I see him sometimes on his bike, and knew he was big, but I didn’t know he’d grown taller than me until I stood next to him in the store. I still live in the town where I was a counselor and he has never left. Funny we run into each other so little.
He immediately began talking, telling me a story of something that happened to him, like he did when he was a boy and I a young man.
A school counselor asked if I could help him. He was suddenly failing, but the counselor was worried about much more than that. His parents were alarmed, unsure, but let me see him.
He was guarded, hedged his words, looked away. I saw him every week, sometimes twice. I’d see him alone. He liked to ride bikes on the canal. We rode slowly beside each other and talked. When others rode by, he was quiet till they passed.
I included him in a group with three other kids I was seeing. At first, he didn’t mix well, staying close and talking mostly to me. I let individual kids pick where we were going next. When his turn came this tall, friendless boy picked a place near a strip mine, sandstone canyons outside the state park, hard to get to, that the other boys loved. It was a good day for him. He became part of the group.
He shared secrets with me. I suggested he let me help him tell his parents, but he was afraid, so I waited. He finally did allow me to help him reveal those secrets to his sister, married and out of the house, who also promised not to tell. That helped. He was surprised and relieved she wasn’t angry.
Time passed. I suggested we all meet, that both his sister and I help him tell his parents the secrets. He wanted to think that over. We let him. Finally, he agreed.
His sister did most of the talking. All of them, including their mother, watched the Dad carefully. It was as if the things he admitted were not secrets to the mother. The father looked down and nodded. We couldn’t tell what he thought. It was tense.
Then he looked up at his son and told him it was all right. Oxygen flooded back into the room. I soon begged off, saying I had an appointment. Mom started dinner.
The boy didn’t need me as much after that, but he didn’t know it. I saw him less but included him in the group for months. The group began to see each other without me. I faded out of their lives and into the lives of others.
As years went by, I heard from the sister most often. Life was not easy for her brother, but he made it. Their father passed away, and then their mother. They sold the family home and with the money her brother, with his sister’s guidance, bought a small house he could afford to maintain. He talks often with his sister still.
Forty years later the boy, now a middle-aged man, was telling me, an old man, of a brush with death experience between him on a bike and a woman in a car. He was excited and included all the details. I was holding a bag of tortillas and slab of chihuahua cheese. He didn’t seem to notice. I could hear the boy in his voice, the boy I once knew, scared, but able to trust. Loved by a family. Grown into a man. Living his life.
Finally, the tale ended. I asked about the boys in our old group, his sister. Our meeting was drawing to a close.
“Do you think I thanked you back then?”
“I think you probably did.”
“I bet I didn’t.”
“It’s all right. I was glad to help.”
“Your sister did most of the work. And you. You were brave. It was a lot to ask.”
“Still, I’m glad you were there.”
“See you around. Take care of yourself.”
I shifted the cheese to the hand holding the tortillas. He extended his hand. I squeezed it. He looked right at me. It had been forty years. Neither of us forgot.