I think the first time I saw Jimmy, he was out fighting with his daddy. All our daddies were rough – that weren’t nothing new for me, but something about Jimmy’s daddy…he was just a bit reckless, like he was always about to break something. Sometimes that something was Jimmy.
I guess we must’ve been about 14 or 15 before we ever said more than two words to each other. And even if we lived in the same trailer park for 10 years before that it wasn’t until we had a class together in high school that we became friends. Funny – our friends were friends, so it was pretty easy to fall in with each other. Don’t know why we never had before. And Jimmy was something pretty to look at. I always said, Thank goodness for that Indian mama of yours, Jimmy – she was Native American, not an Indian from India – Thank goodness for her, ‘cause Lord knows you didn’t get those pretty eyes from your daddy. But who knew? His daddy was so old and broken down by the time any of us laid eyes on him – I swear he must’ve been an old man before he ever planted that seed in Jimmy’s mama’s belly. Don’t blame her for running off, neither – just blame her for leaving pretty Jimmy behind.
But as I say, he was something easy on the eyes – skin all tan from being out in the sun all day, and from his mama’s blood, eyes crystal blue-green like the color of Normandy Lake in July (I know on account of my own daddy bringing us there every summer), hair chocolate brown with lots of blonde running through it, run through it just like his right hand always did – must’ve been a nervous tick or something, but he was always running that hand through his hair. He weren’t very tough, and I didn’t wonder how come, what with seeing what he and his daddy was eating half the time. Nothing but cup o’noodles in that house – Jimmy never touched a vegetable. I’m not sure he knew what the damn things were anyway. He was tall, though…tall and skinny, and always a little bit shiny from the heat, and from riding that skateboard of his every which way he went. He weren’t very good at it – couldn’t do tricks or nothing – but he could ride it all right. And I’d be lying through my teeth if I said he didn’t look a damn sight rolling into school or down the road on that little piece of wood and four wheels.
Everybody liked Jimmy, and Jimmy liked just about everybody. He had this goofy laugh that made the whole top of him heave, and he laughed an awful lot. He really knew how to make a body feel good about himself, always putting a hand on a guy’s shoulder, or smiling at the girls with that twinkle in his eye. And everybody wanted to be close to him. They wanted his opinions on just about everything, even if he didn’t know much about much, and they wanted to skate with him, even if he weren’t any good, and the girls always had something to ask him, but they knew not to get too close or I’d start looking at them to let them know what was what. At least in the beginning.
Probably we did too much drinking and smoking ourselves. Seemed like every weekend somebody’d be throwing one party or another, and always felt like you had to drink up as much of that cheap keg beer and smoke up as much of that brown weed as you could or else maybe you’d never get the chance to do it again. So we’d fill up our plastic cups ten, fifteen, maybe even twenty times. Funny thing was, Jimmy could never rightly hold his drink, and more often than not, I’d be walking him home with one of his arms slung ‘round my shoulders thinking it should’ve been the other way. I did worry about him – we both knew about his questionable genetic inheritance from his daddy’s side. At one of them keg parties I swear I looked for that boy all over the backyard of Todd Billingham’s house and I couldn’t find him anywhere. Started asking everybody to help me find him, but they was all too drunk to care. Kept telling me he most probably left without me, but I knew he’d never do such a thing, so I just kept on looking. And then finally I found him, way back in the corner of the garden where there weren’t no light or nothing and nobody, sitting on a horrible torn-up, rusted old kitchen chair somebody probably threw out there maybe five years ago. Just sitting there with his drink in his two hands, like he had to hold it for his dear life, shaking something awful, telling me how cold he was right there in the middle of June, and I was so worried, I didn’t feel like his girlfriend at all. I felt like his mama, and I just wanted to put my arms around him and tell him everything was gonna be alright. So I did. And he started crying, real soft-like, and he asked me if I was gonna leave him. So I lied. I said, Of course I’d never leave you, baby. But we both knew I was gonna get out of Tennessee come hell or high water, and nothing or nobody was gonna stop me.
Jimmy and me – we didn’t talk much. It was like we already knew what we had to say, and it was also like we’d known each other all that time, even though we never did say more than hello and hi before that first class together. We did an awful lot of walking…Jimmy didn’t like to be home, and I guess I didn’t neither, and even if our town was a bit ugly to look at, it was our town, and we didn’t have much to call our own. Every night when we’d head back our stride would get a little stiffer, wondering if Jimmy’s daddy’d be up, and if he were, what he’d be like. There were the good nights, when he’d be all passed out on the floor or even in front of the trailer. That’s when I learned how strong Jimmy really was: he could heave his poor old daddy right up on his shoulder and carry him to bed. Sometimes he was cheerful, especially if one of his boys had come to see him with a bottle. He’d show off a bit – try to make Jimmy look stupid – but Jimmy knew how get around it, and he’d laugh and guffaw with his daddy for a bit before he’d make his way to bed, and he’d make sure he looked asleep before his daddy came in. But there were lots of bad times, too, and I guess that’s what scared me away in the end. When his daddy was drunk and couldn’t find something – that could be the worst. I always knew there was something funny about Jimmy’s daddy’s eyes, but I guess I figured on Jimmy not wanting to talk about it. So we didn’t. Until we did.
It was on just such an occasion: Jimmy and me were out on one of our long walks – we must’ve been about 16 then, and it was summer time, so the sun was out late. We got home just after dark, and Jimmy’s daddy was real drunk. We could tell just as soon as we walked through the gates of the trailer park. You could see him all that way off, staggering around, looking for something. Jimmy tensed up right away – I could feel it go right from his hand into my own, so easy and gentle just a minute before – and I just knew we should turn around and go somewhere else. But Jimmy got that steely look in his eyes, like he always did when his daddy was fixing to be a nightmare, and he squared his skinny shoulders and started heading that way. Sure enough, his daddy was in a state, kicking and hollering and I’m pretty sure somebody’d called the cops by that point. Jimmy was always so brave with his daddy, never hit him back, never called him names. I know it just about killed him to even try and restrain him…probably he’d have preferred to just let his old man beat on him till he was good and tired, but he could throw a punch, that old bastard, and Jimmy had to protect himself. Before he could pin him down this time, though, Jimmy’s daddy got a good one in – broke a bottle over Jimmy’s pretty face. Looked awful for weeks, but only left him with a little scar in the end. And then the cops came and drove him away – told Jimmy he’d have to go to the hospital on account of he might have concussion, even if Jimmy swore he didn’t and he’d be just fine. And even though my own mama was giving me the evil get-your-ass-inside-right-now look, I just couldn’t leave him there like that. So we rode off in the ambulance together. I always wanted to thank my mama for letting me go that night.
They gave Jimmy an icepack for his eye and a couple of those butterfly bandages for the cut, and I gave Jimmy a what-for. I don’t know where it came from – couldn’t have picked a worse time – but I was so tired of being afraid for him, and I told him then and there that he had to tell somebody about his daddy. The paramedic asked if there was something Jimmy wanted to talk about, and Jimmy just looked at me with so much resentment and anger and said, No, real quiet-like, with that kind of tone you know means business, so I looked down and shut my trap, and the paramedic said something about if he needed to talk, and that was that. After they sewed up his cut, they said they’d need an adult to come along and get us, so I lied and said my daddy’d been waiting outside all this time, and pointed at a car just outside with an older man in it. They didn’t seem like they were fixing to do any kind of investigating – just looked in that direction and said OK.
Jimmy was real mad. There was anger in his silence as we walked home. There was a space between us that shouldn’t have been there. I was only 16, but I knew those were the times that tested two friends or lovers, and I was failing bad. But I just couldn’t see how he could put up with that horrible old man all the time, and I wanted to tell him so, but I knew deep down that he already knew that’s what I thought. I knew it even better when he threw down the ice pack they’d sent him home with and started shouting about all the things I didn’t know, and my big mouth, and my big nose, and by the time he was through yelling at me for the first time ever – for the first time I’d ever even heard him holler – I felt about as ugly on the inside as I did on the out, and I just hung my head low and kept willing my feet to go one in front of the other and get me home.
But somehow in that silence he forgave me. Maybe he remembered how much I loved him. That was when he told me. After a little while longer on that long walk home, he said, My daddy’s going blind. And I guess he always had been – at least since Jimmy’d been old enough to know any different – and Jimmy said that’s why he drinks so much. I wanted to ask him other things, like if his mama left because he drank or because he was going blind, and if the government was giving him money to drink away his sorrows on account of him going blind. I wanted to ask Jimmy why he had to beat on him so damn much just because he was mad at God – it wasn’t Jimmy’s fault, after all. I wanted to shake Jimmy and tell him that he was too good for that piece of shit, and that nobody should hurt him that way. But I knew that I couldn’t…I knew he’d never hear me out. Because I was on the outside looking in, and even though I knew Jimmy’s pain more than anybody else, I barely knew a thing about it.
After that, we didn’t kiss and hold hands or do stuff when my mama was out of the trailer, but we were still together almost all the time. And it was like I’d accepted that Jimmy wasn’t gonna be my man, and that was OK. It wasn’t because I didn’t love him. I think I might have loved that boy more than anybody I’ve ever loved before, although I’m not rightly sure it was romantic love, even way back then. And it wasn’t because of his daddy. But I sure did hate that son of a bitch. It was because I was as close to Jimmy as any girl or guy could get, and I was never gonna be close enough to suit me. So I just had to let him go. Anyway, I was never jealous of his other girlfriends…they might’ve been pretty, but Jimmy never loved them as much as he loved me for those couple of years.
Time went on and we went our separate ways. I made my way to California, just like I’d always dreamed. Even hitched a ride to get there, risking being killed by a serial killer according to my mama. But I got me there just fine, and I met a real nice man from Greece who gave me a job in his restaurant not two days after I crossed the state line. And my tips were real good, and I started taking acting classes. I’ve only had a couple of little roles so far, but I’m happy. Last time I saw Jimmy he looked awful different. Said he’d found Jesus. Never understood how somebody who’d lived how he lived could put their faith in God, but then I was never one for all that religious stuff. Anyway, his hair was all clean and combed, and he had on a real neat suit and tie, and he had this real pretty, boring looking girl with him. There wasn’t any twinkle in his eye anymore, though…don’t rightly know where it went. I know his daddy died some years ago, but Lord help me if he took Jimmy’s spark with him when he went. Just leave it to that selfish bastard to go and do something so nasty.