Blue skies and clouds riding on the gentle breeze is all I can see now. Driving down this old highway brings back so many memories for me. Knowing that I’ll be returning to my hometown of River Falls brings a sigh of relief to my weary self, always working for the big wigs in the big city life. Not that I have anything against the city that I work in- no. It just can’t beat those hot summers that we shared, down by the lake and sipping ice cold lemonade. Mom could make that so perfect- we were living it on cloud nine with the July sun gently floating in the milky blue, not a cloud to bother its happiness; and the winter was even better. After the cool breeze of the fall and its gentle embrace of the sweet country fairs we would bundle in all the coats and blankets we could get our hands on. Mom would once again work magic with her delicious hot chocolate and gingerbread houses.
“What would you like for Christmas? I know you’ve been a very good boy this year and you deserve all the wishes your hearts desire.”
A Santa at a mall outlet could never bring the warm love that a mother or father could give a child during the most important season of the year. All of those heart filled memories and gently placed pictures in my mind- you can never escape the past, no matter how good or bad it may have been. It’s always a part of you. These distant, wonderful memories can often times hit you when you least expect it; I almost forgot about them so fast being so occupied by work- that forced negativity of pushing papers around and meeting the deadline. You have your due dates for the proposal and the scheduled for meetings with those blood sucking bureaucrats and landowners. That kind of pressure really tied me in, so much I nearly forgot that unforgettable summer when I turned eight- the worst birthday of my life but it turned out to be one of the best. Mom asked me where I wanted to spend my birthday and as she asked I already knew my favorite place was down by the lakefront. The lake was a special place in my heart, the hideout I would always go to only for special occasions with special friends, even by myself when I felt like crying all of my troubles away. It was there I met my friend Ben- old round faced Ben was a real ‘knuckle-head’ as we called him. He was the goofiest and yet most earnest and strict kid I ever knew. It was way back when I first moved to River Falls that I decided to do some exploration of the area and I found what was the biggest and the most luxurious body of water I have ever laid eyes on. It was no mere body of water but rather a luxurious mirrored image of the sky lying in the middle of the woods. It was so crisp and beautiful as the sun sparkled in its glory as if the lake itself helped to warm the sun. As I conjured with this heavenly presence suddenly a big pudgy kid came tumbling in from the woods- I was guessing that he was trying not to be seen by anyone but let’s admit it- Ben could stick out like a sore thumb in any situation from any angle at any given time. As I smiled being amused at this situation I was about to burst out into laughter until I noticed that the kid had tears coming down his cheeks. He then began to hustle down to the water as he suddenly noticed me. It was an awkward moment as we both stood there staring at each other- perhaps because neither of us expected any company to show up or that we were just both in a state of shock realizing that someone else just seemed to show up out of the blue. Either way by surprise or shock there we were staring at each other for what seemed to be an eternity, gazing into each others souls trying to see just who the other was and why that other was there. And it was after that long and deranged moment of silence that Ben turned the other way snuffling his nose and wiping his face, trying to look tough.
“So what, you’ve never seen a fat kid before?” Was all that came from him as he continued to wipe his face.
“Well I have,” I said suddenly.
He turned to me with an angry look in his eyes. Seeing the size of this kid more than likely meant that even though he was heavy in size his stature in beating up someone my size was going to be a Hell of a lot bigger. But luckily for me his angry face transformed into that of happiness as he began chuckling at my odd comment.
“Honestly I’ve seen way bigger kids. This one really fat kid I used to know at my old school always carried around Twinkies in his bag and they got squished up in between all of his books. Anytime we ran into him we told him to stop killing our snack food.”
At this comment Ben bellowed out the happiest, the most humble laugh I have ever heard in my life. The kind of laugh that was just waiting inside when you feel upset or lonely, and from the sound of his laughter Ben must have been alone for a long time. It’s really unfortunate because Ben was a kindhearted guy who was really smart for someone his age and always knew a lot of good jokes. Perhaps it was more by destiny than just chance that we found each other that day by the lake. It was hard for me to move away from what I had called home for such a long time- moving can be tough for a child after making best friends that you thought you’d spend your entire life with only to realize that you have to say goodbye to them forever. I guess it was tough for Ben to be with anybody, to let alone even have a best friend to be with.
“Maybe you should write to Twinkie’s mom and tell her that her kids are being killed by a fad kid” came out of the laughing mouth of Ben.
“Yeah and hold that kid for ransom!”
After my response it seemed like we laughed for over ten minutes that warm summer day, as if we just couldn’t help our selves. We laughed and laughed, and laughed so much I thought I was going to die from laughing (perhaps the best way a child would want to go, ironically). And finally after all that laughing we just decided to get up and collect some stones by the water and threw a dozen or two. The ripples on the lake just seemed to echo forever out into the vast emptiness of what appeared to be a majestic image of the endless heavens, a mirror into a whole other world lightly tapped by the consistency of a ripple in its continuum. The site of it dazzled my senses and I could see Ben was struck in awe as well as he gazed dumbfounded at the site. It was at this moment of revelation we were free from its magnificent charm and we began to slowly but surely speak to one another. Ben was the first to speak-
“So you’re new around here?”
“Yeah- how do did you know?”
“Only a new kid wouldn’t have known about me-”
“You mean about being-”
As out spoken Ben was he was also very shy and timid. The poor kid started to turn the other way with tears in his eyes.
“I don’t care. Who cares if you’re fat? I don’t!”
“You really don’t?”
“Don’t see why not. You seem like a neat guy.”
“Yeah well… not everyone seems to think so.”
“Who’s everyone? I haven’t met them yet” was perhaps not the most logical reasoning but it really got to Ben as he gave another hearty chuckle.
“”Everyone” isn’t a name- you seem like a goofy kid!”
“I don’t care about that either! It only matters what I think about myself!”
And with a deep sigh of relief Ben responded, “If only I could feel like that-”.
“What, feel good about yourself?”
“Well you feel good right now don’t you?”
“Yeah I do-”
“No one made me laugh for as long as you did, and to me you seem like a neat guy. Who cares what everyone else thinks. How about you and me think about what we think?”
Ben was known to slouch when sitting but it was at that moment I saw him actually sit up straight, as if a revelation just occurred in his mind. His eyes seemed to twinkle as a huge smile began to fill his face.
“That actually ain’t bad of an idea- in fact I like it! From now on I’m only going to care about what I think and what my new best pal thinks. By the way my name is Ben- what’s yours?”
Sorry… I must have been rambling on about my past and got stuck somewhere. The birthday party- I arranged it with Mom about a year after I met Ben. It was a warm and sunny summer at that- probably the hottest I can remember, and on a fierily hot day in June when my friends were all at camp or stuck with their relatives for the summer. For my eighth birthday I just wanted it to be with my Mom- and if you’re wondering what happened to Dad… Well it was said he died in a boating accident around the time I was born. Beyond that I didn’t know very much about him and I guess Mom never told me to ensure that I wouldn’t be hurt. Well Father or no Father I still wanted my favorite person in the world to be with me at my big birthday- to me the number eight was mine and mine alone. It seemed to be a lucky charm- the first word I ever said (at least that’s what Mom keeps telling me) and it stuck with me ever since then. Perhaps the number itself never really brought me luck but it still had an important meaning, and my eighth birthday just had to be that important. Come again I guess the number really didn’t bring me any luck because we had to drag along my little four year old sister Cindy to the birthday party as well. You know the ‘monkey see monkey do’ syndrome? Well Cindy was born with it and she was intended to articulate it with me everyday at every moment. It may have seemed like a drag but a deal was a deal, and if I wanted to have the best birthday party at the lake some sacrifices had to be made.
The day finally came and the birthday was prepared- we had Mom’s delicious home made grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch- the kind that would melt so smoothly in your mouth while drinking iced lemonade that soothed the summer’s heat. After this favorite dish we grabbed the wrapped presents and started out to the lake near our house. I could instantly tell that this was going to be the best birthday ever.
Sadly I don’t remember very much of it beyond the fact that I kept on saying it was the best of my life. There was the moment when we finally arrived at the lake and Cindy went from being the girl who always copied your movement entirely in 100% accuracy to the whiny runt who never got her way. The party you had to attend knowing you had to help but never got the presents or gratitude for helping; must have been a stage in life I guess. The stage that kicked in instantly proceeded by the constant whines of “Mommy when do I get to open a present?” and “I don’t want to go anymore!” And of course her whines of retribution and sorrow were met with an equal dosage of distraught and anger as I was doing my best to perfect every moment of this day. Mom was of course the negotiator in our constant fusses and arguments as she alternately offered her kindness to calm our menacing
“Now honey your birthday is in a few months, you can have a birthday present when it’s your birthday.”
“But I want one now!”
“Well you’ll just have to wait your turn. Your birthday present will be especially just for you and no one else.”
“Just for me?”
“That’s right Cindy- a special present made just for you. But you’ll have to be a good girl and be patient until that time.”
“Did you hear that? My present’s going to be special. You can have your own stupid presents.”
To this logic I only rolled my eyes in disbelief at how gullible she seemed to be, but whatever it took to keep her quiet was fine with me. Cindy’s newly found confidence suddenly inspired her to be more enthusiastic in helping to unload the presents from the car as she voluntarily carried most of them, only leaving Mom with about one or two in the back to carry.
It was after this that things seem to become vague in detail- we were all sitting on the dock eating sandwiches starring into the blue sky… What a beautiful blue sky it was, so warm and magnificent in its solitude. There was the blue sky and… if only I could have remembered what it was Mom said to me at that moment. Her gorgeous lips moved in a heavenly symphony as the words passionately flew from her gentle thoughts, but it’s hard to remember what she said. Then I’m suddenly getting ready to jump into the lake, ready for my first swim of the summer. I ran, and I ran for what seemed to be forever. It was as if everything were just slowing down right in front of me, as if time took a moment to pause. As I ran and as I came closer to the river I told myself to jump but I didn’t heed to what sounded like yelling. I was hurled into the lake head first, and for what seemed to be for an eternity…
Damn eighteen-wheelers! I swear that he would have been a few feet closer to my car I would have been crushed! Forgot how unforgiving these roads can be and just how poorly the people can drive. It’s especially hard since it’s beginning to rain- it just suddenly began and I just had to be the lucky man out and about on the road at that time. Well the rain isn’t that bad, just this jackass of a driver in front of me is making it hard to steer this narrow roadway. And as if it couldn’t get any better the driver was swerving slowly left and right in a very lazy way- first he barley passes me and then he just ignores the rules of driving entirely, not even realizing that the same car he almost collided with is right behind him! The driver must have been deaf or hard of hearing as I honked my horn multiple times, having no effect on his sad interpretation of steering a massive vehicle.
‘River Falls- 3 Miles’ read the sign.
Finally the detour was coming up; I don’t think I could have lasted much longer with this guy in front of me- pure music to my ears as I knew that I was only miles away from my old home town, from my friends and family that I haven’t seen in such a long time, for what seems like years after being so cooped up with work.
The rain seems to be really starting up; it’s getting harder to see the road. I better take this detour slowly…