A Case of Doubt
(The Fall of 1967, a story out of Minnesota)
It is one of those odd or peculiar moments in life, views you have, like a dream (later on turning into a heavy weight), a half-sleep where everything is distorted, so, once you get focused, you must try to keep focused. The evening was bleak; the cold sky looked very high. It was late fall (the end of November I believe). As I tell this story, it seems even at this early point it seems to be collapsing in on me, no, threatening to collapse, as it unfolds around me. Thus I should try to write this out in one quick afternoon, and rewrite it in the evening, before it does; it took place forty-four years ago, 1967, and I remember it as if it was yesterday.
I stepped outside of Sharon’s apartment (she lived in the housing projects with her two sons; I was dating her: actually we were kind of living together, me with her, more so than she with me, meaning it was her apartment). As I said, I stepped outside to talk to Sid Moeller, my bosom buddy. I felt cold, all the icy slush lying about. The cold soaked into my bones, and then into my marrow. As a few cars come into the parking lot area, their tires spattered the muck all about. I looked at Sid, saw that he was serious, and had a stern face on him. I leaned my shoulder against a pole by the sidewalk.
“Hell of a night,” I said, it was 9:00 p.m. Sharon had stepped close by the door, it was ajar, she was trying hard to listen to our conversation. Of course she already knew what Sid wanted.
Finally Sid was forced to say what was on his mind. In the distance I heard the slush of other cars, a police or ambulance siren. The projects were a beehive for hooligans—I might have been considered one of them myself back then.
I stood shaking, said, “Well what’s on your mind, its cold out here.” It appeared he didn’t know how to put it, perhaps because Sharon was watching, and she had expressed she hoped I wasn’t going anyplace this evening. The street was dark and noisy. Sid usually didn’t have trouble talking me into whatever he wanted to do, whatever was on his mind. He’d even drive up to Washington High School, my last year of school, and just before I’d open the door to go inside for classes, he’d show up, honk his horn, show me a six-pack of beer and say, “Come on Chick, I got some more hidden in the trunk,” and there’ I’d be, sitting in his front seat. I missed sixty-four days of school my senior year, and still graduated.
Anyhow, here we were—but a few feet apart, a man was stumbling trying to get his key into the key hole of his apartment, a few doors down, if indeed it was his apartment. A taxi had stopped at another apartment, and blew his horn; they never got out of their automobiles, in fear of some catastrophe.
“Forget it, buddy,” he commented, and walked over to the curb as if to appease Sharon, knowing she was listening, moving closer nearby his car, leaving me standing where I was, knowing I’d join him in a jiffy. In the distance I could hear her two boys fighting, she left the doorway to go investigate.
A wave of near pleading filled Sid’s face. I simply waited for him to say what he needed to say; the cold still sucking from somewhere in my face, sucking it in. A soft cold rain—a drizzle started up. I stood there shivering cold, Sid had had a few drinks before he came over, and had a few more with me, but I hadn’t yet started my night’s serious drinking, nor had he, it was Friday evening, in St. Paul, Minnesota, I had turned twenty-years old, a month prior, and Sid, would be twenty-one in six months. I started pacing the sidewalk some, “I was hoping you’d come to Hudson, Wisconsin, with me tonight!” he said in a pleasant and hopeful voice.
I stumbled about, nearly fell, my shoes and socks got soaked with muck. I concentrated on Sid’s offer, I really wanted to go, he even said he’d borrow me money if I needed some, “I better stay here, Sharon’s been moody lately, awful moody, I’m going to move out soon, I don’t like the demands, but I better stay tonight, plus it’s getting late too late to take a long drive to Hudson, drink and then drive all the way back, just stay here with us and get drunk.” I hesitated a moment, then added “That’s it, that’s about it, just drive slow if you got to go. It’s a long drive you know.”
My knees were getting cold standing there, and my feet with the slush and muck in them were freezing up.
“I’ll be fine, one of the other guys are driving.” He said.
“The other guys,” I said, “I thought you were going alone?” My voice got gruffly and no encouraging, then I started to feel the ice rain on my head, forehead, and back. My cheeks getting numb, the drizzle continued.
“Where’d you find these guys?” I asked. “Who’s car you using?”
“It’s all right,” Sid said.
To Sid: “You mean you’re gong to let someone else drive, you’re going against your own principles, you’ve told me a hundred times, you never let anyone drive, and you drive only your own car.” (Wherever he had gotten that principle, he stuck to it like glue, and I was shocked to see he was modifying it.) I had peered straight into his face when I said that, “You got to be kidding!” For some reason I felt odd saying that, but I had to say it I felt, and now I felt even more uncomfortable about going, before I was hesitant, even felt a little guilty say no to Sid. Sid was a good driver.
He nodded a ‘Yes’ to me.
“You ought to just let them guys go themselves, and stay here!”
Sharon was talking to her two kids now, she looked anxious, wanting to get back to the doorway, to insure I’d not take off. I don’t think Sid had expected this, but he wasn’t surprised after he had told me about the two guys—guys he barely knew, and I didn’t know at all, and me turning him down cold turkey now, now that he had mentioned everything there was to mention. For the most part, I never felt comfortable drinking with strangers I didn’t know, they often got drunk and wanted to fight, and I wanted to drink.
“Are you sure you want to go, you always insist you got to drive.”
“We’ve designated someone not to drink too much.” He said.
“You know how that works, it doesn’t work. Once you start drinking, the non-drinker wants to drink and then you’re too far away to say anything, and it isn’t your car, and you aint going to walk back, you’re putting yourself in their hands.”
“Okay,” he said, “I’m all right.”
“You seem all right,” I remarked, “but you will all be goofy drunk coming back, and Highway 94 is not all that lit up.”
I was starting to freeze standing in this one spot, thinking thoughts, perhaps what he was thinking, staying in a warm house, drinking, getting drunk, but he told those fellows he’d go, and he felt he had to go. It’s funny, when you let someone take control of your life, that is exactly what they do but it is not for your betterment, it is in ever case I’ve yet to see, under the heading of self-interest.
“No, I told them I’d go; I’d feel funny at the last minute telling them different.”
“Well, where are they?”
“They’re waiting for me at a bar!”
We both glanced at one another, oddly, as if he had just discovered we were disconnected.
“No,” I reconfirmed, but I waned to keep him company. He looked confused, and I suppose so did I to him.
I had left and he had left, and I went into the kitchen to join Sharon, and she took a cold beer out of the refrigerator for me, it tasted marvelous.
“Better go easy on that, Chick,” she said, we only have a six-pack left.
“Six,” said, “isn’t bad if you don’t drink any.” I had three already, she had one and Sid had two. She liked her beer almost as much as I did. I was upset with myself for not going along with Sid, blaming it on Sharon who had insisted I stay home for once, even to the point of threatening to kick me out if I went. “If you go,” she said, “don’t come back.”
In the back of my head I had plans anyhow to go on to San Francisco.
The News Report
“Wake up,” said Sharon; it was on the 7:00 a.m., news. “Wake up, Sid is on the news!” She shouted from the stairway by the living room, up the stairs came the reverberation of her voice. She said it a number of times.
My head and stomach was the worse, a hangover, it ached as if I had drunk too much, or too little, woken up too early too quick. I rolled onto my side. After awhile, I yelled down, “You said, Sid? What about him?”
“He’s on the news, come and see!”
“Come on down and see for yourself.”
“He had an accident.” Then there was a long hesitation, and I knew I’d have to get up and go down stairs, to find out what all the commotion was about. And so I rolled out of bed. Then I heard her say something like “You were lucky.”
“Yeah,” I said, not knowing why I said want I said, not knowing what was going on.
By the time I had gotten down to the living room the news was still on, wrapping up, the commentator was going over the local news once more, I felt like a dead fish, hammered on, but getting better, still feeling a little sleepy, nauseated is perhaps better.
“Come over here,” said Sharon, “listen it’ll be on next, I saw it three times already.”
I just sat there and watched, she couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me for some reason what exactly was going on, and then she said, “You see!” It was a car wreck. I didn’t say a word, I didn’t recognize the car, and it wasn’t Sid’s.
“Wait a minute,” Sharon told me, he’ll say more about it in a moment.” It was as if she needed my confirmation, to asses if what had happened really happened.
I sat up, my stomach was sore.
“I’m afraid you’re going to get really upset,” she inferred.
“Wait and see.”
Then the News Commentator came on, and said, “Three boys coming back from Hudson, Wisconsin, on Highway 94, smashed into a guard railing, smashed right thought it, breaking out their front window, and having it come out through the back window, they must have been going ninety-miles an hour, all tested for having high alcohol content in their blood. All were killed instantly. Sid Moeller, twenty-years old and…”
There was a long pause, my mouth went dry, I almost lost my breath, and I had to gulp for air.
“Do you want me to go get some beer?” asked Sharon calmly.
“No, I should call Paula, see if she knows,” it was his wife, they were separated, and she was filing for a divorce.
“Okay,” she said, “but don’t leave please.”
I did leave, I frowned and moved out of the place, and moved over on the Westside of town, where the Mexicans lived, found a basement apartment, and stayed there until summer, and went to San Francisco. I had felt terrible for those months after Sid’s death; I was silent for a long while.
I was never invited to his funeral by his parents, matter of fact, I heard, overheard, one of them saying, “Why was it him, and not…” and they skipped over the name and finished the sentence by saying, “The good die young…” In both cases, the implication of me was there, but I guess I don’t blame them, I was a wild one, but then so was Sid, they just couldn’t believe he was as wild as me. (Now they all are dead but me, so I can write this.)
No: 716 1-25-2011