Today I came across this short story I wrote many years ago and thought I'd share it with my Internet friends.
Jerry Bennett was my best friend in the fifth grade. He had blond curly hair and freckles and a lanky body that looked as if it had been put together as an after thought. I knew he was my best friend because we traded model airplanes at Christmas time. I had two older brothers who were Jerry's age. Even though I was a girl I was received into the fold of older men as if I were the tomboy to end all tomboys. In truth, I wasn't bad.
I could dive off the highest rocks at the local rivers, run bases with the best of them, hop railway cars, climb trees to the tallest branches, shoot as many baskets, and jump from roof top to roof top without once turning chicken. Jerry thought this was great. We pledged our undying devotion to each other knowing full well it would last till long after time ended.
We lived in Marshfield, MO, a small town only a few miles from the Arkansas border. Main street was two blocks long. Trees and heavy shrubbery splattered the entire town. Surrounded by rolling hills, thick with forests, it was easy to understand what Mark Twain saw in Missouri. In springtime everything turned a deep green. Even the sky seemed a richer blue. In summer we swam in local rivers and hiked up and down hills, always on the lookout for another adventure. Autumn brought a chill to the air and wondrous color to the trees. Even winter was one more time to look for the answers to life.
It was a grand place to live. Every few blocks one could find a huge three story home. They always looked as if no one lived there except for the evil old women who pulled the curtains back so they could spy on us when we played in nearby fields. We spent many hours debating whether or not it was worth it to steal cigarettes from our mother's purses and learn how to smoke. Such arguments usually ended with the decision that the evil old women would surely see what we were doing and report it. It never seemed worth the risk.
Jerry and I spent a lot of time discussing such risks and others. We knew we were capable of taking any chances that came our way and winning. It seemed such fun to just ponder on it. We'd lie on our backs in the fields, smell the pungent odor of weeds mingled with wildflowers and stare at the clouds. The bees would buzz near our heads as if they too knew the answer to such questions. It seemed as if we had already taken every dare in town and attempted every dangerous deed. We needed bigger and better territory. Just talking about what we could do if only the opportunity presented itself was sufficient. We knew we'd be friends forever so we had all the time in the world.
Dad worked on a construction gang that built electrical substations and power lines. He was the Superintendent and I was inordinately proud of that achievement. I wasn't sure what it meant. But it had to mean he was the boss and that was enough for me. We had lived in many towns and seen many things. The construction gang moved around a lot. There were always new substations to be built.
Dad had union problems. I didn't know what that meant either. It had something to do with Mom keeping Marine Corps blankets on the windows, even at night, and Dad telling us to run into the house and hide under the beds if an explosion happened. I heard them talking one night about a truck that had been blown up. Jerry and I discussed that for hours. It had nothing to do with playing basketball, hopping freight cars or climbing trees. Once we figured that out, we lost interest and moved on to the next important decision life might present. We always discussed everything. Somehow there was nothing so bad that Jerry couldn't make better just by wrinkling up his freckled nose, staring at the sky and telling me his opinion on what was going to happen and how we would resolve it.
Yes....life was pretty wonderful with Jerry in it. I liked having a best friend and was very glad it didn't have to be a silly girl. They were always doing dumb things like playing with dolls, giggling over boys and fixing their hair. The worst part about it was how they looked down their noses at me. I was gangly and scrawny. My hair was will-o-the-wisp as it flew all over my face and my knees were always skinned up from playing marbles or climbing trees. Those dumb girls didn't even know what a hook shot was and they'd never ready the Hardy Boys or the Adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. Somehow I knew we didn't belong in the same world. That was okay. I had Jerry Bennett.
One day I came home from school. Dad had the carrier loaded on the top of the car and Mom stood in the living room surrounded by cardboard boxes. My heart dropped down to my big toe. Knots started forming in my stomach with the kind of dread you feel when you're in a graveyard at night and see something climb out of a tombstone. I stared hard at my mother, my lower lip trembling. She stared back and with a sigh told me to start loading the car.
Jerry was on vacation for two weeks. His folks had taken him to the Ozarks. He had said he'd send postcards. Before he left we had many discussion on how we were going to manage being apart.
I cried all the way to Tucson, my face pressed to the back window as if any moment Jerry was going to come and rescue me. I never saw Jerry Bennett again. And I never stopped thinking of him. Over the years, his freckled face and impish grin followed wherever I went. I looked for his eyes in every face I saw. I had many friends over the years. I never had another Jerry Bennett.
Last year I started working for a Health Care Provider. I went around and introduced myself to everyone. One of the men I met was named Joel. As soon as I saw him I knew I had found Jerry's replacement. Joel is tall and lanky and has brown curly hair. He doesn't have freckles although he has the same adventurous, mischievous spirit that dwell in Jerry. Joel is outspoken and full of purpose and original new ideas. He was born at a full moon and thinks hedonism is next to godliness. Joel says that whenever he gets a fierce emotion, he stomps on it. He says this knowing full well that he's a bundle of fierce emotions. His brain bounces back and forth as he mugs his way through life, searching for humor. Sometimes when we're pondering on the perplexitites of life he gets this focused, guru look on his face and I just know we're about to come to terms with what it all means. I sit with bated breath wondering what nonsense he's about to spew and he plunges into some intoxicating witicism that sends me into rolling hills of laughter. When a fearful thought strikes us we tell ourselves not to think about brass monkeys and so we think about brass monkeys all day long.
Joel is so competent he's disgusting. It means we spend endless hours discussing who isn't and how much better we could run the world if only the powers-that-be would turn it over to us. I know that I can pick up the intercom and say two words and he will finish my sentence. He knows he can come storming into my office with indignant, outrageous wrong doing that has wandered into his territory and together we will resolve how to resolve it. We both know that at the turn of a thought, we can change our dour, Monday morning moods into capricious, devil-may-care attitudes.
The rest of the staff can't quite figure out what it is we know. Some of the resident grumps scowl as they walk down the hall when Joel and I are rowdy and laughing hilariously over some real or imagined antic. It only makes us smother with more laughter. In happy anticipation of even more fun we founded the NAARAF. It stands for the National Association for the Advancement of Rowdiness and Fun. You have to be pretty cool to be allowed in.
If I'm ever on a desert island, I hope I have either Jerry Bennett or Joel with me. Course I knew Jerry in 1952. He's probably grown into a dull and stodgy, middle aged man. He may have lost his freckles and his curls may now be buried under a balding head. So I like to think that perhaps Joel would be there with me. We would entertain each other endlessly with our rampant discussions on life and how best to live it to the hilt. Somehow or other we would make it seem as if, surely, this was just another lark, one that presented itself to us so that we could once again have an opportunity for fun. Every day would be a full moon.
I still think of Jerry often and hope that someday I may run into him, if for no other reason than to tell him what an impact he's made in my life. That seems unlikely. I stopped in Marshfield last year to look him up. He's married (probbly happily) and lives in a town in Texas. Maybe someday I'll drive to Texas and see if he still plays basketball.
I'm filled with gratitude for Joel. He'll be my pal for life and I'll be his. He doesn't care if I'm scatter-brained, impulsive and excessively whimsical. I can be me and he can be Joel.
One day Joel and I were having a serious discussion about flirting. He said there was an element of it in each male-female relationship. When I reminded him that we didn't have it he countered with the remark that he didn't look upon me as a member of the opposite sex. I told him I was going to take my penis and leave. We both laughed till our sides hurt. Fifteen minutes later I called him on the intercom and told him I accepted the compliment.
I still miss Jerry Bennett. I probably always will. But somehow, I know I don't need to press my face to the rear window looking for him anymore.