Friendship Limbo

Growing up, there were a couple of years during which I didn’t have close friends in my neighborhood. It started when Wayne B. moved away just before Kindergarten, and there weren’t any boys my age. There were plenty of kids–a couple of girls my age, a few younger kids, and then a ton of kids much older. I certainly wasn’t alone, but I was lonely at times, not having a close friend that I could call my own. This is not the sort of sad tale I would tell my psychoanalyst to engender sympathy. I won’t suggest I was unhappy. In general, I’m a very happy person. Because of the number of kids in the neighborhood and the fact that I had two older brothers, I was dragged along for the games of kick-the-can, freeze tag, and “war” that took place. I had a busy-enough social life for an eight-year-old kid.

This lack of a close friend my age, however, led me to hang around an older boy one summer.  Childhood is a place where you kill a lot of time. If there were no organized games going on with the other urchins, it was paramount to find someone with which to do something so as not to be consumed by the boredom. Kids have no idea how good they have it until it’s too late, as I would give my left nut to be bored only half as much for a single day. Perhaps because Daniel was overweight, slovenly, and uncoordinated, he didn’t quite fit in with the boys his own age. And so we were friends of convenience.

Daniel was five years older, the same as one of my brothers, but he did not hang out with my brother. Childhood can be a difficult place to live, and he probably wasn’t terribly happy about the situation, though, at the time, I was oblivious. I just enjoyed having a friend, and Daniel seemed worldly and knowledgeable. He explained sex to me in such a way that, the more he explained, the less I understood. I didn’t particularly enjoy his erotic fantasies, but I remember giggling at the way he told it. He was a good story teller, had a vivid imagination about sex, and he probably could have had a career in porn had he not found Jesus ten years later.

One day he grew tired of his own stories, and wanted to do something. The way a child’s mind works is a mystery, but we decided it would be fun to throw clods of dirt at our neighbor’s garage. This particular neighbor lived on the corner, and the garage was right up against the side street, and faced my front yard. We collected dirt from my mother’s flower garden and carried it within range of the garage, and imagined various scenarios for why we had to throw dirt.

In one scenario, there were German soldiers on the garage, and we were shelling them, just like we had seen on Combat every Saturday at noon on television. In another, it was the kids in the neighborhood that Daniel found annoying, and we were now terrorizing them with our awesomely devastating dirt clods.

This was all done in broad daylight, shortly after supper and a weekday. How it went on for as long as it did escapes me, but we chucked dirt for a good half hour, leaving marks all over their nice, white, garage door, and splattering soil all over the driveway. Eventually, the neighbor noticed and called my mother, who told my father, who chased Daniel away and dragged me inside the house.

I was taken to the basement and whipped by my father with his belt. This was fairly customary punishment for doing something supremely stupid, and I really had no defense other than it had been Daniel’s idea. With my ass sore and my face miserable with tears, I was sent across the street with a broom to sweep up the mess, and display my humiliation to all of the neighbors.

I really enjoy this memory because in conjures up so many other really stupid things we did as kids. Some led to punishment, others were never discovered. I also have other stories from my friendship with Daniel, but those can wait. My favorite part of this story is the fact that, years later, my father had no recollection of beating us with his belt. He didn’t deny it with any vigor, but he was sincere in not remembering. That was fine by me, as I never brought it up to fill him with remorse.

I do believe that, if given the chance, I would throw dirt again at a garage. Knowing what I know now, I might ask permission of the owner, and promise to clean up the mess, and to stop the moment they so desired me to stop. And I would savor every moment, knowing that I had nothing better to do in this world than throw dirt at a clean, white, wall.