Stop This Train - for Danny.
Freshman year, you had me start listening to John Mayer. I really got into his music, and now I have all of his albums. And you told me to learn this song, and every time I’d get out my acoustic, you’d insist that I play it. You’d get all excited, and rock back and forth, even if you were standing in place in the hall, and you’d sing along to all your favorite parts. And in those last hours, when we all gathered around you and they let us play you music from your iPod, this is the song I picked out for you.
This story begins in 7th grade.
I had just gotten into the public education system out of being homeschooled kindergarten through 6th grade. I was two years ahead in school. I played trombone in the band.
Yeah, I did get beat up a lot.
But you know who else got picked on? James. James got picked on, too. Hell, if I’d have been in a better position, I’d probably have picked on James.
But instead, it was one of those trickle-down things, so James got to pick on me.
I did get back at him, once. He was leaning back in his chair, and behind him was a row of tuba cases. I put my foot under the front right leg of his chair, and pulled up, HARD. He flew back, knocking over the tuba cases like dominos, and his chair flew forward into woodwinds section. Boy, did he look like an idiot. Probably still has no idea it was me.
Anyway, one day Chris, the baritone player, had a cast on his arm, because he’d done something to his wrist. As we all left the band room, Chris smacked James upside the head with the cast, and took a few steps away so James wouldn’t know who had hit him. James whirled about, and only saw me. He freaked out on me, and I told him I didn’t do it, but he got all mad anyway.
About five minutes later, I’m taking things out of my locker to go to my next class. We couldn’t just carry around backpacks because it was a public school, and they were afraid of kids concealing guns in their backpacks. Even back then, I thought that was silly, because plenty of kids had binders with zippers, and lunch boxes too. I thought it would be just as easy to bring a gun to school that way. Still, that’s not something I would want junior-high Steven uttering in front of the administration.
Actually, a couple years after I left, two kids did bring a gun to school. One brought the gun, and the other brought the wrong ammunition. Whoops. They turned themselves in. Probably was super awkward.
So I’m at my locker, and James runs up behind me, shoved me forward. My head slams into the metal, as he kicks my ass. I don’t mean he beat me up, I just mean that he literally kicked me in the ass. I turned as he ran away, and screamed “faggot!” down the hallway at him. I’m not proud of it, but that’s how we talked in junior high.
I’d like to think, if I got a do-over, I’d yell something more like, “You wanna go, you little punk? Come face me like a man!”
That day, I got off the bus, and nobody was home at my house. Awesome, I thought, because I could play all the computer games I wanted. The phone was ringing as I walked in the door. I locked the door (stranger danger) and ran to answer the phone. We’d just gotten caller-ID, so I was able to see that the call was coming from James’ house.
“Yes, is Andrew there?” The voice sounded like it had to be James’ father.
“No, but this is his son, can I take a message?”
“No. I’ll call back later.” Hangs up.
I had been hoping it was a Boy Scout thing. I was in Boy Scouts, James was in a different troop, and both of our fathers were active in the whole process. Maybe it was just about Boy Scouts.
Later, he reached my father, and told him that I had bullied his son, and he was on his way over to our house right now. What?
My dad, these days, will tell you he should have called the cops at that moment. But he thought he’d be able to diffuse the situation anyway.
So James and his father, a large, overweight man, arrive at our house. My father sits James and I down in chairs from our dinner table in the middle of our living room. James’ father launches into a tirade against me, saying that I’ve been causing his son so much stress this whole year. It’s ridiculous. In the first semester, I only came to school part-time, just to participate in the band program, because it was something I couldn’t really learn at home. I didn’t even come to school full time until the second semester, and I certainly wasn’t bullying James.
My dad cuts him off, and says, “Let’s hear it from James, instead.”
James begins. “Well, every day this year, he’s come up to me at my locker, and pushed me up against it, and kicked me in the butt, and called me a faggot!”
“What?” I yelled. “No, I didn’t! You did that!”
“Yeah, well you called me a faggot!”
“After you pushed me against my locker and kicked me in the butt! You admit it!”
“Is this true?” one of our fathers asked. We both readily admitted it to be true.
My dad asked them to leave, and told them they were not welcome in our home ever again.
The summer before our freshman year of high school, we were both at this band clinic the local high school band directors were putting on. James and I were seated next to one another again, much to my dismay. We were given really nice mutes to borrow for this concert, and told that if we damaged them, we’d have to reimburse the school, so we had to take really good care of them.
James immediately began to pretend that he was going to kick mine.
I said to him, “If you break that, I will kill you.”
And he called the cops!
He called the cops on me. They showed up a half hour or so later, and brought me aside, and began questioning my intentions, motives, basically assessing whether or not I was really a threat in this matter. After a little while, they realized that I was not. But my dad took me home, and gave me a short talk about how that’s not something you can really say to people without getting in trouble. I didn’t get to go back to the clinic, and I didn’t get to perform in the concert. It’s okay, though, because I didn’t think I’d be able to hit those really high notes.
I got picked on a lot freshman year as well, so after that was over my parents transferred me to a Catholic all-boys school downtown. Believe it or not, everything was so much better after that. So I didn’t see James for a few years.
After my freshman year of high school, I took a job as a lifeguard at a local waterpark. It was the leanest I’ve been in my entire life. At the time, it was also the strongest. I felt like a monster. A year before, graduating high school, I’d been 195 lbs, and pretty overweight. Now I was 167, and I felt lean and mean. Confidence was through the roof.
And who do I see on staff, my first day on the job, but James. James looked exactly like I’d remembered him, though I felt like I’d changed so much.
We worked on separate crews, so we didn’t have any interaction, which was nice. Sometimes we’d take lunch breaks at the same time, and I’d be sure that if he was ever talking, I’d just stare at him with the coldest expression I could. Go look up “Koyaanisqatsi,” and listen to that music. Imagine that playing as I stared this kid down. That’s how I treated him. I went a whole summer working with this guy, and never once said a word to him, nor did he say a word to me.
The best was during a company picnic, we were on opposite teams playing ultimate Frisbee. I’d gotten quite good at the game in college, and I was pretty fast at 167, so I was tearing it up. Once, I was covering him, and right before he was going to get a catch, I smacked the disc out of the air like a leopard. I didn’t say a word, I just stared him down coldly as I walked off.
Since we live in the same town, every now and then I’ll run into him, at a grocery store, maybe, or a restaurant. Each time, I do the same thing. No words. Just cold, cold stares.
I hope he remembers junior high, otherwise I’m just that guy that looks at him funny. I hope he remembers, and I hope he knows what’s going through my mind as I stare him down, and the last couple words I said to him, years ago.
Sometimes it’s just downright weird.
Every time I go to send a mass text to all my close friends, like, “Hey guys, we’re going to be watching this movie, blah blah,” and I’ll go through my contacts, checking off the people I’d like to see there. I ALWAYS hover over Danny. Like, it’s still habit to include him in everything. But I don’t know what the deal with his phone is. I don’t know if his parents have it, or if they ever check it to see if any of his friends still text him. I wonder if anyone does.
But today, I was checking my calendar for a vacation my parents invited me and K to go on, and it’s in the middle of the summer. On the last day, on my calendar, I still have marked, “Danny and C get married”. I put it down the day they announced it, and never went to delete it. I still didn’t delete it today, when I realized. But that’s weird too.
I don’t know how to feel about all of that, either. C seems to have totally moved on. She told me MONTHS ago that she was into this other guy, and asked me what I thought of it. I didn’t know what to think of it, because that’s a type of rebound effect that I’m not qualified to talk about. Now she’s dating yet another guy. The weird thing about that is that he’s named Danny, and he’s pre-med too, but no, he’s nothing like my Danny; he doesn’t look or act similar at all. It’s just a strange coincidence. But she’s not telling our friend Danny’s parents or family about it, because “they don’t really need to know”. I don’t know. I’ve always thought that if you couldn’t tell people that you were in a relationship with someone, maybe you should evaluate whether or not you should even be in that relationship. But, it’s her life, it’s her choice, and she can do whatever she wants. It’s just weird.
I’d say I’m envious, but honestly, I’m glad I can’t move on that quickly. I don’t really ever intend to. I’m not going to let there be some sort of dysfunction in my life as a result of this loss; I will survive. But I will break down, probably regularly, when I stop to think about Danny. I will think of him every time I achieve something he would have been proud of. I’ll miss him when I do something I’d have liked him to be there for, which is just about everything. I’ll miss him when I keep traditions he started in our freshman year.
I miss you, Danny.
Sometimes home is an old coat.
My folks always bought me clothes that were at least two sizes too large. The idea was that I’d grow into it. Of course, clothes that are too big wear through more quickly, because you’re constantly stepping on the cuffs and tripping over yourself. So, by the time I had grown into my clothes, they were worn out and needed to be replaced. The result was that I never really had clothes that fit me and weren’t full of holes. I never minded.
This coat is no different. My childhood ego told me that if my clothes were large, so must I be, too. Of course, if I truly wanted to appear big, I should not have worn clothes that hung from me like robes. No matter. I was convinced that this coat looked good on me. Fortunately for me, it was big enough for me to continue wearing through my adulthood. As expected, it’s very worn through. A button or two are missing, but the zipper has never given me any issue.
Sometimes home is a highway.
She’d always be the one to drive home from school. I couldn’t even drive until my senior year, so I pretty much relied on her for transportation. Sometimes I’d talk about my day, or she about hers. Sometimes she told me the things that worried and scared her about her future, or our parents, or our family. We hadn’t connected one-on-one outside of that drive since we were kids.
One day she rear-ended another car in heavy traffic. She had blamed me in her frustration, and I didn’t open my mouth, because I knew she just needed to blow off some steam.
Sometimes home is the embrace of your mother.
These days she has to reach up to hug the son she used to pick up in her arms. Quite the sensitive boy, they’d say. Cries a good bit; he doesn’t like it when people make fun of him.
She’d read him books when he was very young. She was most proud when he preferred to read them himself.
Sometimes home is the familiar smell of an old bar soap.
I scrubbed my hands in the cold well water from my grandmother’s faucet. The water always got warm right as you finished washing your hands, but who has the patience for that? Not me, especially with the other smells of turkey, mashed potatoes, and Amish noodles, purchased locally, just down the street, really.
I slid down that old hardwood floor under my sock feet. The long hallway with the awful green walls you never saw, because there was no light on the ceiling anyway.
The thing that sucks is that I feel like there’s nothing I can do, nowhere I can go, especially because I’m home instead of on campus. I can’t visit K, and if I text anyone about the shit that’s bothering me, it could upset them as well, which is not my goal. I don’t want to ruin anybody’s day.
It just gets to me. Thinking about Danny, and hearing everyone talk about the tragedy in Connecticut; going to my sister’s graduation and thinking about how I’ll be walking that same exact stage in five months, thinking about what will happen in life after that. Then I went to church (because my folks require it when I’m living here, and I am NOT getting up in the morning until I’m good and ready) which made me more upset.
Religion has not really been my thing, for some time. Faith is fine, but when I have it, it’s mine, and I keep it to myself. Outward displays of religion, especially Christianity, make me uneasy. Living in the Midwest, I don’t see a ton of public displays of faith by Hindus or Muslims or others, but the Christians are always in your face. Sometimes church gatherings start to feel like Who’s-The-Best-Christian?! competitions, and I’m not even trying to win. I don’t like it.
What if a professor or university really takes an interest in me, an in my research interests? If I’m honest and open about what I want to do, sure, some might deny me on basis of conflict of interest, but others might take me on and give me free reign to do what I want with my thesis and dissertation. That would be really cool, no matter what university I end up at. So I’ll be open that I want to investigate deception, and hopefully somebody somewhere will latch on to that idea.
I get so stressed out. What if I get stuck with professors that I hate? What if I don’t like the university? What if I don’t make any friends? What about the friends I’ve already made at this university? Yeah, I know everyone’s going to be leaving here together, but…still. I’m really concerned.
I really miss you, Danny.
I wish I could go back in time and change everything.
|Talking about the tuxedo I will be wearing to my sister's wedding|
|Steve:||I'm still convinced I am gonna look like the Devil.|
|Kristen:||You'll look very nice, no matter what.|
|Steve:||...like a HANDSOME devil?||*crickets*|
|Kristen:||OH MY GOD AND YOU'RE LAUGHING!||Next day, talking about my Philosophy thesis via text|
|Steve:||I came up with a great way to wrap up my presentation. It has to do with The Origin of Language, music, emotion, tying to empathy, mirror neurons, and ending with What It Means To Be Human. Boom. Drop the mic. Bounce.|
|Kristen:||I kind of hate you. You'll do great though. Love you, boy.|
|Anakin and Obi-Wan are lightsaber fighting while climbing a structure...|
|Ben:||You know, in this situation, I'd rather be the guy on the bottom.|
|Steve:||Yeah you would.|
|Ben:||Because the guy on the top has to do all the work.|
|Steve:||Because the GUY on the TOP...|
And my roommate has no idea.
We’re not friends, we just live together. We’ve had problems but I’m not going to be mean and tell him that’s why I’m leaving. If he wants to put two and two together that’s fine. I’m moving in with some of my closest friends on the opposite end of campus, much closer to all the action, and all my friends. It’s gonna be good.
But we were joking about what I should do about telling my roommate. My favorite solution is just to move out without telling him and see how long it takes for him to realize and/or text me and ask.
I’m on a How I Met Your Mother binge recently, watching old episodes during breakfast and whenever I want to waste some time. This morning I watched Season 6, Episode 13, “Bad News”. In the very end, as Marshall is about to celebrate his good news from the clinic with his father, his wife shows up to tell him about his father’s heart attack. Marshall’s father has died. All Marshall says is, “I’m not ready for this.”
Call me a baby if you like, but I broke down the first time I saw this episode, and I broke down this morning seeing it again. I believe the first time I watched it was shortly after both of my dad’s parents had recently passed away, and I broke down at the thought of going through what my own father was going through at that time.
Today, I broke down again, because I know exactly the emotion being portrayed on screen. Danny isn’t my father, or anything like that, but I looked up to him a lot, and there are certain things that I’d want to celebrate with him. I think the toughest part of missing someone who has passed comes every time you’d like them to be there for a big change in your life, or to celebrate an accomplishment.
I like the line, “I’m not ready for this.” I don’t know if it’s something someone would say in real life, but it’s completely true. We were never ready for Danny to go.
I’m not ready for this.
So yesterday was one of the greatest days of my life. The band I play in got bumped up to play on the same stage as Matt Kearney and Train; I got to meet Matt Kearney, and later Pat Monahan and one of Train’s managers in the VIP area. Monahan told me “You’re a funny guy; you got balls, just coming over and meeting us,” and talked with me for a while after that. Both bands were amazing in concert. Great day.
Photo credit to the beautiful talltell.