The Never Meant to Be
Tears and spit dangled from my young face. Heaving gasps escaped and my lungs cried for air as I wretched over the bowl again.
The war was over as soon as it began. Calm settled like a smoke over a pock-marked battlefield. The pounding in my ears gave way to the whirl of a hair dryer in my parents’ bedroom next to the hall bathroom. It is this bathroom where I ran when sickness blindsided me as I sat, excited and hopeful, on the black vinyl living room couch only moments before.
Today wasn’t any regular day. Today was life-changing, but not by the dreams that filled the mind of the five-year-old hiding in the bathroom, praying sound hadn’t betrayed him.
I cracked the bathroom door. No one greeted me. The door on my left remained still as the hair dryer flew in a holding pattern behind it. I exhaled relief. The wood floor creaked as I tip-toed down the hall.
I passed the empty guest bedroom on my right and stopped short of the light escaping the room I shared with my older brother.
Had he heard me? Had he seen me running to the bathroom? If so, I was sunk.
I peaked around the door. Our disheveled bunkbeds lay exactly as we’d left them. Nothing else moved. Good. I scurried past, turned left into the living room, and jumped from the brown oval woven rug on to the couch.
My stomach churned but I remained thankful. I stretched out my feet and lay my face on the cool black vinyl. I closed my eyes and exhaled.
’“Moooooom!” My eyes snapped open.
“MooooOOOOOOOOM! Bobo’s sick! He threw up!” shouted my brother, his voice bouncing down the hallway.
When I was born a short year, two months, and fourteen days after he took his first breath, he called me Bobo. Unable to pronounce brother, Bobo stuck. Footsteps approached and I knew it was my mother
“Are you not feeling well?” I didn’t respond. She put her hand to my forehead.
“On fire. You have a fever. No school today, ” she said.
“But Mom, I’m supposed to go on a field trip to the nature museum and palentarium today.”
“I’m sorry, Bo,” she said sympathetically but firm.
“You have to stay home until we get you better. You don’t want to get everyone in kindergarten sick, do you? I’ll call Anny to take you to Dr. Reeves and stay with you until I get home from work.”
“No, Mom. Please let me…,” I turned my head as my stomach erupted.
“Oh, sweetie. I’m sorry but no. Look how sick you are. Let’s get you cleaned up.”
After wiping up the vomit that dripped down the slick vinyl cushions and changing me into clean, footed pajamas, my mother popped me on the adjacent loveseat. Before leaving to call my grandmother, she lay a cool wash cloth on my forehead and handed me the cotton comfort of the blanket I slept with each night.
The Prison Kids Know
I disliked school immediately when I turned five and was dragged to kindergarten. Confusing crafts, glued hands, and being compelled to sing Debbie Boone’s 1970’s sappy AM hit, “You Light Up My Life”, each day for me was worse than the next. I’d look at the teachers smiling at one another as their lambs belted out the verses written on the blackboard. Funny, is it? Making us your punch line? I didn’t play along. Each day’s redemption came at lunch and nap time only.
The childish contempt I held for kindergarten at Starmount Elementary was mild compared to my utter disdain for Merry Moppets, the after-school my brother and I attended.
Each day we were loaded into a VW van and puttered a few miles away from Starmount to Merry Moppets. Every time when I saw the low-rent version of Ragged Andy on the sign as we pulled into the after-school parking lot, my stomach tightened and I got angry.
To the outside world, the sign conveyed happiness and innocence. Yet, every kid I know conscripted into Merry Moppets by their overworked and unavailable parents knew the truth. It was a holding cell complete with an outside playground filled with swings and wooden climbing forts all set in a dirt and large stone gravel prison yard.
You could see the hatred simmering just behind the smiles and adult eyes of our wardens. Constant cleaning up after tornadoes of young activity, wiping noses, spanking bottoms, drying tears from falls on the hard gravel outside day-after-day-after-day, kids know. I knew. Yes, I knew.
Yet, every once in a while a light shone a ray of hope and joy into my young world. Today was the day.
The night sky, stars, planets, the entire universe would be on display in the round, cool darkness of the planetarium. My excitement and anticipation began when the beautiful Ms. White, the sweet teacher of my kindergarten class, announced we were going on the field trip. I counted the excruciating time between the day I turned in my signed permission slip and the morning of our field trip.
Today was THE day.
Today was the day never meant to be.
“Anny is taking you to the doctor and will drop you back here. Amos will watch you until I get home. Ok, Bo?” Mom said.
“I have to finish getting ready for work.”
I watched her walk away, more blurry and distorted with each footstep. Tears spilled down on my cheeks carrying my daydreams with them.
Later that afternoon between bouts of sulking and whining I consoled myself with bowling. The hallway’s wooden floors formed the perfect home ally. I set my plastic pens up in something resembling what I saw when my father bowled in his league. After stepping a few feet away, I let the red plastic bowling ball fly down the ally and into the pins. I reset the pins, rinsed and repeated.
As I placed the pins for another round, I heard groaning from the guest bedroom. I walked over to the door, pins still in hand, and saw my grandfather Amos lying on the bed, his belt undone and in pain. I didn’t say anything but leaned on the door frame and waited.
“Oh, Bo,” he said noticing me. “I don’t feel well. Can you call your momma? Tell her I don’t feel well and I need some help. Can you do that for Amos, son?”
“Okay,” I responded before dropping the plastic bowling pins and running down the hall to the kitchen. I climbed up on one of the kitchen table chairs and grabbed the olive green phone receiver.
The dial whooshed as I pulled the numbers to the metal triangle and rattled back home when I removed my finger from the plastic rotary.
“Can I speak to my momma?” I asked when an adult answered at the other end of the line.
“Well, sure. Honey, who is your momma? What’s her name?” The lady asked.
“Virginia,” I said.
“K, hold a sec.”
I jumped down from the chair and stretched the long phone chord down the hallway.
“Hello?” My mom’s voice came on the line.
“Momma, Amos’s sick and needs help. Can you come home now?”
“Did Amos ask you to call me?”
“Yes, ma’am and he said he needs help.”
“Alright. I’m on my way. Stay with Amos until I get home. I will be there as soon as I can. Ok, sweetie?”
The line went dead. I recoiled the phone cord and put the receiver back on the metal hook attached to the olive green base hanging on the side of the kitchen cupboard.
I returned to the guest bedroom where Amos’s groans grew louder. I leaned again on the door frame, silent and still.
“Bo, I’m proud of you for calling your momma. Knowing all those numbers and which of them to dial, you are gettin’ to be a big boy. Thank you,” he said staring at the ceiling, his dress pants now unbuttoned and partially unzipped.
Roads and Waves
I stood in the doorway with Amos until I heard the wheezing of my mother’s car as it rocked side-to-side in our driveway. I ran to the front door and opened it. My mother bounded up the front porch steps, the black ornamental stair railing wobbling in her wake.
“Bo, is Amos still feeling bad?”
She moved past me in a hurry and down the hallway. My grandmother, Anny, pulled up in her blue Pinto and stopped at the curb before I could respond.
“Bo! Stay there,” she yelled as she got out and went around to the passenger side door to let out my brother.“ I want you both to stay right here while I go in and help your momma with Amos. Ok? Promise to stay right here boys until I come back.”
“Promise,” we blurted in unison.
The sun was warm on my face and felt good. My brother and I didn’t speak. We were scared and concerned for Amos but didn’t say so. We simply waited for Anny to return.
A siren’s scream and the roar of the engine broke the silence.
“Ginna, they’re coming. Ginna! The ambulance is coming!”
My mother opened the black slatted front screen door and walked down the front porch steps and kneeled.
“Boys, Amos is not well. We have help coming to take him to the hospital,” she told us before standing and running down the sidewalk where she met the ambulance in the driveway.
In a few seconds the medics pulled the metal bed past us, my mother rushing behind them and into the house as we stood still on cool grass next to the sidewalk as it turned from the porch and down to the driveway on the side of the house. Our mother returned a few minutes later.
“They will be bringing Amos out in a few minutes. When they do, I want you to close your eyes. Don’t peak. I will tell you when you can open your eyes,” she said.
“Is Amos gonna be ok?” My brother asked.
“I don’t know. I hope so. We are getting him to the hospital where he can get all the help he needs. Here they come. Hands over your eyes and no peaking,” she said as she stepped between us and hugged us to her sides.
A slamming car door prompted me to drop my hand and open my eyes. I saw the black screen door and front door wide open but no one there. I turned around as the ambulance driver slammed shut the other door.
“Wave boys. Wave to Amos,” my mother told us as she cried.
“I saw him,” my brother said, looking at me.
“I saw Amos when they wheeled him out on the bed. He passed by me. Amos looked at me and waved. Did you see him?”
“Yeah,” I lied.
“Momma, I saw Amos wave at me. I waved back at him. He was saying goodbye to me.”
“Okay, let’s go inside. Anny rode in the ambulance with Amos to the hospital. Your father is on his way home.”
As they walked up the concrete front entry and climbed the steps, I stared down the empty black asphalt that took Amos.
We didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to the quiet man we knew as our grandfather. My brother and I were too young to attend his funeral or so we were told. My brother kept repeating that he and Amos exchanged a wave, a last goodbye. I resented him for it. Yet, I also resented myself. Why didn’t I just open my eyes? I could have said goodbye to the man who taught us to ride bicycles by popping us on them and pushing down the black gravel tarred driveway of the last house he would ever know.
A First Goodbye
Amos and I bounced up and down on the bench seat in the cab of a rusted ‘30s Ford pickup. Dust from the country road flew in and out of the windows, kicked up by the speed of the old farm truck.
I looked over at Amos fighting the big black steering wheel as it jerked from side-to-side. He yelled something but I couldn’t hear him over the roar of the engine and the wrenching of the axels. Amos laughed, his smile raising the horned-rimned glasses bouncing on his face, and patted me on the top of my head. I said something in return and laughed. Amos couldn’t hear me but I climbed up in the seat and patted him on his bald head.
As I sat back down, still smiling, Amos’ head rolled into my lap.
Drenched in sweat, I woke up screaming and crying.
I was six.