Friday, July 5, 2013

The Betrayal

When we moved back to the Chicago area from Florida it was in the summer and there were not a lot of third grade boys around. Most of them of them were starting to play baseball or off on vacation. Mostly what I did that summer was sit under the willow tree in our backyard and read. There were three girls of various ages that lived next door and when they came to see my older sister they would always say, “You need to meet Kevin sometime. He’s gone for the summer, because his family has a place in Wisconsin, but when he gets back.”

When I started school it wasn’t easy making friends. Some of the boys asked me to play ball with them but when it became apparent that I was hopeless at it, they quickly abandoned me. I was still very small in those days and would often get picked on by the older kids.   One day I was walking home with my books and some sixth graders ran by and knocked them out of my hands onto the sidewalk. As I was picking them up a boy came up to me and started helping me.  He looked at my books and said, “You’re in third grade too.  My name is Kevin.”  We walked home together and started a friendship that has lasted more than forty years.

Our first house when we moved back to Chicago was in a neighborhood that had no fences.   Kevin’s house was on the next block over but to meet up we only needed to run through two backyards.  We became thick as thieves.  Kevin’s dad was a lot older than my dad. He was very into science and mechanics and always wore a pith helmet.  His garage was full of some of the most interesting things. Kevin and I had a lot of opportunity to play around with radios, solar panels and all sorts of other things.  Kevin’s mother drove an electric car which was pretty radical for the 70s. It looked like a red-orange wedge of cheese and hummed like a kitten when she would pick him up some days from school.

Kevin and I continued to be best friends throughout junior high school and then into our teens.  We moved to a new neighborhood when I was thirteen but still Kevin and I would ride bikes to each others’ houses. Later on when we were upperclassmen, we rebuilt a couple of cars so we could drive.  One was a green station wagon, his, and one was a 77 Camaro, mine that my Dad let me use until he could sell it.  Kevin knew a lot about cars and we would often have carburetors and other engine parts strewn out on my mother’s kitchen table.

Kevin and I sang together in the choir and roomed with each other when we went on tours.  Sometimes he’d come to my bedroom widow and say “Quit writing.  Let’s go out for awhile.” We would sneak out then, go to the JoJos, talk and drink coffee. Sometimes we would go out to the golf course, lay on the car hood, stare at the moon and drink a little something he had stolen from his father’s liquor cabinet watered down with copious amounts of orange juice.

Kevin really was my best friend, which made it all the worse when I betrayed him.

The betrayal unfolded like this. One night at a school I met a girl who was wearing fishnet stockings.  She was cute and funny and I asked her out. We started dating.  I didn’t say anything about it because I didn’t know exactly how it was going to pan out. I don’t have the best record of keeping girlfriends. One day Kevin came to me and said, “I think I have found a girl I finally want to ask out.” Kevin had had his heart broken earlier when his steady girlfriend moved to Indiana.  I asked him who it was and it turned out it was the girl I was dating.

I probably should have said something right then, but I didn’t.  As things got more steady with me and the girl, I wrestled with how I would tell Kevin.  Then one day when I was in the hall at school, I was at the girl’s locker, and before she went to class she kissed me.  I didn’t take two steps down the hall to my own class when I saw Kevin looking very, very disappointed.

Later on that day we had to go to some assembly in the auditorium. I sat down next to Kevin and tried to explain myself and apologize. He wouldn’t look at me. Finally he said, “You could have said something, but instead you made me look like an idiot as I repeatedly asked that girl out and she said no. I think you want to find another seat.” We didn’t talk for several weeks after that. He sent me back the tickets to Jackson Browne and The Eagles, concerts that we had planned to go to that summer.  Concerts, that I wanted to go to with Kevin, but I ended up going to with other friends.

Finally the guilt of what I had done to Kevin got to me and broke up with the girl.  A few days later I called Kevin and left him a message. I told him I wanted to talk to him and he should meet me in the park at 3:00.  I went there at the appointed hour but he never came.  I went home and my Mom said, “Sometimes, T.S., you do things that can’t be repaired. You may have lost Kevin’s trust. That’s important in a friendship.” 

Later that night I was sitting on our front porch and Kevin drove up. He walked up the driveway, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.  We said hello and we made small talk.  He offered me a cigarette and I took it.  He sat down.  He said, “I was talking to Pop tonight and he said ‘Kevin, T.S. is trying make up, he’s looking for a second chance.  Don’t let girls get in the way of friendship.”  Awhile later we got into his car and went to do the things we would always do when we would sneak away.  When Kevin dropped off back at home he asked me, “So do you mind if I ask her out?”  I laughed like hell.

As I say Kevin and I have been friends for more than forty years now. We shared all of the milestones of our adult lives, the joy of weddings and babies; the sadness of sickness and death. Several years ago he moved to his family’s place in Wisconsin and started a new life.  Still whenever Kevin calls me or I call him, which is becoming lesser and lesser frequently, we talk for an hour about music, politics, and our lives.  It’s just like we used to talk.  It’s as if time didn’t pass at all.

I think the lesson I learned as a young man in the whole episode of the betrayal is that you have to try your best to be diligent in your actions so as not hurt another person.  I learned the importance of honesty and trust in the relationships you have.  I also learned there is always the possibility of redemption even if you screwed up pretty bad.