One never knows when a life-changing event might occur. One happened to Cory when he went to his dad’s funeral.
The last time I saw my dad alive was at my youngest brother’s high school graduation. There was a photo taken I’ll always remember: Will was dressed in a forest green graduation gown. His big, brown eyes peered out from underneath the cap and his long hair trailed to his shoulders. He stared at the camera looking ill at ease like maybe he was stoned which, years late, he confirmed. Dad stood next to him, smiling and proud, looking like he wanted to put his arm around his son. But he didn’t, being one who was not comfortable demonstrating affection, public or otherwise. He was dressed the way all middle aged men of the day usually dressed for such an event: dark charcoal dress pants, a thin, black, shinny belt with a modest gold buckle, and a light blue, neatly pressed, long sleeve dress shirt, open at the collar. He was a handsome six foot one with discerning gray-green eyes, a quick laugh an even quicker smile. His tan belied his health and, in spite of smoking a packet of Benson and Hedges a day, his teeth were brilliant and white. People were drawn to him and he had numerous friends. His hair was cut short and it was dark, with only a hint of grey showing on the sides. Where Will was thin, dad was not, out weighing him by forty-five pounds. But he wore the weight well, looking fit and strong. He was forty seven years old and five weeks later he would be dead, killed by a massive heart attack early one morning doing jumping-jacks in the bedroom of his home in a suburb south of Seattle.
Dad’s friend Sam (Sammy) Wong called mom and told her of the news. Will and my other brother still lived at home in Minneapolis, so they found out right away. It took half a day to get a hold of me. I’d been out riding my bicycle around one of the city’s lakes near where I lived and had decided to take a nap under a shady cottonwood tree. When I got back to the apartment I shared with my friend Greg, he told me to call home. I did and that’s how I found out. I didn’t have a car so Tim, my brother two years younger than me, borrowed mom’s ’69 Impala and he drove over to get me.
On the way back we talked.
“Man, I can’t believe he’s dead. We just saw him, what, a month ago?” Tim was twenty and a few inches shorter than my six feet. We played in a band together, ‘Expecting to Fly’, named after one of The Buffalo Springfield’s songs. Since we played a lot of Neil Young covers, we thought we were being clever. Tom wore blue jeans, a white tee-shirt and moccasins. His hair was shaggy, not as long as mine (which was past my shoulders) and he wore wire frame granny glasses. He was a natural singer and played drums in the band and was good at it. When we began to get interested in music dad told us he had played drums, too, when he was a boy. As an adult he was a jazz man. He loved the guitarist Charlie Byrd and the drummer, Buddy Rich. To foster our interest in music (even though it was rock and roll), he bought us a pearl gray Slingerland Drum set when we begged for it. I give him a lot of credit for giving in to our pleading without batting an eye, but then again he may have had an ulterior motive. I was in ninth grade and Tim was in seventh at the time. A year later he left home and three years after that he married his girl friend, a stewardess who worked for the same airline where dad was a senior pilot. She was twenty-four then, six years older than me. If it sounds weird, it was. “How do you think Jane will handle it?” Tim asked.
“Who knows?” I didn’t care for her at all and only tried to get along with her because of dad. “She’s probably crying in her wine.” She liked to drink and smoke. So did dad. Dead at forty seven? Maybe it was to be expected.
Back at the house we sat around the kitchen table. There really wasn’t much to say. We’d all made out peace years ago, in one way or another, in the seven years since dad had left our home. But now he was dead. As final as final could be. The next step was the funeral. That’s why we were all getting together-to decide who, if any of us, should go. Well, to make a long story short, it ended up being me. Will had a trip planned to go to the Rocky Mountains with some friends. Tim wanted to stay home and work on music with the band. It fell to me, at twenty-two and the oldest, to ‘represent the family’ as we put it. Mom was fine either way. She, too, had moved on, but of all of us she was the most saddened by Dad’s passing.
“I always thought he might come back to me,” she said when I hugged her good-bye later that evening. Then she started shaking a little and a few tears formed, “I always kept a torch burning for your father.”
Well, what do you say to that? The guy had left her for a woman just a few years older than his oldest son.
I hugged her tight. “Now you can really move on with your life, mom,” I said. Sage advice coming from someone who’s longest relationship with a woman up to that point was the one I was currently in-three turbulent months. “Go out and find someone who’ll treat you right,” I added, trying to sound like I knew what I was talking about.
She squeezed me back and wiped her eyes, “I will, honey.” She gave me a game smile, then held me at arm’s length and brushed my hair back behind my ears. “I wish you’d get a haircut, though, before the funeral.”
I smiled and called for Tim. He was giving me a ride back to my apartment. “Don’t worry, Mom. No one is going to care what I look like.” It turned out to be one of the few things I was right about on that entire trip.
Four days later I was on a Boeing 727 heading to Seattle with my backpack stuffed under my seat. I was traveling light. I wore an unbleached cotton long sleeved peasant shirt I’d gotten at the local coop, baggy jeans with lots of pockets, hunting boots, and my ever present leather lace tied around my neck with a beaded peace sign dangling off it. I left my old felt hat at home in deference to dad. I only planned to stay a day or so. But at the funeral I met Bo Boulay and ended up staying nine months longer. His impact on me stayed with me for the rest of my life.
When I landed in Seattle Sammy Wong picked me up at the airport. He was second generation Japanese-American and I liked him a lot.
“Good to see, you, Cory,” he said, shaking my hand when I got into the terminal. “You holding up Ok?” He was a short, thin, athletic guy who moved with natural quickness. He was friendly, like my dad had been, and there were lots of laugh lines on his face.
“I’m good,” I said and proceeded to fill him in on what was going on with my mom and brothers back home in Minneapolis. He and his wife had been friendly with my family for years and still stayed in touch, despite Sammy and his family’s recent move to Seattle. He was a pilot and had been transferred there by the airline like my dad had been. They lived on Vashon Island, in Puget Sound, fifteen miles north of Federal Way, where dad and Jane lived. His three girls where the same age as me and my brothers. He told me that his oldest, Sue, was in law school, his next oldest, Nancy, was in pre-med and his youngest, Sally, who had just graduated from high school like Will, was going to spend time in Africa in the Peace Corps. The comparisons between Sammy’s bright, driven kids with me and my brothers, who were decidedly less so, were, thankfully, not touched on; Sammy have the good grace to move on and not dwell on a sore point between me and my recently deceased father.
Dad’s home in Federal Way was off Interstate 5 between Seattle and Tacoma. It was a community of brand new homes carved out of a large pine forest. Sammy was driving his British racing green Triumph TR-4 with the top down. We passed through the imposing stone pillars marking the entrance to the community after about a half hour drive from the airport. As Sammy slowed to turn in, I took out a comb and tried to get the snags out of my hair, to limited success. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him watching me, smiling slightly. He didn’t say anything though, which I thought was nice. He was a really polite, decent guy.
The streets wound through the development, up and down hills, bending and curving around corners until, even though I’d been there a few times before, I was completely lost. The homes, being brand new, had a modern look to them and were a mixture of ramblers, ranch homes with the occasional colonial two story tossed in for good measure. In my spare time back home I cut lawns and did yard work to make extra money and I was impressed by the tasteful landscaping, with gardens full of blooming shrubs planted near the houses and large beds of colorful annuals scattered around the yards. The grass was bright and green, indicative, I figured, of regular rains. Large, squared timbers and massive rocks had been used to shore up the edges of slopes, and in some properties I saw an occasional fountain, bubbling and cascading cheerfully in some back corner of the yard. It was a community that oozed prosperity, just the kind of place that would be perfect for my dad. He liked things new and neat and tidy and this place fit that bill to a tee. Once through the entrance it took us ten minutes to get to dad’s home: a two year old, low L-shaped rambler with light tan siding and dark shutters around the windows. It sat on the top of one of the highest points of land in the development. There were cars parked in the double width driveway and they spilled out onto the street. Sammy pulled up behind a red Mercedes sedan and parked.
“Lots of people have been stopping by to see Jane and pay their respects,” he told me, getting out. “Her parents have flown in from D.C.,” he paused, running a hand through his hair, thinking. “I should tell you that her younger brother’s here, too,” he finally said as we started walking toward the house.
I was glad to hear there’d be someone there somewhat close to my age. “Oh, yeah?”
“Yes. He’s a little different.”
Jane had never mentioned her brother before, so my mind went to town, thinking about what ‘different’ might actually mean; crippled or deformed or mentally not all that much there. I had no idea what to expect. I soon found out.
The front door opened when we got there and a guy stood in the doorway like he was expecting us. He was a little older than me, and was muscular and stocky, about three inches shorter than I was. His head was shaved, so were his eyebrows and he had a week’s worth of thick, dark beard on his face. His eyes were a piercing blue, his jaw was square, his lips full and he wore a gold stud in his left ear. There was a light scar on his right side of his face that ran from his cheek bone to his jaw bone. He wore camouflage pants, black combat boots and a tight black tee-shirt that showed off his muscles. There was a tattoo of a skull and crossbones on his left bicep and a Tao symbol on the right. He took one look at me and smiled a huge smile, showing white teeth, and said, “Hey man. You must be Cory. I’m Bo. It’s about time you got here. I’m can’t take it anymore with all these old fogies around here,” he glanced at Sammy and added, “No offense.”
Sammy just grimaced and went inside, whispering to me as he passed, “Good luck and be careful.”
I probably should have listened to his cryptic advice but I was too caught up in the moment.
Bo put his arm around my shoulder like we were long lost buddies and hustled me off the front steps. “My car’s parked over here,” he said, pointing to the street where a dilapidated, faded blue, Volkswagen was parked with two wheels on the lawn. Let’s go for a drive.”
I was thinking that I should probably stop in and pay my respects to Jane, after all that’s what I was here for, but I really didn’t have any choice. Bo came across as a force of nature and I was immediately swept up by his energy. Back then, I was by nature a reticent person, more of a follower than a leader, and I was willing to be carried along with the monsoon tidal wave of his personality.
“Let’s go down to the Sound,” he said, leading me across the grass to his car, “I feel like getting high.” I got in the VW getting the impression from the debris on the floor and crap on the seats that he might live in it. Which wasn’t half wrong.
He grabbed a handful of junk food wrappers off the passenger seat and tossed them in the back, giving me a glance and saying, “Sorry about that.” He told me he’d driven straight through from Colorado, where he’d been staying with friends, at the request of his sister to attend the funeral. He’d been living in the car to save money for the three days it took him to make the trip.
Then he started the engine and pulled out a joint that he lit and inhaled deeply, holding in for a long time before exhaling the smoke with a satisfied sigh. He offered me a hit which I reluctantly took, taking a tiny drag just to be friendly and quickly gave it back to him as I tried not to cough. Then he put the car in gear and drove us out of the safe security of Federal Way and down an ever complicated series of hilly tree lined streets and winding roads for about ten miles toward Puget Sound. He knew the area like he’d lived there all his life. Which he hadn’t, he just had a way with direction.
“I’ve never been lost in my whole life,” he told me as he downshifted into second gear and sped past a slow moving truck. “I’ve got a natural born compass built in me.” I clutched the door handle and held on for dear life. Even though he was a good driver, he made up his own rules as he sped through the streets, ignoring stop signs and racing through stop lights if there wasn’t anyone around. I had to admit, though, it was a fun, exhilarating ride.
I don’t know why I was enamored with the guy, but I was. He was just so different. He’d been to Vietnam. He did drugs. He told me he thought he might have child somewhere. We had zero in common, but there was something there.
“Tell me about yourself,” he said, as he drove.”You a hippy or something?” Then he laughed, barking out a mouth full of weed, coughing as tears formed in his eyes. He punched me in the arm and the car swerved to the right, “Just kidding.” He laughed again and then straightened us out. “No really, I’m curious, what do you do with your time?”
So I told him about the band I was in. I told him I liked to write and that I’d had some poems published in a local literary journal. I told him about my yard work. I told him I didn’t have any real plans.
“Yeah, I can dig that. What’s wrong with being free and doing what you want, right?”
Well now, years later of course I could think of lots of answers to that question, but back then I grinned at him, feeling that with Bo I’d found a kindred spirit, someone who wasn’t going to put pressure on me to do anything worthwhile or accomplish anything meaningful with my life.
I relaxed and reached for his joint, “Exactly,” I said, taking a hit and only coughing a little, “I couldn’t have put it any better.”
Victory Park was southwest of downtown Seattle and was known for its groves of beautiful tall pine trees and large, well maintained gardens full of colorful mixtures of yellow, blue, red, orange, white and violet flowers separated by large grassy areas where people could picnic, throw footballs or Frisbees and let their dogs run. Bo parked the car, we got out and stumbled around for nearly an hour, laughing and giggling taking surreptitious hits off another joint of his. We finally found a weathered stone stairway that took us thirty five steps (I counted) through a steep, forested incline, down to the shore. As we came off the bottom step Puget Sound stretched out before us, a wide tidal inlet unlike anything back home in the upper Midwest, land of meadows, farm fields and woodlots. I’d been to the Sound before on visits with my dad, and I was always taken by its beauty: the sailboats out on the water dodging bigger motor boats, tugboat pushing barges, lush pine tree islands where people with money lived, the ferries motoring back and forth, gulls soaring and calling, locals out on the mudflats looking for clams, the distinct aroma of the ocean with seaweed everywhere washed up on the rocky shoreline, and the air filled with a mixture of sea salt and pine like a wild, fresh incense.
This was Bo’s first trip to the Pacific Northwest. “What do you think?” I asked when we settled down on a graying driftwood log. A soft breeze blew through my hair. We were on a pebble beach facing west and way off to our right we could just make out the Olympic Mountains up on the Olympic Peninsulas almost a hundred miles away. Sunlight glistened off the water and tiny ripples on its surface sparkled like diamonds. The air had a moist coolness to it that was refreshing. Small waves lapped hypnotically on the small rounded stones that made up the shoreline. Gulls cried and squawked overhead.
Bo was gazing around like in a trance. “I can dig it, man. It’s not like where I’m from at all. I grew up out east and it’s kind of old and settled. Being out here makes me feel good. It feels wild. Like there are still possibilities to do whatever you want to do.”
“Oh, you know…anything.” He bent down and picked out a stone. “Look at this, will you. See how smooth it is?” I looked. It was colored with mottled grays and greens, about two inches across and nice and flat. Perfect for skipping. Bo wasn’t thinking about playing any childish games, though. “Can you imagine the history behind this? Where it came from? It was probably formed over a million years ago and traveled through the eons on a journey we can only pretend to imagine to finally end up here it is on this beach.” He looked at me. Then he sniffed the rock, rubbed it on is cheek and then caressed it with his hands. “What a story it could tell.”
Dramatic, I thought. Almost poetic. To me it was just a small rock and I still longed to take it from his hand and skip it out over the water. Bo stood up and stuck the stone in his pocket. “Well, I think it’ll have a different kind of journey, now,” he said, “I’m keeping it for good luck.” He stood up and started to walk toward the stairs, “Let’s go.”
I don’t know. Even now, when I think back on it, Bo was a little different. But I, like I said, I was drawn to him. “Hold on,” I said. I stood up and searched around my feet. Then I bent down and picked up another flat stone. I steadied myself and then flung it out over the water, counting the skips (eleven, if I remember correctly).
Bo laughed and hugged me by the shoulder. “You’re alright, Cory. You’re Ok by my book.”
What he meant by that I had no idea, but it felt good to feel that he at least seemed to be accepting me for who I was.
“Let’s go back to the house,” he said. “You probably want to see my sister and talk about your dad.”
To be frank, I’d forgotten all about Jane and the funeral. He was right, we should get going. Besides, the sun was setting and it would be dark in about an hour.”Yeah, we should,” I said turning to go. But we weren’t ready yet. Bo reached down and selected a stone and fired it out over the water and we both watched, counting the skips.
“What’d you get? Fifteen?”
I nodded in agreement, “Yeah, pretty close.”
He smiled and breathed in a big lung full of fresh air. “Man, I could really get into it down here. We should come back.” I told him I’d come back any time he wanted and he seemed happy with that. Then we walked across the shoreline, climbed the stone stairs up to the top, found the trail through the pine trees out to the grassy spaces and flower gardens, made our way to the car and drove off.
So far so good, right? Just two guys hanging out together and getting to know each other. Well, my safe and secure life started to unravel a bit on the way back to Jane’s house.
“Let’s stop at this Quik-Mart,” Bo said pointing out a convenience store just after we’d left the park. “I need a few things.”
“Ok, but I don’t have much money,” I told him, traveling light as I called it.
“That’s fine. Just stick with me.”
We pulled into the lot and parked off to the side of the store and went inside. It wasn’t too crowded and the young woman in her early twenties behind the counter was talking to a customer and barely gave us a glance.
“What you want me to do?” I asked, starting to get nervous. Bo was acting different. He had forced himself to calm down, hardly able to contain his natural nervous energy.
We were slowly walking down an aisle full of candy when he startled me by suddenly taking random candy bars off the shelves and handing them to me. “Here, stuff these in your pockets…Quick,” he told me, looking casually around.
He was shoplifting. Now it may sound odd, but up until then I’d never stolen anything in my life. Of course I’d been tempted, just to try it when I was a kid, but never had worked up the courage to do it. I guess Bo assumed I wouldn’t balk at his order. I didn’t want him to think I was chicken so I had a decision to make. “Ok,” I whispered, nervously joining in and putting a Snickers Bar in my pocket.
“Good man,” Bo said and then continued walking through the store picking items seemingly at random, sometimes giving them to me, sometimes putting them in his own pockets. One time he handed me a bag of M and M’s that I dropped and bent to pick up, glancing quickly around. No one seemed to care enough to pay any attention to us. My uncomfortableness was all my own doing.
After a few more minutes he was ready to leave. “Want anything?” he asked me.
What could I say? I was afraid that we were going to be caught, yet, at the same time, strangely stimulated. It must have pointed to my rather boring life that something so trivial, like stealing, could be so exciting, but it was. I quickly scanned the shelves and put a pack of bic pens in my back pocket. Bo just smiled like he knew something I didn’t.
“Watch this,” he said, walking confidently toward the counter with a loaf of bread and a six pack of Coke. “Works every time,” he whispered over his shoulder as I followed behind, looking side to side, for some reason feeling I had to keep a look out. I need not have wasted the time.
The cashier greeted us with a smile and checked us out without even batting an eye at our (what seemed to me) bulging pockets.
Once in the car Bo started laughing, “Man what a rush, huh?”
We emptied out our take onto our laps. Our haul: nine assorted candy bars (including my bag of M and M’s and my Snickers), a small tube of crest toothpaste, a pack of Kleenex, a deck of bicycle playing cards, a roll of string, some glue, scotch tape, two Hallmark sympathy cards (Bo picked out those, I assumed for Jane), a packet of Marlboro cigarettes and my bic pens.
Bo told me a day didn’t go by when he didn’t steal something. “I love knowing that I might get caught, but it’s never happened yet. I started doing this last year when I got back from ‘Nam. It may not sound like much to you, but for me it’s a real kick.” He looked at me, waiting for some sort of response.
By now I was starting to get a little unsure of Bo, fearful of what weird thing he might do next, but I was also intrigued by the guy. He was so different from anyone I’d ever met or known before in my life. The basic fact was that I liked him and wanted him to like me. I said the only thing that made sense, because it was the truth, “Yeah, it’s a real kick for me, too.” And with that, a bond of sorts, was formed between us.
We drove back to Jane’s. There were over twenty people still there and I tried to cover up my wired nerves while chatting with some of dad’s friends. I think I was mildly successful, only getting a few questioning looks, which probably had to do more with my long-haired appearance then anything else. I paid my respects to Jane. She was tall and thin with an angular somewhat attractive face that was prone to freckles. She was fastidious about her appearance and usually wore her reddish-blond hair down to her shoulders where it flipped out at the ends. I knew she loved my father deeply, but his death had affected her dramatically. She looked worn and exhausted. Her hair, usually so clean and styled was oily, flat and dirty. He complexion had broken out and her eyes were burned red from crying. I found myself feeling sorry for her and as we talked I was cordial with her and she was with me. Two days earlier when I had called and told her I was coming out for the funeral she had graciously suggested that I could sleep on the couch in the den. When some friends of hers joined our conversation, I made an excuse to leave and went in there, set my pack on the floor and looked around.
Dad had been an amateur photographer and his framed photos of seascapes, horses and mountains hung on the walls. There were also quite a few taken of Jane in various artful poses both indoors and outside. I liked the ones he’d taken of her somewhere along the shore of the ocean the best. She had the wind in her hair and the sun on her face she looked fresh and happy. It was nice to see her like that, and I found myself hoping than she would eventually find someone she could be that way with again.
Bo had followed me in and was looking at dad’s pictures.”I like these. I like that he did them all in black and white.”
“Dad was cool. He liked to race sports cars. He liked jazz. He was an alright guy.”
“Weren’t you mad at him when he left you guys for my big sis?”
“Well, ya…” I spent some time talking to him about all of that. When my story had run its course I said, “Let’s go outside. I’ve got something to show you.”
We went into the garage. The sun had set by now and darkness was settling in. I found a step ladder and we took it around to the back of the house. Everyone was inside and we were all by ourselves. I set up the ladder next to the house and climbed up. I could easily hoist myself onto the roof.
“Come on,” I told Bo.
He joined me and we carefully made our way to the top crest and sat down. We were looking north toward Puget Sound. The sun was below the horizon and glowing a deep violet. Lights from homes and street lights shone brightly, speckling the night with a feeling of peaceful calm. Somewhere out there in the darkness beyond the horizon was the Pacific Ocean.
“It’s beautiful up here,” Bo said. “Like a being in a dream.”
“I know. I’ve spent a lot of time up here other times when I visited my dad. Sometimes he and Jane would have to work, you know, go out on flights together, so I’d get to stay at the house by myself. I usually came up here every evening to watch the sunset.”
“Didn’t you mind being alone?”
“Never. It was peaceful, just like now.” We could hear the murmur of voices down below inside and the occasion car starting up out front when someone left, but no one came out to the backyard. It was like we had the world all to ourselves.
We stayed up there watching the night unfold, long enough for the guests to leave and Jane to go to bed. We kept talking , getting to know each other better and whiling away the hours. Bo told me that his name came from Bob, his first name, which ironically was my dad’s name. “I thought it was short for Beauregard,” I told him and he almost fell off the roof laughing.
“God no,” he said, catching his breath, laughing some more. “No way,” he said and left it at that.
The stars came out into a cloudless sky, filling the night with a twinkling dome from horizon to horizon. Every now and then we’d see a satellite drifting by. We could see lights blinking on boats miles away on Puget Sound. The scent of pine trees filled the air. It was so quiet, with everyone in the neighborhood having gone to bed, that now and again we could hear long, low whistle of a tugboat out on the Sound, a lonesome moan that sent shivers down my spine. Bo’s too, he told me. Neither of us wore a watch, but we watched the moon rise behind us and slowly move across the sky. At one point I went down the ladder and into the garage to get some old blankets. We wrapped them around ourselves to keep off the chilly air and eventually fell asleep, waking just before dawn to a sky erupting into shades of salmon and pink. We hadn’t even done any drugs. It was unforgettable and one of those experiences that has stayed with me my entire life.
The funeral was at noon that day. I sat in the front row on Jane’s right and she held my hand, weeping the entire service. Her parents were on her left and then Bo. Sammy gave a nice eulogy, talking about his friendship with my dad, what a respected pilot he was and how much my father had loved Jane, which caused her to cry even more. I had been asked to say a few words and I decided to quote from Henry David Thoreau, “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains,” and talked about how much dad had met to me and that his life had ended way too soon, and I would always hold his memory dear, and in that way he would never be gone and be with me always. Whether it had anything to do with Thoreau’s quote…Well, to this day I’m still not sure.
Anyway, people seemed to like what I had to say. The service was well attended at a non-denominational chapel and was mercifully short. There was a framed picture of him on a table in the front next to understated bouquets of flowers, red roses, ferns and Baby’s Breath predominating. There was also a silver plated urn etched with soaring birds that held his ashes. Jane would scatter them at a later date, ‘When I’m ready,’ is what she told everyone. But for me, I’m embarrassed to say that it was all secondary to what was going through my mind. Bo and I had ripped off another convenience store on the way to the funeral, this time netting us, among other things like the cigarettes Bo wanted, a bottle of wine, which Bo drank most of on the way to the funeral.
I can’t tell you how thrilling the experience of stealing was getting to be. For Bo it was the element of danger and maybe getting caught. For me it was deceptively simple: I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to do. Just like a little kid, here I was an adult, acting like a child, and, to be perfectly honest, loving every minute of it.
Sammy and his wife gave a reception at their home on Vashon Island. We had to take a ferry across Puget Sound from downtown Seattle to get there. The Island was about two miles long and a mile wide and rose to a pine tree covered crest a couple of hundred feet above the water in the middle. It was heavily forested with large, architecturally unique homes built on the sloping slides, all with dramatic views of the Sound and downtown Seattle in mind. Sammy loved to garden and his Japanese style contemplative gardens surrounded his low, dark stained, cedar sided ranch home. Bo and I walked in the shaded gardens, talking not about the peaceful serenity of the setting, but the incredible rush we both were getting from our fledgling robbery spree. I was definitely getting hooked on that high, something that Bo readily related to.
“When I was in ‘Nam we were on edge all of the time.” He had been a medic in an Evav Unit (Evacuation Unit). His team would helicopter into a fire zone and pick up the wounded, usually while a battle was still going on. The size of the helicopter limited how many injured they could carry out and often Bo had to decide who it possible to save and who wasn’t. He’d been twenty three at the time. “When I got home, all of a sudden that edge was gone. So was the tension. I tried a few jobs. Even tried meditation. Nothing worked. That adrenaline rush of us coming in under fire to take out my wounded buddies…Man, I’ll tell you, there’s nothing like it in the world. I was that close to getting killed myself dozens of times,” he said, snapping his fingers. Then he took out a cigarette and lit it, sucking in before exhaling and blowing the smoke away from us. We both watched it dissipate in the breeze. My life had been a cake walk compared to his. I had no idea what to say. We were sitting on a stone bench by a small pool in a quiet spot under some drooping cypress trees. The ground was covered with soft green moss and ferns nodded in the breeze. There were a few orange and black and white fish swimming lazily through the water. A small fountain was in the middle that bubbled up and trickled water down its sides, babbling like a brook. “Now-a-days I like to smoke my weed and drink a little wine to calm down,” he said, finally, crushing out the cigarette and putting the butt in his back pocket. “But for the rush…Man you can’t beat robbing stores. At least it works for me.” He glanced at me. “How about you?”
I had been watching the fish while I listened to him, mesmerized by their motion. What could I tell him? It was less about robbing stores and more about being with him and becoming his friend. I enjoyed his company. He was slightly off kilter, but all in all, a decent guy and I enjoyed being with him. I felt, in some small way, I was learning something about life from him. What exactly that was I wasn’t sure. But I didn’t want it to end. I told him what I thought he wanted to hear. “I get a real rush, too,” I said picking up a stick and twiddling it in my hand. “I’ve never done anything dangerous before, so it’s new. Different. Exciting.” I stopped and looked at him, hoping I’d made my point. He nodded, agreeing with me, which made me feel good. “I’m willing to keep doing it,” I added.
Bo stood up and stretched, the muscles in his arm popping. “Let’s pay our respects to my sister and get out of here. I’ve got an idea.”
I probably should have blown the whistle right about this time. I had planned to fly home after the funeral and get back to my life with the band and my new girl friend, but honestly, I had no real plans for the future. Besides, the draw of being with Bo and the excitement of what we were doing was too appealing. I went inside, used Sammy’s phone and called home. I told my mom I’d be staying a few more days. She said she’d relay the message to my brother and told me to take care of myself and that was it. Then I called my girlfriend and told her the same thing. The conversation was short. She didn’t sound too upset.
We took the ferry back to Seattle and pulled off to the side at the terminal. Bo got out a map and we looked it over.
“Look here,” he said pointing, “Let’s go to the ocean. I’ve never seen the Pacific from the west coast,” emphasizing ‘west coast.’ He looked at me and grinned, a nod to his time in Vietnam and seeing the Pacific from that side of the world. He started tapping his fingers on the steering wheel of the VW, a sure sign he was getting ready to do some shop lifting. I’d been to the coast with my dad a few times and liked it. The ocean, the pine forests, the sea gulls…Everything appealed to me. It was a far cry from the cornfields and land locked lakes I was used to.
“Good idea,” I said. “Let’s do it.”
Bo put the car in gear and we drove off through downtown Seattle and out onto the interstate. We went south into Tacoma. “I need cigs,” Bo said, and winked at me. By this time I knew what he was getting at. We pulled into a gas station and Bo pumped gas while I went inside to use the rest room. When I was washing my hands I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My hair was lank and dirty, my eyes were sunk into their sockets and my complexion had broken out with a pimply rash along my jaw line where a growth of soft whiskers had taken hold. I hadn’t showered or shaved since I’d left Minneapolis and the effect wasn’t pleasant. I didn’t dwell long on my appearance, though, preferring instead to focus my energy on shoplifting some stuff from the convenience store attached to the gas station. When I came out, Bo was talking to the cashier, a nice looking Asian woman with long black hair pulled back into a ponytail. She looked to be about thirty or forty years old. While he paid for the gas I moved quickly through the store picking up anything I could stuff quickly in my pockets. Then I joined him at the counter.
“Cory, this is Mia,” he said, smiling. “She says we’re only an hour or so from the Pacific.”
“Hi.” I didn’t know what else to say. My voice cracked a little from nervousness. Bo glanced at me, getting the hint, and we left, but not before I saw him grab a lighter on the way out when Mia turned away from us to straighten a display of postcards.
“What’s you get?” Bo asked as he started the VW and headed out of the parking lot. I pulled my take out of my pockets and lay them on my lap: more candy bars, gum, a couple of Hostess Cupcakes and some comic books. Bo laughed. “Way to go, my man. Food and reading material. Can’t get any better than that.”
Then he told me what he did. “I put ten dollars worth of gas in, but only paid five.” He said that he’d come up with a trick that involved using a five dollar bill, a ten dollar bill, a twenty and a bunch of ones. He had learned that he was always able to distract an unsuspecting clerk with his polite talk and chatter. In this case poor Mia never knew that she had been short changed. “I have to say, I’m getting pretty good at it,” he said, smiling and shifting into forth gear. I looked out the window, watching the buildings and warehouses go by. We were in a dirty, industrial part of town, not pretty at all; in fact, mildly depressing. The air smelled like rotten eggs due to the smoke from the mills processing pulpwood in the area. ‘The Aroma of Tacoma’ the locals called it. “Next stop, the ocean,” Bo said. The thought cheered me considerably and off we went, Bo singing ‘Lodi’ at the top of his lungs.
In Olympia we stole some pints of booze from a liquor store. We did it because they were easy to stick in our pockets. To distract the guy behind the counter, Bo paid for a six pack of Olympia Beer, namesake of the region. “Best beer in the world,” he said cracking open a can as we headed out of the parking lot, guzzling half of it. I unscrewed the top of my pint of Jack Daniels and took a tentative sip. God, it tasted awful, but I steeled myself and worked on it as Bo drove us east. The more I drank, the better it tasted.
A little less than an hour down the road and we were in Aberdeen, a working class town on a tidal inlet. We pulled off on an overlook and sat watching the tidal river with boats and small ships on it as they moved back and forth. By now it was mid afternoon and the day had warmed up, but threatening clouds were starting to form on the horizon to the west. Seagulls soared above us and black capped terns raced along the sandy shore as if playing tag with the water. We got out of the car and took some rickety wooden steps down to the shoreline. We walked a little ways until we found a quiet spot where we stretched out in the sand and settled down to watch the world go by.
“Man, I could live out here,” Bo said, looking around before laying back on the sand and looking up at the sky. He was working on finishing off the six pack. As he drank his beer he told me he’d been brought up in a well-to-do family. “My old man is a state senator for Virginia and was a lawyer before that. Mom has her charities and women friends. I was different from as far back as I can remember. Ever since I was a kid I liked to test myself, climbing trees higher than anyone else, jumping ten or fifteen feet into the foundations of new homes, riding my bicycle off docks into the water, stuff like that.” He told me he’d been a jock in high school and had won an athletic scholarship to the University of Virginia for playing baseball. “I was a pitcher but threw my elbow out the first year and that was all she wrote,” he told me. “I kind of lost it after that. Started partying too much, skipped classes and eventually got kicked out. My parents wanted to help me, pay my way and all, but I was sick of everything by then. Enlisting in the Army seemed like a good option.” He sat up and looked over to the right from where we were sitting. A bunch of kids a little younger than us were down along the shore tossing a Frisbee around acting like they had no cares in the world. “I’m glad I went.”
Compared to him I had done nothing. My life had been so uneventful up until this point that, when it came right down to it, being with Bo was the most eventful thing that had ever happened to me. In that way, it suddenly came to me that I was really having the time of my life. It was an adventure of sorts and for the near future it was all that I needed. “How about you?” he asked me. “About the war. Are you going to enlist.”
“No. I’m just take my chances with the draft.” Which is what my big plan was. I didn’t want to enlist. I didn’t want to go into the service. I could go to Canada or a I could go to prison. None of the options were good ones. “I’m just taking it a day at I time,” I told him, trying to sound like I knew what I was talking about.
Bo laughed and flashed me the Peace Sign. “I can dig that,” he said and lay back and closed his eyes. “I can really dig that.”
We stayed down by the water for a few more hours, watching the storm clouds building up over the ocean and the surf getting wild with the waves running at two feet, crashing against the pilings of the docks nearby. The gulls and terns flew inland for safety. Pleasure boats moved in off the inlet and tied up in anticipation of a storm. We were enjoying watching the weather change and didn’t give any thought to potential danger. At one point Bo went over and played Frisbee with the young hippies and, after a while, brought them back to where I was and we all sat around smoking some of Bo’s weed. Well, everyone except for me. I didn’t and I’ll tell you why: I was running on a high like I’d never experienced before. I felt great; full of confidence and completely in charge of myself and whatever fate might choose to toss in my direction. Shop lifting and stealing was starting to go to my head and giving me a new found sense of myself. I felt I could do anything and I didn’t want to lose the edge that pot dulled. So I abstained, only drinking the last of the warm coke, watching the clouds building up and joining in with Bo and the hippies singing Bob Dylan folk songs. The hippies wanted us to come with them to a party somewhere but we told them that we had other plans, so they wandered off. Bo looked at me, “Now what? Time head out?” We planned to drive up the coast as far as we wanted, which was hardly a plan at all, but that was alright with me. I had nowhere to go and in no hurry to get there.
“Yeah, sounds good to me.”
We hiked back up the steps to the car. The wind was picking up, whipping up grains of sand that stung our faces. The clouds were filling in the sky all around us, billowing ominously in colors of gray, white and black. The sun was completely obscured. It was getting dark. The threat of a storm was eminent.
“Should we make a stop first?” he asked, grinning, getting into the car and out of the wind. “I could use some more cigs.”
“Yeah, let’s do that,” I said, joining him. The VW rocked a little as a gust hit it. My heart started beating faster. I knew what he was getting at. Another shoplifting adventure. I was all for it.
After he started the car he paused, watching the approaching storm. Then he got a strange look, “I’ve been thinking about doing more than just getting candy bars and comic books.”
“Like what?” I felt something changing in our conversation.
“I’m thinking about trying for some money.”
“You mean actually rob the store? Take the money and run, so to speak?” The thought was immediately attractive to me. My heart started beating so fast I thought I’d have a heart attack. My adrenaline kicked in. I felt a smile a mile wide break onto my face.
“Yeah,” Bo said. “Let’s kick it up a notch.”
I barely hesitated, “I’m all for it.” And that was the beginning of the end.
“Here, get ready to put this on when I tell you.” Bo reached around into the back seat where his duffle bag was. He pulled out two cut-off nylon stockings and gave one to me. My heart started to race. I was scared but excited at the same time. It felt like we were being rebels, going against the accepted flow of society making our own rules, making our way on our own terms. It was a rush like I’d never felt in our previous robberies.
Then he reached under the seat and pulled out a knife. Not just any knife mind you, but a big bowie knife in a thick, black leather sheath. It looked to be a foot long. “What’s that for?” I asked, starting to get a little worried. I wasn’t sure what the plan was going to be, but using any kind of weapon wasn’t something I thought we’d be doing.
“Just a little persuader,” he said, stretching the word out like, “per…suede…err.”
Ominous sounding to my ears.”You aren’t’ going to hurt anyone are you?”
“Never had to yet.”
“Yet? You’ve done this before?”
“Lots of times,” he said lighting up a cigarette, and looking at me with a hard stare. I remembered the cuff-off nylons, one of which I now held in my lap. Duh. “Don’t worry, buddy, it’ll all be fine.”
Easy for him to say. But by now I was in it for the long haul and had no reason to say No to him. I was running on adrenaline and trusted that the guy knew what he was doing. Besides, I didn’t want to appear weak. “Let’s do it,” I said, mounting as much enthusiasm as I could.
“That’s my boy,” he said, putting the VW in gear and pulling out of the parking. “Just follow my lead and do what I tell you.”
Just west of Aberdeen along the same tidal inlet was the little town of Houquim. It was made up on old, dilapidated, weather beaten homes on one side of the road, and rotting docks with sad looking, listing boats tied up to them on the other side. The only business to speak of was the ‘Seaside Market’ a grey sided, wooden building that sagged to the right and looked on the verge of collapse. There were two gas pumps in front and it looked like they sold food inside. That’s where we stopped. It was around 8:00 pm and night had fallen. The sky was full of thick clouds. Rain was eminent. The lights inside the building were on and the place looked deserted except for a skinny old man behind the counter. Signs on the windows advertised cheap cigarettes and loaves of day old bread, two for the price of one. On the scale of depressing places I’ve seen, this was near the top. Bo turned to me, a bright gleam in his eyes. He was wired to a level higher than I’d ever seen before, just on the edge of being out of control. But he wasn’t. He held his hand out in front of us and spread his fingers. They were steady, not a twitch of nervousness. “Ready?” he asked me calmly.
My mouth was dry and I felt slightly sick to my stomach. Common feelings for someone preparing to participate in their first armed robbery? I had no idea. I couldn’t speak and only nodded my head, Yes. I was scared and wanted this to be over with as soon as possible.
“Let’s go,” he said.
We got out of the car and walked quickly to the front door just as a hard, cold rain started to fall. I watched the guy behind the counter. He was nearly bald, had a scruffy gray beard and was concentrating on reading what appeared to be a newspaper. He was facing sideways to us. Bo motioned for me to put the stocking on and I did, becoming momentarily disoriented by the nylon so close to my face. I couldn’t see very clearly, but could make out general shapes. Bo put his on and we went in fast through the door. The old guy looked up and smiled, ready to welcome us and then froze. Bo walked calmly to the counter and told the old man to give us all the money in the till. He had his bowie knife unsheathed and pointed it at the guy’s throat. The old man put his hands up and they started shaking. He took a step backward. I didn’t blame him. The blade was a foot long, shining and hooked at the tip, razor sharp and dangerous looking. “Hold it right there,” Bo commanded. “All we want is the money. Just do as I say and you won’t get hurt.” The old guy put his hands down, stepped back to the counter, opened the till and gave Bo all the bills in the drawer. When he handed the cash over to me I noticed there were a lot of one’s and five’s. I stuffed them in my front pockets. Bo calmly looked around, “Where’s the store room?” he asked like he’d done this before, which, of course, he had. The guy pointed a shaking hand toward the back of the store. Bo used his knife to motion him out from behind the counter and marched him down the aisle. “You keep an eye on things,” he told me, as they went by.
I watched them go through a door in the back of the store marked ‘Employees Only’. I looked out the window to the front praying that no cars would pull in, thankful for the storminess of the night. As I was watching the road, all of a sudden flood lights came on outside, shining brightly and illuminating the gas pumps and the front of the store. They must have been on an automatic timer. My nervousness kicked into high gear. With the lights on it made it seem like daylight outside and I figured it must be really easy to see into the store. Where the hell was Bo? I was worried and started pacing back and forth. I grabbed a snickers bar off a rack and chowed it down. Unfortunately, due to my dry mouth, the sticky mass got stuck in my throat and nearly choked me. I was coughing when Bo came out of the back room and joined me by the front door.
“Everything Ok back there?” I asked, regaining my wind, if not my composure.
“Right as rain,” Bo gave me a quizzical look but didn’t say anything more. Instead, he grabbed a few packs of cigarettes and headed out the front door, me following behind, splashing through puddles, removing our ‘masks’ as we went. We got in the VW and were just pulling away when a car pulled in for gas. Bo stomped on the gas pedal and we beat it out of there, speeding away to the west, windshield wipers barely able to keep up with the pouring rain. We followed the road for a few miles until it bent a hard right to the north. On the left, barely visible through the sheets of rain, the Pacific stretching ominously into the darkness. We’d made it to the ocean.
Bo was giddy. “Man, what a rush!” He put the accelerator to the floor. The VW hydroplaned for a moment and then caught traction. We sailed up the coastal highway.
I was right there with him. “Man, that was unbelievable.” Words were failing me. It was exciting, that was for sure. But something about the whole experience bothered me. First of all the knife scared the crap out of me. I wasn’t back then, and never have been since, one prone to violence, and the knife was scary. Besides that, I found myself feeling sorry for the old guy behind the counter. He was only just trying to do his job. Then I had a horrible thought. What had Bo done with the guy? Had he harmed him? I asked him that very question.
“Oh, I just tied him up in the back room,” he answered vaguely. “He’ll be alright.”
“You didn’t hurt him, did you?”
“Now what would I do that?” he turned to me with a threatening look, like he was pissed off. The car swerving to the right. He corrected it and got us back on the road. “Do you trust me or not?”
Well that was the crux of the matter, wasn’t it? I’d known him for just over a day and we’d been together just about the entire time. I liked him. I felt that we were establishing a friendship of sorts. But did I trust him? I wanted to. Just then the rain turned to a driving downpour and Bo seemed to forget about the question he asked me, preferring instead to concentrate on driving. That was fine with me. I found myself mulling it over. Did I or did I not trust him?
While we drove I counted the money. It was more than I thought there’d be. “Two hundred and sixty seven dollars. Not bad.”
If Bo was in a stink with me he didn’t show it. “Great,” he said, then yawned, coming down a bit. “Let’s find a place out of the rain for a while. Celebrate.” Darkness was complete now and the night was wicked. The wind was blowing the little VW all over the highway and Bo was struggling to keep it in the correct lane. Fortunately, there weren’t a lot of cars out.
A few miles up ahead we saw some lights for a restaurant on the left, overlooking the ocean. We pulled into the lot. It was about half full. We ran through the rain to the front door and went inside, shaking water from ourselves. I was hoping we’d be anonymous but we weren’t. The place was filled with what looked to be locals, hard working lumbermen and fishermen and their wives and families. We stuck out like pigs in a field of daises
Our waitresses’ name tag said ‘Katie’ and she seated us in a corner, out of the way of the other diners. She was a heavy, middle aged woman with short cropped and dirty blond hair tied up in a red bandana. She had a ready smile and if our appearance bothered her, she didn’t let on, calling each of us ‘Hon’ as she gave us our menus. A young kid brought us water which we gulped thirstily, looking over the selection of dinners which were slanted heavily toward varieties of baked, fried, pouched and steamed fish. I looked out through the window that faced the ocean. The darkness was a backdrop to the rain running in torrents down the glass. A good night to be inside. Bo looked up from his reading at the exact moment I glanced at him.
“What do you think? Pretty amazing, huh?”
I was assuming he was talking about the robbery. I was starting to come down from the rush, but still wired. I nodded my head, looking around. People were watching us out of the corners of their eyes. “Yeah,” I said, then leaned closer to Bo, whispering,”How often do you do that? Rob a store?”
“Whenever I need the cash. Once a week, sometimes more.” He, too, had lowered his voice. I had a sudden vision of the both of us traveling around the country in his ratty VW, living free and easy, shoplifting stuff and robbing stores for cash whenever we it. Since I didn’t have a lot going on in my life, the thought was strangely appealing. “I’m thinking of something big. Maybe knocking off a small bank or something like that.”
“Make a living out of this, then?” I asked, “A sort of robbery lifestyle,” I added not sure if I was joking or not.
“Lots of people I know do it. I’ve got friends who live up in the Beartooth Mountains in Montana who camp out, live off the land and only come down when they need some cash. Which isn’t that often. They call it living off the grid. It appeals to me.”
I looked out the window again. Katie came and took our orders, but I suddenly wasn’t very hungry and just ordered a salad. Bo ordered a steak, lobster and a baked potato. He chatted away, still cranked up from the robbery, while I listened, nodded my head to show him I was paying attention and stealing a glance out into the stormy night every now and then. After a few minutes Bo startled me by was asking if I was serious about traveling with him.
“It’d be fun,” he said, picking up a fork and twilling it through his fingers. “We’d take it a day at a time, go wherever we wanted and do whatever we wanted. We’d be outlaw gypsies.”
He kind of had a point. It did, in its own way, sound appealing. I happened to glance across the restaurant where Katie was serving a middle aged couple and their daughter and son. For some reason I thought of my mom. Then I thought of my dad. I had come out here for his funeral which had occurred earlier that day. I certainly wasn’t doing service to my memory of him. Bo’s confidence was catching, but what he was proposing wasn’t for me.
I was trying to find a way to tell him I’d had enough. I didn’t have his background or his history. I hadn’t served in the military and seen god only knew what horrors he’d been exposed to. Something had happened to his moral compass. I liked him, but I didn’t want to be like him. I wasn’t sure what I wanted, but I didn’t want a life of crime, living on the edge of society and just getting by. I was ready to pack it all in and head home. It had to do, in the end, with the knife he’d pulled on the old guy in the store. The whole thing was too dangerous for me. Someone could get hurt and it wasn’t worth it for any amount of money. The thrill was gone. My decision was made.
But I never got a chance to tell Bo any of the things I’d been thinking of. Katie had just brought our dinners and Bo was digging into his steak and describing in detail his vision of us traveling together, when I saw two policemen come in through the front door and look around. They were big guys, shaking water off their gray slickers and rain hats and they didn’t look too happy. They talked to a thin, dark haired man with a mustache who seemed to be the manager of the restaurant. After a minute the cops looked our way when he pointed to us. They each undid the strap holding their revolvers in place and walked toward us. I remember the restaurant going silent as the diners watched the cops. I saw Katie shaking her head, like she was disappointed in us. The bottom dropped out of my stomach.
Bo was still talking to me about his plans for the future when I taped him on the arm and pointed. I could barely speak. “I don’t think either of us are going anywhere,” I stuttered, “Not for a long time.” It turned out I was right.
The car pulling into the lot when we were leaving had a college professor and his wife in it. He was one of those guys who had an eidetic memory, and when he glanced at our license plate he remembered the number of it. Which came in handy when they went inside and couldn’t find anyone to wait on them. After a short search they found the old guy tied up in the backroom. He was shaken but unharmed and was able to tell them what had happened. They called the police and the rest was history as far as we were concerned. In retrospect, I’m surprised it took as long as it did to find us. Probably the rain slowed the search effort down somewhat. Anyway, we were taken to jail back in Aberdeen, booked and, times being what they were back then, given no opportunity for bail. Over the course of the next few days, Bo’s record caught up with him, while I was seen only as a naive, short term but willing accomplice. He was given three years in the state prison in Walla Walla and I was given nine months in the county jail in Aberdeen. By the time I got out I had short hair and had lost ten pounds. I’d also read a lot of books, trying to make up for the fact that I had been so stupid in the first place to have followed Bo just to be his friend. Dad had left me and my brothers a little money in his will. I used mine as seed money to go to college back home at the University of Minnesota, working and saving and paying for the rest of my education myself. My draft number was high enough that my draft board never calIed me. To this day I’m amazed at how lucky I was. I finally earned a degree in English with a teaching certificate added on. I got a job teaching high school American Literature in the small town of Aurora in northern Minnesota, met my future wife there and moved on with my life.
I only heard from Bo one time after we parted ways, with him heading for prison and me on my way to jail. He called me toward the end of the 80’s. He said he was in Grand Junction, Colorado and had been thinking about me, wondering what I was up to. At the time I was teaching entry level English at HeartLand Junior College in southwestern Minnesota. I told him I’d had a couple of short stories published and was working on a novel. I told him about my wife, Lori, who was an art teacher, my son Jake and my two daughters, Annie and Heather.
“Sounds good, man,” he said. I’d talked for ten minutes, my nervousness finally giving way to curiosity.
“Enough about me,” I said, finally, “How about you?”
He laughed. “Well, you know, doing this and that.”
“You mean you’re still…?” I asked, leaving the question hanging, not wanting to give away too much with my family nearby in the next room. We’d been playing Clue and I was holding up the game. But I was interested in Bo. Even though I’d moved on in my life, I still thought about him every now and then, wondering what he was up to.
He laughed into the phone. “No. I gave that up. I’m living in the mountains with some friends, traveling around. You know…”
“Are you alright, Bo? I asked, suddenly aware that this call out of the blue must have had a reason.
“Money’s a little tight,” he sighed. “My girlfriend’s pregnant.”
So that was it. “I can send you some,” I said, making a quick decision. “Where to.”
He sighed again, this time with what sounded like relief,”Thanks, man.” He gave me a PO box number and we chatted for a few minutes, but there really wasn’t anything more to say. He had what he wanted from me and that was enough.
But for me it was more than that. Who knew what would have happened to me if I hadn’t met Bo? It was a question that I’ve run through my mind often. I went to Seattle with nothing going on in my life and returned, older and wiser, with a plan. Bo played a large part in creating the space for that to happen. It could be argued that I would have eventually figured things out for myself and that may be true, but the fact was that Bo had been there when I needed a jump start and he provided that. Besides, as I said, I liked him.
After we said Goodbye, I set the phone down and sat thinking for a few minutes about the strange ways life works sometimes. I posed the question to myself: Would I ever have Bo come to my home and meet my family? I was thinking about the answer to it when my daughter, Annie, came in and pulled on my arm. “Who was that, daddy?” she asked. She was eleven years old and had long dark, auburn hair like her mother’s, brown eyes and a ready smile. She was my oldest child and we were very close.
“An old friend, sweetie,” I told her.
“From back when you were a hippy?” she asked, smiling and giving me a hard time. My kids had asked about what life was like when I was young and I’d told them parts, but not all, of it.
“Yes, nosy, back then, “I grinned and stood up, “Let’s get back to the game, Ok?”
“What was his name?” She took my hand as we walked into the living room.
“Bo. His name was Bo.”
“Was he a friend of yours?’
“Yes, he was a friend.”
“A good friend?” Annie liked to get as much information as she could when she talked to you.
“Yes, a good friend.”
“Your best friend?”
I smiled and sat down. My wife was watching me. She knew about Bo and also knew I’d put that part of my life behind me. I could tell she was curious too. How would I answer my daughter’s question?
I thought about it. All the arguments about friendship and responsibility and right or wrong ran through my brain in an instant-stuff I’d thought about many times before. Bo’s call had started the stream of arguments running again. But over and above the arguments were the flood of memories that raced back about the time I spent with a guy I’d never expected to meet and probably would never see again. He was unique, I’ll say that for him. I liked him then and I was surprised to find that I cared about him now.
“I didn’t know him very long, but he was a good friend, Annie, let’s leave it at that, Ok?” And I thought about it for a moment before I added, “And I hope someday you have friend that means as much to you as he did to me. That would be a really good thing.”
And then we got on with our game.