Sometime in my youth, I camped overnight in the back yard of a church mate, Matt. Perhaps it was his birthday. Another guy, Eddie, joined us that night. Years later, those two spent considerable time together, whereas I eventually hung with a different crowd, but that visit stuck in my mind for several reasons which I’ll share.
I recall I arrived late, perhaps after dark, though I no longer recall, and we must have hung about his house and yard doing one thing or another. Sometime during the evening, we happened upon two stray kittens which stayed with us the rest of the evening and into the next morning. During the night, I brought at least one of the kittens into the tent with me and let it sleep atop my sleeping bag. I think one of the other guys had the other. I awoke in the middle of the night to find it pawing at my bag and peeing on it. My frustration awoke the other two guys – or perhaps they were already awake – and we tossed the kittens out into the yard. that ruckus must have awoken Matt’s dogs, who at Eddie’s (and Matt’s?) encouragement, lit into the kittens. The dogs roughed-up one kitten badly, but it wasn’t permanently injured. I don’t recall what was done with the kittens exactly, but I seem to recall putting an end to the event, and perhaps put the felines back in the tent or elsewhere.
The next morning, some folks came around early looking for the kittens and thanked us three boys for finding them. After that, we walked up the road a little way to a gas-and-groceries store and bought some breakfast; I purchased pop-tarts and orange juice. I recall Eddie and Matt buying stuff like fried pork rinds and Mountain Dew. I do know that was the worst and only convenience-store breakfast I’d ever eaten prior to that morning. When I got back to the house later, Matt’s mom offered me eggs, which I accepted. They weren’t the best eggs, but they we better than Pop-Tarts.
After that, many years later, I went out water-boarding with Eddie and Matt and maybe a girl – I can’t recall whether it was Donna – who later starred in a film with Clooney – or Eddie’s sister, Diane, who became an MD. Not long after that, while I was away at college, Matt died in a boating accident. He managed to conceive a son before that, so the woman who cooked me breakfast got a grandson at least, Matt being her only child. She also attended my grandmother’s funeral for my mom’s sake, so I have a soft spot for that lady for those, among several other reasons.
Another church mate, Nikki, was killed by three men who kidnapped him from a known meeting place for homosexual men and murdered him. Two of the three men were executed. Another is serving life without parole in Texas. Nikki was probably a faggot, but he did have good taste in clothes. I didn’t find out until much later, but he was a very good and kind friend to Diane during a very rough time in her life, so she remembers him very fondly. He and I roomed together at a church camp one summer. I learned plenty about clothes that summer, but not a lot about Nicky. So much of that came later, after he was dead. A high school buddy and a his friend hung with Nicky on weekends, and Brad used to tease the two of them for kissing in the back seat. I won’t name the other guy. Brad and I corresponded not long ago. He found weight-lifting after college and bulked muscle, corrected his attitude, and seems to be well. Anyway, Nikki’s dead.
Which brings me to Bret, who died this year. Bret and I didn’t spend much time together, but I liked him well enough, and he was a constant through my years in church. Somewhere along the way, his parents divorced, which is always a sight to see in a Baptist church, but at some point before high school graduation, Bret started attending again, and I recall him from my infrequent visits after I started college in another state. I don’t’ recall seeing him during my semester sabbatical, so perhaps he’d moved onward to other work or education by then. Bret got killed by an underage drunk driver who struck him at the notorious intersection of a major highway into town and a loop road around town. The drunk drove right over the top of his car, and apparently killed him instantly, which I suppose is a better death than either Matt or Nikki got.
I met a pal from my early days in Little Rock at the megalochurch two weeks back. Actually, it’s been four weeks, but I didn’t recognize him until he re-introduced himself. Everybody seems to get fatter as they age.
I’m sure there’s some way to string all this together into a narrative with a theme and perhaps a moral, perhaps something about the precariousness of life or our fleeting time on the earth or how memories start to fade after 30 years pass or how things that seemed important at 14 aren’t at 44, or even how things that seemed important at 14 still ARE important at 44.The truth is, age makes finding meaning out of life and all the many moments of it harder to accomplish, not easier. “Shit happens,” all the time, and all the time, “shit happens.” Try as you might, it’s very hard to pull together a story without embellishing the details so as create a fiction that supports some false premise. So we all muddle along, trying to create meaning where there probably isn’t any meaning at all.