" I told you, Mom, we were playing our version of hide and seek out at the Hills, and I tripped and fell onto a bunch of broken pieces of concrete. I hit my head on one piece of concrete, my ribs on another, and my my ankle on a another. Nothing sinister going on." I held my arms out to my sides, palms open in order to convey a sense of openness. My dad was standing behind her holding a glass of tea and a newspaper. He maintained a somewhat stoic impression, but I could see he wasn't completely convinced of my story.
Mom had always been a red-head. She didn't anger easily as some, but when she did, she was capable of wielding a few rocks of her own. Once, she had told me that she was actually a championship rock thrower when she was a young girl in Oklahoma, and there was nothing that happened later that could convince me that she wasn't telling me the truth. Mom was wearing a light blue housecoat and her black cat woman glasses. Her hair was up in pink curlers, and she was ironing and watching TV. When I came hobbling in to pick up some of the clothes that she had washed and ironed, she felt compelled to ask if I was telling her truth about how I had gotten hurt.
Unlike Jill's house, my parent's living room and den space were compressed into one room. As soon as you walked into their house by a glass paneled front door, you found yourself in the command center of the house. There was a long dark green sofa placed along the south wall, and a brown stained pine book case that Dad had built to the immediate left of the door. The book case fitted exactly into a nook that had been created when Dad extended the living room after my younger brother Scott was born. If you were barefoot and knew about the extension, you could feel the edge of the old room beneath the tan carpet.
A color TV, one of the first on our street, was situated directly to the left of the book case. It fit perfectly between the edge of the nook and the white swinging door that led directly into my parent's bedroom. An upright piano was on the other side of the doorway and in the center of the eastern wall was another doorway that led into the kitchen/dining room.
The living room was usually airy because of the big picture window in the west wall next to the door and the three windows behind the sofa. My mom liked the color beige, so the walls were a light beige while the base boards, door and window frames were painted white. The living room as in most houses on the south side of Concord was always the buzzing center of the hive.
Pop had entered the room from the kitchen after pouring himself an iced tea at the same time that mom had asked her question. He had a more laissez-faire attitude than mom and had essentially written off the incident to the price of being a young man. He had told me about several scrapes him and his brothers had gotten into back when they were kids. I would say back when they were my age, but when he was my age, Dad was still in Europe after the Big War had ended.
He didn't want to intrude on my life but was always ready with a map if I wanted to listen to where he thought I was going wrong, and he was quick to express his displeasure over the possibility of me lying to my mom. "You only got one Mama, and she's gonna love you irregardless, but it'd surely be a shame to throw dirt on that kind of love." Dad was a short, muscular man, and he had big bushy black brows and blue eyes like mine. They lent him an air of solemnity when he spoke and didn't smile. The fact that he was usually smiling added to the seriousness of what he he was saying. When I was younger, he intimidated me because of his lack of mirth, but after he found Jesus, he was generally more positive and pretty happy.
I tried to avoid his eyes as much as possible when I responded to his statement, 'I don't know, Pop. Sometime's it seems that too much truth can hurt someone as much as a lie, and if you don't want to worry somebody, sometime's it's better to ration out the truth in dribs and drabs."
He listened intently for a moment before grinning, "Ration out the truth? That's pretty good, Son. You come up with that yourself, or you get it outta book?"
I grinned back, "I'm sure I stole it somewhere, but I added my own twist." We both chuckled, " I got things under control, Dad. I ain't as foolish as Glen when it comes to women. I ain't going to act crazy."
"Shit, Boy, you should've stopped while you was ahead. If you ain't acting crazy cause of a woman, you ain't met the right woman yet." He placed his hand on my shoulder and got right up close where I had to look him in the eye as he spoke, " I'm gonna leave ya with something my daddy told me, and you gotta remember he couldn't read much past his name, so it was something he garnered from experience. Be a slow walker, but never walk backwards."
At first, I didn't know what he was getting at, and I didn't have the heart to tell him that I knew it a was a Lincoln quote I had read in the sixth grade, " Like I said, Pop, I ain't given over to rashness. I'll screw shit up at times, but I ain't in no hurry to do it."
" That's all I'm asking then. You do know if you need some help, you know where I'm at."
I saw a opportunity and went for it, "You got any extra bullets?"
He almost lost it, but quickly regained his composure, "You almost got me there, Son. Then I remembered that you always were a dumb little shit." He cuffed me on the back, "That was a good one. I'll go tell your Mama that joke just to mess with her a bit."
I was standing outside in the shade when Dad and I had that conversation. When he went back into the house, I sat down in a lawn chair for awhile and tried to think some. I pulled my beer out of one of my boots that I had placed besides my chair and took a swig. It was warm.
I heard a loud bang from across the street, and it didn't even phase me. I knew from years of living on Eustace that the Francisco brothers were firing off firecrackers again. Frito, Sammy, Richie were like family members. I spent as much time at their house as they did at mine. I sassed their dad Rudy as easily as I would my own dad. My parent's always took an interest in what the kids were up to in school as well as life.
The dirt road between our houses was one of our sports arenas. The other two were the shady lawn on the south side of our lot and the long, narrow front strip in front of our house where Frito, real name Francis, and I often played whiffle ball after supper. If we wanted to play with more neighborhood kids, the elementary school was just around the corner.
I hadn't talked to Jill since the night that Dean had picked me up from the middle of the road in front of her house. I didn't think she had been involved in the ambush, but I wasn't a hundred percent certain either. Dean made sure of that. He kept trotting out the similarities between what happened to the other guys who had dated Jill. She had told me about how they had attacked her and tried to pin her arms down. It concerned me more than a little bit that she seemed to be such a slow learner. Even dating me was something of a risk considering what had happened those three other times. It made me wonder if she was punishing someone besides Mickey.
She said that Tommy Lebec had tried to cover her mouth. I knew Tommy well, and I knew that someone should have put a warning label on that car of his. He was handsome as hell but as crude as they came too. He didn't have to be that way, but he was. I had always felt that he was acting out the issues he had with his mother. He blamed his father's leaving on his mother's infidelity. I knew his dad too, and he always reminded of a blue collar version of Mickey's dad.
Little Mikie and Bobby weren't as bad, but they weren't good either. They made Dean look like a choir boy when it came to how they treated girls. They were all pretty good guys too if you took sex out of the equation. You could trust their word, count on their help and would be thoroughly entertained by the conversations you shared with them at a party. But when it came to women, they often acted like beasts of prey.
And I'm not going say I was much of an angel myself. I don't know what made us act that way. It displayed a certain degree of caveman like behavior for sure. But for some reason, it was also a somewhat of an accepted notion that the outcome of a date largely depended on the wrestling skills, verbal and well as physical, of the two parties. I have known of many apparently happy marriages that first began as no holds barred grappling in the back seat of a car. The Hills, a hidden and undeveloped area a couple miles east of town was jokingly acknowledged as the place where many of the younger denizens of Concord were first conceived.
I ain't saying anywhere close to the idea that it was such a good deal for the girls involved, I'm just saying it was the game as it was played. I first felt that it was somewhat related to the moral disruption caused by trauma the Great Okie migration, but after talking with guys from other places, places where there were no great influx of Dust Bowl travelers, I passed it off to the tenor of the times, and the gyrating hips of Rock and Roll. I don't really think these guys want to be aggressive like that, I feel that what they want to be is rock stars, you know, guys like them dudes in Led Zeppelin who who crook a finger and the girls rush to line up outside their door. I think their aggression is somehow related to the frustration that the girl's aren't really attracted to them, and also in their own lack of musical ability.
The thing with me is that I fell in love way too easily. And more often than not, early on at least, that love was used as a cover for a steady sex.
The few girls on the south side of Concord who could move me to any kind of serious relationship were already looking north themselves. I didn't like it either and didn't know which was worse, being unwilling to muster the effort to tame a wild bronco, or the willingness to sell your heart for a shiny automobile and a orthodontic grin. I know that I am being very ungenerous as hell to all the parties involved, but I'm still a young member of a tribe even though I am, as yet, uninitiated into the greater secrets of adult life.
I knew a lot of good people on the north side of town. I even had epiphany (I looked the word up) one day when I saw two guys from the opposite sides of town about to fight in the parking lot of a local. One was Boyd Sawyer, the scion of an important man who owned a awful lot of land. The other was a kid named Peebo Ransom, who had just moved to town from somewhere in Tennessee. Peepo wanted to fight Boyd because of something that had happened in a Rec League flag football game. Boyd had played division one football at Oregon State, and he was doing his best not to have to destroy Peebo, but Peebo was not only smaller he had the worst case little man syndrome I've ever seen.
Boyd did everything in his power to argue down the smaller guy. While that was happening, I suddenly realized that Boyd was just an average guy with his own set of problems just like the rest of us. Don't sound like much of a realization I know, but it profoundly moved me. Before that moment, I was filled to the brim with a peasant's resentment for the rich and favored. Then just like that I understood that they had their own problems and issues and their added pressure of maintaining social standing and face. Peebo walked away feeling he had won the argument but really looked like an idiot. I respected what Boyd and told him so. We ended buying each and talking for a minute. We left not exactly friends but a hell of a lot closer to that end of the spectrum than we had started.
I learned that night the rich have to wrestle with the devil too. It was that exact moment when I realized that I myself was responsible for most of all the bad things in my life. I had been blaming others for my problems and then suddenly understood what a foolish game that is to play. I walked away knowing that the only was I was ever going to amount to anything was to do better than I was doing.
And first of all, doing better meant that I had to figure our what to do about Jill Booth. I had come to the conclusion that she was one of those mysterious objects of desire that drives young men forward to face certain death and across stormed tossed oceans, one of the beautiful muses who encourages dumb-assed dudes like me to write doggerel in order to not explode from all of the vapors that collected in our chests. I now knew what Paris was thinking when he stole Helen away from Menelaus. I always thought he was a narcissistic fool for bringing ruin to Troy. He was just in love, and love is just as capable of producing as and ruin as it is joy and wonder.
I knew that there was a big chance that Jill was using me to punish Mickey or get revenge on a dad who had left her in the clutches of Clark. I knew that the shit with Mickey wasn't over by a long shot. I also knew I had to change the way I viewed the world, or else I was going to spend the rest of my life sitting barefoot in a lawn chair, drinking beer hidden in a boot and listening to firecrackers going off in random patterns.