The fresh-crowned hero fell without firing a shot.


Ten years ago today was a Saturday. I was looking forward to going to a birthday party at a friend’s house out on a lake.

I had just moved back to Olympia after being laid off from a job in Bellevue. I was once again facing the world of WorkSource, applications, temp jobs, and worst of all that question that’s always asked at times like those – “How’s the job hunt going?”, “Anything new with the job hunt?”

What do people expect to hear? “Oh, I’ve been working for months now, I just never told you.”, “Well, I’m still unemployed as you know, thanks for reminding me I’m failing at this.”

But I digress. It was a Saturday morning. I wasn’t looking forward to the activity of job hunting but I was looking forward to seeing a bunch of friends. Many of them I hadn’t seen in over a year. That morning I IM’d the birthday girl Mindy asking if there was anything specific she needed me to bring. She asked if I’d mind giving this girl named Tammy a ride.

Tammy and I were vaguely familiar with each other. We both posted on a former Oly-based message board where most memorably I was none too nice in countering a topical point she had made. I wasn’t sure she’d be wanting a ride from me of all people, but Mindy called her and everything was arranged.

The exact time I knocked on her door hasn’t been preserved in the annals of history. Tammy answered and my first thought was “Wow! But this is Olympia, she’s either gay or already has a boyfriend. He’s probably attending college out of state. She’s out of my league.”

He worshipped this new angel with furtive eye, till he saw that she had discovered him; then he pretended he did not know she was present, and began to “show off” in all sorts of absurd boyish ways, in order to win her admiration. – Tom Sawyer

Twenty minutes later we were at the gathering out at Offut Lake. Thirty minutes later I had already tried four different kinds of beer and wine coolers. Yeah, my liver was a lot younger in those days. It was just in time for Mindy’s husband and one of my future best men Brooks to lead a group of us over to see the lake. One or two were already in the water, and for some reason it seemed like a good idea at the time to tear my shirt off and dive in as well.

I can’t swim, and at my soberest can barely float, so I didn’t do too much diving. I played around for half an hour when some of the crowd began returning to the house. I climbed out, reached for my shirt and glasses…glasses?…my heart stopped as I reached towards my face and felt nothing but skin turning ashen grey.

A $300 pair of bendable, unbreakable glasses. No health insurance. No savings. 20/15 vision in one eye, 20/10 in the other – assuming I hadn’t degenerated further since the last exam. And all the sharpness of detail in the visual world gone. I uttered something about fudge –

Only I didn’t say “Fudge.” I said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the “F-dash-dash-dash” word! – Ralphie Parker

– and went back into the water. It felt like I was in there for an hour, up to my neck, unable to see under the surface, feeling with my toes through the mud and the silt. All fruitless. I need to remember this the next time it’s necessary for me to sober up immediately.

I gave up. I was a bit worried about driving but otherwise considered it nothing more than a major annoyance that couldn’t be dealt with right then so might as well continue the party. And continue it did. Late into the night. Tammy and I hadn’t done much hanging out or talking but she remembers me looking in a doorway and smiling at her.

After many hours of food and drink and conversation and a fire out in the yard it was after midnight and time to leave. I told Tammy I could see the road just fine but I was depending on her to read the speed limit signs for me. We made it to her apartment without crashing, running over anything or being pulled over. She had two flights of steps she needed to climb, I told her I’d wait until she was inside. Tammy waved to let me know the door was unlocked and she was safe inside. I headed home and that ended the first day of what’s been the favorite decade of my life.

She halted a moment on the steps and then moved toward the door. Tom heaved a great sigh as she put her foot on the threshold. But his face lit up, right away, for she tossed a pansy over the fence a moment before she disappeared.

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