End of the Innocence

I lost a friend this week.

Actually he died in 2000 and I just found out. His name was Casey and he was my best friend from ages 5-8. I moved across town then and we were never that close again. In 1987 I found him when I was living in the Seattle area. But it was strange and hard. We had very little in common. Our lives had taken diametrically opposed pathways and we had a difficult time finding common ground. Still, the history of our childhood sustained us for a while while we tried to see if we still had the makings of a continuing friendship as adults. It didn’t seem so.

One day he came to me and said, “John, it’s okay, you know. You don’t have to feel that we have to still be friends.”  I felt awful and didn’t know what to say. I said I wanted to try. But we drifted apart and I never heard from him agan.

And then I read his obiturary on Saturday. There was a picture of him at about five years old, with black-rimmed glasses, red-checkered sweater and his dark brown hair swept back with VO5, I’m sure. It was the Casey I knew. The one who laughed and shouted with me from our respective two-storied windows; who would be Batman to my Robin as we climbed into his grandmother’s cadillac and pretended it was The Batmobile; the one who watched Frankenstein with me in the lving room of our house on Cherry Court and then went screaming into my bedroom when the monster went on a rampage. And the one who looked at me with saucered brown eyes and cried, because of his loneliness, of an inner pain and a sensitivity way beyond his years.

I wrote a novel, a detective/thriller/coming-of-age story that had a main character patterned after Casey. I guess it was my way of reaching out to him, to tell him I’m sorry we weren’t table to strike the same chord we did when we were little.

Here is an excerpt from ‘Brother’s Keeper.’ I grieve for you, Casey and I miss you. May you know the rest, peace and joy that seemed to elude you in this life. My prayer is that you are being embraced right now as you have never been. Love you.

*Kincaid was a hyperactive boy with black-framed glasses who lived with his grandmother, for reasons that I didn’t understand at the time. Both his Mother and Father were alive, albeit divorced. He used to get lonely. I’d hear him crying to himself sometimes behind the row of Laurel bushes that separated our two houses. In fact, that’s how we met. I was in the back yard, excavating mom’s petunias with my Tonka Dump Truck Loader when…

I heard this soft whimper floating out to me. At first I thought it was a kitten. I crawled over and poked my head into the thick Laurel and saw this small, hunched figure.

“Hey,” I said.

He jumped a little, scared. His glasses, which were already too big for his face, slanted askew, his eyes big brown saucers.

And I started laughing. And couldn’t stop.

“Cut it out,” he said, adjusting his glasses.

I tried. I really did. But you know how it is when you start laughing and you know you should stop. I think that flips some breaker in the brain that throws the giggle gear on high. At least it did in my case. All I could do was put my hand up to try and communicate through some six year-old digit language. I waved my fingers in front of me, helpless, in near-hysterics.

“I said cut it out!”

I nodded, in total agreement…just unable to oblige.

“That’s a mean thing you’re doing,” he said rising to his knees, facing me through the tangle of Laurel wood. “You piss-pocket.”

That did it. I rolled over in submission, holding my gut, laughing silently because I had no more air. I’d never heard ‘piss-pocket’ before. Tears streamed down my cheeks and I looked over at my new-found neighbor and he was so serious that a new wave of hysteria over took me. I think I mouthed ’I’m sorry’ before rolling over on my side, shaking from waves of laughter.

And then he put his head down and I thought I’d crushed him. When he looked up I expected a trembling lip and globs of tears. Instead, a crooked smile greeted me and he was laughing as well. He snorted and this made us both erupt. He started laughing so hard he fell into the bush. And there we lay, our first meeting, laughing joyously and uncontrollable on a June morning forever ago.

As we spent more time together, I noticed his crying jags grew less and less. When he did cry, I always felt helpless. He’d come over sometimes and sit on our front steps. He’d prop his chin on his hands and the tears would come. Seems like all I could do was simply sit next to him or put a hand on his shoulder. When I’d ask what was wrong, he wouldn’t or couldn’t tell me. Some things that happen to us when we’re young can’t make their way from our damaged hearts and minds out through our mouths. . .

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