|Joe, Reese and I all grew up in the little town of Brownstein. We were like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, we all stuck together through think and thin. The three of us were at each other’s side from the beginning. People may say that three is a crowd, but we complimented each other so well that we didn’t even notice the odd number. There was never an odd man out or woman for that matter. We just included the other two no matter what the occasion. |
My first memories include the two of them and I think I can say the same is said for them. We’ve been through a lot together, parents divorcing, girlfriends and boyfriends coming and going, marriages, births. I guess you can say we’ve seen it all in our thirty-five or so years. Each one of us moved our families away for one reason or other over time, but we all found our way back to Brownstein again. Even though our lives were different now, we still tried to get our families together once a week, whether it was for popcorn and a movie, a bar-b-q or a round of board games.
I would lay down my life for any of them, or I guess you can say I would have until two months ago. Before this point all of our children, ranging from the age of fourteen to three, got along splendidly and even became the best of friends, just as our little group had. My wife Chrissie and I loved Joe and Reese’s kids as our own. We would baby sit them when they were younger and we still carted them around with our two children, Russ and Sam. Between the three of us, we ended up having five children, three boys and two girls.
Several weeks ago, Russ came to me with a serious problem. He said that one of his friends who he wanted to keep anonymous had a problem. He wanted to help his friend but wasn’t sure how. I instantly thought of our little threesome and how I would have done anything to help one of them and still would. I also figured that being fourteen, how serious could the problem really be? That’s where I went wrong. Kids aren’t as innocent today as they were when I grew up. Kids didn’t ride their bikes to the liquor store to buy lollipops and ice cream anymore, they rode their bikes to the liquor store with a fake id to try and buy liquor.
The only problem was, Russ wouldn’t tell which friend had a problem or even the actual problem. It’s hard as a parent to play guessing games to try and help your child. My wife and I try to do the best we can as parents, but everyone falls a little short at times. I believe this was not one of the times that we fell short, but some in our small town of Brownstein, including my friends from birth believe we did. There is only so much parents can do to help their children and after that, it’s up to the children to learn from their choices.
Then came the night that would change all of our lives forever. Russ and a couple of friends, including Joe’s son Michael, who also happened to be fourteen, decided they were all going to go to the movies. They were to meet a few kids from school, one of them old enough to drive. Russ asked me if they could just get a ride home with Pat, the friend with the driver’s license and car. I had met Pat many times and he seemed responsible enough. I worked with his father and heard only glowing stories about him, I figured that it was safe enough. No harm in that. So I drove them over to the movies and agreed that they could just get a ride home when the movie let out at a quarter after ten. It was Saturday night and I figured they could stay out a little later than their 10 o’clock curfew.
As I dropped them off, I gave both Russ and Michael a quick hug to their embarrassment and slipped each a ten spot just in case one of their friends didn’t have enough for the movie and candy. Like I said, I treated Joe and Reese’s kids as if they were my own. I told them to have fun but to make sure that they stayed out of trouble and were courteous to adults and people around them in the theater.
That was the last time I saw Michael, or at least alive and breathing. I can’t tell you how many times I have looked back in the past two months and thanked God that I hugged him as if he was my own. Apparently Pat, the kid who was old enough to drive, the one that seemed responsible from all the stories I heard from his father was the kid that my son referred to when he said that one of his friends had a problem.
I’ve taught my kids right and wrong, not to talk to strangers, to look both ways, not to get into a strange car and not to get into a car with someone who shouldn’t be behind the wheel. Russ told me a few weeks after the accident that he didn’t know that Pat was high or that Pat shouldn’t have gotten behind the wheel and I believed him. I not only believed him because I wanted to, I believed him because I know my son and know that he would have made the right decision if given the option.
A few weeks after the funeral, I tried to get our families together as we had so many times before to try and heal the pain we were all feeling from the loss of Michael. They blame me. Hell, they blame my whole family for what happened. I was not there that faithful night that Pat Naklas decided to drive our children home high as a kite and ran his old Buick into a tree. But, I was the parent that dropped the boys off at the movies and approved of their choice of a ride home. I feel as if I lost one of my children and will always hold a place in my heart for Michael. It turns out Joe can’t even be in the same room with me without bursting into tears and he now looks at me as if he wished I had died in that car accident instead of his son. As for Reese, I guess her family agrees with Joe and will not even return my phone calls.
That one night changed all of our lives forever, including our friendship. So, these were my friends for life…or so I thought.