Tuesday, August 23, 2011

One Shared Story

Our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared. Barack Obama
When he called me, I had to scour through my memory banks, searching for the thread that would lead me back to childhood. Not too far back, not to the womb or primary years but later, into the teens, or adult childhood as I liked to call it back then.

I was into reading. Writing. Boys. High School newspaper Editor. Yearbook Editor. Boys. School Vice-President. Cheerleader. And boys.

He was not a boy I was into. He was one of the 'bad' boys. You know the kind. In trouble all the time. Getting kicked out of math class for adding the wrong behaviour into the equation to equal a whole bunch of trouble. He once snuck into the chem lab and replaced the ammonia with water. We didn't get any ice crystals that day, though we did get a lot of laughs at the teacher's consternation.

He was silent. Sullen almost. Unhappy.

Most kids ignored him, or if they paid him any attention, it was to mock him, to ridicule him, to let him know he was 'the outsider', not part of the in crowd.

I was part of the 'in' crowd. My brother, four years older, was 'the boy' every girl wanted to know. That made me very popular. He had gone away to flight training for his last year of high school and had returned to complete it a year later. I was in Grade 10 then and oh, how every girl wanted to be my friend.

The outsider boy hung around the periphery of our crowd. In and out of trouble, he'd drop in and out at the edge of our circle, occasionally making a foray for the centre. Repulsed by the 'attitude' he got in the middle, he'd scurry back to the margins, expressing his disdain through acting out.

In later years I'd learn about the drinking in his home. The yelling and screaming and violent outbursts of his father.

At the time, I remember feeling sorry for him, but I didn't really spend much time thinking about him. I was too busy thinking about me, my life, what and where I was going, and boys. Boys always played a part in my thinking.

And then, the phone call came. "Hi. You might not remember me but this is Dan K. We went to high school together."

And I followed the thread of his name into the recesses of my memory and found a faded glimpse of a sullen faced boy with black hair and dark eyes lurking on the edges of time.

"I remember you," I replied, surprised to get a call so many years beyond those days of teen angst.

"I got your number from Linda B. Hope you don't mind me phoning you like this but I just really wanted to call and say how sorry I was to hear about your brother. He was a good man." There was a momentary silence and then he blurted into the phone. "And I wanted to thank-you."

"Thank me?"

"Yeah. Thank-you. Back then in high school, I was a real mess and you and your brother were the only two people in the school who treated me with kindness. You never made fun of me like the others. You always tried to make me feel part of the group."

I was surprised. I didn't remember going to any great lengths to connect with this boy back then.

"If I'm ever in your city, would you be willing to have a cup of coffee with me?"

"I'd love that," I replied.

And so we did. Get together for coffee. He'd quit drinking somewhere in his thirties. "I drank enough to last a lifetime," he told me. And that's when he told me about the abuses of his childhood. The dark forces that drove him to act out throughout those childhood years of trying to find his place in the world.

We met a few times after that, whenever he was in town. And then, he moved out of province. Remarried. Planted down roots in another city on the prairies.

I heard about him not long ago. He'd been sick. Diabetes. Complications set in and he passed away. Our mutual friend let me know. I was saddened to know he was gone. Saddened to realize we'd lost touch once again through the years.

And I was grateful. Grateful for my parents who had instilled in me the belief that we are all equal. All human beings. All deserving of kindness.

They'd done that ever since I was a little. Our home was always the place that 'strangers' could come and find a welcome. From Nigerian Princes to wandering hobos, my father always insisted we treat each other with respect. He always insisted we knew, we are all connected. We are all human beings struggling to understand our human condition.

My brother and the boy are both gone from this world and still, the threads they've woven through my tapestry of life resonate with the vibrant colours of their passing through the warp and weave of my history.

And woven into their midst are the lessons of childhood that have stood me well. Lessons of kindness and reaching out to strangers. Lessons of standing up for what I believe in, what is true for me. They are lessons that have stood up to the tests of time to prove today that we truly are one world, one people, one shared story of life on earth, spinning through time, weaving a story of love and joy and sorrow and grief and all the colours of the rainbow in between.


I love One Word Blog Carnival Tuesdays! Peter Pollock, host of the carnival, offers up a one word prompt and invites everyone to write and read or just sit awhile and read the offerings of bloggers from around the globe. Today's one word prompt is: Childhood.

Kathy Richards over at Katdish, shared a post today about a boy in school who taught her the value of staying true to her principles and beliefs. Kathy's post inspired me to remember the boy who took the time to call me, many years later, to thank me for having treated him well in high school.

And that's the power of the Carnival. Whatever you read will trigger a memory, thought, idea... emotion... and you will be transported -- and maybe even transformed.

C'mon over to Peter's place and take a boo at all the great ideas being shared. You'll find your favourites, Glynn and Maureen for example, and a whole bunch of new and exciting folk to share a word or two with as you stroll through each story, savouring every morsel of delight.


Jennifer Richardson said...

the beauty of your story
touches my heart and I'm richer,
so much richer,
for having gone wading
in your river
this morning.
deep sigh.
thanks for this peaceful space,

Maureen said...

I don't know how rare they are, those calls that come out of nowhere and bring back a flood of memories and talk. I had one last fall, from a high school teacher who always encouraged my writing. He's disappeared again into the ether but that day he called he raised all those names of classmates and work for the school newspaper and the chat was fun.

A lovely story that says as much about you as about the boy who didn't forget what you and your brother had shown him.

Thank you for the shout-out.

The Gooseberry Garden said...

you write amazing stories,

love the quote on top.

The Gooseberry Garden said...


How are you?

Jingle Poetry has moved, we are doing poetry picnic now, our week 1 theme is

“Adam and Eve” ,

Please feel free to join us, all are very welcome!
Blessings fly your way!

welcome checking us today, best wishes!

Anonymous said...

Loved your blog this morning Louise as it made me all the more grateful for the tolerance, kindness and equality that we were taught as children. Because of our upbringing I never saw colours of skin and I still don't. I'm glad that your friend, Dan, reconnected with you and thanked you for your youthful generosity of spirit (and our brother George's). Life is about making other people feel special regardless of their circumstance and I think that we, as Gallagher children, were taught that lesson well. Thank-you for being the sister that you are. I'm proud to be one of the "Gallagher Girls" and I know that Anne shares that thought as well. With much love, Jackie

S. Etole said...

This brings back memories of such a classmate ... and his appreciation. We rarely know the ripples from a kind word or a smile.

Joyce Wycoff said...

We never know how much we touch others ... probably good and bad ... thanks for sharing your story. It reminds me of how interconnected we are.

Anonymous said...

a very colourful part of the weave, and beautiful.