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Doing Well - Part II
Doing Well - Part II
I would have had trouble picturing Kevin in his present condition. Bachelorhood seemed to be his destiny; clichés and all. He was a slob. There was no denying that. I preferred to keep a reasonably well maintained house… but Kevin? I once counted thirteen empty pizza boxes in his kitchen. To his credit, they were neatly stacked, and most of them empty. Sometimes the crusts remained behind to season further.
Basketball was our game. I guess I should say it was his game. But one that he gladly shared with me as we grew. He may have been diminutive, but he was a hell of a player. Kevin was always one of the lucky two or three to be chosen immediately for either team in gym class. He never had to suffer through the indignity of waiting… waiting… waiting to be the last kid picked. The embarrassment and humiliation of the confirmation of your shortcomings. Knowing that the rest of the class viewed you much in the same way you viewed yourself: talent-less, worthless, inferior.
I was twelve years old. Basketball season was quickly approaching and gym class was all that occupied my mind. They could have sprung a surprise quantum physics exam on me and I wouldn’t have worried half as much as I did about that stupid hardwood court. Kevin sensed my apprehension-bordering-on-dread. Don’t ask me how. He wasn’t cognizant of much beyond the obvious in those days. When I relayed the nature of my fears, he immediately guided me to our driveway and the hoop that hung from our garage. We spent four hours out there that day. He showed me how a good jump shot started at the toes and worked its way up. He showed me how to square my shoulders to the basket. He showed me how someone can easily out-rebound a much larger opponent simply by properly boxing out. And he shared with me the biggest secret of all; “God gave you two hands, learn to shoot with both, you’ll be better than 90% of the other guys.”
We spent nearly every afternoon in that driveway that autumn. I knew he had other things he could have been doing. Friends with whom to create havoc. Girls to be rejected by. Even such trivialities as homework and dinner were often ignored. But by the time basketball season ended, I was no longer the last kid picked for “shirts and skins.” In fact, I once went as high as third. I don’t know if Kevin’s patience qualifies as a miracle, but it was close enough for me.
…Steve’s doing well. Steve was the best man at every proper wedding I pictured Becka and me headlining. He had been my best friend for nearly twenty years. He ran his own business. I called it “gardening.” He always punched me in the arm and reminded me it was “landscaping.” He hit hard. I always regretted forgetting that fact.
Steve was like me back in our school days. Skinny, quiet, confused. Our paths diverted shortly after. I chased after that college diploma; he stayed home and learned the tricks of the trade from his father. He had no illusions about furthering his education. I could have saved a lot of money and most of my hair if I had followed his example. He had a way of making a little dirt under the nails and a dusty old pickup look like heaven on earth. And it was all due to his attitude: pure contentment. He never wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer. And his lineage ruled out Indian Chief. All Steve ever wanted from life was a purpose. He found it by creating works of art in regular folks’ back yards. He found it in his son’s eyes as he tucked him into bed each night. He found it in the arms of his devoted wife, Sandy, who never demanded he strive for bigger, better, more audacious. They had each other, a solid roof and warm meals. Anything more would be runoff.
Steve was there when I decided college was no longer for me. I had other friends who did their best to play their parts. Friends who told me what they thought I needed to hear. Friends who projected their own self-doubt onto me. “Keep plugging along,” they would tell me. “You need that degree,” they would assure. “If you ever want to make something of yourself…” they rambled.
We were at a local, hole-in-the-wall strip club playing pool. Generic rock music was shaking the table as the next “featured dancer” took to the stage. A round of beer and testosterone induced applause arose from the front row as a group of naval personnel voiced their approval of the brunette waif presently twirling around the pole. It was my break. As I chalked my cue, I confessed to Steve that I no longer wanted to be in school. That I felt I was wasting my time and money. That I belonged somewhere else, anywhere else, doing anything else. I proceeded to unleash three-month’s worth of pent up frustration and aggravation over the decision that I seemed incapable of making. A second song rang out from the speakers, then a third before I eventually ended my tirade.
“Finished?” Steve questioned, sipping from his warming beer.
“Yes,” I replied.
“So don’t go back. You gonna break or what.”
That’s why Steve was my best friend. He never told me what he thought was right. Instead, he had a way of reminding me what I thought was right.
I scratched on the break.
Dad wasn’t as accepting of my decision. Kevin graduated college. I sure as hell was meant to follow in those scholarly footsteps. Dad never went to college. He never even graduated high school. He worked as an auto mechanic from the day he turned sixteen until he retired at sixty. I couldn’t even change my own oil. He made a decent living. But he had three children, along with a wife whom he was too old fashioned to allow to work. Her job was at home, raising the kids, preparing meals, cleaning, shopping, clipping coupons. It was his way. The way of his parents before him, and theirs before them. If he needed to work a 25th hour on a given day to make those pesky ends meet, it was part of the deal.
I never doubted he wanted the best for me, which of course meant a life not like his own. A life of at least some leisure. Maybe a vacation here and there. A trip to Hawaii or Disneyland for me and my bride-to-be with the grandchildren I’d someday be presenting to him. His life of sweat and concessions was not a failure in his eyes. However, a similar life for me certainly would be. Kevin got his cap and gown. He did his part. Audrey was a girl, so she only needed to marry a college man. It was all up to me now. I’ll never forget the look on his weathered face when I told him.
Audrey’s end of the deal was David. David was a good man. A decent man. A smart man. Very smart. He was also ambitious. I imagine that was the primary reason my father was instantly drawn to him. David displayed all of the qualities that dad wished I had harbored. I suppose it was only coincidence that David began dating my sister around the time I made my decision to leave school. I’m less convinced that coincidence is to blame for my father’s unconditional approval of Audrey’s choice. Although I had nothing whatsoever to do with their union, I still couldn’t help feeling my fair share of guilt. Dad was pushing for a new son even more than he was for a son-in-law.
He treats her well. She has a nice house, with a nice garage and a very nice car. She has an aqua-screen satellite TV with TIVO. She has a membership to the finest health club in town. She even has a maid three times a week that does all of the cleaning mom taught her to do. It’s the perfect setup. All she lacks is the husband.
Becka cares for my sister. She doesn’t pity her. It isn’t sadness she feels for Audrey. It is, however, pure unadulterated anger toward the husband that preferred the next contract over his wife. And the next contract after that… and the next. There would always be more jobs, more opportunities, more chances to leave his mark in the strata. There was only one wife, however. And while jewelry makes for a great present, having no one other than an image in a mirror to display it for removes much of its luster.
I loved that about her. That she cared enough about my family to yell her disapproval at me. I was the world’s most accepting punching bag. Listening to her temper swell, watching the redness fill her cheeks, hearing her voice crack as it reached fever pitch; it all made me care for her more. I couldn’t help but smile at every tantrum ‒ which only caused her to become more annoyed. Which in turn made me love her even more.
Mom never liked David. It was hard to tell though. She would never dare speak such a thing. Audrey wasn’t much of one for venturing out into the world. She rarely dated growing up. Mom never had to worry about her breaking curfew after a night on the town with her friends. Audrey never even moved out of the house before her marriage. Dad babied her. She was his only daughter and youngest child. As mom saw it, there were only two possibilities for Audrey’s future: marry the first man that showed interest for better or for worse, or become an old maid well before anyone has a right to. She was so happy when Audrey and David first started dating. It didn’t take long for the old maid scenario to look much more appealing.
That was when I first began to notice the strain tugging at the foundation of our household. Dad’s disapproval of my dropping out of school was at complete odds with mom’s acceptance. All she wanted for me was to be happy, no matter what it took to achieve it. Dad didn’t care about happiness. He was only interested in results. And while he was busy being angry at me, he was force-feeding positivism about Audrey to all of us. That made two out of three children that he and mom disagreed on. Kevin was the lucky one. He had already moved out and begun his own life.
To Be Continued... (just once more, I promise!)
Copyright JJW 2006
Ah, Its you again, Your Angel Feathers and your Blood Stains...
8/23/2006 8:42 pm
having no one other than an image in a mirror to display it for removes much of its luster.|
you can write feelings that I can't begin to put words too
just a squirrel trying to get a nut
8/23/2006 8:50 pm
OK, you gotta get some of your stuff published. Everyone who reads your stuff here loves it, we are but few, there are millions of Americans who would give you money for this JJ. JUST DO IT! Mac|
8/24/2006 5:18 am
wow.. your writing is excellent...can't wait for the next|
under the stars
We choose to write
you choose what you comprehend.
read twice and be nice
every key stroke... has a heart beat
8/24/2006 5:25 am
Excellent!!! As all of your writing is, I expect no less from you!|
Waiting for part 3
8/24/2006 5:46 am
HMMM a different side of you, I like it |
I'll have a cafe, mocha, vodka, valium latte to go please!
Good girls go to heaven.....bad girls go down!!
8/27/2006 8:25 pm
This segment ended up being much lengthier than I had planned. I am seriously grateful to those of you that took the time to endure this tedium. Next time; I'll plot my posts more judiciously.|
Ah, Its you again, Your Angel Feathers and your Blood Stains...