Thursday, May 23, 2013
Eleventh Summer Loss
“Tell me Mark”, the doctor interrupted. “You say that you wonder if John will turn out like all of the male friends in your life that always left. Tell us about those friends.”
I looked around the room at the nine men sitting in a large circle in the small room on the second floor of an office park on the west edge of the city. The faces had become familiar over the past couple of months as we met here each Thursday as a part of a court mandated treatment program. My eyes turned to my right where the doctor sat, holding his yellow legal pad, occasionally writing something down.
As I reflected on his question, I could feel my chest start to tighten. Friends? Had I really ever had any? I’d had a lot of professional acquaintances over the past 30 years, but none that I would call “friend”. My mind started to search the deeper recesses of my memory. I could feel the heat of the tears even before I could feel them start to leak from the corner of my eyes.
“I guess I could say that I some guys that I would say were friends when I was in grade school.” The vision of my two first real friends came to my mind. Mike and Dennis. We had started grade school together and had the same teachers from first through fourth grade. I’m not sure what made us such close friends.
We had very little in common. Mike was a little kid, smaller than the rest of us. Dennis was tall and lanky. We did everything together at the Old Farmin Elementary School. None of us was exceptionally athletic or gifted at playing the ball games going on out on the play fields and would walk around the field just talking or laughing. Sometimes, we’d go chase the girls and I’d laugh even more because Mike and Dennis were so slow. I remembered those days fondly as I sat there reminiscing. But things change.
“I was really close to a couple of boys when I was in grade school, but it didn’t last”, I continued. “We did everything together for four years, but Mike’s family moved between our fourth and fifth grade year.”
The new school. More tears leaking from my eyes. Change and loss. The summer after the best school year of my life with Mrs. Walters became the worst summer of my life. Mike’s dad got a job in a Montana. I had spent a day fishing with him and his dad that summer. He was a quiet kid with a big round face and a smile that was infectious. I don’t remember even getting to say “good-bye”. He just wasn’t there when school started in the fall.
It was the summer that started with my first ever “birthday party” for a school mate. And it was a girl. A girl that I really liked. One of the girls we chased in grade school. My first crush. An awkward, painful afternoon. A movie date at a matinee at the Panida Theater. More awkwardness. Embarrassment. Fear. Rejection.
It was the summer that I did “those” things for the neighbor boy for a handful of candy. Redhots. Under the big Cedar tree out in the woods. Others watching. Shame. Pleasure? Confusion. Definitely changed.
“We moved to a new school for the fifth grade and all of the classes were mixed up. Mike was gone and Dennis wasn’t in any of my classes. At the first of the year, we tried to get together at recess but our lunches were at different times. He got new friends and I guess I didn’t. I kind of pulled into a shell. Nothing seemed to be the same and I think I was just kind of lost. I just felt different and didn’t fit in with any of the other groups.”
I paused and looked around the room. Eighteen eyes watching me. Eyes of compassion? Eyes of men who had a shared experience?
“Were Mike and Dennis the only ones?” the doctor asked.
The tears started flowing. “No. There was Cliff.”