable event that season, however ghoulish, occurred one night before a game even started. The varsity was about to play our crosstown arch-rival Amherst and we were sitting behind their bench, our JV game having been played prior to the varsity, another loss of course.

During warmups our starting center went to dunk the ball and his ring finger must have caught on some bumps on the rim; next thing we knew his finger was lying on the gym floor in the foul lane and things went silent. After a delay and the kid being rushed to the hospital the game was played with a heavy pall over the normally raucous crowd. Paul Nichol was thrust into his starting spot at center and managed to hold his own. That meant he was no longer a part of our group though, and even though the going over we gave him was good-natured, there was definitely a little jealousy mixed in.

Everything seemed to sour after that and Chambers and I quit the team not long after. To his credit Rory stuck it out to the bitter end, hoping he’d still get the call that never came.

—–o—–

Having more time on my hands without basketball I started hanging out with John Chambers after school, not having told the Barnes’s that I had quit. I’d known him since my little league football days. He was very popular, being good looking, rich, and as the only kid our age having a shiny new car, not a little cachet was attached to hanging around with him.

Not that I really cared about that (well maybe a little) but it was a way to avoid going home and eventually progressed into him picking me up at night to go joy riding. Rory was working most nights at a restaurant at the time or he probably would have gone along too.

It seemed the Barnes’s ground rules had gradually become more lax, although we still had the 11 o’clock curfew and friends couldn’t come in the house and vice versa. John would come over and honk the horn until I came out, which annoyed Mrs. Barnes no end, which made him enjoy it all the more, despite my pleas that he stop it. The Barnes’s had a slight acquaintance with the family, who were very well known in Wilsonville, thought they were boobs (Mrs. Barnes thought that about everybody), but didn’t stop me from hanging out with him.

Despite welcoming these occasions as a respite to my home life I didn’t do them often, as John had many other friends and places to go and I suspect he only thought of me as a last resort. I didn’t mind that at all as he could be extremely overbearing, and was a shallow conceited person, if you want to know the truth, as were his friends and family.

I think that was the reason he liked me, because we would talk about things, life in general, future plans, things he, being too cool, would never talk to with anyone else. In reality we were using each other, me him for escape and adventure, him me conversely for an escape from his perceived persona. I think we both realized this was the case, which I suppose made it all right.

He even spoke vaguely of college plans as it suddenly became the thing to do, but it wasn’t a big priority for either of us, even though I knew his main reason for doing so was to eclipse his father’s college basketball career before he was through, as unlikely as that seemed at this point.

But first things first: he was determined to not only make the first string in varsity basketball his senior year but be the star of the team, though he wasn’t ready to begin the regimen necessary for that as yet, wanting to postpone that until the summer, so he could have his good times in the interim, taking up drinking and smoking dope like it was his job.

Since I didn’t and wouldn’t join in he’d only pick me up those times when he didn’t feel like partying, which was fine with me. He was a natural athlete though, proficient in the many and varied sports he took up (even curling and especially golf), so I knew he could accomplish anything he wanted in basketball though I wasn’t at all sure he had the necessary discipline. That was another reason I think he liked me, he admired my discipline, dedication, and success as a runner although he didn’t know how I could stand it being that running or any exertion was something so foreign to him he avoided it at all cost.

I encouraged him about basketball, which wasn’t all that difficult, as he loved the game, it being in his bloodlines. His father had been a big star, had even gone to Kentucky to play center when Adolph Rupp was the coach but ended up back in his hometown before too long, where he became a star at UB, relegated to being a big fish in a little pond, which suited him just fine.

John was big on nicknames, so much so that everyone he knew had been dubbed with one, and some of them were really quite creative. To begin with, he called his father Lurch, and while I found it incredible that he got away with it, forever after I found the resemblance uncanny.

He had a knack for doling these out based on one’s salient physical features or more subtle psychological ones. One guy strutted around with his chest out so he was dubbed the Pheasant; his own mother, whose first name was Mary and who drank a lot he referred to as Bloody Mary, her drink of choice, usually shortened to Bloody; a friend who had a fierce temper and acne on his back he called Rot (both probably the result of the early use of steroids now that I think about it); a kid in my homeroom who blushed easily he named Bloodhead, and so on.

He was known as Derm, because he was constantly looking in the mirror and constantly applying emollients of one kind or another to his skin, or Doc, because he always had drugs. As you might guess, he was extremely vain, and abhorred the thought of growing old.

I found it incredible that although most of these nicknames weren’t very flattering if not downright insulting, their recipients didn’t seemed to mind, in fact, seemed to be flattered to be given them. Myself he merely called Barnesy, which he also called Rory, not being able to tell us apart.

In addition he constantly insulted people, referring to them as “kings,” or “douches,” or “totals”, generally drawing attention to them in an unfavorable light, but most people didn’t seem to mind, either avoiding him or letting it pass, the rare person even giving it back to him.

He was the kind of guy (I actually saw him do this once) who, if a friend was driving on a bitter winter night and John was riding shotgun, would pull the keys out of the ignition, open the window, and throw them in a snowbank.

I honestly didn’t see how he didn’t get the s**t beat out of him every day, but, as I said, he had cachet, plenty of money, and a car, and, I would come to find out, his own little entourage, comprised of some of the aforementioned football frat. It was telling, though, that he was never invited to join them nor did he ever express any desire to become a member.

He was a strange guy, who while seemingly a lone wolf needed constant companionship, self-proclaiming himself BMOC when he was actually somewhat of a pariah.

—–o—–

Once basketballwas over it was track season and once again I didn’t know what to expect. The same guys who ran cross-country ran track, only in various distances, one a half-miler, another a miler, and so on. I didn’t know what my specialty was nor did Rory so we had tryouts. Rory beat me in the mile with a big kick at the end, while I seemed to have greater endurance, so I became a two-miler. As in cross country early on we would run in the pack during our prospective races, mindful of the fact that we needed to get points for the team and always managing to do so, usually finishing second or third to the other team’s best runners.

The 2-mile seemed like an awfully long distance, eight laps around the track, and it was one of the last events of the meet, so I needed to adjust to that, but all of a sudden at midseason the light clicked on in the middle of a race called the Alden Invitational when, knowing one of the front runners, having beaten him in cross-country, I realized I could run with these guys. I steadily moved up among the leaders, and, though I was too far back to catch the ultimate winners, who were seniors and the best runners in the county, I ran a very fast last lap and finished comfortably in third place.

I know I surprised a lot of people, and as I ran a cool-down lap, heard several people say, Who’s that guy from Wilsonville? I felt like I had broken through, really accomplished something, even more so than in cross-country, which was more a team sport, whereas in track you were there, in front of everybody, to see, and I found I liked to show what I could do.

I had finally found my sport, which seemed confirmed when the first two finishers, county legends bound for college on running scholarships, came up to me and congratulated me, wondering where I’d come from and how I’d surprised them, telling me I should do big things my senior year, and I could tell they meant it.

I never expected to do that well so suddenly and basked in the knowledge that I was gaining a reputation. Meanwhile Rory seemed content to finish where he did, mainly I surmised because he hated to practice and continued to cut corners during them.

The big meets, though, the ECIC meet and the Sectionals, were coming up and Rory, probably spurred by my recent success, decided he wanted to have it as well, and, as was his wont, trying to make up for lost time, told me his plan, which was to run five miles (further than he had ever run before) with light weights attached to his ankles.

I told him in no uncertain terms not to do it but he did anyway, on an unusually warm day to boot, finishing, but obviously exhausted, collapsing on the grass as soon as he finished. The next day he could barely walk but that wasn’t the worst of it; when he was able to run again the first time he tried his knee hurt and he said he could hear a clicking sound in it. He went to the doctor who said he’d strained a ligament but should be fine when it healed.

Rory never ran again, saying it never healed, that he could still hear the clicking sound and was afraid to hurt it again. I always wonder if maybe it wasn’t slightly psychosomatic though I never said as much, and Rory was devastated, as was I.

Leading up to the ECIC meet and Sectionals, I improved my time each week, until I was within five seconds of the school record by the end of the season. The sister of the guy who had the record happened to be in my homeroom. I had been unaware I was so close to the record until she began kidding me after each race, proud of her brother and my impression being she would be sad to see it go.

Although I finished third in the ECICs and the Sectionals to the same guys I had at the Alden Invitational, my goal was to win both next year, and make it to the State Trials. In addition I realized that barring injury, it was inevitable that I would eventually break the school record, and have something to be remembered by.

—–o—–

Looking back on that summer before my senior year I now realize I had been decidedly short-sighted. I didn’t even think about the fact that it was my final year in high school and, while most kids were scurrying around trying to get into college before the draft got them, I was focusing on my running and not much else. No mention of college was ever made by the Barnes’s, and I figured if they didn’t care I didn’t either, and while my high school guidance counselor (who I saw about once a year) was a nice guy and made a few desultory efforts to get me to look into the possibility of going to college, as did I, but after getting a rejection from Adrian College in Michigan I gave up. In spite of this I was determined to make the Honor Roll my last year in high school, if only to show the Barnes’s as well as myself I could do it. If nothing else I’d go out in a blaze of glory even if college seemed out of the question. I knew I was better than my standing in the bottom-third in my class alongside the DECA and Industrial Arts kids, the kids from the Home, the hoodlums and the just plain dumb if not slow kids.

John Chambers and I had also decided to do the best we could in our respective sports and we did, encouraging each other, driving ourselves. Though still not hanging out all that much we would sometimes meet at his father’s factory on a late afternoon or early evening, do our workouts, and go our separate ways.

There was no doubt we each went back to school that fall in the best shape of our lives. John had become lean and strong and I admired him for the complete transformation he had wrought in himself, knowing how hard it had been, witnessing it taking shape right before my eyes. In the course of the summer he had gone from being an average, slow, lackadaisical player with little muscle tone and a penchant for hogging the ball, to a dynamic player whose all-around game, light years ahead of last year- quick, instinctive, with surprising strength, no body fat and a killer jumper- would force Coach Curtis to take notice.

The fact that our senior class was being split in half because they had built another high school didn’t hit us until we were back in school that final year. We would have had a great football team had the roster not been so diluted, but the cross-country or basketball teams weren’t affected, as most of our losses (except for Rory) were through graduation. Still, it looked to be a two-man team with Greg and me, so it was every man for himself.

None of this phased John as he figured it was an even better opportunity for him to show his stuff, although he was secretly courting a point guard from the recently closed local catholic high school he knew would feed him the ball. On top of that, if he played well enough, and with his father’s connections, he still might have a shot at an athletic scholarship somewhere.

I immediately buckled down to my school work and found it surprisingly easy after realizing all I had to do was pay attention in class and do my homework faithfully.

Running was going very well despite knowing I was a marked man from the start. I relished the competition and changed my tactics now that I knew my abilities, becoming a frontrunner, which meant going out way ahead of the others and cruising to victory. This strategy worked even better than I had planned, resulting in my being undefeated in dual meets and setting records on every course I had run, building up to the penultimate race on our home turf against Iroquois, more noted for their wrestling teams, whose current a 5-year undefeated string had reached 50 meets.

Their best runner, a heretofore unheard of mystery man (also unbeaten) was rumored to have run fast races over in Europe and would, according to pre-race banter, kick my ass. Named Ed Griffiths, he was a tall strong kid whose specialty was the half mile, which meant he mainly had speed and a great finishing kick.

As I ate my usual pre-race of milk, salad, and an ice cream sandwich in the cafeteria, I decided to diametrically alter my strategy and draft on him the whole way, hoping to take advantage of my superior endurance and knowledge of the course to overtake him when we reached the one hill on the route, a long gradual ascent.

He partially upset this strategy by going out so far ahead of me I had to run harder than I anticipated to keep him in sight, hoping he would fade though not at all confident he would. As the race went on I found myself gradually gaining on him and saw him look back several times as we neared the hill, by which time I was right on his heels.

I surprised him and passed him like he was standing still until I had a 100-yard lead heading into the home stretch, striding up the hill more effortlessly than I had ever done before. As I passed him I heard him say “nice race” but before we entered the football field I could practically hear him breathing down my neck.

I admired him for coming back but wasn’t at all worried, in fact it made me run even faster, evincing a finishing kick I never knew I had. As I reached the football field I now had regained my 100-yard lead. As was his custom Big Ed Moore stopped football practice and had his players line up along each hash mark to cheer me on. Watch this guy run I heard him say and felt such a surge of pride as I powered through the finish line.

I found out later a picture had been taken at exactly that moment of me crossing the finish line with an agonized look, Ed Griffiths clearly visible in the background, head down with a defeated look on his face, to be “immortalized” when they used it in the high school yearbook. Everyone kidded me I looked like Frankenstein and I’d forgotten my sole beneath the shoe box of my spikes had split so I’d taped the toe box with white adhesive tape, which I thought made me look like as much of a warrior as any football player.

That turned out to be the highlight of my cross-country season. I finished a disappointing 3rd in the ECIC meet and the next week in the Sectionals I collapsed in the middle of the race (I never could decide if I bailed or actually did collapse) and the doctor diagnosed iron-poor blood as the cause.

I was devastated at the time, lying on the fairway (the race was on a golf course) watching each runner (including Greg) go by, but didn’t dwell on it for in my resilient youth.

I aced my schoolwork and ended up with a 95 average, placing me among the top 5 in the class, a rarified air I’d never dared breathed before, and never thought I could. But to no avail as far as the Barnes’s were concerned, as strangely they said nothing about it although they had to notice. That was it for me as far as high school grades were concerned. I’d only done it for them and now that I’d accomplished what I’d set out to do I lost interest and reverted back to my old ways, to Rory’s relief as he didn’t like me making him look bad.

We both did extremely well on the SATs which shocked many people but not us, even though it didn’t mean anything as college didn’t seem to be in our future anytime soon.

Instead I got wrapped up in the approaching basketball season, although in a rooting capacity only. Not much was expected of the team although from what I was hearing they might turn out to be pretty good. The point guard John had courted had indeed transferred and he transformed the team immediately.

Jim Sweeney was a feisty little guy with a pouter pigeon strut about him who came from a legendary local Irish family of six brothers and a mentally challenged sister, renowned for their fighting abilities. As combative as they were it was reputed that many a brawl broke out right at the dinner table.

Jim didn’t look much like an athlete, with a slight paunch and a layer of baby fat, but made up for any physical shortcomings (he couldn’t jump and had no J, just a push shot) with quickness, a coaches knowledge of the game and a pure will to win. He was just what a very inexperienced squad needed, the glue that held the whole thing together.

            They went on to surprise the league, much as our cross-country team had the year before, only this was much bigger, basketball being such an important sport in Wilsonville. John led the league in scoring and made first-team all-conference, although he was quite disgruntled when a forward on the team, Danny Zabito, was on fire one night and set the individual school record of 44 points in a single game. They finished first in their division and went deep into the regionals until a heart-breaking one-point loss in the semifinals. Sadly, things went rapidly downhill for John after that huge disappointment: he began partying like there was no tomorrow, determined to make the most of what was left of his senior year, especially for the time he’d lost working so hard before and during the basketball season.

I still had the track season to look forward to, had never been a part of his group, and couldn’t have kept up with him anyway, so I was glad to be quit of him for a while. Ironically, Rory took my place, which really worried me. He started drinking quite a bit soon after he hurt his knee, when working at a restaurant where he bragged about raiding the cooler there, stealing bottles from cases of Lowenbrau and chugging them after work. Even more worrisome he began doing drugs with John, and, worse than that, began hanging around with known druggies in school, where he hardly bothered showing up for class any more.

Installment #14 / But I Didn’t Die / a fictional memoir

It was spring, my favorite season, and anything seemed possible. In gym class the gym teacher, who coached the varsity football team, suggested I go out for track and cross-country. Muscle-bound, an ex-Marine named “Big Ed” Moore, I was surprised he had even noticed me. You can run Barnes, he told me, pulling me aside one day, as well as anyone I’ve seen around here, you’ve got speed and endurance. Your brother too. Hmmm, I thought, there must be something to this, everyone keeps asking me to do it, when I was never (as far as I knew) given a second thought before.

He was someone you didn’t want to disappoint, so I said I’d ask the Barnes’s about it. Fine, he said, if you need me to convince them just let me know. I really wanted to try it now and would ask them but I blanched noticeably when he offered to speak to the Barnes’s. That just wasn’t possible and wouldn’t make any difference anyway. I thought at least I’d wait until the weekend, when Mr. Barnes would be home.

Rory wanted to do it too but we were quickly brought back to earth when we finally got the nerve to ask on Saturday night. They didn’t say anything right away so we were still a bit optimistic as they hadn’t said no. Just let us talk it over, Mr. Barnes said, and we’ll let you know what we decide.

That didn’t sound good, and our hopes sank. They always did this when they wanted to present a united front, and then the answer would invariably be “no.” It was no different this time, although at least they explained their reasoning, something they’d never done before, and in the process we found out things about ourselves we’d never known before.

They explained that we were very sick as children and when they had adopted us the doctor had said we would never be able to play sports or do any strenuous activity. We accepted that at face value but actually didn’t believe a word of it. How had we been able to play baseball and basketball all those years and run circles around other kids if this was true? And why had they never said anything about this before? We figured it was because they knew nothing about running, which was relatively unknown (I mean the sport) back then. It could also be they just didn’t want us to do it but we’d give them the benefit of the doubt because at least they’d given us a reason. Besides, we still had Mr. Moore on our side and if it came down to that I would ask him to intervene. I was determined to run that fall and no one would stop me.

—–o—–

There was a girl in my homeroom named Cathy, who, according to rumor, liked me. I liked her too, while not exactly a knockout, she was pleasant, always smiling, and that went a long way with me. I had gotten to know her that year by talking to her in homeroom, or in the hallways when I would see her with her coterie of friends, who would all be giggling after I said hello as I walked by.

Then I heard she wanted to ask me to the upcoming sophomore prom and, sure enough, when she did I said yes without thinking. It might be fun, a good experience, it was nice to be asked, I reasoned, but when I realized what I had done I was mortified. No way would Mrs. Barnes let me go now that I had said “yes” without consulting her first. And when I talked to her on the phone about it and started hearing about corsages, formal dresses and tuxes, I began to get cold feet, realizing this was a bigger commitment than I’d envisioned.

Just talking to her on the phone had been a big deal with Mrs. Barnes, she’d interrupted me several times demanding to know who I was talking to, and said and not to tie up the phone as Mr. Barnes might call. I knew this would be an even bigger deal, not only was it my first dance, it was my first date. I figured the only chance I had was to wait until after dinner when she’d already had a few to ask her.

I didn’t dare tell Rory or my friends as none of them were going but they gradually got wind of it and the constant kidding started, so much so that I denied it, saying nothing was definite, and then Cathy heard about that and got very upset, as you might imagine. In all it was a big mess, and I wished I’d never said yes in the first place.

What with the phone call and all naturally Mrs. Barnes suspected that something was up and began asking me leading questions, letting me think she was on to me, and that she’d eventually find out, don’t you worry. No more mention was made of it but the prom was looming over me a couple weeks from then and I had a good mind to call it off while there was still time. But while she’d seemingly put it on the back burner I knew she hadn’t forgotten, and eventually things would come to a boil.

I wasn’t going to ask her directly if I could help it and began to plan a way to circumvent her. It wouldn’t have been necessary if her father could take us but that just wasn’t done in those days, it was the boy’s responsibility to get his date there. What made it even more difficult was it was on a Friday night and I wouldn’t know if Mr. Barnes could take us until the last minute, depending on when he arrived home from his weekly business trip. I didn’t even know if I could bring myself to ask him because he would insist on telling Mrs. Barnes and I couldn’t let that happen.

I finally decided that the only way we could go was if Cathy’s parents at least called to make the arrangements, which, as it turned out they were perfectly willing to do, it being Cathy’s first big night and all.

On the Saturday before the prom I hovered by the phone all day, making certain I was the one to answer it when the call came. When it did I answered and immediately gave the phone to Mr. Barnes, nervously anticipating the outcome, trying to make it look like I didn’t know what the call was about and listen in at the same time.

He didn’t say much during the phone call except for a few yesses and I sees, mostly he just listened but I thought it was a good sign he was writing everything down and finally I heard him say he would get back to them only if there was a problem, otherwise he would leave everything the way it stood.

Soon after he hung up he called me into the den and told me about the phone call, to which I feigned indifference, so much so that he felt compelled to ask me if I even wanted to go the dance because this was the first he’d heard of it. I said yes, of course I do and I was very relieved everything seemed to be going so smoothly until Mr. Barnes uttered the dreaded words, Of course I’ll have to talk to Mrs. Barnes.

My heart sank and I thought the jig was up but Mr. Barnes went right in to talk to her and reported that she seemed perfectly okay with it as long as you don’t make it a regular thing of it, and we haven’t even met the girl or her parents but just this once it couldn’t hurt as long you’re home by eleven. I couldn’t believe what had just happened, how easy it had been when I had been dreading it for so long, and couldn’t help but think there had to be a catch.

Sure enough, as soon as Mr. Barnes left for his business trip on Monday morning the retribution came raining down on my head, Mrs. Barnes launched into a tirade before school consisting of insanely ludicrous accusations that wouldn’t have been possible in a million years much less at that point, declaring that she’d get me for this (my subterfuge with Mr. Barnes), that this girl must be some kind of tramp and if we propagated any children she wouldn’t be responsible for them that was for damn sure. She continued her rant when I got home from school, spewing out vile things, especially during dinner as she got more sloshed by the minute. I said nothing, knowing better, trying to avoid any further unpleasantness, trying to get through dinner as quickly as possible although what appetite I had was long gone, but my plate must be clean in order for me to leave the table.

After dinner I went upstairs and made a quick pass at my homework, but mostly listened to the radio, hoping she wouldn’t come upstairs any time soon, which she rarely did.

Meanwhile Rory, who was getting the fallout from all this too, was begging me not to go and after a few days of worrying about the whole thing, not wanting to hurt Cathy but at the same time wanting to keep peace in the house for Rory mostly, I finally broke down and decided I wasn’t going to go to the dance at all, that it just wasn’t worth it. I steeled myself to break the news to Cathy who was naturally very upset when I told her and I figured it was because she was embarrassed she didn’t have a date now and there was only a week and a half until the prom and what could she do now, all was lost, but I could tell she genuinely wanted to go with me or not go at all so I hedged a bit and said I still might go, though it looked doubtful and would be a last minute decision probably dependent on Mrs. Barnes’ reaction when Cathy’s father arrived to pick me up, so she should be prepared for disaster.

Mrs. Barnes, knowing the nearer the prom got the more likely I’d be going, upped the ante over the remaining few days, launching a sustained diatribe against me that seemed the backdrop for my every waking moment, making all kinds of threats about what would happen if I went until finally I’d had enough.

For the first time in my life I looked her right in the eye and said I’m not going, I never wanted to go in the first place. For once Mrs. Barnes was speechless but not for long and, attempting to save face flung back, You’re damn right you’re not going because I said you couldn’t. No, I replied calmly and coolly, I’m not going because I choose not to. If I wanted to go there is nothing you could do to stop me. Is that a threat? she replied. Take it any way you want, I said as I turned around to go upstairs, her expletives following close behind me.

Needless to say I hardly slept at all that night, my stomach roiling, my mind in a whirl. Even though I was used to nights like these it still bothered me each time it happened. The next day was Thursday, the day before Mr. Barnes was due to arrive home, and two days before the prom. We had an uneventful dinner that evening with nothing more about the dance being said, and, as was my normal routine we went upstairs right after dinner.

Finally ready for bed, just about to fall asleep, we heard Mrs. Barnes come up the stairs, which was unusual because she ordinarily stayed downstairs in the den well after we were asleep, drinking and reading, or watching PBS. We heard her go into her bedroom then the bathroom, where we heard her humming and brushing her teeth.

Rory and I were wide awake now, though we hadn’t really been asleep, waiting to see if she went to bed. She came out of the bathroom and turned out the hall light. We watched her about to pass by the room when she suddenly stopped short in the doorway and whispered, Are you asleep?

We said nothing, in fact pretended we were asleep, but she came in anyway and, passing by Rory completely, neared my bed said, Do you mind, and sat down on it. I froze then, not knowing what to do, this was so unlike anything I’d ever experienced, realizing finally there was nothing I could do. She was dressed in a sheer nightie, through which I’m ashamed to say I saw her nipples and the outline of her breasts very distinctly. I didn’t know if I was supposed to see this and immediately averted my gaze, when she apologized about this dance business, and said it was perfectly fine with her if I went to the dance after all, she really didn’t know what all the fuss about. She went on to say that if I needed any pointers about what to do on a first date, or in learning some dance steps, or anything else at all, I should not be afraid to come to her.

I said nothing the whole time, just laid there with my arms by my sides trying to absorb what was going on. All I knew was that no matter what she said I didn’t trust her one bit, knowing that she was capable of changing her mind at the drop of a hat, or that I would pay for her seeming capitulation in the long run.

Oblivious, she patted me on the hand, lurching slightly as she got up, saying Goodnight boys, and left the room. It had been all I could do not to instinctively pull my hand away at her touch.

I lay there in bed long after Mrs. Barnes left, not at all sure about what had just happened or what it meant but I didn’t have a good feeling about it at all. I don’t even know what Rory was doing during this, whether he saw or heard anything, and I wasn’t about to say anything about it to him ever.

The next day, prom day, was chaos. Mrs. Barnes wasn’t there when we got home from school which meant she had probably gone out to “lunch” with her best friend Jean. That meant that she would be in no shape to cook dinner and would probably go straight to bed when she got home. Our normal routine was broken, not a bad thing in itself, something we might have even been relieved about most days, but, having dreaded this day for weeks, it was here now, and a little normalcy would have been nice.

At worst was this might prevent me from going because I didn’t think I should leave without Mr. or Mrs. Barnes being present, leaving Rory (who was all for me staying) alone in the house; at best I wouldn’t have dinner before I left, and I was famished, feeling nervous and weak as it was.

Because I didn’t know what else to do I went ahead and got dressed for the prom then called Cathy to explain the situation; she thought a minute and said they would order some pizza (something we never did) for me and come a little earlier to pick me up to that I could eat it on the way.

That problem solved I was feeling rather mature but there was still Rory to contend with. Imagine my relief when I heard Mr. Barnes pull in the driveway and not a second too soon, as Cathy’s father got there not long after. So it all worked out perfectly but not before I was almost a nervous wreck.

I barely ate any pizza, but just the fact that they’d thought of me was sustenance enough. Knowing the grief I was getting from Mrs. Barnes Cathy had even brought a corsage for me to give to her, which I was too callow to be embarrassed about. Compared to all the craziness that had just transpired the dance would be a piece of cake. Everything went fairly smoothly after that until the time had come for me to go out on the dance floor. As I had preferred to listen to the band most of the evening Cathy practically had to drag me out there and then I would only do the slowest dances, and even those I could barely handle.

I gave her what I’d been told was the obligatory first kiss later in the evening but my heart just wasn’t in it and I knew she had sensed it. It was a pretty quiet ride home though neither of us gave any hint the evening had been anything but a great success.

After everything was said and done we ended up not seeing much of each other after that, except in homeroom, which was awkward because I could tell she was hopeful something more would come of it when I knew it wouldn’t. I was always friendly when I saw her and I never stopped thinking she was a great person but it all became a distant memory by the time school let out for summer. Amazing how that happens when you are young and naïve. Easy come easy go, I figured, but would soon find out ruefully that wasn’t always the case.

—–o—–

I ended up failing geometry that year and had to go to summer school, which didn’t sit well with the Barnes’s, who were pretty hard on us about our grades when it suited them, other times they didn’t seem to notice, even if we had done much worse. Surprisingly it didn’t make us study any harder. We were both pretty sure we were smart but it didn’t seem to matter to us and we accepted mediocre (if not poor) grades as our due. There was no way we could compete with the “smart” students, and we had no desire to.

Geometry was particularly difficult for me. I found it boring and irrelevant and hated doing proofs with the requisite illustrations using a stupid compass and protractor that made me feel square as hell. In addition, the mother of a kid I knew was the teacher, which made it embarrassing somehow, both the fact that I was failing miserably and that I knew her, even if it was ever so slightly.

I would have to find my own way to summer school, too, which wouldn’t be easy as it was more than a couple of miles away, and I didn’t know many kids who had a car or even drove. Many times I ended up walking which was a real drag because at the end of that long hot walk there was geometry class waiting for me. This was the third time I was taking it and I had to pass it eventually or I wouldn’t be able to play school sports or even graduate, or so I was told. I just didn’t get it, the shapes, having to do theorems, and especially that damn compass, it was all so boring and pointless. I only hoped I could scrape by somehow and be done with it.

The whole situation was very stressful, with Mrs. Barnes reminding me every day that I had failed, which is why I was wasting my summer going to school, but it was good for me, she’d say deprecatingly, at least I wouldn’t get into trouble, and that I had better straighten up and fly right or there would be no college for me. That didn’t really bother me as I hadn’t even thought about college, Rory either, we were just trying to make it through high school.

Every now and then I got a ride from a classmate, a real motor head who drove a souped up Camaro. I didn’t really know him all that well and it was embarrassing to have to rely on him or even be seen in the car, which he thought was so cool and was always showing off by speeding there then parking it right out in front of the school, though no one seemed to notice as far as I could tell.

He really was a very good driver and even raced the car at a local speedway. One day he called me to tell me that he’d totaled it the night before at the race track and wouldn’t be able to give me a ride any more.

I resigned myself to having to hoof it the rest of the summer session which actually wasn’t so bad as I became friends with a girl in my class named Holly and we used to walk together and hang out afterward.

Big Ed Moore was there teaching civics or some such thing and continued to push me (us) to try out for the cross-country team in the fall and I (we) decided to do it. I began running right away, not seriously, just enough to get in shape, not worrying how far or how fast, just enjoying this new endeavor and to be ready when practices began. I tried to get Rory to run with me but he declined,  he’d wait until practices began, no use rushing things.

I managed to somehow scrape by, passing geometry by the skin of my teeth, so relieved that monkey was off my back. Once summer school was over I spent more time at home as there was not much else to do and it was during that time the visits to our room by Mrs. Barnes grew more frequent.

Rory and I had both gotten jobs as dishwashers at a local restaurant, working on alternate nights and one night when I was alone in my room feigning sleep while waiting for him to come home she climbed right into my bed.

As before I froze, not daring to move a muscle. She was saying something but not making any sense, her face was blotchy and she smelled like vermouth. She said she was sorry if she had woken me, she only wanted to say goodnight. Okay, I thought, but did you need to get in my bed to do that, momentarily wondering if she even realized where she was.

When I proffered my cheek for her to kiss in the usual way she said, No, not that way, and clenched my face in her hand and turned it toward hers. I thought she was going to kiss me on the lips, which I was pretty sure she’d never done before, and she started to, but when her lips met mine she thrust her tongue right into my mouth.

I recoiled immediately and spluttered, What are you doing?  Now was that so bad, Mrs. Barnes replied distractedly. Isn’t that how boys and girls do it these days? Don’t tell me you don’t know all about it, she suddenly sneered. No I don’t, I assured her, to which she replied, Then it’s time you had some lessons so you’ll know what to do when you find that special girl.

She left as quickly as she entered and Rory came home soon after. I didn’t dare say anything to him. I could tell he knew something was up but he didn’t pursue it. When things were quiet I snuck into the bathroom and washed my mouth out with Listerine. I didn’t sleep much that night for fear she’d return.

At other times she would come in and question me closely about the girls at school, who I was interested in, was I popular with them. I pointed out that she knew that I had gone out with only one girl thus far and how that had ended. Even when I made it perfectly clear that I had no sexual experience at all she persisted in questioning me.

Show me hypothetically then, she would say, what you would do on a date with one of your floozies, and she would make me tongue-kiss her again, this mind you before I had ever experienced this with a girl my age.

I had heard plenty about those things, naturally, guys bragging how far they had gone with a girl, how far they intended to go if they got the chance, etc. I’d listen but had nothing to contribute. Not wanting to admit I had no experience, I’d chuckle and go along with it, acting as though I knew exactly what they meant, but mostly I desperately avoided that kind of talk, especially after what I was going through with Mrs. Barnes.

I couldn’t even begin to understand what was happening, except to tell myself that I had been taught to obey her in all things and as this seemed to please her, how could it be wrong?

But when she confronted me I thought of nothing more than to obey her. Several times she undraped and told me to feel her breasts, her nipples, and one night I even thought we had “done it” because she said to lie on top of her and rub myself against her because she was lonely.

I was both mortified and enthralled she had admitted something like that to me, it made me feel special that she was taking me into her confidence. Aghast that I had become aroused I did as she asked and even got that feeling I had during those wet dreams I’d had or when climbing the ropes in school.

But when I was talking to a friend one day and he told me what “doing it” really meant, I was appalled and couldn’t bring myself to believe that Mrs. Barnes had made me do that or that I had.

That her behavior both repulsed and enthralled me made my anguish that much more exquisite. It was, after all, at these times that she was nicest to me. Though I would never ever admit it, I began to look forward to her coming to my room at night, actually sometimes willing her to when she went by and thinking I had succeeded when she did.

Still, the worry about what was happening and what it meant was constant and grew so insistent that I just had to talk to somebody about it soon and naturally that person was Rory. As I mentioned before, these things occurred on the nights when he was working and I never imagined they might also be happening to him.

When I finally was able to bring myself to broach the subject it was extremely tentatively, first because I was afraid of how he would react, second because I was loathe to admit to anyone the extent of it, and third I wondered how much he already knew. Surely he would sense that something horrible was happening to me, although he never gave the slightest indication he had.

I asked him in general terms if she said or did anything to him on the nights I was working. His response was the usual Rory shrugging his shoulders reaction only this time he added that he wasn’t sure what I meant. What kinds of things, he asked. Oh, you know, does she talk to you a lot or say anything about me?

Looking as though he was beginning to see what I was getting at he said, She seems to talk a lot more than usual, mostly about you- us. This really piqued my interest as you might imagine though I tried to act casual. And what things does she say? I asked. Oh, you know, Rory said, mostly about how good I am and how bad you are, which I don’t believe for a minute.

This shocked me as I’d never credited Rory with being capable of any type of perception at all- I’d certainly never seen it-  much less even have an opinion on something, but also because this was the same thing she did with me, playing us against each other, praising Rory and badmouthing me when he was there, and vice versa.

I was surprised I hadn’t had the slightest inkling this was happening, because it was so unlike her to say good things about either of us, I should have been suspicious. It made me feel even worse about was going on because I too had been skeptical when she was praising me and condemning him but I kind of enjoyed the flattery, especially coming from her, as it meant that perhaps I was her favorite after all.

Not that I believed one negative word she said about Rory but on the other hand kind of did believe her when she was praising me, when I should have realized it was all lies. I didn’t let on to Rory she had done the same thing with me, he had a low enough self-image as it was, and that would only make it worse, instead I decided to drop the whole thing.

As I had kind of beaten around the bush with I knew I still had to tell someone in no uncertain what was going on and the only other person I could think of was Mr. Barnes, also the only person I felt could do something about it.

It seemed somehow more urgent when realized I had feelings for Holly, the girl in my geometry class and what I had been doing with Mrs. Barnes repulsed me and couldn’t go on any longer. I wanted no part of it anymore and had to stand up to her sooner or later. I’d poured my heart out to Holly about my home life in general, though I revealed nothing about the worst stuff. She sympathized, but of course couldn’t really understand the extent of it, thinking it was just the normal teenage parent conflict she herself was going through with her own parents.

Installment #13 / But I Didn’t Die / a fictional memoir

The remaining two weeks of August flew by until it was Labor Day and school would start the day after. Our new school was within walking distance, meaning we weren’t qualified to take the bus, which was fine with us as  we felt were too old for that anyway.  We were even allowed to go out on our own and buy some new clothes. We took the bus downtown and made a day of it, finding some great bargains at a high-end store called the Stetson Shop, having a hot dog and some coffee (which we never allowed to drink) at Louie’s Red Hots, stopped off at the Central Library, then took the bus back home in the late afternoon, very satisfied with our purchases. Mr. Barnes approved and Mrs. Barnes said nothing for or against, which was the most we could hope for.

We were preparing ourselves for the worst, not knowing very many kids, just those we knew from Little League baseball and football and some from church, knowing how the new kids were treated, but at least we had a buffer zone of sorts with the mile walk, though as we set out we were filled with dread, expecting the worst. As we were leaving Mrs. Barnes warned us to keep our mouths shut, be polite, and, most of all don’t ever do anything to embarrass them, the same thing she said anytime we went some place new. But it was a nice day and we were determined to enjoy the walk.

As I arrived there and looked around at the sea of faces roaming the hallway as I entered, I realized I knew no one. At least Rory and I would be in the same homeroom, that was something at least, and would have to do for now.

First they gave us (the new students) orientation which I needed as I had never been in the building before. The building was a new one-story, popular at the time, with all new furnishings and the latest equipment, but seemed strangely dark inside, as if it was an older building.

Naturally one of my classes on the first day was one I had been dreading since I had seen it on my schedule, Beginning French. I’d never come close to wanting to learn a foreign language, in fact it had never crossed my mind, and I couldn’t believe I was being forced to now, but there it was. I was hoping against hope the teacher (who was known as a real stickler) wouldn’t call on me or make me introduce myself, but I needn’t have worried, the first class merely consisted of practicing pronunciation of basic words as a class, getting the accents (which I felt very foolish trying to pronounce) down.

Relieved when the class let out and it was time for lunch, I went to the cafeteria to meet Rory. Mrs. Barnes no longer packed a lunch for us, instead giving us a quarter each to buy a school lunch, but I usually skipped the school lunch and bought an ice cream sandwich and some milk, or every so often a salad. The rest of the day passed uneventfully and I was relieved to actually be looking forward to the next day. There was an excitement, a feeling that a whole new world was opening before me, with infinite possibilities, something I had never felt at Martin Luther School, which felt so insular, which wasn’t a bad thing as it was exactly what I needed at the time.

 

I was content to sit back and observe that first year of public school, until we went to the high school on Main Street. We gradually got to know classmates here and there and had gotten reacquainted with kids we’d known from Little League baseball and football but never made any what you’d call “friends.” It was just as well, saving us the embarrassment of explaining why we couldn’t go over to their houses, or they come to ours..

I guess you’d say the only “friend” we had was a kid named Bill and he was at least somewhat interesting, if a marginal character. Rory and I were walking to school one day when he happened upon us. Mind if I walk with you? he asked. My name’s Clifford, but I prefer Bill. I’m new here. Glad to meet you Bill, I said, I’m Wesley and this is my brother Rory. Where are you from? Detroit, he responded. Wow, I said, and proceeded to tell him about our class trip and how we went to the Tigers game. I came to find out his last name was Frank, so Clifford William Frank. Three first names, never heard of that before.

We already had quite the banter going; when we found out he’d played first base in Little League we referred to him as Norm Cash and he’d respond with a simper, Go ahead, say what you want, I could play. Another thing that set him apart from the rest of the kids was the fact that he was already smoking, and non-filters at that. It wasn’t like he was trying to be cool or anything, he did it very nonchalantly, like he’d been doing it for years. When we asked him what his parents thought about it he said they knew and even let him smoke in his room. We couldn’t even fathom that kind of freedom and didn’t know whether to believe him or not. He didn’t use a flashy lighter either, just matches.

When we asked him what he wanted to do with his life he said I’m already doing it, playing guitar and pool, that’s how I’m going to make my living. We didn’t doubt his sincerity but have to admit we were skeptical he’d succeed at either even back then, though we didn’t say so.

When we heard there was a rock band forming at the school we told him he should try out and he said he might. We kidded him about Motown, Mitch Ryder, and Question Mark and the Mysterians, and said, Now’s your chance, you can show these snobs how they do it in the Motor City.

He thought playing rock (it’s three chords he’d say) was simple, he was more into jazz, especially Wes Montgomery, and said he had Wes’s octaves down cold, but we found out later he didn’t know any songs, not even enough to fake his way through a song. We didn’t let on that we knew about that, and when we’d ask him how an audition went he’d shrug his shoulders and say, they couldn’t play man, they couldn’t play, you know what I mean? I somehow felt like an adult around Bill, and had an inkling that things weren’t going to turn out very well for him.

It seemed we had our own little group of emigrants, and most of whom took quite a bit of what almost amounted to hazing. For the most part I was spared, probably because at least some kids knew me, while the others were complete strangers from out of town.

The school was extremely exclusive, everyone nervously trying to fit in, find their niche; some took longer, or never did, others went elsewhere. Things were very posh there, unlike anything we’d experienced before, especially the sports facilities, including a heated indoor swimming pool, which immediately became my nemesis. For some reason (health reasons we were told) unknown to me to this day, the boys had to swim nude on gym days once a week.

This practice was abhorrent to me on so many levels, the least of which was the gym teacher having a penchant for sneaking up behind someone and slapping them in the ass with his clipboard. As if it wasn’t embarrassing enough just to be singled out, the reverberation could be heard throughout the pool area and the gym.  Everyone laughed because that was what you were expected to do, though I suspected it was mostly relief at not having been the victim.

It was a matter of us literally keeping our heads above water because every now and then some poor soul would get thrown into the girls shower for kicks at the behest of the same masochistic gym teacher. The victim would be grabbed by the arms and legs and swung back and forth several times before they were released like a bowling balldown the alley. It was best not to fight it as the result was inevitable.  I still remember the sound of the naked body sliding along the ceramic tiles floor on the pool deck and the shower, sluicing the water as it went, like pulling a bathmat out of the tub, someone holding the girl’s shower door open to accommodate smooth entry, after which the door was closed but you could still hear the unfortunate shrieking of the girls who happened to be in the shower when it happened.

I wasn’t sure if the gym teacher, who was also the freshmen basketball and football coach, liked me or not. One day he singled me out, making me wrestle the biggest kid in class and said if I didn’t pin him in less than a minute the entire class would have to run laps. Thankfully the kid was harmless, a skinny non-athlete. I merely tackled him and pinned him immediately, my fear of letting the whole class down being superseded by my embarrassment for him, just as the gym teacher had planned.

When I tried out for the basketball team it was a different matter: he acted like I didn’t exist. It was much as we thought it would be, an overall favoritism taking effect, wherein all the football players got the majority of playing time no matter how they performed in practice, and everyone else pretty much sat the bench. I’ll admit I wasn’t the best player because of my height disadvantage, and didn’t like the drills or running the plays, but I could shoot better than most, I knew that much. It was the same for Rory, except that he did like the drills and running the plays and was a natural floor leader just as he had been at Martin Luther.

We at least would have liked to have gotten a chance to see what we could do, because some of the football players had no earthly reason at all to be out there. One, the freshman QB, was so musclebound in the shoulders he had absolutely no touch and each time he shot the ball it seemed in danger of shattering the backboard or clanged loudly off the rim.

Some of these kids I’d known since little league football and here they were, a decade later, still at it, still getting a free pass regardless of the results. And the results were predictably laughable but it didn’t seem to matter. Still, it was better than doing nothing and allowed us to delay going home for as long as possible, thereby avoiding the dread in the pit of our stomach we experienced every day as we did so.                                                                                                                                 I have to admit that by the end of the school year I still hadn’t found my niche, didn’t really know where to look, everything was so different from Martin Luther School, but as long as I wasn’t ridiculed or ostracized I was okay with it. One encouraging development was the realization I enjoyed running and I was good at it, Rory also. Every so often in gym we all had to line up and run a lap around the athletic field, probably a quarter mile or so, and, while most kids hated it, it was a breeze for me, and I finished way ahead of anyone else, as did Rory in his.

A couple of kids came up to me one day after we’d run a lap and asked me if Rory and I wanted to try out for the cross-country team that fall. I’d never heard of cross country before, actually confusing it with orienteering for some reason, which I had no interest in, but said I’d ask Rory and think about it and never followed up on it. Mrs. Barnes had given us enough trouble about trying out for the basketball team, I doubted she’d go for that. As the school year came to an end, all the talk was about going to the high school that fall, which I anticipated as well as dreaded as I did every new experience.

—–o—–

Before we knew it it was time for senior high, which began with a whimper and ended with a bang. The walk there was right up Main Street through the village, the high school being at the very end of it. Once again we got a brief orientation; the school was an admixture of the old and the new, with spacious hallways, and transoms on the classroom doors. The grounds surrounding the building were immaculate, behind the school was the football field with a cinder track enveloping it, and past that the various fields, baseball, soccer, and field hockey.

The school was very crowded, the hallways packed between classes, so it was easy to disappear if one wanted to, and I found that to be the best course of action in those early days. Our sophomore class was on the bottom rung, which we were reminded of every day, and, as in junior high, quite a bit of hazing went on, especially in the gym locker rooms, but I managed to remain unobtrusive enough to emerge unscathed. Still, the anticipation of it on a daily basis was nerve-wracking.

Pretty much the same kids were in our homeroom, which was somehow comforting. For English I had a teacher named Ken Cornell, a bit of an egghead (literally) with bad eyesight, in fact, he had crazy eyes, the kind that whirl around in their sockets intermittently.

It was a very unruly class as Mr. Cornell had lost control of it early on. There were intercom phones in each classroom for calling kids out of class for various reasons (sickness, truancy, discipline, forgotten lunches, crises at home), and one kid in the class, John Chambers, took advantage of the situation, having his friends call him from empty classrooms so he could leave. Everyone knew what was going on except Mr. Cornell as John didn’t try to hide it, standing up and smirking each time as he left. How his friends got in the empty classrooms to make the calls nobody seemed to know because they were supposed to be locked.

I have to admit I certainly wasn’t perfect either; we were reading Silas Marner at the time, and I would pretend I was in a deep sleep during class and couldn’t be awoken, specifically when Mr. Cornell, who I could sense was slightly nervous given the subject matter of the book, called on me. Mr. Cornell always bit obtuse, which the class thought was hilarious, and I got the reputation of being quite the wit, something that carried all the way through my high school years. Not a bad thing over all, though I would never want Mrs. Barnes to get wind of it.

For some reason I still can’t figure out to this day Mrs. Barnes seemed to loosen up a little on the tight rein she had on us. I surmised it had something to do with her drinking (she had begun drinking even more), or the fact that I had a new friend whose father was a minister, giving me credence in her eyes and vicariously Rory. She began letting us go out on our own more often, even allowing us to go to a dance at the Methodist church on Main Street which thrilled me no end. I didn’t really go for the dance, which for the most part consisted of underage drinking, frat fights, and make-out sessions, as there was really no adult supervision (Mrs. Barnes didn’t know that). Eventually the neighbors raised such a ruckus about the goings on those Friday nights the event was discontinued.

For me it was all about the music. There were usually two bands, a more well-known area band along with a band from high school mostly consisting of seniors but sometimes including an underclass prodigy. I always stood in the front row near the speakers, anticipating each song, usually covers of the Stones, Beatles, The Who, sometimes even (if the band was really cool) the Yardbirds, with some Motown thrown in for the girls. The first live song I ever heard was the local band Arthur doing their version of “Can’t Explain,” which was amazing because it was a current song still on the charts, and it seemed to me they nailed it.

Like I said it was about the music; as long as a band was fairly competent, professional, they were okay by me. It often happened that they even surprised me by doing a song I’d never heard of, for example a cover of the Stones’ “She Said Yeah.”

The real litmus test of a band’s talent was if they did their own songs and, even more, if they were good. That was rare, and it was mostly the more established regional bands who did so.  But even the guys from the high school band I looked up to, although this particular group clowned around like the Monkees, who weren’t even around yet, and despite that I admired them greatly and listened with rapt attention.

We fancied ourselves quite the music connoisseurs, and indeed it was one of our passions, although strangely I had no desire to take up a musical instrument, perhaps because I had a good singing voice, while Rory did, buying a guitar and even taking lessons, becoming very proficient at it, though he did it for his own enjoyment.

There was a folk music show called “The Inside Out” on Sunday nights on the biggest radio station in the city that I hardly ever missed. Strange that a 50,000- watt station would deign to broadcast such a small market show? Certainly by today’s standards but it was different then, the music industry was burgeoning and could afford to be diverse and experimental in the sixties, something I seriously doubt will ever happen again. Here it was that I discovered Tom Rush, The Youngbloods, Tim Buckley, Tim Hardin, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, and Jesse Winchester, among many others, people you just didn’t hear on AM radio.

Rory never cared for that kind of music though, preferring hard rock, the louder the better, and with rock it was the same thing, we’d gone way past the standard fare, and were seemingly hearing something new every day, between WNIA and constant browsing in the record section of W.T. Grant’s, in this way discovering our favorite groups ever, proud we’d never heard nor would ever hear them on the popular stations. Groups like Moby Grape (Rory heard “Omaha” on WNIA and came rushing home to tell me that it sounded like a group of outlaws riding through town); Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac and, although I was initially attracted to them by the “English Rose” album cover, Mick Fleetwood in drag, it was through this album we discovered what still is my favorite music genre, the blues, especially the slide guitar, as there were several Elmore James songs on the record.

Other great but relatively unknown bands were Savoy Brown (another British Blues band), Spirit, the Irish band Taste (Rory Gallagher), early Jethro Tull, Love, the Allman Brothers, Quicksilver, and The Band.

Then there were the second tier bands (in my opinion) that weren’t played often on the radio so you had to get their albums if you wanted to hear them. Among these were Cream, Steve Miller Band, and Steppenwolf.

Finally there were the bands we would never tell anyone we liked because they were our own discovery (at least their albums were because they did have minor hits on AM radio and were considered one-hit wonders, although we knew better), two to be exact, Left Banke and a group called the Merry-go-round.

We wanted no part of the Grateful Dead, they were too popular and even then their fans too obnoxious. In our minds there were four San Francisco bands to choose from (the Dead, Quicksilver, Jefferson Airplane, and, last but not least, Moby Grape), and each one had their champions, ours being Moby Grape, who very few had even heard of though we may have converted a few to them along the way. We liked every song they ever did, there was a special feeling when we listened to them, they were as familiar as family. Five-part harmony, Jerry Miller (who with Peter Green I thought was the greatest guitarist ever), each member doing solos, we could never get enough of them. In fact, I’ll have it in my will (if I ever make one) that a continuous loop of their songs be the soundtrack at my funeral- no maudlin or religious songs for me, I want to be transported to my next destination on the wings of a Moby Grape tune.

—–o—–

Of course the night I went to see Jimi Hendrix was the pièce de résistance, all the more reason because it was my first concert! Nobody could top that, I believed, and to this day it hasn’t. We already had his first two albums, I’d loved him since the night I’d first heard him, on WBZ.

I woke up one summer night when I was sixteen because I thought the Martians were invading us, just like in the “War of the Worlds hoax”. Turned out it was the sound emanating from the transistor radio under my pillow, tuned to WBZ in Boston. I’d been listening to the Red Sox game out on the West coast, which was the only time the station came in really clear. I was half asleep or perhaps it woke me up, whatever, I’d never heard anything remotely like it.

The disc jockey must have felt the same way. Far out stuff, he said, when the song was over, never heard anything like it and doubt I ever will again. That was Jimi Hendrix and the song is called “Purple Haze,” off his first album “Are You Experienced?” Wave your freak flag high, peoples, and if you ever get the chance to catch his live act, ya better do it, it’s even better than his studio album, ya dig?.

Next morning, to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, I went down to the record store where my friend Louie worked and describe it to him. He laughed and said, Sure, Jimi Hendrix, that guy’s pretty badass on the guitar isn’t he? He led me over to one of the record bins and there it was, the psychedelic purple and yellow album, which I picked up as gently as if it was a rare book, doing my best to keep from tearing off the cellophane cover before I even got out the door.

That in itself was a pleasure unknown today – ever try to unwrap a CD?- stripping off the cellophane in one piece if possible so you could put it back on afterwards and for as long as it lasted, rubbing your hand across the cardboard cover, smooth as a baby’s bottom, then gingerly taking out the pristine vinyl, fingertips on the edges, and setting it gently on the turntable, waiting for that very first sound, like awaiting the dawning of a very important day.

You got so immersed on the first listening it seemed all one piece, then you’d play it over again to begin sorting out the individual songs, already knowing right away what your favorites were, but that could change over the years as you grew with it, and played it day after day time after time.

Did you know he’s coming to town in a few months? Louie asked.

I nodded, but wasn’t paying that much attention because I really didn’t. But as I was leaving Louie told me they’d be selling tickets and if I wanted some he’d set them aside. Primo seats, he said, Now that I heard. I didn’t know what to say because I couldn’t admit here was no way I’d ever be allowed to go, but said, just in case I could, at least two..

I was pretty square back then (not that I’m any cooler now), a callow youth living in the ‘burbs, a product of my environment, which, though it looked pretty normal, was often as zany as it gets.

Bought and sold by my hyper-vigilant parents, but doing my best to keep some semblance of myself to myself, the part that didn’t go to school or church, dress for dinner, get a haircut every month, go to the dentist, visit the relatives, or polish my shoes.

Despite all these strictures I managed to accomplish way more than I or they could ever have imagined, although it was mainly by lying and cheating, which I had to do in order to do things they never would have let me do if they knew, not to mention the corporal punishment that would be meted out for even asking.

It wasn’t special just because it was my first concert, or because of the subterfuge I had to perpetrate in order to go either, though that was part of it, but rather it was because of the veritable awakening I had only glimpsed in church but now experienced in full from music as well as books (although the books were much later), one which lasted for over a decade before it was shuttered once more, which is another story.

The closer it got to the concert, though, the more I wanted to go, and, by the time the week before came, I was frantic. Here I’d gone and bragged about it, and I’d never hear the end of it if I didn’t, even though it probably wouldn’t matter because  most of the kids didn’t even know who he was, and looked at me with blank stares when I mentioned it. Not to mention the fact that Louie had set aside two tickets for Rory and me.

Now that things seemed to be settled I began planning my (our) escape.    Ostensibly we were going to a basketball doubleheader at the Aud, which sounded plausible enough because local college teams played doubleheaders on Saturday night at the downtown auditorium. No big deal, right? I had, however, stolen (the only time I ever have in my life) a pair of DayGlo screaming yellow wide-flared bell bottoms with blue pin stripes from Mr. Rocker’s clothing store, putting them under my undershirt and walking out calm as can be, also employing the same method when I left the house that night.

In order to perpetuate the subterfuge by taking the bus downtown like we always did when we went to the Saturday night basketball double-header, although we didn’t know anyone driving anyway.

As soon as I got to the top of our street I put my jeans in a plastic bag brought for just that purpose, then carefully placed them in the middle of some nearby bushes and put on my stolen pants (the only time I would wear them), which wasn’t an easy task it was so cold out and Rory was laughing at me. After that things went pretty smoothly and before we knew it we were in front of the Aud..                                                                                                                                                                                                           —–o—–

While Rory went to find our seats I headed straight for the restrooms, which was so crowded I had to wait in line to use one of the pissers. That was a trip in itself with all the freaks there who obviously knew more about Hendrix than I did, describing guitar riffs in particular songs I hadn’t even heard yet as well as other concerts of his they’d been to, and critiquing the opening acts, all the while smoking funny-smelling cigarettes that left a thick haze in the restroom. There wasn’t a person over 30 there I’ll bet you- except for the cops- so everything was cool. Needless to say, I’d never been around a crowd like that, and, though a bit intimidated, was anxious to get to my seat.

Next I was stood in the jam-packed chilly lobby, where the line wasn’t moving very quickly, which I couldn’t understand. I figured Rory had already found our seats so I wasn’t really worried about it. Finally I started wending my way through and soon I was inside the auditorium, which was even colder than the lobby but I didn’t care, I couldn’t wait for the music to begin.

The lights went down and everybody started clapping, but it was only an announcement that the opening act, Jessie’s First Carnival, was snowed in at the airport in Boston, that started the crowd, which was rapidly filling in, grumbling and milling about.  In addition, a rumor had begun to circulate that Jimi had shot heroin into his brain and died. While I wasn’t sure how to take this, I certainly didn’t dwell on it.

This all went on for a while as they didn’t have any real backup plan and had about a half hour to kill before the next band came on. They began piping music through the building sound system, which was pretty shitty, if you want to know the truth, what with the feedback and crackling speakers but it was loud enough to know it was The Dead and soon, sure enough, there were some Deadheads on stage grooving and tripping to the sounds of their masters.

By now everyone looked to be getting wasted on alcohol and chaos reigned supreme but I remained calmly in my seat watching everything. A pall of smoke hovered over the whole place, and it wasn’t only cigarette smoke I would soon come to find out when a woman sitting next to me passed me what looked like a cigarette.

Oh, no thank you, I demurred, proud to announce that I didn’t smoke. This isn’t a cigarette, she said, try it you’ll like it. I took it and drew in a huge puff, coughing and sputtering as the acrid smoke burned my lungs and made my eyes water. I then passed it on to the guy sitting next to me who laughed and said, First time to which I replied How could you tell? Because you bogarted it man, but, hey thats cool. He then took a few short hits on the joint hits and sucked in the smoke, holding it in his lungs a while before exhaling. That’s how you do it man, take a few hits, breathe it in, and pass it on. You’ll learn, he said. I doubted I’d have the opportunity again but I was so embarrassed I said, I will. Thank you.

Just then there was screaming-loud feedback from the speaker system and the announcer said, “Please find your seats everyone and sit down. This is a fire hazard and if you don’t sit down in the next few minutes the Fire Marshal will close this place down.” Once again a lot of grumbling but everyone slowly obeyed.

Then came the announcement, “Ladies and gentlemen, from Dallas Texas, the Soft Machine. Let’s give them a Buffalo welcome.” No one seemed too familiar with the band, it was obvious they’d only come to see Jimi, so there was a smattering of applause as they took their places on the stage.

Suddenly the lights dimmed and a projector in back came on and I didn’t know it but I was about to see my first light show projected onto a large screen behind the band who had begun playing a jazz fusion instrumental piece that was way over my head. Besides, like everyone else, I couldn’t wait for Hendrix to come on. Some people were digging it and some were pretending to. All in all the crowd was pretty quiet but increasingly restless. I actually began to feel sorry for the band.

I don’t know if it was the grass or what but the light show seemed to consist of paisley patterns that looked like amoebae under glass. All in all, watching it change shapes while the music played in the background was pretty cool.              Then I sort of lost track of time and next thing Hendrix was on the stage sans light show, wearing a broad-brimmed black felt hat with a feather in it, black pants with a silver and turquoise belt, brown almost knee high boots, and a brown vest over a paisley flare-collared shirt. I didn’t even notice the drummer and bassist throughout the performance, though I could certainly hear them.

Jimi was warming up, playing left-handed, something I had never seen before, a pale blue Stratocaster, tapping the wha-wha pedal and strumming some scratchy chords through the bank of huge Marshall amps behind him, while people in the background scurried around the stage doing god knows what and the crowd started clapping their hands, stamping their feet, and chanting GIMMEE JIMI en masse over and over again, so loud you could hardly hear anything else and the whole building shook. It sounded like Jimi said “thank you” with his guitar using the wah-wha pedal then immediately launched into “Purple Haze, the crowd exploding with deafening excitement that got louder and louder though seemingly not possible.

After the applause died down when the song was over there was a slight period of silence which was broken by a woman in the cheap seats yelling down: Hey Jimi take your hat off, to which Jimi replied, I’ll take my hat off if you take off your pants. Everyone began laughing and Hendrix then launched into “Foxy Lady”, and the crowd was grooving once more.

He played all the songs off his first album and before you knew it, the show was over. No pyrotechnics, no guitar burning or smashing, just a yoeman-like performance and since I’d been hanging on every note I felt like I’d fallen off a cliff when the music stopped.

I stayed in my seat trying to absorb what had just happened, struggling to get back to reality, oblivious to my surroundings, seemingly for an eternity. So I sat there a while longer, as though I was watching the credits of a movie scrolling down the screen, and finally decided I’d better be up and about.

Rory’d already left to hit the restroom, telling me he’d wait in the entrance to see when the bus arrived; I stayed to watch the roadies breaking down the equipment and packing it to be shipped to the next gig in Cleveland. I could have stayed there longer but the usher told me I had to leave.

When I finally left I had a hard time getting to where Rory said he’d wait for me and when I finally did he was nowhere in sight. I found out later Mr. Chambers had come to get John and drove Rory home too. I wondered why Rory hadn’t waited for me and figured he must have been pretty lit, at the same time realizing I’d never figure out what or how he thought.

I waited a bit longer for the bus, which didn’t come, and when I asked the doorman if he’d seen it he replied it had left 5 minutes ago. Suddenly I began to panic as I wondered how I’d get home, and, not only that, at the same time Rory did. If you want to know the truth I didn’t really want to go home, both because I didn’t want to face the music and didn’t want this surreal night to end.

When I finally got outside I was greeted by a blizzard of epic proportions. All was lost I initially thought, but then maybe not. I noticed a line of people winding around the building towards the back, unperturbed by the wind and snow swirling around them, and figured something must be going on.

Then I spotted two guys walking by the line of people totally unnoticed and realized it was Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding, the drummer and base player which meant the crowd had gathered only for Jimi. Still, they were laughing and cavorting, bending down to grab scoops of snow and fling them toward the sky, only to see them almost immediately disperse in the wind, not unlike a 4th of July firecracker.

I stood against the wall of the building and began forming a snowball, which I threw at a nearby streetlight, hitting it dead center. Then I heard someone say behind me, Make one for me mate! and turned around to see the two of them approaching me. This is a gas, all this whiteness, Noel said, Never seen anything like it. As Mitch prepared to throw the snowball I told him that the most fun thing to do, was aim for at a target, especially a moving one!

You mean like cars? Mitch said. I said I’d done that before and while it was the most fun of all, it was dangerous. Despite this, Noel said, You mean like this? and chucked a malformed snow ball at a passing car that disintegrated before it reached its destination. I packed a solid one and threw it at a nearby light pole. Bullseye! Right on, Mitch said, give me one of your snowballs. I gave him one since I had a few lined up beside me and he threw it at another car, this time hitting the roof. My turn!, Noel said eagerly, and threw another one at a car, hitting the driver’s side window. The driver rolled down the window and cursed at us, and might have come after us but he wasn’t going to lose his place in the long line of cars waiting to get out of the huge parking lot.

As the wind died down the snow, which continued to fall, was now in huge heavy flakes, and beginning to pile up. You are a lucky bloke! Mick said. You can ski, make snow men, snow forts, and go sleighing! Yes I can, I said, and I do.   I looked back at the crowd surrounding Jimi, and said, How long will this last? Ah, pretty soon the roadies’ll break it up and then it’s back to the hotel. Hope he brings us a coupla birds.

Where you headed mate? Noel asked. I gotta go home I said, ruefully. But I missed my ride. No way to get home then? said Mitch. Let’s get you a cab. I would but I have no money, I said. That’s all right mate, Noel said and walked up to a nearby cab. How much to get my lad here home? The cabbie asked where he was going and then Mitch handed him some money and I got in the car and the cabbie took off before I had a chance to say goodbye or thanks, managing to avoid all the traffic by going out around the back.

We passed the throng who by now had engulfed Jimi. The cabbie shook his head and said, what’s the big deal about that bush nigger? And look at all that white quim lining up for him.

Suddenly the night grew old, the music seemed a distant memory. I didn’t want to go home, didn’t know what I wanted. Maybe just to be back there throwing snowballs. At least there was something to aim for.

When we arrived at my street I had the cabbie drop me off at the top. My jeans were right where I’d left them so I took off my stolen pants and swapped them with my stiff ice cold jeans, then put the bag back in the same place, thinking I’d retrieve them at a later date, but the very next time I looked for them they were gone.

I ended up getting back only half an hour later and had just enough time to get our stories straight: Rory, coming up from the basement told me he’d told Mr. Barnes he’d gotten a ride home with Mr. Chambers because he’d missed the bus, and that I had gotten on the bus, and I should tell them it was stuck in traffic and the weather made it slow-going, but I’d be back soon, which I was, so they were none the wiser. Rory didn’t believe me when I told him how I got home so he was none the wiser either.

Installment #12 / But I Didn’t Die / a fictional memoir

Although we had avoided that run-in with Mrs. Barnes it was inevitable that another one would arise, which it did a few weeks later. All of a sudden Mrs. Barnes began poking around, asking us questions about girls, if we liked one in particular, what we would do if we met one, even if we were fairies and liked boys.

This was all very disturbing of course and we clammed up immediately, revealing nothing, not even sure why she was asking. We surmised she must have heard about the goings-on at the Lutheran Basketball Tournament, though we didn’t know how, just that news traveled fast between school and church. And although we didn’t say a word about Melissa or Jean, I’m sure she couldn’t help but notice we were writing on one another on a weekly basis, making grandiose plans of riding our bikes over to their town, which was about ten miles from ours, over the summer. We were surprised we even got them without her opening them (we would have died if she had), although it didn’t look like it.

—–o—–

In the meantime, while we mooned over the three cheerleaders and moped about our lost season, spring was in bloom and things brightened up a little and then quite a bit.

Every year the 8th grade class went on a class trip and this year was no exception; we were going to Dearborn Michigan as guests of a Lutheran school there ironically also named St. Mark’s and, as was the custom, they came here first to get to know us. We awaited their arrival with great anticipation, caught up in the excitement of going somewhere we’d never been and meeting new kids our own age, not really thinking any ramifications would occur, that somehow it would be all good clean innocent fun. That was until we met the class and saw there were pretty girls and hoody guys and we immediately became embroiled in a territorial dispute.

Naturally the girl I liked already had a boyfriend, Mark, a tough guy who smoked, had slicked back hair, wore muscle shirts and Cuban heels, and didn’t like me one bit. And as with Melissa, the girl I liked, Kathy, was taller than I, a blonde wraith who didn’t prove to be so ethereal when we made out in the janitor’s closet the very next day. When her boyfriend got wind of it that very day he wanted to settle it right there in the gym. There was some shoving but Rory and the rest of my teammates had my back and we decided to settle it on the basketball court instead, even though none of the hoody guys were on it.

We were about equal in talent but we narrowly won two out of three hard-fought and foul-laden and were so tired afterwards we magnanimously called it a draw. At first I liked the fact that Mark was sitting on the sidelines (even if it was with Kathy) because I could show off in front of her, but quickly regretted it because soon after the game started they both disappeared. Seems Kathy was proving to be very fickle, if not worse.

Rory liked a girl named Barb, a girl with short brown hair who smoked, was just the right height for him, wore short skirts and was willing to put out as much as he desired, according to him, although I had to admit they seemed to disappear for long periods of time. It seemed Rory had a type, because Barb was almost the spitting image of Cindy from Judy’s Halloween party.

I don’t remember much about what we did after that, probably because I saw very little of Kathy the rest of the weekend, which I tried hard not to think about, except eat a lot and listen to music but I do recall being embarrassed because there didn’t seem to be anything to show them except boring stuff like the zoo and downtown. Before we knew it they were gone but it wasn’t as disappointing for me as for Rory, who’d wouldn’t see Barb for a few weeks, which I don’t need to tell you for a young kid in love seems like an eternity.

——o—–

We were amazed that Mrs. Barnes was even allowing us to go on the class trip, and wouldn’t be certain she wouldn’t change her mind until the bus pulled out of the parking lot. Thank goodness, though, anything where school was involved had her imprimatur so we seemed to be in the clear on that.

School was beginning to wind down and the Barnes’ had already decided we’d attending the local middle school for 9th grade. We were against that from the first time we got wind of it but what could we do, most of the private schools were catholic (there had been some early discussion about sending us to a catholic boy’s high school) and we certainly didn’t want to go to them, although there was a private boy’s school near the city but we knew we wouldn’t fit in there just from the few kids we’d met who went there. We had money but not that kind of money, old money, we didn’t belong to any of the upper class clubs, or travel in those circles, which was fine with me. So public school it would be and all we could do in the meantime was dread it and hope for the best when it came time to start.

We soon forgot all about it as this was our favorite time of the year; summer was coming and all the end-of-the-school-year stuff was fun, the track meet, class picnic, and this year graduation and the class trip. The winters seemed interminable and there wasn’t much spring but before you knew it was warm, flowers were blooming, trees were leaving, and the air was redolent with all those fragrances, all seemingly having changed from one day to the next.

It was on such a day in late May that our trip began. Leading up to it that was all we talked about. There was even a rumor we might go to a Tigers game. It would be our first trip alone anywhere and we were going to make the most of it, within limits of course, as there would be plenty of supervision, with two teachers, Joe the bus driver, and Mr. Hellman, who accompanied the 8th grade class every year, as chaperones.

Besides our clothes and dop kit, the only other things I brought was my baseball glove and trusty transistor radio. Rory didn’t even bring those as he said he’d be busy enough with Barb. Since this wasn’t considered an official school day we couldn’t take the bus to school, a parent had to bring us. That meant Mrs. Barnes, who rarely drove, would drive us, which was embarrassing because it meant going in her loud gas-guzzling behemoth 1949 Buick, nicknamed “The Boat” by Mr. Barnes. Thankfully no one seemed to notice and Mrs. Barnes, never a mingler, left soon after.

There were plenty of scheduled activities (we’d even been given an itinerary) such as visiting Greenfield Village, the Ford Museum, and, (the rumor having been verified by Joe the bus driver) the baseball game between the Twins and Tigers. Instead of a basketball game against St. Mark’s there would be a friendly softball game, Mr. Hellman emphasizing the word “friendly”; there would be no repeat of the rancor displayed in the aforementioned basketball game.

Still, we assumed there would be plenty of free time in which we would become reacquainted with our girls, as we naively assumed they were (or in my own case, and even more naively, would be). I sat with Tom and when Joe closed the bus door we settled back in our seats and took off. I remember the hit songs at that time were “Ticket to Ride,” “Help Me Rhonda,” and “Satisfaction,” and I put my radio up against the window and blasted it, ignoring Mr. Hellman’s “shut that noise off” as long as I could.

A beautiful day, so warm we were wearing shorts for the first time that year, and with more freedom than I’d ever known, it didn’t get any better than that. For much of the way the scenery was pretty familiar from our trips to Cleveland until we entered the long tunnel that connected Michigan to Canada.

When we emerged we were in Michigan, a different time zone, and a hop and a skip from Detroit. Soon after we arrived at our destination in Dearborn, a local community college, where we would be rooming in the dorms. I roomed with Tom Drollinger and after we got settled in I turned on the radio to listen to the Tigers game, the soothing familiar tones of Ernie Harwell coming through clear as a bell.

We would be eating in the school cafeteria, which I was dreading, as I hated eating in strange place in front of people I didn’t know all that well. As I perused the offerings I settled on a salad loaded with chickpeas, a carton of milk, and an ice cream sandwich for dessert. As I was going to a table where Rory, Tom, and John Saxon (Rory was rooming with him) were, I noticed a toaster across the room and went over and toasted a piece of whole wheat bread then slathered it with peanut butter and honey. This would be my bill of fare for the remainder of the trip, with the exception of peanuts, a hot dog, and a coke at the ball game, and perhaps cereal with fruit for breakfast. I felt much better after this had been decided as it had caused me a great deal of trepidation until this was settled. Now I could really relax.

Imagine my surprise when, listening to a local radio station that night I found out that the game we were going to was a scheduled twi-night doubleheader. That was almost as exciting as knowing I was going to see Kathy the next day, although I couldn’t help worrying if she’d even remember me.

We were meeting the St. Mark’s class at Greenfield Village in the morning, I’d hoped we would go to their school first and hang out, re-acquaint ourselves as it were, but it was not to be. When we got off the bus they were already assembled there waiting for us. I spotted Kathy right away and was about to wave when I saw she was with Mark, who had his arm around her and she had a big smile on her face. I guess they patched things up, I thought ruefully, how nice for them. I wasn’t going to give up right away, though, if only I could get some time alone with her.

The village itself was quaint, and I enjoyed looking at all the period furniture and implements, but overall, as with most museums, I found it boring and not a little bit creepy, mausoleum-like, if you know what I mean. Still no chance to even say hello to Kathy as I spotted them up ahead, Mark shepherding her with his arm. Right then I hated that guy, which made me raring to go at the softball game scheduled for that afternoon.

Already on edge, things came to a head during the game, where there was an unfortunate repeat of the playground incident with Mr. Brockman, only this time it was Rory’s turn. First of all it was the boys against the girls, which told me right off it wasn’t going to be a serious game, and with Mr. Hellman and Joe the bus driver umping, the girls would get all the calls.

Again I was eager to show off in front of Kathy but as I looked around neither she nor Mark were to be seen anywhere. During the game Judy Freeney, who had as much power as some of the boys, hit a ball into the right centerfield gap. I retrieved it and got it back into the infield quickly. Judy was slow as molasses and when Rory got the ball at second he immediately tagged her out. The throw and tag had beaten her by a mile but Joe the bus driver called her safe.

Rory was livid, as he had every right to be, and pushed Judy off the bag and tagged her out none too gently, jerking his thumb and saying “Yer out.” Joe immediately grabbed Rory and told him in no uncertain terms to go to the bus. By the time I got there Rory was standing with his arms crossed and I knew there was no way he was going to budge. I finally convinced him to go to the bus and he reluctantly did, but he was still seething. I looked at Joe and said you know she was out. You wanna go join him, he replied?

Mr. Hellman, who hadn’t been involved in the fracas appeared out of nowhere. I saw him get on the bus and then felt even worse for Rory. I just imagined what was going on and when Rory got out of the bus and came over to me he confirmed it. He said my behavior was disgraceful and promised that he would deal with me when we got back, Rory said. Great, I thought, Kathy and Mark hadn’t even showed up for the game and now we had that to look forward to when we got back. The game was over, the girls had been declared the winners, so the trip was already ruined for us.

In spite of all that, there was still the doubleheader to look forward to and I was determined to enjoy it to the best of my ability. In the meantime Joe, though he usually came off as a hard-ass, turned out to be a pretty good guy,  even interceding for Rory with Mr. Hellman, saying he was a good kid who just got caught up in the heat of the moment, and to let bygones be bygones. Besides, he admitted, I might have blown the call. Well, you’re the one who was there, Mr. Hellman said, and I’d be willing to do that on your say so. But no more shenanigans the rest of the trip, he admonished Rory. Joe assured him there wouldn’t be any more problems and the incident was soon forgotten.

Joe also turned out to be a big baseball fan and we talked about the game on the way over to Briggs Stadium. I didn’t know that much about the Twins, except for their stars of course, Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Rich Rollins, and Zoilo Versalles, in the middle of his MVP year. The Tigers, though, always in contention, with Al Kaline, Norm Cash, Jim Northrup, and Willie Horton, were the team I was there to see. I got a hot dog, a Coke, and a bag of peanuts, Joe a hot dog and a beer, and we settled in for the start of the game, Joe sitting among all of us, while Mr. Hellman and the St. Marks’ chaperones were off somewhere by themselves, in another section altogether.

I happened to glance over my shoulder and there were Mark and Kathy and most of the St. Mark’s kids, including Barb Kuhn several aisles over. I was worried lest Rory broke his promise to behave and, sure enough, the next thing I knew he was gone and so was Barb. I don’t know if Joe noticed but if he did he didn’t let on.

The first game was a nail-biter, with Camilio Pascual and Frank Lary, both at the top of their game, locked in a pitcher’s duel, with the Twins taking the opener 2-1. The second game was a different matter altogether, a slugfest, with Kaline, Killebrew, Rollins and Northrup all homering, Killebrew’s tying the game in the top of the ninth. I’d never seen a ball leave the yard so quickly, his compact swing so violent the bat hit him in the back on the backswing.

Fantastic, Joe said, echoing my sentiments, extra innings. I looked around and not many of my classmates were paying much attention to the game. It was getting dark and the lights were on. There was even some talk as it got into the twelfth inning that the game might not be finished before the midnight curfew.

It was a real stalemate, the relievers for their  respective team setting the other team’s hitters down in order inning after inning until the 16th, when Michigan native and fan favorite Bill Freehan sent everyone home tired but happy with a game-winning shot over the centerfield fence just before the stroke of midnight.

—–o—-

Not soon enough for me it was back home, the ride seeming much shorter on the way back, our days at Martin Luther School coming to an end. We somehow knew things would never be as good for us again. That was a new worry, attending public school in the fall, but we had all summer to go, and tried not to think of it.

Thinking about the trip I couldn’t help but be disappointed, as things hadn’t gone at all as I’d hoped with Kathy, I’d hardly even spoken to her, though I was glad to have gone, to have seen new sights, to get away from home. At least I didn’t have to go through the mooning Rory was over Barbara, who, strangely enough, didn’t share any of the details of his time with Barb, and I didn’t know if that was a bad or good thing but didn’t ask.

—–o—–

The remainder of the school year seemed an afterthought, culminating in the 8th grade class picnic, the Lutheran schools field day, and graduation, when we walked up on stage and got our certificates. Little did I know it would be the last graduation of any kind we’d attend. Cleaning out our desks for the last time it still hadn’t quite hit us it was over, especially when we knew we weren’t saying our final goodbyes yet, as one of our classmates was going to have a party over the summer so most of us would see each other again.

All that summer I felt like a fish out of water, not quite ready to accept the fact that I wouldn’t be going back to Martin Luther School along with dreading going to the new school, or that I was no longer in Little League, with tryouts coming up for the next level, Babe Ruth, too much change altogether for my taste, and always the possibility for failure lurked. It helped when we received a reading list from the middle school we would be attending for a year before starting high school. One title in particular caught my eye, Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe. I immediately went up to the library to get it, and the instant I saw it knew I would have my hands full in an enjoyable way.

It was a big book, totally unlike anything I had read before, with its torrent of words yet still lyrical, its wealth of characters worthy of a Dickens novel. I took my time with it, wanting it to last all summer, the rest of the books on the list uninteresting to me when I perused them at the library. I certainly identified with Eugene Gant and his life became a part of my nighttime reverie, especially those recurring phrases… a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; a stone, a leaf, a doorO lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again

Rory, on the other hand, totally dismissed the list, embarking, as it turned out on a more esoteric reading adventure that consisted in part of The Decameron, Marquis de Sade, and Rabelais. The Decameron I could understand, it was funny, even interesting, and Rabelais was kind of a bridge between the two, again comical, but leaning toward the grotesque. I drew the line at the Marquis de Sade, however, covering my ears when he insisted on reading parts of it, with the little I did hear revolting, making me wonder how on earth he tolerated something that made me so squeamish.

—–o—–

Although extremely nervous I did much better in the Babe Ruth tryouts than I ever imagined I would, which was usually the case, and ended up being the second draft choice overall, by the Braves. I had tried out for pitcher and centerfield, and hit very well in my turn at the plate, slashing line drives to all parts of the outfield. I also won the sprint portion of the tryout in my group which really surprised me.

Rory didn’t do as well and was chosen much lower than I was, by a completely different team, which would be the first time we wouldn’t be together, though he said it didn’t matter to him. I felt bad about it because I suspected it did, but we didn’t discuss it any further, although I did consider it another turning point in our relationship, seemingly going our separate ways.

Little did I know that being drafted so high would cause resentment among my new teammates, who were all from the local Catholic school, and none of whom I knew. I was never one to back down (at least verbally) and gave as good as I got, meanwhile playing my ass off, batting leadoff, playing centerfield, and pitching every other game. Still it was stressful, and I dreaded each encounter.

One of the two ringleaders of the group was the team captain, which didn’t help my cause, an all-American type, very popular with both players and coaches, the other a low-life lanky pimply kid who I disliked right away. At first I was ostracized but then things seemed to settle down until one day after a game, when Mr. Barnes was late picking me up, a group of them surrounded me after everyone else had left and pushed me around, warning me not to come back if I knew what was good for me.                                                                                                                                                                                                             I was shocked and a little scared but had no intention of not coming back. I played even harder, hitting .348 and leading the league in stolen bases, hits, and triples; we won the championship, and I heard nothing more from them. It did make me a little wary, though, and I wondered if the same thing would happen when I started public school.

—–o—–

John Saxon’s mother sent out the invitations to the farewell party in mid-July and a week later we were gathered at his house (everyone that is except for Caroline Nelligan, who never went to anything). Being out of context, everyone already seemed to look so different to me, although it had only been a little over a month since graduation; the mood was festive but also bittersweet, nostalgia already hanging in the air, full of reminiscence. When it was time to go we all gathered together and swore our fealty to one another, promising to keep always in touch, but deep down I knew that part of my life was over.

—–o—-

The major event of the summer was Camp Pioneer, a Lutheran camp in the town of Angola, on the shores of Lake Erie. The area had a Cape Cod atmosphere as there were many summer homes, hot dog and ice cream shacks, and even a beach before Lake Erie became too polluted to swim in.

This was our second year at the camp and knowing the ropes this time around we expected it to be much more fun. In addition we were staying two weeks this year, having gratefully declined the Barnes’ offer to accompany them on their annual summer vacation, this time to Montreal. There was a Walther League (the Protestant equivalent to CYO) Week, which was the one we had gone to the year before and which would be our second week there this year.

We loved going there, couldn’t wait to get out of the car once we had parked in the gravel parking lot across the road from the camp grounds, where, when arriving, we stood in line under a shade tree in front of the office, waiting to check in, greeting people we’d met the year before or avoiding those we’d ostracized with our bad behavior.

This year was quite different as the first week it wasn’t crowded at all, in fact we seemingly had the whole place to ourselves. Another difference was, since the camp was so deserted the horseshoe of cabins with Indian names (Tuscarora, Adirondack, etc.) we usually stayed in weren’t open and we were assigned a different type of cabin, a white rectangular structure among some pine trees near the snack bar, which was also closed that week, to our great chagrin.

Two boys had also been assigned to our cabin, southern boys from Virginia, which seemed like a foreign country to us their speech and habits were so different from ours. Jimmy was a small intense outgoing kid with dark hair while Phil was his exact opposite, a laid back lumbering shy kid with light hair. Besides their drawls (as we called) them, which cracked us up, they were also heavy smokers. Jimmy already had the raspy voice of a chain smoker, while Phil did it mostly because Jimmy did, and took only brief puffs, holding the cigarette far from his face and blowing smoke rings.

We got along famously, each getting a kick out of the other’s speech, Rory and I even attempting to smoke very unsuccessfully, which also amused them though they didn’t force it on us. They seemed to come from money, dressing very preppy, wearing button downs or golf shirts, pressed jeans, and tasseled loafers with white socks.

We didn’t do all that much that week as not  many scheduled activities took place it being an off week, accepting the fact that our respective families had each dumped us, which was fine with us. Phil and Jimmy played off each other as they talked nonstop as we lay in our bunks, Jimmy poking fun at Phil, Phil accepting it gracefully, though each well aware of the size differential Jimmy between them, so nothing was pushed too far, it all being in good fun, the two as close as cousins. Jimmy would have been into all sorts of things if there had been things to do, but there weren’t, while Phil, not exactly ambitious, was perfectly content with sitting on the edge of his bunk, legs dangling over the edge, matter-of-factly squeezing his zits. They weren’t staying over the next week, which disappointed us, though secretly we were a bit relieved knowing they wouldn’t have fit in, but having this quiet break while looking forward to the big event next week, was just what we needed. Before we knew it, the week was over and we were saying goodbye with promises to keep in touch.

Now it was time for the main event, Walther League Week. Since we were already registered we were afforded the luxury of being able to watch all the kids as they came in, especially the girls, observing how each and every one of them couldn’t wait to get away from their parents.

There were a few we recalled from the year before, a hippy-dippy type nicknamed Amby (I guessed it was short for Ambitious) popular with all the girls, who went most of the week shirtless, which showed off the beaded necklace he wore like a lei; his friend Willy, a shy Peter Noone look-alike, also much in demand by those of the female persuasion; a kid Rory had dubbed “Horseface” after a volleyball game argument the year before; and last but not least, Jan Olsen from Endicott, a tanned girl with shoulder length sun-bleached hair and serene smile, extremely well-endowed, who Rory was gaga over.

We were assigned the Shoshone cabin along with some guys we knew from our Lutheran League basketball days, one of whom had a stash of Mallow Bars that would last the entire week if he ate them judiciously. “Dirty Water” was big that summer, as was “Black is Black,” and a song we heard for the first time and were blown away by, “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” which we would thereafter consider the greatest rock song of all time. Early each morning Rory and I would blast the Beatles’ “Good Morning Good Morning” to wake our fellow campers, much to their demonstrative annoyance. Our horseshoe of cabins were all boys, the girls’ cabins being practically at the other end of the camp, past the Snack Bar even. Didn’t matter what religion you were, I guess, and never the twain would meet, not if the powers that be had their way.

Things began to look up for me on the romantic front when I became enamored with one of the counselors, a recent high school graduate several years older than I with short brown hair named Bev. She seemed to favor me also, except I sometimes got the feeling she was just being nice. I didn’t actually see that much of her as she was extremely busy with her counselor duties, but we talked at great length on several occasions, especially after church and at night around a campfire or a bonfire on the beach. What did I know about such things? I was very smitten with her despite Rory mocking me, blind to the fact that it was inappropriate for a counselor to get involved with a camper and she didn’t feel the same about me as I did about her.

As it so happened Rory had gotten involved with a group of guys from the camp, as well as some townies, hatching a plot to buy a case of beer and get drunk at the Friday night bonfire on the beach, the last big shindig before we went home the next day. Like the Lutheran field days, the whole day was devoted to games of all sorts, there was a carnival, and plenty of food and pop.

Days at Camp Pioneer were full if routine: up at sunrise, optional shower in a cement block building outfitted with ten open showers each with their own wooden slatted platform, making the hundred yard trek with your towel and dop kit in your bathrobe be it a hot or cool morning, hoping to get there before anyone else (I would never have waited in line) and shower as quickly as possible; breakfast in the long dining room abutted by the industrial-strength kitchen, though eating was once more a problem, having to sit at long wooden tables with Formica tops, still refusing to eat in front of other people in a public place so making due with copious cartons of milk, lining the empties up in front of me to everyone’s amazement at how much I’d drunk, or maybe escaping with a few wrapped sandwiches, hoping for an outdoor barbecue for dinner where I wouldn’t be cooped up and eat freely, supplemented by candy, pop (cream soda), and chips at the Snack Bar; church in the chapel in the woods among pine trees after breakfast then back to our cabins to clean up and make our beds for inspection, after which some form of recreation (volleyball was a favorite), lunch, in the early afternoon arts and crafts (which I hated except for  making boondoggles which I tolerated), afterwards a trip to the Snack Bar and then back to our cabins to rest or do whatever we wanted during our brief free time as long as we din’t leave our cabin or be loud, before dinner, after dinner Bible study then a brief service at the chapel (mosquitoes eating us alive) where we sang campfire hymns and spirituals, then finally back to our cabins with lights out at eleven.

It was at these times any hanky-panky going on would be occur. If you listened carefully you could hear cabin doors in either camp close quietly well after midnight when most people (including counselors) were fast asleep, and to meet at a predetermined location with their chosen one, usually the small wooded area before the Administration building. I imagined nothing more went on but making out although older guys like Amby intimated if not outright bragged otherwise. Every once in a while someone got caught sneaking out or in the act and were either grounded or sent home.

As I mentioned before Rory was involved with a group of guys (mostly townies) who got together every night (as far as I knew) while the evening service was going on, oftentimes left the camp (subject to immediate dismissal if discovered) to hang out at a hamburger stand down the road. Rory said very little about it and I worried every night he would get caught.

The final straw was when I heard from Willy that they were planning to make a beer run somewhere in town to buy a case with illegal ID. I was really worried when I heard that although I didn’t confront Rory about it as I should have, but, after agonizing over it decided to tell Bev the night before it was supposed to take place. I hated to rat Rory out but didn’t want him to get in trouble as Mrs. Barnes would flip out, especially if they had to return early from their vacation, but also knew that deep down part of me wanted to gain Bev’s notice and approval for my maturity.

The plot was thwarted and Rory wouldn’t be sent home because it was the penultimate day of camp and no one was the wiser (except Rory) that I was the one who blew the whistle. He didn’t seem all that upset about it, in fact seemed to be relieved, and though I did have Bev’s full attention for a brief moment and she was glad I had told her, I also got the sense even she was a little disappointed I had betrayed Rory.

Amazingly I was smitten three times that week, the second time after I had been jilted by my first love, a short smiley girl named Anne with short reddish-gold hair, cuit in bangs across her forehead, reminding me somewhat of Brian Jones. She hung around with a group of friends and it was one of them who in a thinly veiled way informed me that Anne liked me. I took the bait because I had been staring at her since I first spotted her early in the week, trying to get her attention. We sat together in the chapel several times and went to the Snack Bar, where I bought her strawberry ice cream cones afterwards, and just generally walked and talked together a lot.  I was quite smitten and from every indication so was she, and we made plans to go to the dance after the Friday festivities, the closing event of the week, and perhaps sneak off somewhere afterward if I was lucky. That was my impression at least, and imagine my surprise when I didn’t see any sign of her the next few days and heard a rumor circulating that she was mad about Willy Fitz, supposedly a friend of mine. I couldn’t believe he would steal Anne from me but sure enough I saw them together arm in arm, both smiling when they saw me as though nothing had happened. I was sick about it and out of desperation tried to win her back but she turned me down in no uncertain terms and that was the end of that. Even after we went home I wrote her several letters and even got one back; she’d broken up with Willy Fitz who it turned out was a philanderer and maybe we would get together. It got my hopes up but I never heard from her again.

Licking my wounds I remembered there was a another girl I had also liked named Charlene, a tall girl with bobbed brown hair and an inscrutable smile who resembled Barbara Feldon, so I proceeded to make goo goo eyes at her and we even talked a couple times, but it turned out she was going out with Horseface of all people. Rory pestered him about it and it looked like a fight was brewing, but he was much bigger than Rory and I finally persuaded him it was okay, that I was okay. Still, I continued to admire her from afar the rest of the week, heartsore she was already spoken for. I never forgot her and to this day think of her now and then.

Strangely Rory, who always seemed to end up with a girl of his choosing, evinced no love interest at all that week. When I asked him about it when we got home he said he was carrying the proverbial torch for Jan Olsen, and if he couldn’t have her didn’t want anyone else. Instead he decided to hang around with that group of kids I mentioned before and I didn’t see much of him at all, another indication things were changing between us.

All in all a tempestuous week it was, our last week at Camp Pioneer. We were glad to get out of there, making sure we were all packed and ready to go, practically standing by the side of the road to intercept Mr. Barnes before he mingled with the captain and crew as it were, and got wind of Rory’s little caper, aborted though it was.