- T I M -
Dad and I talked while driving home. I guess I haven’t said much of anything about my dad. He’s small like I am. I guess I should blame him for me being short. Since there wasn’t anything he could do about that other than maybe blame his father, there doesn’t seem much point in that. Why hold something against someone when he had no say in the matter? What’s the point in that? What I can hold him responsible for is stuff he has some control over. And stuff like that, I have nothing to complain about. He’s been there for me. Maybe more than most fathers. Well, scratch the ‘maybe.’
Ever since we moved, he’s treated me like an adult. Which I almost am at 16. 16 is a funny age, though. Sometimes you feel like you’re grown up and responsible and can take care of yourself, no matter what. But there are times you know you need someone, you can’t do everything alone, you’re still sometimes afraid of or confused about some things, and for those times, I can turn to my dad. He’d always come through for me. Always. Look at today. How many dads would tell their sons they’d made the right decision by riding their motorcycle when they didn’t have a license? Yet he listened to me, heard what I had to say and why I made the decision I did, and he supported me, told me I’d done the right thing. From everything I hear and have seen first hand, most dads would at least be critical and disapproving. I think the Official Dad Rulebook says that’s the way they’re supposed to be. Many dads would be much worse even than that. I think he’s amazing, my dad, and as screwed up as I am, I can’t imagine what things would be like if I didn’t have him behind me.
He fixed dinner with my help, as usual, and then after eating I went to my room to enter more of my thoughts into my journal. That’s the way I unwind and think things through. It helps me put things in perspective. While I was writing, Terry called.
“Hi, Tim.” His voice was a little tentative. Terry being tentative was unusual. I wondered what was up.
I hi-ed him back. My thoughts were still mixed up when it came to Terry. If I could believe what John had told me, Terry hadn’t done anything wrong, hadn’t betrayed my trust in him, which was why I had been so mad and upset. He hadn’t passed on the private stuff I’d shared with him. But he had walked away and left me with John, and I was still upset with that. Because I don’t trust people very much, I spend a lot of energy staying away from situations where I have to meet and talk to new people, I don’t like to be asked questions and I don’t like having to put on an act, and Terry put me into that position today, having to meet John all by myself. He put me with someone I didn’t know, someone who turned out not to be very friendly, then abandoned me with him. So I was still upset with him, even if I didn’t feel the rage I had earlier. But remnants of that rage lingered. Whatever chemistry was involved, hormones or whatever, I don’t think my system had entirely purged itself yet.
“Tim, we need to talk about what happened today. A lot happened, and I don’t know what you’re feeling or anything. I do know I messed up, and I feel awful about it.”
That made me feel a little better. At least he wasn’t thinking somehow this was my fault.
“Can you tell me what you’re thinking? You yelled at me when I got to your house. You were really mad. After what John told me he said to you, I’m not surprised. Are you still mad about that?”
“Not so much. A little. But not because of that. I’m over that. After you walked into the woods, John told me you’d told him everything you and I’d talked about in private. That’s why I left the park and that’s why I was so mad. But then, later, when it was all over, he told me it wasn’t true, you hadn’t done that. I’ve had some time to think, and I’m not mad about that any longer.”
“But you’re still mad. How come?”
“Terry, you left me there alone with John! I thought you knew me at least a little! You knew I spent most of my time alone by choice, so you knew that’s the way I preferred it. Then you left me alone with John! I remember you saying you were going to try to get me not to be alone so much, but you also said you were going to be very careful how you went about it, and that I could trust you. Well, how is leaving me alone with John, just sticking us together and getting up and walking away, being very careful? You didn’t know what would happen. You didn’t think how I’d feel about that. That’s not being careful!”
I’d begun getting madder as in my mind I relived Terry walking off and John speaking to me, and my emotions at the time. By the time I’d finished talking, I was almost shouting.
Terry was quiet for a moment. I guess he was reacting to what I’d said, or maybe to my anger. Finally, he spoke again. “Tim, I told you I messed up. I shouldn’t have done that. Can I tell you why I did it? Let me tell you, please? I was really excited about getting the two of you together. Really excited. I knew you two would be great together, and I let that enthusiasm get in the way of good sense. I only thought about how good it was going to be and totally ignored the fact that maybe it wouldn’t go as well as I was imagining. It just never crossed my mind. And that’s so stupid! You’re absolutely right—I said I’d be careful, and then I wasn’t. I messed up bad, and I’m really sorry.
“I should of thought about what I was doing a little more, because, see, I know John. He’s often mad about something or other, mostly because of his condition and because he hates his chair with a passion, but in this case he was unhappy about meeting you, I don’t know why, but he was unhappy. We’d been arguing about it. And, knowing how sarcastic he can be, and knowing he didn’t really want to meet you, and knowing you aren’t real big on meeting new people, it was crazy of me to just leave you two like that. I just wasn’t thinking right, I was focusing on how neat you two were going to be together, how much you’d like each other, how happy you were both going to be. I don’t know what more to say. I messed up. I don’t blame you for not trusting me any more.”
It was hard for me to continue to be mad when he was taking all the blame like he was. I thought he should be taking it, but still, him saying he was sorry like he was and being so obviously sincere about it calmed me down. I still did have some questions, though.
“You said he’s mad a lot because of his condition. What is his condition? What’s wrong with him? You told the paramedic he has osteo something. What is that?”
“He has osteogenesis imperfecta. It’s a rare genetic condition where a person’s bones aren’t strong enough, as strong as most people’s. There are different types, and his, luckily, is the mildest type. The bad news is, there isn’t any treatment for it. The good news is, usually as someone with his type gets older, the symptoms get milder and frequently just more or less disappear, or at least don’t bother them so much anymore.”
“So it’ll just go away? He’ll be cured?”
“Well, that’s not exactly how they talk about it. It’s genetic, so he’ll always have it and can always pass it on if he has kids. And while he might be perfectly okay when he’s older, he might not. There’s just no way to know, they don’t have any tests they can run to predict it, but with his type, it’s often the case that the bones do get stronger as he gets older.”
“And right now, the wheelchair? He can’t walk or anything?”
“No, that’s not true at all. He has brittle bones, and in fact that’s the common name for what he has. Brittle bone disease or brittle bone syndrome. His bones can break easily without much stress on them, so when he’s with a lot of people, like at school, where he could get bumped and knocked down so easily, he uses his wheelchair. When he’s at home or with people who are very aware of his condition, he walks. The doctor’s say it’s important he does things and uses his bones and muscles as much as possible because using them makes them stronger. If he stayed in the wheelchair all the time, he’d get a lot worse.
“When he has to use it, though, John hates it. He says he feels like a freak. So when he’s in it, he’s almost always grouchy and often mad. That was one of the things we were arguing about at the park. He said if he had to meet you, he didn’t want to be in the chair. I didn’t think he should be walking on the lawn there because it’s rough and there are roots in the grass and it would be too easy for him to trip.”
“So if he falls down, he’ll break something?”
“Not always, but pretty often. It doesn’t take much. His bones just aren’t very strong.”
“Damn. I’ve never heard of that disease, but it sounds awful. That would be horrible, to have something like that. But Terry, why did you want the two of us to meet each other so badly?”
There was a pause before he answered. “Tim, I really want you two to talk and learn about each other that way. You don’t want me talking about you. He doesn’t feel exactly like you do about that, but still, he should be telling you what he wants to, answering your questions in the way he wants them answered. That’s only fair. But I know enough now not to leave you alone with him till you’re comfortable with him, till you both know each other. I won’t make that mistake again. But look, I called him before I called you. He has a broken wrist. He’s OK, but he has a light cast on it. That wouldn’t be too much of a problem for you or me, but it just about incapacitates him. He can’t work his wheelchair by himself with a broken wrist. So I guess I’m going to be spending more time with him than usual.
“Now here’s the part you might not like, but hang with me, okay? I want you two to get together again tomorrow. He needs help getting around now when he’s not at home and I’m usually the one that does that. It’s that, or he just sits alone in his house, and he does way too much of that already. He doesn’t have many friends. Which is too bad because he’s a great guy and is sociable when he’s not mad about something. I want us all to get together again tomorrow, at the park or anywhere else you want. I asked him about it when I talked to him a few minutes ago and he didn’t think you’d want him there. So I’m asking you. Tim, he’s cool. He feels bad about what he said. He’s almost never apologetic about anything, that’s not really his style. He’s normally pretty forward, pretty assertive, but he’s apologetic about this. I still think you two will get along great. But I’m not going to bring him without your okay. How about it?”
I still didn’t know why Terry thought John and I would be good together, but he wasn’t about to tell me without some real arm-twisting, and I didn’t want to do that. I thought about saying yes or saying no. If I said no, it seemed that meant Terry would have to decide whom to spend time with, and if he chose me, John would be stuck. I didn’t have any strong feelings about that other than it seemed a raw deal for a kid who already didn’t seem to have much going for him. Terry thought I’d like him if I got to know him, and saying no would pretty much put the kibosh on that. So, it seemed to make better sense to go along with it. Even if I did have some big-time reservations.
“Okay, Terry, I’ll give it another shot with him. You can bring him. But stay with us this time!”
“Don’t worry about that. I’m not leaving you two alone till I know what’s what. And I really appreciate this, Tim.”
“That’s okay. I
am a little curious about him. Even though he seemed mad at me, there
was something about him that sort of appealed to me, too. I don’t know what
exactly, but it might be he seems to meet his problems head on, and doesn’t have
a woe-is-me or why-me attitude about them at all. We’ll see how it goes. But
Terry, there’re a couple other things I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Well, first, my story. You read it and said you thought it was great. Well, actually what you said was, you thought the writing was great. So, when you read it, did you really think that I was thinking of killing myself?”
“Truthfully? I don’t know. I read it and my first thought was, you had to have some pretty dark thoughts to write something like that. It actually scared me a little, thinking that. Then I read it again and saw just how skillfully you’d been creating mood and tension and all, and I sort of thought maybe you were simply trying on a story idea and it wasn’t reflecting how you were thinking. So I wasn’t sure of you, but I was sure the story was really well done, and that’s what I told you at lunch. Then later, when John told me how upset you were, that you just simply ran off and you were crying, that story about a kid being dead just came back to me and I was scared. I didn’t know if you were suicidal or not, but what I did know was you were a kid that was always alone and here you’d just become really upset, and I’d just read a story you’d written that had for its main character a dead kid. It all just scared me. I guess I thought you might be suicidal. Does that offend you, that I might have thought that?”
I thought about that. “I guess what I feel more than anything else is good you’d care so much you’d run over here like you did to check on me. But, now that I think about it, you told me you run miles and miles almost every day. How come you were so out of breath when you got here?”
He laughed at that. “Uh, Tim, when I run five miles, I usually run at about a five and a half to five and three quarters minutes per mile pace. I think I practically sprinted all the way to your house. Also, running for me is relaxing. Today, I wasn’t a bit relaxed. I was frightened about what I might find when I got there, I thought whatever I found might be my fault, and my fear was adding adrenaline to my system. Adrenaline stimulates you, but later tires you out.”
“Oh.” I didn’t know what else to say, how else to respond to that.
Then I thought of something I hadn’t said yet. “Uh, thanks, Terry. I’m sorry I scared you, but running all the way over and caring so much, that means something. Thanks.”
“Hey, you’d do the same for me. Only you’d be smarter and just climb on your motorcycle. That thing’s hot!”
I laughed at that. Then I asked him the other thing I was wondering about. “Terry, when you were here, panting and all, you suddenly said, ‘John,’ you got an alarmed look on your face, and you said you had to get back to him. Well, it turned out you were right, but I didn’t understand you being upset at the time and I don’t really understand it even now. Why did you do that?”
He was quiet a moment thinking about his answer. Then he said, “I guess it was just instinct. John is pretty vulnerable when he’s all by himself. And you saw him, he’s not shy and retiring, he says what he’s thinking and doesn’t back down from anyone and some people have been known to take offense at some of the things he’s said. If he takes something wrong, he’ll fire back. I don’t know, maybe it isn’t reasonable, but I just don’t like to leave him alone. People don’t realize how fragile he is. He looks so normal. I mean, a large dog could run up, friendly as anything, jump up and plant two feet in his lap and break his leg, maybe both legs. He could see it coming and not be able to do much to stop it. A lot of innocent things like that could happen. If someone shakes his hand and grips it too tightly, bam, that’s it. I’m just used to sort of watching out for him when we’re together, and when I realized I’d left him alone in the park and you were all right, well, I pictured him there alone and I sort of got jazzed about it.”
“Can you tell me about the kid that you were fighting with. You called him Grady.”
“Grady Prichard. We go way back. He’s always been a troublemaker. Every town seems to have a few of his type. He likes to cause trouble, especially with kids that aren’t much of a threat to him. I’ve had run-ins with him before. So have a lot of guys. When we were younger, he was bigger than I was and he’d, well, he did some things. He was a pain in the ass then, and I haven’t forgotten. In the last few years, I’ve got bigger than him and most of the time he avoids me now. He still gives other people a hard time, and if I see it, I do something about it. So he’s afraid of me now and runs away, generally. But he hasn’t changed any.”
“Did you ask John about what happened when you left him?”
“Yeah. He told me about you leaving, and I tore off after you. He watched me run off, and then, being John, he stood up. I’d told him he shouldn’t be walking on the grass there, so he decided that was what he was going to do. I told you, he hates being in the chair, hates not being the same as everyone else, you know, totally independent. He walked to the bridge, watched the stream for a few minutes, then walked back to the bench. When he got there, Grady was sitting in his chair.
“You’ve met John. You know him enough now to know he isn’t going to beg someone to get out of his chair or even walk away from a confrontation. He told Grady to get out of it, and probably didn’t do it in a very pleasant way, even though he knew who Grady was. Grady’s said things to him in the past, but usually has left him alone because he knew John was a friend of mine.
“Anyway, John probably said something, and in any event, it wouldn’t take much to set Grady off, seeing as how John is little and a tempting target for him, and Grady’s fear of me is more real when I’m around than when I’m not. You’d think John would be smarter, but it isn’t smarts, it’s his nature. John just doesn’t like to back down, doesn’t like to feel limited. I think it’s partly his defense against letting the disease beat him. Grady has an aura of menace about him, especially when he’s in a confrontational situation. He likes it, you know? It gets his juices flowing or something. John says when he told him to get out of his chair, Grady got a smile on his face, then told John to go fuck himself, and then kept just pushing himself around in the chair, a challenge in his eyes. John says he told him again to get out of it, and he didn’t say so but I’m sure he got sarcastic and challenging. At some point, Grady got up and shoved him. That’s all it takes with John. He went down, caught himself as he was falling with his hands, and his wrist snapped.
“That happened just as I got there. I’ll tell you, Tim, we were just in time because Grady had pulled his leg back, and I’d swear he was about to kick John. If he’d kicked his arm, he’d have broken it for sure. Had he kicked his ribs, it could have been really bad. Probably would have been. John could have had several ribs broken, and if Grady’d kicked him more than once in the ribs, I’d bet he’d have punctured a lung. I think it’s quite likely he would have killed him.”
Terry stopped a minute, thinking about that. Then he continued. “Anyway, I hollered when I saw that and Grady didn’t kick him. He turned and saw me coming and took off running. I guess you saw the rest.”
“Yeah, I did. Didn’t that scare you, him trying to get you with a knife? You didn’t seem scared at all.”
“I don’t know. I didn’t think about it. I was really pissed at Grady. I don’t remember ever being that mad before. I was a little bit out of it. I meant what I said to him, I wanted to hurt him, bad. I think I probably did hurt him, too. When it was happening, I was just thinking about him kicking John, hurting him really badly. I feel a little guilty about Grady now, but not as much as I suppose I should. It was his fault, and if I’d been a few seconds later, he might well have killed John. That sounds dramatic, but it’s not, it’s a fact. Actually, come to think of it, you know what? You saved John’s life! Without you thinking of your cycle and making the decision to take it, who knows what might have happened? I wouldn’t have got to the park so quickly, that’s for sure. Not in time to save John!”
I told him that all I did was react to the urgency in his look and give him a ride. That brought the subject back to the motorcycle. We went on to talk about how I used to ride it in Ohio all the time, then moved on to other stuff and before I knew it, we’d talked for over an hour and I wasn’t mad at him any longer. It had been a long, long time since I’d spent that much time talking on the phone to a friend my age.
Before he hung up, I asked him how John was going to get around at school tomorrow. He said the principal would arrange someone to meet him outside all his classes and push him to his next one, that they’d done that before. That surprised me and made me ask how many times he’d broken bones. I was shocked when Terry said this was the fourth time he’d broken a wrist. He said he’d also had two broken arms and believe it or not, both legs, just in the time he’d known him. When I thought about that later, I almost cried. But, feeling even worse for John after hearing this, I told him we should all eat lunch together. He said he’d ask John, and sounded really happy about it.
Compared with John’s, my problems seemed pretty trivial.