Responsibilities of Being a Man
by J. C. G. Goelz
Table of Contents|
1, 2 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
I needed to get away after the folks passed down judgment: curfew, can’t drive the truck without one of the parents or April as a passenger, and she wouldn’t be doing me any favors, certainly not after I mentioned to my parents that she was mooning over the biggest jerk in school.
I called up Jimmy and he met me at the railroad tracks that split our dads’ land. We often walked along the tracks. During the summer we might jump off the railroad trestle into the river, but we’d see interesting things pretty regularly. If there was a loose spike laying on the ground it was ours, although we would never pull one out. We envisioned mile-long train derailments with thousands of human casualties.
In junior high, I wrote a story about a train derailment with cars of pigs going to market. It derailed in a wooded area, causing a forest fire, and all the pigs were smoked to a crisp in their train cars. An enterprising restaurateur opened up a barbecued pig stand at the side of the interstate, and became famous because of the succulence of the pigs, but what no one knew was that most of the cars were packed with illegal aliens coming across the Canadian border into the U.S.
They made me see a counselor. I explained that I had just made it up and didn’t really want to eat smoked butt of Canadian. My parents told me I should just keep such ideas to myself. I liked to write stories, and I hoped to make a living at it, or at least make it a sideline if I ended up on the farm after I got out of school. I thought I had a knack. I might try to sell that barbecued Canadian story someday.
I had done my research and found that human flesh should be the most highly-digestible type of protein and that it reportedly did taste better than anything. Better than a ribeye steak just waved over the coals a few times. My dad made them give me an A for the story. He said that if I could convince my teacher I was a psycho, I must have some talent, because he found me to be boring as hell. Gotta love my dad.
Prairie vegetation grew along the tracks, and we used to pretend we were Indians back in the days of the huge buffalo herds. That was before we grew up and became men. Before we did things like saving our father’s life or becoming the starting quarterback for the football team.
Lately, we would just share stories of teenage angst. I’ve heard it’s a phase that almost everyone goes through but, based on some adults I know, some people seem to get stuck there, never knowing what life is about or about their place in it and brooding about it. I think I’m growing out of it, now that I’m a man. I wonder if those people that get stuck in that phase ever really grow up. Doesn’t seem like it. That must suck.
I had some angst to relate, considering my recent adventures with April, Sterling, and the parents, but Jimmy was in full-out grown-up mode, relating the incredible importance of being the star quarterback. He was already getting college scouts calling up his house, five games into the season. If he stayed healthy and grew a couple of inches in the two years before graduation, he might get serious offers from major colleges.
Jimmy wasn’t the typical jock, though. He was smart and liked to learn stuff. An early interest in dinosaurs grew into an interest in all animals; he could be a freaking Charles Darwin, if he wanted. And he was shy. As shy as me, particularly around girls. I knew he’d had a crush on April ever since he was nine, but no self-respecting junior girl would go out with a sophomore, even if he was the starting quarterback. Of course, there were plenty of girls that weren’t self-respecting, but he was uncomfortable with their interest, and neither of us had had a real date yet.
He could be a smart-ass, and sometimes that got both of us in trouble. Hell, I guess both of us can be smart-asses from time to time. He was my best friend, my only real friend, although we’d run with a larger pack to play sports. We’d probably both be starting on the baseball team that spring; Jimmy at third base and me at shortstop. I might go out for football the following year, although I weighed only one-twenty-five, wringing wet. Jimmy had me by about twenty-five pounds.
Whenever we’d walk along the tracks, we’d be on the lookout for anything that fell off the trains. We had a fair selection of metal parts of unknown machinery. We dreamed we would have enough parts to build something, someday. Anything would be fine, but a sports car would be preferable. We’d pick up enough coal to make it part of the bonfires we would build when we “camped out” within a stone’s throw of our houses. There was ore, which we always thought was silver, but was probably something more common; and soybeans, for which we had no use, except to pelt each other; and other treasures of approximately zero value.
Today I found a cylindrical rod of a grey metal. It was about three-and-a-half feet long, and each end had a threaded hole at the center. It was lighter than steel, but it wasn’t aluminum.
“I think it’s titanium,” offered Jimmy.
I took out my titanium-steel pocket knife and opened the blade. “Looks right. Titanium is worth something, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it’s worth something. We could probably sell it, though I don’t know if the junk yard takes titanium.”
“How much do you think it’s worth?”
“I dunno. It’s not like it’s gold or anything. I’m guessing one hundred.”
“It’s too cool to sell for that.”
“What can we do with it? It’s too heavy to be a walking stick.”
“I dunno,” I said, “but we’ll find some use for it.”
* * *
April didn’t say a damn word to me as I drove us to school on Monday. I knew she was angry, but I didn’t know what she had in store for me. From my limited experience with girls, I’ve found them to be mean and vengeful, but I didn’t know if she already had a plan or if her revenge would be opportunistic.
I knew that I was about to get a negative response, but I wanted to introduce a hint of regret into the situation.
“You know I was just trying to protect you. You’re better than a jerk like Sterling Richardson.”
As I looked at her out of the corner of my eye, it seemed like she was a pressure cooker about to explode, and just before it did, it was put into a bigger pressure cooker, and when that one was about to explode, it was put into another one. And so on.
The seventh pressure cooker exploded.
“Kelvin, I am going to destroy you, do you understand?” I kind of felt that an eagle’s claws had nothing on my sister, because both of her hands dug into my right arm, one into the biceps and one into the triceps.
“How could you embarrass me like that? Are you trying to ruin my life?”
I have to admit, that was a new one on me. April had told my mother that she was trying to ruin her life on just about a daily basis, but this was the first time I received that accusation.
I let her go on for a while, because I’d already learned that’s the best thing to do when a woman goes crazy. Just shut up and take it. Fortunately she released my arm before she did too much damage, but based on previous experience she left divots that would hang around until third period Algebra II and marks that would still be there for about forty-eight hours, and her thumbs and middle fingers drew blood. Those scars would likely be around for a week or two.
I really don’t know what all she said, but there were threats and recriminations, and some tears, from both of us. Not many from me, but those fingernails hurt like a son of a bitch.
I hoped my next tactic would work. It’s the truth, and that’s really all I had to work with. “April, I know I’m your younger brother, and you think I don’t know anything, but I was trying to protect you. I’ll do it again, if I think it’s right. I hope I don’t make you angry next time.”
I’m pretty sure it didn’t work, because April shut up again. If a woman isn’t saying anything, you can bet she’s planning something, and it won’t be good. I hoped it wouldn’t be too bad. I didn’t care one bit what anyone at school thought of me, so I wasn’t very vulnerable.
That might not be exactly true, the not caring part. I didn’t care what some trifling so and so might think of me, but I did want to have a girlfriend before I died. I was planning on it happening next year, so I hoped April didn’t devise some plan that would make me a laughingstock beyond this year. Personally, I didn’t think she had it in her. I also figured that if my reputation suffered, it would probably hurt her too, so she wouldn’t want to do anything too bad.
* * *
She wasn’t the only one who had a plan. Not by a long shot. I was walking towards Anatomy and Physiology class. Jimmy and I were taking it for college credit, although we were the only sophomores. We were sophomores in some things, but way back in middle school our teachers thought we weren’t getting challenged enough, and we were jumped ahead in a few subjects. To be honest, Jimmy was the one that carried us along in math and science. I wouldn’t have gotten my A’s without his help.
I was taking a creative writing class online that was supposed to be for college sophomores, but I didn’t think it was that hard. When I compared my grades to the rest of the class, I figured most of them must have spent their time partying or just weren’t very smart.
We had to do critiques of each other’s writing, and I had a hard time biting my tongue. When they wrote poetry, I wanted to write the same thing for all my classmates’s poetry: “If you want to write poems without meter, rhyme or lyrical qualities, is it too much to ask you to at least include some imagery?” They all read like grocery lists to me.
Of course, they all told me my writing was immature, which I believed meant I never wrote about drugs or sex. We had to introduce ourselves online during the first week, and apparently twenty-year olds think a fifteen-year old hasn’t lived yet and doesn’t know anything. They were probably right, but I don’t know that you learn much about life by taking drugs or having sex.
I did write one story that was about a one-night stand with a cheerleader. Mostly I just repackaged things I read in their stories as well as some excerpts from high-selling romance novels I could view excerpts of on Amazon. They all cheered me that I had finally had some sex. Now, I don’t know how much sex twenty-year olds have, but if they thought my story was any good, they couldn’t have been having very good sex, because I didn’t know what the hell I was writing about.
On the way to A&P, I saw Jimmy standing in the doorway of the next-door room with Coach Roberts, who taught the biology class that the rest of the sophomores took.
“Just the young man I wanted to see,” said Coach.
“Hey, Jimmy. Hey, Coach. I gotta get to class,” I said.
“We’ve had a few injuries, and we could use a few more players, and I wanted to ask you to join us,” said Coach.
“Come on, Kelvin. You said you were going to go out next year, anyway,” said Jimmy.
“I dunno. I’m not very big.”
“You’re bigger than some of the players on the team,” said Coach. “I’m not expecting you to play much, but we really need a few more players to fill out the squad for practice, and it would help you get a leg up on making the team next year.”
“And next week is picture week. You’d get to be in the team’s picture in the annual,” said Jimmy.
“I dunno. I have to take my sister back and forth to school.”
“My sister could give yours a ride back. You’d be really helping us out,” countered Jimmy.
“Yes, son, you’d really be helping us out,” said Coach.
I’m a sucker when someone says they need my help. Jimmy knew that. “Would I have a chance to sack Richardson when he’s in at quarterback?” I asked.
The coach and Jimmy were both smiling. Coach said, “Richardson mostly plays with the second team against the first team defense, and you’d be on the second team, but we might be able to work something out.”
“Do you have a defensive play where the safety blitzes around the end?” I asked.
“Yes. I’d be happy to call that play in practice. You don’t like our senior quarterback?” asked Coach.
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that... where anyone might be listening,” I said. “But my folks are expecting me home tonight.”
“You can start tomorrow. You already took a physical for baseball, so just see the equipment manager first thing after school tomorrow.”
“OK, Coach. See you tomorrow.”
* * *
Copyright © 2019 by J. C. G. Goelz