Once my brother was gone and we moved out of the city into what could charitably be called the “Suburbs” of Mobile, AL., life changed. Gone was the picket-fence neighborhood with the paved streets and the creek that the kids gathered around in the summer. No longer did other boys happen to idle by every thirty minutes looking for someone else to join up with in a game of ball. Hanging out at a friend’s house for a couple of hours…nonexistent.
Summers were especially lonely for me. We lived at the very end (and then some) of a 1-mile long dirt road neighborhood. There were a great many houses, but given our separation from the rest of the neighborhood, no one ever just “happened by.” Behind our house was about 200 acres of pure woods and even today, little has changed as you can see from the image below that I pulled off Google Maps.
With both mom and dad working, I had a lot of time to myself, which explains my penchant for “me” time as an adult. During the summer I had chores to do during the day if I wasn’t working. Normally, this included some sort of work out in the yard or the garden. But when I wasn’t working, I was either riding my motorcycle or fishing in the pond back in the woods. But mostly I worked.
One unusually hot summer day, I was just down a bit working in a clearing that my dad and I had been slowly expanding. It was down near one edge of the property line, and we had cleared out so much by then that you could see the house from there. My dad didn’t trust me with the chainsaw yet, so most of my work in the “big woods” involved cutting down small trees and scrub-brush with lopping shears, or digging out stumps using a shovel and an axe. I’d like to say that because of all my work, I was a trim 17-year old stud, but I’ve always fought my weight and in my mid-teens I’d had little success so far. But though I was little and slightly chubby, there was muscle there from all the work and maybe it showed.
Summers in lower Alabama then were vividly hot. Not like here in Atlanta where, as the heat rises, visibility declines. Alabama then had great, clean air and the summer humidity did little to cloud the day. You could always tell when it was going to be a hot one because the cicadas would start their “bzzzz bzzzzzzzzz” early in the day–a sound that, even now, makes me want to shut myself in the house and crank down the A/C.
I’d been working down in the woods for about an hour this particular day. My shirt off, sweat was rolling off me in waves as I repeatedly thud-thudded my axe into the roots of a particularly annoying tap root from a large pine tree we’d taken down. Cutting out roots is possibly the most mind-numbing, yet physically taxing thing I’ve ever done. The trick is to get into a rhythm with your movements and your breathing until everything blurs together and you don’t notice that your heart is pounding and that your breath is coming in hard gasps. For you runners, it’s a lot like that middle mile between the time when you’ve warmed up and the time where you are so far beyond tired, that you hardly notice the aches and pains.
I heard the sound of a car approaching the house and knowing it too soon for either of my parents to be home, I curiously peered towards the driveway and immediately recognized the car of my best friend’s girl.
They had been dating for a month or so and my take on her was that, while undoubtedly attractive (buxom blonde comes to mind), she was trouble. The kind of trouble your lecherous uncle warns you about just as his own “trouble” walks off to get him another beer. Between you and me, I’d always thought she was out of my friend’s league, but I applauded his abilities nonetheless. Did I mention that she was a year or two our senior?
Now I may have been young, but I wasn’t stupid. When I saw her get out of her car alone, certain…um…possibilities began circulating in my head. “Why is she here?” “Where is Wade?” “Does he know she’s here?” “This is very unusual. Maybe she’s here to see me.”
“What do I do?”
And while it wasn’t my first prom, I was still nervous around girls, especially older girls…and especially when I’m standing around mostly devoid of any clothing except my shorts, socks and work boots.
Standing up straight, I perched my axe over one shoulder and watched her look around until she saw me and then I stayed where I was and let her come back to me in the woods. My mind was still warring with my body and standing still seemed like the simplest thing to do until I could properly read the situation.
She reached me and we exchanged pleasantries and finally she admitted that she was there to talk about Wade (my BEST friend). Apparently, she was having second thoughts about their relationship and wanted to talk with me about it to see what I thought.
Again, I wasn’t dumb and to be perfectly frank, I still wasn’t sure whether loyalty or lust was going to win the day so I played along. We went in the house and talked for a bit, with her making it obvious what she was there for. But as some point during the conversation, my loyalty to my best friend won out and I made it perfectly clear to her that “it” wasn’t going to happen. She pushed until I almost forcefully had to ask her to leave. I had gotten mixed up with trouble once before a couple of years earlier and I wasn’t eager to do it again, especially when it involved my best friend.
I won’t say that I haven’t looked back on that day many, many times and questioned my decision, especially in light of what happened later. I joined the military a few months later and shipped out. My friend was still seeing this girl when I left, but at some point while I was gone, their relationship went south. In what I can only guess was her attempt at hurting him, she told him what had happened between us, except in HER version, “it” did happen. I found this out when I came home on leave that first year and despite trying to convince my best friend for an hour that nothing happened, he chose to believe her and ended our friendship. I can’t say that I blame him really. It wouldn’t have been the first time I had been involved with a girl who was involved with someone else, so I LOOKED guilty.
This has haunted me for years and does to this day. He was my best friend. He helped me through some extremely tough times growing up and it hurts me to this day that he still believes I violated our friendship over a girl. I haven’t talked to him since that last conversation and I don’t know if I ever will. He’s not tech-savvy, so he’s not online, and I rarely ever have a reason to go back home since all of my family has sinced moved away.
But Wade, if ever you find this, know that it’s the God’s own truth. I’m sorry any of it happened.