JOEY

The story was in the paper with a photo I hardly recognized, but it was him all right.  I hadn’t seen or heard of him for many years but no day passed without me thinking of him.  It wasn’t obsessive, like he was something I couldn’t solve or something painful.   Just something would happen or I’d see something or even there might be a voice on the radio or TV and I’d just flash Joey for a minute.  A boyhood memory.

But sometimes it was really intense as though I’d teleported back in time to the old neighborhood.  There were maybe four of us guys who were about the same age.  It was the Fifties and Cub Scouts were the thing but that was only part of what we did together.  It wasn’t like today where everything was organized.  More or less we just went out exploring and found things to do.  Could have had a ball and played a little catch or something.  Maybe found a good place to make a cave in the side of a dry stream bed.  Or maybe there was an apple tree that wasn’t too green to eat — or if the apples were too green they still made good missiles to lob at each other.

Joey was the smallest of us but the boldest, which was kind of crazy because of his old man.  His old man was a beater.  We could hear Joey screaming and even the belt hitting him if it was summer and the windows were open.  All our dads gave us a licking now and then.  I’ve read about lots of famous men whose fathers beat them when they were kids.  But there was something really scary about these beatings, as though Joey’s dad were possessed or something.  He couldn’t seem to stop.  And we never really understood why.  What was so awful that Joey would have to be beaten like somebody in the movies tied to a wagon wheel?

But it didn’t have much effect on Joey anyway.  In fact, it seemed as though he just set his mind to defy his monster father and go on doing whatever it was double.  He could not be controlled by beatings.  We wondered why his mom didn’t stop them.  We’d sit out in the yard in a little huddle and listen, waiting for Joey to come out to prove he hadn’t died.  We never thought of calling the cops.  We never even thought of telling our folks.  What could they do either?  Families didn’t mess in each other’s business.  Anyway, the grownups in the neighborhood had to know.  If they didn’t do anything about it, then it must be acceptable, right?

One night I snuck out of my house.  No particular reason.  I just could so I did.  My folks didn’t keep track of me that close.  Anyway, they were having a big fight and wouldn’t have noticed if the house had caught on fire.  So I was wandering around the backyards along the street and then over towards the arboretum.  My dog came along.  Otherwise I probably wouldn’t have found Joey.

My dog liked Joey and went over to this bundle or something.  I could hear a little noise and then saw that it was Joey with his knees drawn up, hiding his face and not quite crying.  More like whimpering.  My dog licked his ears and he realized I was there.  I sat down beside him in the grass.  I didn’t say anything.  What was there to say?  I threw my arm over his shoulders and held him.

Pretty soon we lay back on the grass and there we were with our arms around each other like lovers with my dog lying alongside.  I kissed Joey’s face which was soft and hardly salty and I kissed his eyes.  I could tell he was beginning to smile and that made me happy.  We were so young we couldn’t even hardly develop a proper hard-on, but it felt so good to use my body to comfort someone — I mean, someone not a dog.  It was so naturally loving and human.

I wonder if I should contact him now?  We kept it sort of private.  The other guys weren’t part of the deal — it was just me and Joey.

Then when we were older we went to different high schools.  That first year Joey’s dad was still beating him and gave him a really bad black eye.  A senior boy, Dirk, saw that black eye behind the dark glasses Joey wore to school and he went over to where Joey’s dad worked and beat the shit out of him.  After that Dirk and Joey were always together.  I wished I’d been that brave.  I went to see that Marlon Brando movie where he was on a motorcycle and that’s what Dirk was like.  Pretty soon Joey started being like that, too.  Anyway, I was beginning to notice girls.  But I never forgot Joey.  I guess I’ll probably never contact him either.

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