Detours

         “Major accident on Bruckner Expressway northbound just south of Middletown Road,” Travis heard Phil Wright, Sky-king, the am790 WNBT traffic reporter say from his chopper a thousand feet over Manhattan. Travis made a mental note to tell his driver to take Hutchinson to his home on Highbrook Avenue just off of Colonial in the Mt. Vernon section of The Bronx. A slight detour, but acceptable. Travis could have moved from this area a long time ago, but he was comfortable there and completely knew the neighborhood. He heard Sky-king finishing up his report, followed by the familiar jingle leading into his last segments of the day for him on his syndicated radio broadcast, “World Traveling.” He heard the post of the music hit, and he was on.
         “Welcome to World Traveling. I’m your host, Travis Tripp, good to have you with us this afternoon. On the remainder of today’s program I want to spend some time telling you about my recent adventure to London, England. Now, many of you may have already been there, but I’d like to address those who have not yet visited, and maybe help you have a good, general adventure that will cover some of the important highlights. On this last trip I did the things that someone like you would have done, only with the knowledge that I, an experienced traveler, would have. This is going to allow you make informed decisions without wasting vast amounts of research time.”
         Travis continued by describing a number of walking tours he had experienced the week before. One was a general tour that covered places important to the royal family including Buckingham palace. Another walking tour was called the Harry Potter tour, which included the phone booth that was used in the movies. He was especially descriptive when discussing the occult walking tour, which spent a considerable amount of time looking into various locations that Aleister Crowley frequented. Travis then described the London cast’s version of “The Phantom of the Opera.” Then he talked in depth about what to look for while walking through Hyde Park, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the people.
         After a four-minute commercial break, Travis came back and started taking calls from faithful, long-time listeners.
         “Julie from Yonkers, you’re on World Traveling, what’s your question?”
         “Thank you so much for taking my call, Travis! I am a HUGE fan and have been listening since you went on the air twenty-three years ago!
         “Thank you, Julie! Always great to hear from listeners like yourself. What can I do for you?”
         “My question is about the food. The word I heard about England is it’s awful. But recently a friend of mine visited there and came back with glowing reports about all kinds of places to eat. What has your experience been?”
         “Great question, Julie.”
         Travis went on to explain how the reputation of food in England as a whole had changed over these past several years. He then talked about enjoying quick breakfasts when on the go to start your day in the newer chains of Pret a Manger and the kinds of foods available at their counters. He gave recommendations for six out of the ten restaurants he’d visited last week and talked about the better dishes he’d sampled, along with some of the places the locals frequented.
         This is how his show unfolded two hours each weekday afternoon from 4:00 to 6:00. His fans were faithful, and many. His knowledge was first-hand and well informed. At 5:56 he finished his last segment and signed off for the day.
         “Until Monday, this is your traveler Travis wishing you many and safe travels.”
         He potted down his microphone, took off his headphones, and stretched back, relaxing. The weekend was here and he was ready for it.
         “Got a call for you on line six, Travis,” Connor, his engineer, said from the other room.
         “Thanks. Got it.” He grabbed the phone and hit a button, “This is Travis.”
         There was a pause on the other end of the line, then a low, hushed voice spoke, “I know your secret.”
         Travis sat there for a moment saying nothing. He thought he may have recognized the voice, but he wasn’t sure. “What secret?”
         The voice replied, “Since you and I both know it, I’m assuming you’d be willing to discuss it with me. Would this be correct?”
         “I don’t know who you are or what you want but I do not appreciate what you are trying to do. And, no, I don’t want to discuss anything with you.”
         The voice then said, “I was there, twenty-two years ago.”
         Travis was stunned. This man knew. “What do you want?” he asked.
         “I want nothing from you,” came the reply, “and I wish no harm to come to you, quite the opposite in fact. I only ask for ten minutes of your time, that is all. During that time I only desire to give you something and take nothing from you. Afterwards I will be gone from your life. Forever.”
         Travis thought for a moment. “OK, I’m listening.”
         “I believe you are familiar with Jimbo’s Coffee Shop on Amsterdam off of 126th.”
         “Yes, I’m familiar with it.”
         “Would you mind meeting me there for coffee thirty minutes from now?”
         Travis knew the area well. An open public arrangement would be best for a situation like this even though it seemed as if this person meant no harm. “I’ll do it. How will I know you?”
         “I will be wearing dark blue medical scrubs and a Mets baseball cap. I am here right now sitting by myself. There are two empty seats, one for you and one for Eddie, your driver, who is welcomed to join us.”
         Travis was becoming less alarmed and more intrigued. “Alright,” he replied, “We will be leaving in five minutes.”
         “Thank you. I look forward to speaking with you. Goodbye.” The line went dead.
         Eddie walked into the studio. “Eddie, we have a slight detour before heading home,” Travis said while gathering up his things. He continued to explain as they took the elevator down to the parking garage.
         “I don’t like it, Travis,” Eddie said. “Knowing your secret doesn’t give this man a right to try and extort something from you.”
         “This doesn’t seem to be the case, Eddie. I didn’t get the sense that he wants to do any harm. At any rate, you’ll also be there and we’ll be seated in a crowded coffee house with quite a few witnesses. I must say that I am curious.”
         Travis climbed into the passenger seat of the Lincoln Continental, and Eddie took his place at the wheel, started the car, and they drove out into the late afternoon.
         It was a fifteen-minute drive. They were early, but that seemed reasonable knowing that this person was already there. Eddie found metered parking just around the corner on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and pulled into an empty spot. They got out of the Lincoln and walked around the corner to Jimbo’s “Eddie, you’ll need to stay sharp on this. If you see anything at all that alarms you let’s end this thing immediately.”
         “Nothing will happen to you, Travis. Whoever this guy is, he’ll have to go through me first.” Eddie looked formidable, and was. At six feet five inches and two hundred and forty pounds of solid muscle, very few would try their luck at taking him down.
         They entered Jimbo’s and, as mentioned in their phone conversation, a man in dark blue scrubs and a Mets cap sat in the corner. He was on the phone and as they walked up to the table Travis heard the end of his conversation. “Yes, I’m sure. Ten minutes from this moment. You know where I am. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I’ll never be able to repay you.” He hung up the phone, stood, and said, “Thank you for meeting me, Mr. Tripp. I’m Clark Finney. Please take a seat. I asked the barista to bring an espresso over for you, and Eddie, I believe you take your coffee black, is that correct?”
         Eddie nodded but said nothing, eyeing Finney cautiously as they took their seats. Seconds later a uniformed Jimbo’s employee walked up with three drinks and set them on the table. The three sat in silence for a moment. Eddie reasoned that Clark looked to be in his sixties, but he had a face that belied his real age that was probably younger. Time must have taken its toll on this man and the story was told simply by looking at him. He kept his hands above the table, but Eddie would not relax, ready to pounce on him if any sudden moves were made. Clark began to speak.
         “Mr. Tripp, I have been a fan of yours since the time you cracked the air waves twenty-three years ago. I am a pediatrician and had started my practice a couple of years before your show began on WNBT. The moment I tuned in I was hooked because my wife and I loved to travel. There was no part of the world that we would be unwilling to go and our bucket list of visits was deep. Your descriptions and explanations were second to none. You were great at your job…and even more so now. Twenty-two years ago all of your listeners were aware of an unexplained hiatus of six weeks you took, and even though we were content to listen to reruns, many were curious. The talk around town was that you had taken a longer than usual trip and would be back with captivating stories from every corner of the planet. None of us were disappointed. You were better than ever. You knew things from each location you visited, details that only a local person could know. I had friends who taped episodes each day so that they could listen again, countless times.”
         He stopped for a moment and ran his finger along the rim of his coffee cup. It wasn’t that he was thinking about what to say next. It was that he didn’t want to hear the words that were to come out.
         “I mentioned my wife. She left me twenty-two years ago. We had married when I was in the midst of med school, which probably wasn’t wise, but we loved each other. She didn’t leave me because her love ended. She simply couldn’t see me drinking myself into an angry stupor every night after a hard day at the office. She put up with me for five years and finally gave me the ultimatum of her or alcohol. She left our apartment on January 4th, 1990. Later that evening I ran out of bourbon and felt it necessary to drive to the liquor store in spite of being blindingly drunk.”
         Travis knew the date well. Clark continued.
         “I was driving down W. 126th and blew the red light at Amsterdam, just outside of this place where we are sitting…and hit the car you were driving.”
He stopped again. Travis was stunned. “…what…?”
         “When our cars came to a halt I stumbled out to see if you were OK. I ran over to your car, looked into your shattered driver side window and recognized you instantly. You wouldn’t know that I would have been one of the few to have known your face, but I was such a fan I had done extensive research on you, using friends of mine inside the police force, earlier discovering that your real name is Joshua Weintraub, and that you keep your identity hidden in order to travel free of the hindrances that celebrity often brings.
         “And when I looked at your face I knew that the glass from the window hitting your eyes most likely blinded you. I found out later that it did. That is your secret, and now I told you mine.”
         “You did this to me?” Travis said through gritted teeth, “You took my sight! All these years…” He stopped.
         “I told you at the accident that I was sorry and that I hoped you could forgive me. Then I ran back to my car, which was still running, and sped away. No one saw the accident. I was lucid enough to drive to a little known section next to the bay, and then push my car into the deep water. The next morning I reported that someone had stolen it in the night.”
         “Why are you telling me this? I could have you arrested on the spot!” Travis hissed.
         “I am ahead of you on that,” Clark said, looking at his watch. “I was on the phone with my sponsor when you arrived. I have been clean and sober for twenty-one years and this man has been there every step of the way. He knows where I am right now and I had instructed him to call the police within ten minutes of our call ending, and alert them as to what I did and where I will be. Which is right here, with you, three minutes from now.”
         Clark leaned forward closer to Travis. “What I want to give you is my sincerest apology for what I did you, and the satisfaction of you witnessing me being arrested for it.” His voice caught. “I won’t ask you or expect you to forgive me. I am so sorry.” He put his face in his hands and Travis could hear muffled sobs coming from across the table.

          How was he to feel? The initial anger was subsiding, but only slightly. He remembered the night of the accident, of the emergency room. No doctor or nurse knew his celebrity identity so the media wasn’t alerted. He had no immediate family anymore so the only person he knew to call was Eddie who he had hired earlier in the week and was set to begin employment as his driver and personal assistant the following Monday.
         The first week of his recovery was filled with complete darkness, both literal and figurative. How would he ever continue this career that had the best of everything? He saw the world and spoke about it. He had fans that adored him.
         At the end of a week in the hospital Eddie had driven him home. He had alerted the station that he was sick with a bad flu, and that he also needed a leave of absence to take care of a private emergency. The station understood and was always prepared for these kinds of absences. Part of Travis’ work was being gone for extended periods of time in order to get his travel in that would ultimately be presented on his program. They were used to airing reruns and his listeners didn’t really mind because of how entertaining each program was. They entered his house and Eddie helped him to a seat at his dining room table, then sat down across from him.
         Travis finally spoke. “Eddie, I had a week of being alone in the darkness at the hospital. I’d like to do something that may work beautifully, or fail miserably. I’m going to try and continue. If you will stay with me, I think I can do it.”
         “Travis, I’m here for you, you know that. But this seems like a tall order. Whatever the case, I’ll help,” Eddie replied.
         Over the next five weeks Eddie secured audio books on five locations: Sydney, Hong Kong, Seoul, Fiji, and Cambodia. Every waking hour Travis listened. Each recording he heard no less than ten times. He imagined those images in his head, what the sounds were like, the smells, the people. He listened to recordings of different languages. He pondered varying and clever ways do describe all he was hearing, and really discovering. The challenge was there. He’d only been to Sydney, not the other four locations. He chose those places on purpose, knowing that if he couldn’t pull this off at the beginning, it would be over for him.
         When he returned to the station he had a new “look” which included sunglasses and a tam he wore backwards. From that point on this would be the only way people would ever see him. Eddie helped him get around in such ways that no one knew he couldn’t see a thing. When he first cracked his microphone and started his program on Sydney, Australia, reviewers were astounded as to the differences between Travis six weeks ago and Travis now. They knew he was good, but he had taken things to a level much higher. Information poured out of him, seemingly coming from an endless well. After two years of this, “World Traveling” was syndicated, eventually being aired on over two hundred stations up and down the east coast. No one knew that he had never left New York City after that cold, January day in 1990.

          Clark had quieted down by now. He looked at his watch and saw that the police would be arriving any moment. “If I could take your place those many years ago,” he said, “I would. Living with the guilt of what I did to you has haunted me, and will haunt me until the day I leave this earth.”
         Another minute passed in silence, Travis unable to speak. Then Clark said, “I continued to listen to you faithfully each day. I didn’t care that you were probably not going to any of those places. I just wanted to support you somehow. I was astounded as to how electrifying your program became and it just showed me again how talented you are. I hope you continue your work. No one will ever hear this story from me. I owe you that at least.”
         Travis heard movement at the door and could tell from the change in the environment that police at arrived. He heard their footsteps stop at their table.
         “Clark Finney?” he heard one of the officers say.
         “That’s me.” Clark said.
         “Clark Finney, you are under arrest for leaving the scene of an accident, and attempted manslaughter. You have the right to remain silent…”
         Clark stood as the officer continued his reading of rights and allowed the handcuffs to be placed on him. Travis and Eddie sat quietly. They didn’t move while Clark was led out of Jimbo’s and placed into the squad car.

          Clark Finney had just finished the first year of his fifteen year sentence and was sitting in his cell at the Lincoln Correctional Facility, a minimum-security prison on West 110th that looked out onto Central Park. His cell door was open. They only closed them at nights. The judge had been lenient in sentencing, fifteen years with the possibility of parole in five. Clark had turned himself in and had been a very productive member of society, and why keep a good doctor out of practice that long? He sat reading at his desk when a guard stepped into the frame of his doorway.
         “You’ve got a visitor, Finney,” he said and waited.
         Visitor? Clark had no friends now, except for the ones he’d made in prison. He set his book down and followed the guard out the door and down the hall to the visitor’s room. The door opened and what he saw took him by surprise. Seated at one of the tables at the far wall were Travis Tripp and Eddie. He stopped. What did they want? He hadn’t expected to see them the rest of his life. The guilt that he carried underneath the surface at all times grew larger in an instant.
         “Please come over and sit down,” Travis said toward Clark’s direction.
         Clark slowly walked over and took a seat across from his unexpected company. He didn’t say a word. Travis seemed to be looking down. To Clark it seemed like just yesterday they were sitting across from each other at Jimbo’s Coffee Shop, the memory so fresh in his head. Travis looked up.
         “Clark, I can’t let you carry this burden anymore,” he said. “Last week I laid mine down and I’ve been, well, released. Your burden is your guilt. My burden was the hate I felt toward you. I carried it for well over a year and let it work its talons into the heart of my soul. One day, during a moment of sheer reason I began to think objectively about all that had happened. Here is what I discovered.”
         He leaned closer. “You made a mistake. Period. Sure, a pretty bad one, but a mistake nonetheless. You chose wrong and it hurt me. Now there’s nothing you can do about it. After the mistake, I had to make a decision. I chose the life that I had, though I had to change a few things. Do you know that I love what I do? When I listen to the recorded information and read the books I have in Braille, images flood my mind like they never could have before. My imagination turned into a canvas, hundreds of square miles in size, and the paint that I use could never be sold in any store. It couldn’t even be found. I even have difficulty sometimes using words because English is a poor means to communicate what my mind sees. Your mistake took my sight…and gave me vision.”
         He paused for a moment allowing his words to sink in.
         “You need to unload your burden, it is going to bury you and I don’t want to see that happen. You need to know that I forgive you. I have to forgive you. Now I’m asking you to forgive yourself.”
         Clark was stunned, mind spinning. He had no words for what was unfolding. He had been content to carry his burden and pay for his crime in prison, now this. Travis reached his hand across the table and found one of Clark’s hands and grabbed it.
         “But I need to make a change. Next week I am giving the first interview that I’ve given in twenty-three years. In the interview I’m going to tell my full story. I’ll not mention your name, only the circumstances surrounding my blindness and subsequent work on the radio. I will ask forgiveness from my fans and from the radio stations, and the chance to continue my program as one who does what I do without the benefit of travel, but I have no guarantees. That’s OK. I could have been up front at the beginning but like you, fear held me back.”
         He paused a moment, and even though Travis was blind he seemed to be looking right at Clark.
         “Do you have any friends, Clark?”
         “No.”
         “Except for Eddie and his wife, I don’t either. They’ve been really good to me over the years, even letting me spend holidays with their families. But I think I’d like one more friend. Would you be my friend?”
         “I…don’t…” Clark stammered.
         “You don’t have to tell me now. I’ll come back next week for another visit if that’s all right. I’ll see you soon. Goodbye, Clark.”
         Eddie and Travis rose and started to make their way toward the exit.
         “Wait,” Clark said. He stood and walked over to Travis and Eddie. “Yes, I could use a friend. Thank you.”

The Seesaw

         I recently drove past a playground at an elementary school and was shocked. Everything was too safe. Giant pieces of ladders and covered platforms that were too low, sawdust on the ground in case a child took that three-foot fall, a slide that was eight feet long and covered. Covered! It looked like it would have been impossible for a kid to break an arm or get a concussion anywhere in that yard, short of another kid causing the harm. I found this unsettling in many ways. I recollected the playground apparatus of my day, back in the early 1970’s…

         The monkey bars. There were two kinds at Robert Frost Elementary. The first was a series of bars hooked together, rising to a height of about six feet. (It felt like twenty feet.) You could crawl through one of the bottom squares and then climb up through the middle. Another option was to climb up one of the sides. We would sometimes climb halfway up a side, then circumnavigate the entire rig, getting higher and higher until we met at the top, then we’d see just how many of us could fit up there. At least one of us lost balance and had to make a leap for it, which stung the bottom of our feet if we managed to land upright. Challenge: Standing on the top, no hands. The second kind was a square grid of rectangles that rose to a height of eight feet. I learned how to walk like a spider on this, even mastering the upside-down spider crawl. Impressive. Often we pretended to be monkeys. When in Rome.

         The merry-go-round. The type on our playground consisted of rails and boards coming together in a circular hexagon that could spin as fast as we could make it go. Sometimes one of us would hunker down in the middle and several of us would spin this thing as fast as possible. After stopping we’d laugh hard at the person as they stumbled off and tried to walk. If I tried that today I believe I would be quickly reviewing what I had for lunch. Another way was for all of us to be on the boards, holding onto the rails, and spinning together using one of our free legs on the ground. There were many other varieties as you can imagine. I learned about centrifugal force, sometimes the hard way when my grip came loose and I was launched outward. Then I learned about Band-Aids.

         The slide. We had two, but the tallest was the most fun. You’d climb a ladder ten feet and at the top there was a square bar you had to go through first before sliding. You could use that horizontal part of the bar to fling your body twice as fast as what gravity itself could do, with your butt usually hitting the slide after launch about a third of the way down. Aim was important, lest you shoot to the right or left causing you to become playground debris. Most of us would do the Apple Turnover which was flipping over that bar one time, landing on our butt, then sliding…all of this at ten feet over concrete. So fun. Observers on the ground often gave style points. It always felt safe sliding down that thing because of the two three-inch high “walls” that kept you from falling off the sides.

         The swing set. I remember getting so high in the air that the chains would lose tension and yank as I came plummeting back toward earth, only to be rescued as the swing gained control, the G forces at the time surely taking inches off of the height I would eventually become. Rumor was that a kid at Bradley Elementary could do a full circle OVER the horizontal bar. Never confirmed. A fun thing to do was to get going as high as possible, then jump off. Luke Davis broke his arm doing that one time. Sometimes we’d stand while swinging. That was challenging.

         The rails. Not sure what this was really called. It was a ladder that started attached to the cement and going straight up for six feet, the angled ninety degrees so it went parallel to the ground for eight feet, then straight back into the ground on the other side. We could climb up the outside then walk or crawl across the top and climb back down. We could climb up the inside and grab the rails to try and make it to the opposite side without dropping. The whole piece was a real test of balance and strength. I’ve seen a similar piece in pictures of military boot camps.

         The seesaw, sometimes called the teeter-totter. This was my favorite. It was simply a board that pivoted on a bar, with one person at one end, another at the other. It was my favorite, not because it was the most fun, but because I learned things on this one more than I did on the others. Science and sociology really. I learned the concept and beauty of the fulcrum. I was one of the smaller kids and I knew that with whomever I was playing, that person usually had to scoot a bit closer to the center so that we could be balanced. I applied this with mental experiments and understood that I could probably, using a very strong bar and a brick, lift extremely heavy objects depending on where I placed the pivot point, the brick, of my fulcrum. I learned the relationship between a fulcrum and the gears on a bicycle. That you could attach a larger gear to a smaller one and that, with the chain going one speed, the gears would be going different speeds. When my dad explained what a transmission to a car was, it was easy to comprehend because I’d already seen these concepts on the playground.

         I also learned trust. One time I was seesawing with Jimmy Isaacs and when he was at the bottom and I was at the top, he grinned and jumped off. I came crashing down quite fast without his weight there on the other end. After I got my breath back I reassessed the kinds of people that I could trust at the other end of the board. There were certain personalities that I knew would rather enjoy seeing the panic on my face rather than the give and take of the seesaw.

         Even getting on and off was an exercise in trust. In order to climb on you had to, together, move the board parallel to the ground, climb on each end together, find the balance together, and then commence with fun…together. Getting off of it carried a similar set of protocols.

         And there were always people on the playground who were overweight. That’s just how it was and probably how it will always be. I learned that even though they had to move REALLY close to the center of the fulcrum while playing with me, it was OK. No words were said in our acceptance of each other and the obvious adjustments that needed to be made in order for us to play. We just did what we needed to do in order to play together. These were very easy compromises. I learned how to compromise.

         Ultimately when the recess bell rang and we walked as fast as possible out onto the playground, there was an ever-present subtle sense of danger. We knew we would be having fifteen minutes of bliss, but we also innately understood the things we had to do in order to avoid injury to our friends or ourselves. Perhaps that is what’s missing today. We climbed, we swung, we bobbed up and down, we spun, we laughed, we argued, we made up, we got hurt, we healed, we learned. A teacher was always there with us, watchful eye, whistle spinning around a finger. Occasionally I’d hear, “Perry, don’t dangle off the side of the slide! That’s not what it’s made for!” I’d climb back over and slide to the concrete.

            We learned that the world was really fun and kind of dangerous. From time to time one of us would snap a bone or bump a head leaving a knot and bruise, but that kind of thing just happened and we learned what we needed to do to avoid it best as possible. Whenever calamity did occur it was always fun to see the kid’s cast a couple of days later. Then I would get to write my name on it with my Marks-A-Lot. It was a win-win!

The Gunfight: Trouble in the Middle East…-ern part of the U.S.

         “Drop that pistol and put yer hands in the air!”
         I heard the sheriff yell those words through the ringing in my ears and I looked down at the Colt 1851 Navy revolver smoking in my hands. Fifty yards away I saw the dead body of Jack McCulloch, a man who was, up until about five minutes ago, my best friend, and who was a distant relative of mine. The lead from my pistol had penetrated his chest moments ago and he died within seconds.
         It was June 2nd, 1866, and the town of Springfield, Missouri didn’t take kindly to open gunfights in the streets, especially after the well-documented Wild Bill Hickok/Davis Tutt shootout that had happened the year before. I knew I was in trouble. I dropped my revolver and was quickly hustled over to the jailhouse. I sat down on the bench as the metal cage door to my cell slammed shut and the keys jingled locking me in.
         “You just sit here and wait for a while, Jimmy,” said the sheriff somberly, “The judge will be comin’ to town in about a week. You’ll need to get yerself an attorney, but I’m thinkin’ yer a gonner for sure with all them witnesses that saw what happened.” He turned and walked away, mumbling as he went, “So sad, so sad.”
         I said nothing and looked at the cold, stone floor of my new home. How could this have happened? I thought back, trying to put all the details of today together. We were just sitting there in Ernie’s Saloon, one thing led to another…
         About a hundred and fifteen years ago our great, great granddaddies didn’t really know each other too well, in spite of the fact that they were distant relatives, and had moved into this Missouri region roughly a year apart. My great, great grand-daddy, Clarence Boyd, had staked out a two hundred acre claim just south of the city of Springfield, but didn’t do a very good job at marking it down and his filing at the clerk’s office was probably somewhat vague. After he staked the claim he simply moved on to find another and settled on that one just west of the city, hoping to come back at some point and farm the land on his first claim in later years.
         A year after Clarence staked his claim, Jack’s great, great granddaddy, Charles McCulloch, made his way into the territory and staked a claim right next to, and actually crossed about fifteen square acres into Clarence’s claim. He filed his paperwork and the mistake was missed. Charles actually stayed there, built his home, and started to farm his…and Clarence’s property. When Clarence decided to come back and start farming his first claim you can well imagine his surprise to find a thriving farm growing on the northeast corner of what he considered to be his land. He found Charles working beside the McCulloch homestead and immediately confronted him. Things did not go well at that moment, voices raised, threats flung back and forth. Eventually Clarence stomped off promising over his shoulder that he would be back with the full authority of the law on his side.
         Three weeks later the judge decided to split those fifteen acres between them, but that the corn crop, which was already growing, would go to McCulloch. This made my great, great granddaddy’s blood boil, but there was nothing he could do about it. Over the years the two families feuded off and on, never really patching things up, still arguing over that fifteen-acre patch of dirt. After Charles gathered that first crop of corn, nothing grew on the land except for weeds. Sometimes one of the families would try to turn the dirt over and plant a few rows of corn or beans on their side, and then the other family would sabotage it in the middle of the night. It went like that, year after year, the story of the “feud” passing on to each generation…until about twenty years ago.
         My daddy and Jack’s daddy decided that it was time to patch things up. It was at the Clement wedding, Bernie Webb ushering his daughter Maribeth Webb down the aisle, her wearing a slightly discolored white dress and a baby pushing hard in her belly, and Ethan Clement waiting expectantly with the parson at the front of the little church. The expression on Bernie’s face could have knocked the whitewash off of a fence and we all knew it was a very real possibility that a shotgun may have been a persuasive element helping to join these two in matrimony. It was at the reception that both our daddies accidentally met at the food line and, not wanting to stir up the usual ruckus that accompanied a McCulloch/Boyd encounter, one (not sure which one) said to the other something like, “Can you imagine the look on Bernie’s face when he found out Maribeth had a bun in the oven?”
         It must have been the way this was stated, or in the exact wording that got both of them giggling uncontrollably. They had to sort of sneak out of eyesight and earshot of the crowd and they were able to finally let loose some uproarious laughter. After this subsided they got to talking, small talk really that led to big talk I suppose, and they realized that they actually liked each other. They were seen walking back to the reception together by both families and you can well imagine the gasps when it came time to depart: the two of them actually shook hands. Right there in public!
         Over time they started getting together over beer and shots at Ernie’s Saloon, even as their respective families groused about it. Those guys didn’t care. They just realized that maybe this feud wasn’t about them at all and maybe it was time they figuratively and literally buried the hatchet. So on May 3rd, 1846 they both managed to get all their families together in one meeting place, the local schoolhouse. Both men took a turn at the front and said that they wanted to make things right and to end the silly feud once and for all. For the next two hours the families mingled together and the sounds of grumbling and complaining changed to calmness and laughter.
         Jack and I were there and became best friends on that day. And now here I sit in a jail cell waiting to be tried because I murdered him in a gunfight.
         We were sitting there at Ernie’s just like our daddies did and I said something that, though I didn’t mean to, offended Jack: “We’ve got some good rain these days. Maybe that fifteen acres will farm itself.”
         I meant it to be funny, but Jack wasn’t laughing. He just stared hard for a moment at his half-finished beer. Without looking up, he quietly stated, “Well, if your great, great granddaddy would have known how to properly file paperwork, we wouldn’t have had those issues.”
         Now you’ve got to realize that this is something we’d never really discussed in all our years as friends, but clearly it was under the surface of who we both were whether or not we chose to admit it.
         “Listen here,” I retorted, “I don’t know that any paperwork at that time was in order for very many people at all. Your great, great granddaddy should have taken the word of someone like my great, great granddaddy instead of making him have to use a judge, which, by the way, seemed to have been paid off based upon that shoddy decision he made.” Clearly something that I really never thought about, but now something that was buried deep within me was coming up.
         “I don’t think you have any right to make an accusation like that,” Jack shot back, “Your great, great granddaddy didn’t exactly approach the situation in an overly gracious manner”
         “How would you like it if someone had just come and taken over your land without you having any say at all?”
         “How would you like someone walking up to the work you’d already done, saying that you had no right?”
         “Your great, great granddaddy gave him no choice!”
         “But the judge decided, and that’s final!”
         We realized that we had both stood and were face to face, yelling at each other. Another problem was that we both had had a little bit too much of the beer and shots fare that was popular at Ernie’s.
         “I’ve been wrong about you,” I growled at Jack, “and I never want to see your ugly face again!”
         “You think it’s fun for me hanging around pond scum like yerself?” he fired back.
         We stared at each other.
         “I don’t like yer tone!” I yelled at him.
         “Let’s take this outside and settle it once and for all!” he yelled as he turned and stomped out, slamming both hands against the swinging doors of the saloon.
         I followed and we both went to our horses, grabbed our gun belts, strapped them around our waists, and headed onto Main Street. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the rapid movement of people hustling out if sight, into alley ways, ducking through the doors of local establishments, moms getting their children as far away as possible from what was looking to become a dangerous situation.
         We walked to middle of the street, then to places about fifty yards apart and turned. The clamored and rushed nature of the situation settled into stillness and we glared hard at each other. It was quiet. I could feel the soft wind and caught the sound of a bird here and there. I looked at my friend, my blood relative, and realized immediately that we’d made a huge mistake, but for some reason I wasn’t about to give in.
         “You gonna change yer attitude about this?” I yelled to Jack across the emptiness that was between us.
         “I can’t change the truth!” he yelled back.
         There was something in his voice. He didn’t sound convinced. He was my best friend, my blood, and I’d known him all my life. I knew when he was happy and sad even if he didn’t know it. I knew when he was confused, when he was caring, I knew when he was being silly. And I knew when he was being confident and that was not the case right here, right now. But I said nothing. I was confused. Why were we here? Why were we arguing over events that we had no part of and no control over? As I pondered this, movement caught my eye and I was shocked to realize that Jack was drawing his gun! I reached for mine and had it barely out of the holster when I heard his gun fire, then felt the whiz of a bullet pass me narrowly on my left, barely missing me but tearing my shirt. Momentum of the moment kept my gun going and a split second after his shot, my gun fired and I saw my friend, my best friend, my kin, wince, grab his chest, and fall to the ground.
         The next morning I was given some breakfast. I assumed I looked tired because I hadn’t slept much the night before. The sheriff informed me that the judge would be coming to town sooner than expected and reminded me again that I needed to hire an attorney. He turned and left me to my thoughts. I sat there feeling about as sorry as I’d ever been.
         I was interrupted by the sound of metal clanking on metal, and looked up to see a hook looped around one of the bars of the cell window.
         “HYAAH!!!” I heard a familiar voice outside yell, and then the sound of several horses moving forward floated through the window. The hook tensed, and the entire set of bars blew out leaving a hole where the window was. A second later Hoyt, my cousin, poked his head into my cell. “C’mon, Jimmy! Let’s get you outta here!” he yelled.
         I suppose I was operating just out of reflex, using that natural self-preservation instinct we all seem to have, and I leapt to my feet and jumped, catching the edge of the newly made opening with my hands and pulled myself through. Several of my other cousins were there and had already untied the rope attached to the hook from their horses, and were waiting to make a quick get-away. Hoyt jumped up onto his and motioned toward a riderless horse waiting for me. I hopped on and we shot through the dirt street until we were around a corner and out of sight, then we kept on going. I suddenly realized that this wasn’t what I wanted to do.
         “Where are we headed?” I yelled as we sped along.
         “We have a hideout five miles from here that nobody knows about. Yer not safe in jail. The McCulloch clan has banded together and they are fixin’ to attack the jail and string you up themselves.” Hoyt yelled back. “We’re also gatherin’ all the family and all the guns we can get. We think they are going to attack us as well. But we are plannin’ an attack before they are able to touch us.”
         I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Two slightly inebriated guys let a quarrel, which should have been a civil discussion, get out of hand, and now the feud has started back up, this time seemingly about as bad as it has ever been.
         “We can’t do this, Hoyt.” I said as I slowed my horse to a stop.
         Hoyt halted with me, the other cousins stopping a bit further along. “Jimmy, you know that ‘truce’ we had was not real. There was some nasty festerin’ goin’ on in all of us, you seen it yerself.”
         “Jack and I should have been talking about it long before what happened in the bar, then on the street,” I replied, “we just let things get out of hand.”
         “Well, I’m not about to let a McCulloch take you out without a fight.”
         “Maybe they should. I can’t believe Jack is gone and I killed him! It was both of our faults, but he is the one who paid. Let me go back. If they get me before the judge does, who cares? I’m about as sad as a man can be right now.”
         I was still for a while, head down. I could feel Hoyt glaring at me. I knew he wouldn’t understand.
         “Whatever you do, we’re still gonna protect ourselves and do what we need to do,” he said.
         I looked up at him. “I’m going back,” I said, “and I beg you to make peace with the McCulloch family.”
         I turned my horse around and slowly led it back towards town, knowing my fate did not look good, and praying that both families wouldn’t have to pay for my stupidity.           
Ten minutes later I rounded the corner of Main Street, which would take me back to the jail, and I saw about thirty members of the McCulloch clan waiting there for me. Quite a few bullets entered my chest, knocking me off my horse and landing me face down on the street not far from where Jack had taken his final breath yesterday. Right before I died I thought to myself, “I sure hope this settles that feud once and for all.”

Ghost Miner

         Jedediah Isaacson stumbled a bit while walking along side the Northern California stream and paused for a moment to regain his footing. He looked ahead and saw a flat opening that seemed to be a place where others had set up camp in the past.
         “Well, Benjamin Franklin,” he said to his donkey, “this looks ‘bout as good o’ place as any.”
         It was still early, around 2:00 in the afternoon, but Jedediah had spent the morning panning for gold and had found enough dust to buy some supplies when they went into town the next morning. Plus, at sixty-seven years of age, he was tired, and he figured Benjamin Franklin could use the rest as well. When they reached the clearing they stopped and Jedediah unloaded the pack that rested on his donkey.
         “Why don’t ya go wander a while in the stream there and I’ll git our stuff laid out.”
         Benjamin Franklin meandered over to the water and took a drink before wading out further. Jedediah unpacked their camping gear and spent a little time forming a fire pit for later. It was warm, so no need for a tent tonight. When he was finished he sat down by the stream and leaned against a rock. The stream ran alongside a cliff which was directly across from where Jedediah was and there on the opposite side was a large bush, as big as a tree, at the edge of the water that made its way up about twenty or so feet. Jedediah’s hand idly rubbed the ground until his fingers absentmindedly found a medium sized pebble. He picked it up and tossed it across the stream and into the bush. He saw it go through and heard it hit the other side of the mountain. Wait. That didn’t sound normal. He stood up, found another rock and threw it harder. Same thing, a sort of echo.
         “Well, I’ll be. That there ain’t no normal cliffside,” he mused, “There’s gosta be some sorta cave er sumpthin’ over yonder.”
         He fished through Benjamin Franklin’s pack that was lying on the ground and found his pick, shovel, and his old oil lantern. He waded across the stream to where the bush was and made his way around to see what he could find. There, hidden from sight, was the mouth of a small cave just wide and tall enough to enter without stooping over.
         “Benjamin Franklin! C’mon over ch’ere fer a minute!”
         His donkey ambled over and stood beside him.
         “Now you wait and I’m gonna see what’s inside. We maght could find us a treasure or two, ‘cause ain’t nobody could find this place ‘cept by accident.”
         Jedediah lit his lantern, adjusted the wick and strolled in, hoping to mine some vast vein of gold…but could see that his trek had an obstacle almost immediately. About thirty feet in was a large pile of rocks blocking further exploration. He looked up and around and realized that this sort of thing was probably just a cave-in from one of those tremors that happened from time to time in these parts.
         “West Virginia was so much easier,” he mused. “At least the ground don’t move on ye. Well, Benjamin Franklin,” he yelled back, “We still gots us some day left. May’s well move some rocks and see if I can continue.” Benjamin Franklin stayed there at the cave’s opening, eyes half closed, nonplussed by the whole affair.
         Jedediah set his lantern on a natural shelf he found on the cave’s wall about three feet high and began the task of moving rocks to the side of the cave. After fifteen minutes he reached down to remove what seemed to be the hundredth rock and jumped back with a start. There on the ground was a shoe connected to the bottom part of a leg! At least it looked like a leg. He could see a bare bone just at the top of the shoe, then a black pant leg covering the rest. He stood there for a solid minute staring at this thing that did not belong here. The shoe was not new. In fact, it was the same kind he used to wear back in the 1850’s to church. There was probably a body connected to this thing and it looked like it had been buried a long time, he reasoned. Slowly he edged his way back over and removed another rock revealing another shoe and part of another buried leg. Jedediah was never one to be afraid of a dead body, but the shock of seeing this where it was at this time was a bit unnerving. Fortunately this shock was wearing off rapidly.
         “Poor feller,” he thought, “Prob’ly never knew what hit ‘im.”
         He slowly removed rocks, one by one, revealing more of the man until he was again surprised. The man was lying on his stomach and right around his back Jedediah pulled away a stone that uncovered the small skeleton of a hand connected to a skinless arm. The more he uncovered he saw the once light blue dress that was worn by a woman. So, there were two. The man lying on his stomach and the woman had fallen over onto his back, and was face down as well.
         For the better part of an hour, as he moved the remainder of the rocks to the side, Jedediah carefully uncovered the story that began to form in his mind. When the ceiling of the cave gave way, the woman had fallen over on top of this man who was positioned lower than her. In the man’s hand Jedediah found a little box containing a small, diamond ring, still there. The cave collapsed on a proposal. Jedediah stood there for a few moments taking this in. Happiness, excitement, hopes for the future, all happening at one time for these two…then it was done. His suddenly mind went back, back to a long time ago.
         He was born and had lived in Mann, West Virginia until he was twenty. He had heard many things about the gold rush in 1849 and saved all his money from his job at the feed store as well as from the other odd jobs he’d taken around the various farms so that he could afford to move. He didn’t get to the outskirts of Shasta, California until July of 1851, but he figured that there was still plenty of gold to go around. He remembered the very moment he rounded the corner of the hardware store in town, inadvertently bumping into and meeting Mabel Clemons, the local school teacher, and falling head over heals in love with her there right on the spot. For whatever reason Mabel loved him back and they were married in May of 1852.
         There was nothing he wouldn’t do for her. He had been especially lucky one day in 1857, finding an unusually large chunk of gold, enough to be able to build her a nice little house they could live in. The moment of him showing her the gold nugget flooded his mind, of her crying out in delight and tears streaming down her cheeks as she hugged him. It was only much later he understood that Mabel expressed this delight because she knew that he had received pleasure in showing her that he could care for her. He remembered the birth of their daughter in 1859 and then her death two days later. He and Mabel held onto each other as they stood over the tiny stone placed over little Rebecca’s grave underneath the big tree just to the south of their house. What had shattered them had brought them closer.
         They spent countless evenings together as she read books to him into the night until they were tired, books by Robert Louis Stevenson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, so many. He remembered the many moments of spontaneous and repetitive humor between them that couldn’t be explained to anyone else. And that one day in 1861 when he came home from a long day of prospecting and she greeted him, standing in the doorway of their home holding a baby donkey.
         “I bought him for you to help you carry your things,” she said with her sweet, shy smile, “I named him Benjamin Franklin after our stove.”
         They laughed and laughed until they all fell down, Benjamin Franklin hee-hawing as they rolled around slapping the ground in hysterics.  
          They loved each other for twenty-two years, and then Mabel had a cough that wouldn’t go away. He buried her beneath that large tree next to Rebecca.
         Jedediah looked at this couple resting at his feet, the young man in a simple suit, common in the mid 1800’s, and the young woman in her light blue modest dress. He was only mining for gold, now this. He felt the nudge on his hand as Benjamin Franklin sidled up next to him.
         “Benjamin Franklin,” he said, “we need to give these kids a proper burial. It ain’t right that we disturbed ‘em, but we’ll do right by ‘em fer sure.”
         Jedediah moved the girl so that she was lying on her back, and the man in the same position right beside her to the right. He adjusted them so it was as if they died holding hands. He took the ring out of the little box and gently placed it on the frail bone of the left hand ring finger of the girl. He made his way back to his campsite, found his newest blanket, brought it into the cave and carefully placed it over top this young couple. After inspecting his work to see that everything was to his satisfaction, he carefully covered them with the boulders, making sure the pile was even higher than he found it by bringing in more rocks from outside the cave. Then he walked back to his campsite one more time, found a piece of old cardboard, some ink and a brush and wrote these words: “We don’t know your names, but Jedediah Isaacson is mighty thankful for stirring up the memories of his Mabel. Rest in peace.”
         Jedediah stood back and looked at his handiwork. Slowly his chin began to quiver, his shoulders moved up and down a bit, and a tear fell on his cheek. Benjamin Franklin quietly leaned against him and they waited together…for something. They stayed until the ghosts seemed to rest.
         “I didn’t deserve you, Mabel,” he whispered, “but I sure loved you…dang, do I miss you. Thanks for lettin’ me find you again in this cave.”
            He scratched Benjamin Franklin behind the ears, and then they turned and walked out into the early evening.

Funeral Translations

(I’ve always believed that it should be required by society for each of us to attend at least two funerals a year. The reason being, each time I attend one I reassess my life and ask myself if, when I finally bite the big cookie, will the people talking about me have to lie in order to make my life sound meaningful. I decided to write a story about that. At some point this story took and turn and I’m still wondering why.)

         Cloyd “Catfish” Miller’s heart had finally had enough and just decided to stop five days ago. Of course this killed Cloyd, but at least the heart finally had some rest. A group of thirty-seven people sat quietly in the small chapel of Beckman’s Funeral Parlor and waited for the service to begin. Along the front row sat Catfish’s family: Three adult children from his first marriage, two from his second, one from his third. His third wife, Hope, Jr. was also there, and another child named Storm from an affair that he’d had twenty years earlier. The hired pastor finally stood, made his way to the lectern, greeted everyone, and opened with a stiff, written prayer. Then he invited Pat, Catfish’s eldest of all the offspring, to come forward and read the eulogy. Pat somberly walked forward, settled behind the lectern, pulled out a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket, and started to read.
         “Cloyd ‘Catfish’ Miller was born May 2nd, 1952 and passed away November 5th, 2012…” Pat felt his chin start to quiver and he cleared his throat trying to gather himself back together. Not that he was sad about his dad, necessarily, but he never read aloud the words of his dad’s passing in front of people. This is a one-time event for anyone and it caught him by surprise.
         People sat in their seats passively staring at Pat and their minds wandered about what they were going to hear. How can this eulogy say anything at all positive about the life of Catfish? Everybody in the room knew the guy and knew that whatever was written on that paper there in front of Pat was going to have to be the work of a good White House press secretary in the midst of a scandal. Some real work needed to happen in order to spin Catfish’s life onto the positive side of the ledger. As Pat continued to read, people subconsciously translated what they heard.

Pat: “Catfish was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, and enjoyed many days as a boy hunting and fishing with his friends.”

Translation: “Yes, he was born in Portsmouth. Sure, he enjoyed hunting, but he enjoyed hunting his FRIENDS with a BB gun, stinging their backsides and laughing at them.”

Pat: “He attended Portsmouth public schools and in High School he met Loraine, the love of his life, and they became high school sweethearts.”

Translation: “He actually rarely attended high school. Loraine was dating his friend and he managed to con her into leaving that relationship. His friend became his former friend. Still is.”

Pat: “He played cornerback for the high school football team and enjoyed several successful years.”

Translation: “That’s what Catfish told Pat. He never once attended a football game, and probably didn’t even know they were called the Trojans.”

Pat: “When Catfish graduated in 1971 he started working at Taylor’s True Value Hardware where he stocked shelves and learned the retail business.”

Translation: “Graduate? More like thrown out because he set someone’s locker on fire for the sixth time. Taylor’s was the only place that would hire him, and only as a favor to his mom. Plus, Catfish only went to work when he figured out that the welfare system wasn’t going to cover him. He probably thought the word ‘retail’ meant reattaching a tail to an animal.”

Pat: “In 1972 he began work at Beenie’s Tackle Shop and there was given the nickname that would be his the rest of his life because of his great knowledge of catching catfish.

Translation: “He was fired from Taylor’s for showing up to work drunk for the fifth time in a month. His friend’s dad owned Beenie’s and hired him as a favor…another favor. And, he was named catfish because he mistakenly told a customer that the killer whale and the catfish were distant relatives.”

Pat: “He and Loraine married had three children: Pat, that’s me, Greg, and our little sister Raylene.

Translation: “He knocked up Loraine and they got married with a proverbial shotgun pressed against his back.”

Pat: “In 1980 he married Ellen and together they had two children, Pat and Patty.”

Translation: “He had an affair with Ellen while still married to Loraine. Ellen got pregnant, and Loraine threw him out. And what is the deal with the name Pat, anyway? Oh, and not to mention the waitress at Gabby’s with a boot-leather face and a voice that sounded like gravel being dumped out of a wheelbarrow. He was hitting on her even while Ellen was carrying his baby, and while he was still married to Loraine.”

Pat: “And in 1983 Catfish married Hope, Jr. and they were blessed with their child, Patricia.”

Translation: “Same story, a couple of different players. And, so now we have four Pats in play.”

Pat: “Catfish was a life-long fan of his Cincinnati Bengals, enjoying many Sundays watching them at Gabby’s Sports Bar with his friends.”

Translation: “He was loud, obnoxious, and never remembered the end of any game because he was drunk out of his gourd. Gabby couldn’t stand seeing him and eventually banned him from ever coming back.”

Pat: “He was passionate about his fishing, spending many hours in his boat out on the river, bringing home tales about the one that got away.”

Translation: “Passionate is not the proper word in this case. He spent many hours with his line in the water, not even a hook on the other end, drinking a twelve-pack of Pabst, and smoking two packs of Marlboro reds. Things would fly out of his body that could beckon the scrambling of a haz-mat team. You never wanted to respond when he inevitably would say, ‘pull my finger’ because it was just too frightening.”

Pat: “Catfish loved his friends and would do anything for them.”

Translation: “Like borrowing their money never to pay it back, passing out in their living rooms after all-night benders, taking their wives and girlfriends, etc. ”

Pat: “He spent countless hours with Kevin, Mike, and Trevor, and they became known as the Four Amigos throughout town.”

Translation: “Pretty sure they didn’t know what the word ‘amigo’ meant. Kevin, Mike, and Trevor aren’t even here today.”

Pat: “Catfish was an avid mechanic and spent many an afternoon underneath his beloved 1968 Camaro.”

Translation: “He was hung-over and napping under his Camaro.”

Pat: “He was always willing to help others out when they had car troubles.”

Translation: “He was always willing to borrow your car when his Camaro wasn’t running, which was more often than not.”

Pat: “Five days ago we learned that Catfish’s heart was just too big to continue and he was taken from us.”

Translation: “There might be a slight misunderstanding as to the context of the word ‘heart.’”

Pat: “We will miss him terribly, but know that he is looking down on us right now.”

Translation: “Who, exactly, will miss him? And, oh, I believe he’s looking UP at us right now.”

         Pat stuffed the paper into his hip pocket and walked back to his seat. The rest of the service continued: the reading of some scripture, a canned sermon, Amazing Grace sung by a hired singer, an amateur slide show. No one had seen the elderly gentleman slip into the back of the chapel right after the start of the service, sliding into the very last seat next to the left aisle. He was in his early eighties, wore an old tweed jacket with elbow patches, and a tie. His slacks were high waisted as would have been common when he was much younger. His eyes betrayed the wisdom gained from years of what life had offered. It is probable that no one would have recognized him, though many in the room would have known him. He had spent the forty-five years of his working life at Garfield Jr. High School in Portsmouth teaching English and Literature. Cloyd “Catfish” Miller’s childhood home had been three houses down from his and he had witnessed the boy from birth until the moment he moved out eighteen years later. He had seen Cloyd’s young, broken face when his father left the family never to be seen again, leaving Cloyd’s mother fearing whether or not she would be able to continue to pay rent on their squalid little home. He had witnessed the sadness of the family when a car struck Cloyd’s younger sister while she was crossing the street.
         Cloyd, along with the other neighborhood children simply knew this man as Mr. Lucas. Cloyd eventually discovered that his first name was Patrick.
         The teachers all knew each other in Portsmouth and would talk about different students that were coming up through the ranks. Mr. Lucas had heard the rumors that Cloyd possessed a sharp intelligence, even witnessing it from time to time seeing him playing with his friends in the neighborhood, and looked forward to one day being his teacher. He had a special concern for Cloyd, knowing the difficulty of his story.
         When Cloyd finally walked through the doorway into Mr. Lucas’ seventh grade literature class, he was a broken boy. Over time Mr. Lucas was able to nurture a discovering curiosity in him and eventually saw the bright look that comes from awakening the creative spark. Cloyd could write, and did this as well as anyone Mr. Lucas had seen in years. Mr. Lucas encouraged Cloyd to keep a special notebook and to write daily whatever came into his mind, and he faithfully did this most days. Seventh grade became eighth grade, and then Cloyd moved onto high school. It was here that the change happened.
         Mr. Lucas knew that Cloyd needed to get out of his situation, out of where he lived. His mother would turn to one relationship after another in order to soothe the loneliness that covered her like a dark curtain. Mr. Lucas couldn’t blame her, but he knew the toll that it was taking on Cloyd. If he could somehow persuade Cloyd into pursuing a life that led toward college, he knew that a scholarship would be available. It was not to be.
         Mr. Lucas sat listening to the empty sermon coming from the bored pastor at the front. He quietly reached into his jacket pocket and found an old, tattered Moleskine notebook. He opened the front cover and read again the name written with the handwriting of a twelve-year-old boy: Cloyd Miller. He flipped through the pages, glancing at stories, poems, journaling, discovery, sadness, joy, humor. There were fifteen or twenty empty pages at the end, but the last entry was to him: “Mr. Lucas – Thank you for believing in me. I’m so sorry I didn’t believe in myself. Years ago you encouraged me to take the ‘road less traveled’ that Robert Frost wrote about. I saw that road, but was too afraid to take it. I am giving this notebook to you because you were the one who brought these stories out in me. I will always be grateful to you for everything you are. – Cloyd Miller, March 3, 2011.”
         Mr. Lucas’ hand reached to his shirt pocket and pulled out a well-worn Parker fountain pen. He opened the Moleskine to a blank page, lifted the lid off of his pen, and began writing a new eulogy:
         “Cloyd Miller was born May 2nd, 1952 into a world that wasn’t prepared to nurture him. He had great potential, but that tiny seedling of potential needed rich soil and plenty of water around. Cloyd had none of those things. When his mother’s third boyfriend beat him for spilling a soda in the car, Cloyd took on the blame himself. At the second beating he did the same. At some defining point he decided that he didn’t need his mother, but that he needed to feel safe because he only felt Fear. He had two very real choices.
         The first would be difficult. It would mean for him to take on responsibilities normally expected of someone much older than he was in the midst of an almost impossible situation. It would mean studying hard and allowing those around him who actually loved him to help get him into a college. It could have been done. Maybe.
         The second choice was to remain in the familiar and fight for himself in the manner in which the fight came to him. The familiar, though difficult, was at least there in front of him, and he felt more Fear toward the unknown, the unfamiliar. So he chose the latter and Fear dictated the remainder of his life.
         Fear pushed him away from the journey that he desperately needed and turned him into the surviving person that he became. Fear told him the incredible life that was waiting for him outside of his circumstances could never be lived by a guy like him. Fear also told him that anyone who was his friend would eventually hurt him, so he may as well hurt him or her first. Fear kept him tied up to the world directly in front of him. Fear buried the adventure and took that young boy away from us a long time ago. And Fear finally took his body on November 5th, 2012. Those of us who really knew him could never judge his life. We only feel sadness.”
         Patrick Lucas snapped the cap back onto his pen, closed the Moleskine, quietly stood, and left the chapel.