- T I M -
Weíd both ridden our bikes to school. A lot of kids did. We collected them after meeting up near the front door after school, then started riding towards my house.
We chatted as we rode. It was 3:30 in the afternoon and there wasnít much traffic. We pedaled along easily, riding abreast of each other, talking about what had gone on in school that day. I donít know why I felt so comfortable with him. I never felt comfortable with other kids my age these days. There was something about him that put me at ease. I didnít know what it was, but I trusted it. Maybe it was hero worship, maybe having such a guy next to me made me feel protected. It was certainly exciting, having him with me, this close. What I did know for sure was I was very much enjoying riding next to him.
When we got to my house, no one was there, of course. My dad worked until about six most days. I was always alone in the afternoons.
ďYou want anything to eat or drink,Ē I asked him as we walked into the back door after leaving our bikes behind the house. It was a small house and we entered directly into the kitchen.
ďSure, anything would be great.Ē
I set about fixing us a snack, the same snack I fixed for myself every day. He leaned against the counter, watching. We always had luncheon meats on hand and bread, so I made a couple sandwiches, threw some chips on the plates to go with them, then asked him what kind of soda pop he wanted. We took our snacks over to the kitchen table where Dad and I ate all our meals.
Terry glanced around curiously as we sat down, then asked, ďTell me about your family.Ē
An innocent question you ask people youíre trying to get to know, but one I wasnít about to answer. At least not fully. I remembered my half-truth strategy and answered in a voice I hoped sounded entirely natural and stress free, ďItís just Dad and me. Heís a painter, but kind of a specialized one. He does rooms where they want more than just the walls painted off-white. He does fancy trim, blends color shades for special effects, highlights areas where thatís wanted, all sorts of stuff. Most painters donít do special stuff, so he gets a lot of work, mostly working for contractors in very ritzy houses. Heís always busy.Ē
Iím proud of my dad. It probably showed in my voice. Anyway, Terry replied, ďHey, thatís neat. What about your mom? And do you have any brothers or sisters?Ē
ďNope, just Dad and me. How about you?Ē
ďIíve got an older brother. His name is Gary. Heís in college so I donít see him as much as Iíd like. I miss him. Heís great. Weíre pretty close. Heís taking aeronautical engineering, which is a pretty tough major, so we donít see him much at all. He calls some, though, and I call him, so itís not like weíre completely out of contact. Still, itís not like he was still here. Sometimes you like to have someone to talk to, you know, and talking on the phone just isnít the same.Ē
ďYeah, I guess. So tell me about your mom and dad.Ē That ought to keep him going for a while.
Heíd taken a large swig of his root beer after heíd spoken about his brother. Now, a lot of it came spurting out his mouth, more out of his nose.
He started laughing like a crazy man. I just looked at him. He kept laughing, enjoying some joke that was way over my head. I grabbed some paper towels to help him clean up, then looked at him with raised eyebrows, and with genuine puzzlement asked, ďWhatís funny?Ē
ďI figured it out,Ē he said as he continued to laugh. ďAt school. Remember, at lunch? I told you I didnít learn anything about you? Well, I thought about it during the afternoon. And I realized something. Every time Iíd asked you something, youíd given me a short answer, then asked me something back. The reason I didnít learn anything from you is you didnít let me! Youíre pretty good at that, you know?Ē He smiled at me, taking any sting out of what he said. I couldnít help it. I smiled back. It was almost like we were together in a conspiracy, a conspiracy to keep him from learning about me. Weird.
It was my turn to say something, and I desperately wanted to keep it friendly. ďIím sorry, Terry. Itís just that, well, there are a lot of things I donít want to talk about. I donít want to go into why, either, I just donít. But I do want to work with you, help with your project. I feel good, talking with you and all. Itís just some personal stuff I donít want to talk about. Is that okay?Ē
ďSure, I guess I can understand that. Youíre a private person. Iím not, so it seems a little strange to me, but Iíll try to get used to it. But Tim, instead of short answers and more questions, can you just tell me youíre uncomfortable talking about something if I ask? I think weíll get to know each other better that way, and maybe begin to trust each other more. Can you at least try that?Ē
I thought about it. I didnít want to give him a quick answer because he sounded so sincere, and reasonable, and I didnít want to lie about something, then be caught in the lie later. He was in the process of taking away one of my relief valves. Should I go along with it? I looked at him. He was watching me, his handsome, open face showing no deceit or hidden agendas or anything but friendship and concern for me. How could I not take a chance with him? As he said, why not try this? If it didnít work, I could just tell him that, couldnít I?
ďCan I be truthful with you, Terry?Ē
ďI want you to be, Tim. And Iíll promise you something. Iím someone you can trust. I wonít do anything youíll regret. Anything you tell me, if you donít want it repeated, it wonít be. Iíve seen what happens when people donít treat other people that way, Iíve seen people get hurt, and I hate that. I try to be someone who keeps people from getting hurt. You donít know that, you donít know me. But as you get to know me, you will get to know it. Iím just telling you now so youíll know.Ē
Looking at him, it was hard to doubt him. He looked so genuine. He was the sort that, if he could look at you like he did and then lie to you, youíd want to shoot yourself. Not even him, yourself. Because it would be too painful to know someone could look like he did and then betray your trust.
ďOkay, then, Terry. Iíll try it. Iíll try to just tell you when thereís something I canít talk to you about, instead of trying to hide it. Weíll see how it goes.Ē
ďGreat. Now, can we go see what your room looks like?Ē
ďSure,Ē I said, and led the way upstairs to my room.
We lived in a small house in a very middle class neighborhood. We only had three bedrooms. Dadís was larger than mine, but not by a whole lot. There was one upstairs bathroom meant to be shared by everyone in the house. My room wasnít very big. It also wasnít very special. We did have a computer but we kept it in the third, unoccupied bedroom. In my room there was just a bed, a bookcase, and of course a dresser and closet. I had a little radio on my bedside table. There was a desk on one wall where I did homework. That was about it.
Terry looked around. I sat on the bed. It only took a moment for Terry to see there wasnít much there. If he had been planning to dissect my soul by seeing how I lived in my room, he was being disappointed big time. I just wasnít going to be that easy to figure out.
Terry sat down on the bed, too. It was that or the chair at my desk. I guessed he preferred the bed.
ďOkay, Iím going to ask you some questions. If any of them are too nosy, or threatening, or uncomfortable, tell me.Ē He looked at me; I looked back and nodded. And for some reason, I didnít feel uncomfortable. I think I did already trust him. And we had made that agreement.
ďHow long have you been living here?Ē
ďWe moved here just before the school year started.Ē
ďWhere did you live before?Ē
ďWe lived in Lakeshore, Ohio. Itís a small town a little over a hundred fifty miles or so southeast of Columbus.Ē
ďAnd you lived there with just your dad?Ē
ďNo, but I donít want to talk any more about that.Ē I looked into his eyes. He smiled at me.
ďOkay, no problem. So you and your dad have lived here only a couple months. Do you like it.Ē
Did I like it? Strange, I hadnít given that a thought. But did I? The truth of the matter was, I liked it a lot better now that Terry was taking an interest in me. Could I say that? No! I hoped I could sometime, but, no.
ďItís okay I guess.Ē
ďI havenít seen you at the mall or the theater or any place else, and I should have. Iíve barely seen you at school. What do you do all day?Ē
ďI spend a lot of time at the park. Reading. Wandering on the trails in the woods there. I ride my bike around some.Ē
He stopped, looked at me, and I got the idea he was thinking of his next question. Probably working on one that would get an answer. When he asked it, it made me pause. ďTim, whatís your passion? What excites you?Ē
Wow. I wasnít expecting that. Could I tell him? This wasnít too scary. It didnít reveal anything it was essential I keep private. Still, Iíd never talked to anyone about it. Should I surrender this little part of me?
He could see me fidgeting, so took some of the pressure off, gave me some thinking room, by saying, ďIím into running. I love to run. I get up early every morning and run about 5 miles. Some days, especially on the weekends , Iíll run even farther, 10 miles, 15, something like that, just depending on how I feel. Itís really relaxing, believe it or not, and lets me sort out my head. Iím a pretty social guy and am around people most of the time. Running is what I do by myself and it gives me some alone time.Ē He stopped, and just looked at me. Probably figured Iíd either answer his question at this point or tell him to skip it.
But I didnít want to skip it. I decided to tell him.
ďI do have something that I do. Iíve never told anyone, only my dad knows, but I feel I can tell you. I like to write. Everyday, Iíll write in a journal. I write my feelings, my thoughts, how I react to something, what I see other people doing, how they respond to things, that sort of thing. Anything that strikes me funny or odd or interesting. Both things that happen and mental observations. When something happens, some event thatís out of the ordinary or thought-provoking in some way, Iíll write about it, but not just the event, what I think and feel about it, too, and what other people say they think about it. I guess I spend a lot of time writing. As you say your running does, it clears my head, lets me organize my thinking.Ē
He was looking keenly at me. He said, ďThanks, Tim. You told me that and didnít pull away. I appreciate that. You told me something about yourself and explained it for the first time.Ē He started to reach out his hand, sort of like he was going to touch me, then pulled it back. ďSo do you write anything except in your journal? Stories, poems, songs, anything?Ē
ďWhen I was younger I did a lot. I used to write some fantasy stories. In the past couple years, mostly Iíve only written in the journal. Iíve done very little of anything else, at least a lot less than before. I donít know why. My imagination seems to have dried up a little.Ē
ďCould I read something youíve written?Ē
Now there was question that needed some thinking about! To write a journal and do it so it means anything at all, you have to be entirely free, entirely honest. That means youíre laying bare your soul, putting it on paper where all your inner feeling, secrets, desires, thoughts, everything, was revealed. You couldnít do that with the idea of anyone else ever seeing what youíd written. It was way too private. Of course I couldnít let him read my journals. But Iíd written other things as well. I had written a couple of short stories recently. I didnít really want anyone to read them, I was afraid what they might think either about the story or me, but at the same time I was terribly curious what someone would think of the writing. Could I let him read one of those stories?
Was I really into that much risk taking? Terry made it so much easier with his uncomplicated approach. He was straightforward and up front, and it was hard not to respond in kind. I really was beginning to like him. And that made me want to please him. Even if it did involve risk.
ďI have a story I just finished last week. Iíll let you read it if you want to.Ē I paused for a moment, then continued. ďI said Iíd tell you if I was uncomfortable, and letting you read this scares me, but I want you to read it anyway. Iíll get it for you.Ē
I got off the bed, went to my desk and pulled the story out of the drawer it was in. I always wrote in longhand. It slowed my thinking, which I found helped. Iíd typed it on the computer when it was finished and then printed it out. It was about 15 pages long, double-spaced. I walked back and held it in my hand, not offering it to him yet.
ďIíd rather you read it at home, then brought it back. And that you didnít let anyone else read it. Okay?Ē
ďSure thing, Tim. Look, Iíve been here a while and need to be getting home. I want to say something to you first. Not to threaten you or anything, I just want to tell you what Iím seeing, what Iím thinking. Then we can talk about it tomorrow, or not if you donít want to.Ē He stopped and looked at me questioningly, and I simply looked back at him.
ďOkay, this is what Iím thinking. You used to live with a family, but moved here with only your dad and you arenít comfortable talking about any of that. Since youíve been here youíve pretty much stayed by yourself. You like to go to the park by yourself, you ride your bike by yourself, what you really like to do, writing, is another activity that is done all by yourself. At school you spend the day in a crowd of other kids all by yourself, even at lunch when youíre with someone. Now this all sounds pretty lonely to me. But somethingís strange here, too. With all this staying by yourself, when I asked for your phone number, you didnít blow me off, you gave it to me. When I asked you to meet me at the park, you were there 20 minutes later. When I asked to eat lunch with you, you did it. When I asked to come over to your house, to talk with you, even though you knew I was going to ask you personal questions, which you hate, you did it.
ďTim, I havenít spent much time with you, but you donít need to spend that much time to know how you feel about someone. Iím really comfortable with you. I like being with you. Somehow the chemistry between us feels right to me. But youíre a closed book. Youíre keeping a whole lot of stuff inside you. So I want to tell you something, and I want you to think about it. I want to keep spending time with you, and Iím going to keep asking you questions to learn more about you, because I like you, and when I like someone, I want them to be happy. I donít think youíre happy now. It isnít natural for a smart, normal 16 year-old kid to spend all his time by himself. I want to do something about that. And I canít do that if I donít learn what the problem is. I donít know, maybe you wonít let me do that. But, if I canít do anything else, if you wonít let me do anything else, please at least let me be your friend. Will you do that?Ē
I didnít have to think about that. Even if I found his large personality, his confidence, almost intimidating. ďIíd like that,Ē I said quietly, barely able to meet his eyes.
ďThen youíve got that. But to me, being your friend means Iím also going to try to help you not be so alone. Iíll be very careful how I go about it. But Iím going to try. What you have to do is tell me if Iím doing something you donít want me to do. Then Iíll pull back a little. But thatís what Iím going to be doing, and you need to know that.Ē
He stood up. I didnít know what to do. I had a lot to think about, everything heíd just said. I just sat there.
He smiled down at me. ďItís okay if you want to just sit there and think, Tim. You donít have to show me out. Iíll just go get my bike and take off. Iíll see you tomorrow. Iím looking forward to it. Weíll eat lunch again. Tomorrow. See ya.Ē
And with that, carrying my story in his hand, he left.
I did have a lot to think about. Him saying he was going to find out why I spent all my time alone, why I wanted to, scared the hell out of me. Yet at the same time, I trusted him. Iíd never met a kid who seemed so concerned about someone else. And it didnít seem like an act, or just plain nosiness. He seemed genuine. And he was hitting a chord that sounded pitch perfect to me. I was tired of being alone. I hadnít realized how much till Iíd spent some time with Terry, but now it was obvious.
So I decided I wasnít going to run from this. I wasnít going to shut him out. I was going to go with it, at least at first, and see where it led. After all, how much of me I opened up to the world still, in the final analysis, was entirely up to me.