Saturday, July 21, 2012

Do-Overs Part 2

Hi Folks! Thanks for stopping by!

As many of you regular readers know, I occasionally like to veer off the subject of animals and write about other things. I do this because the story generally involves a "Thing" that interests me, and might interest you, too. Such is the case with this entry. For those of you who are new to my blog, this story will make a lot more sense if you go into the archives on the right side of the page and read the entry called "Do-Overs" that was published September 5, 2011.

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His name is Dudley, but no one ever called him that. To those of us who shared the small town of Whoville with him, he was "Duddy." He first turned up on my radar in junior high, when I heard other kids talking about him. Cute, slender, with a mop of sun-bleached hair and an easy-going nature, all the girls wanted to date him. Because he was a year younger than me, though, I didn't give him much thought until I saw him at a party a couple of years into high school.

Those high school parties were all about under-age drinking. Any time someone's parents went out of town, we gathered in large numbers, bringing with us cases of illicitly-bought beer, bongs, bottles of hard liquor- whatever we could get our hands on. We'd turn the music up loud enough to piss off the neighbors, and generally have a fine time pickling our livers while Whoville's Finest turned a blind eye to our antics: many of the heaviest drinkers were star players on the high school sports teams.

This particular party was the same as all the others but for one thing: Duddy was there, and he had with him an acoustic guitar. He and his buddy Jeff sat down a few feet away from me and proceeded to play a surprising repertoire: songs by America, and Neil Young, played well and with feeling. One of them - I can no longer recall who - even played harmonica, as well.

Of the little that I actually do remember about my time in high school, 30-odd years later, I remember this: Duddy played America's "Lonely People," and it was magical. It was magical because for the two minutes and twenty-seven seconds that it took him to play the song, Duddy was lost in the music, and I, lost in him, watching. I was fascinated! He seemed so comfortable in his own skin, so confident. And so cute!

A year or so later, I worked up the courage to ask him to accompany me to one of the high school's formal dances. To my everlasting surprise, he said yes. While I have no memories of the dance itself, I vividly recall how, as we stood in front of the fireplace at his mom's house posing for pictures, he leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. I was instantly transported to a heaven that I didn't know existed! It seemed so important then, and so silly now, but that impulsive peck cemented Duddy's place in my memory. To this day, I feel the same giddiness, recalling the moment, that I felt at the time it happened.

There were a few make-out sessions after that dance, but we were never a couple. I don't know why. We drifted through the subsequent years of high school running around with our respective crowds, and then I joined the service. While I didn't stay in for the entire period of enlistment, I was still in the army when Duddy's younger sister Katharine - who I had befriended my junior year for the admittedly selfish reason of wanting to spend more time in Duddy's orbit - sent me a picture with a note attached: Duddy had gotten married. At nineteen! She was a local girl, and they were expecting. Our lives took wildly divergent paths, then. But while I wouldn't see Duddy again for many years, I never forgot him entirely.

He came back on the radar just after his mother died. I read the obituary in the Whoville Journal and immediately got in touch with Katharine. She and I spent a few months, then, keeping each other company as she worked through her grief. Duddy was playing some gigs with a band at a local bar, and we'd go watch them play. It was fun, but it wasn't magical - there were too many people there, and it was too impersonal. The magic happened when Duddy came by his sister's house one evening and stayed into the small hours of the night.

Pulling out the guitar he'd brought with him, he stood before me and serenaded me with America's "Sister Golden Hair." I sat on the couch in awe, feeling like a shy teenager all over again. For a while, time stood still, and we were cocooned in a moment that neither of us wanted to end. We were both at places in our lives that wouldn't permit us to take things any further than those precious few minutes, although I did muster my courage at one point and let him know I was open to the idea of dating him. The comment floated between us but nothing else was said. At the time, I took Duddy's silence to mean he wasn't interested. It would be twelve years before I learned that I couldn't have been more wrong.

Those twelve years were hard ones for Duddy, and for me. I spent them dealing with the aftermath of having been molested as a child, suffering from depression, isolation, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Slowly, as time went by, I found a measure of self, and sanity. At the same time, Duddy's life spiraled out of control. After his divorce, there was a hideously toxic relationship, drinking and drugs. I had no idea how awful things were until I found Katharine on facebook and asked my usual How's Duddy these days? The answer shocked me, and I fully expected to hear that Duddy had died from alcoholism, or something worse. I actually spent some time listening to my Best of America CD and thinking about what I might say at his funeral. It was that bad.

You can imagine my surprise when he turned up on facebook, alive and well! I immediately sent a friend request, which was granted within minutes. We got to talking, then, me asking questions, and Duddy responding with mostly monosyllabic answers: How are you doing these days? Gettin' old. Playing much? No band now, just me. I was getting nowhere fast when I threw out the game-changer: What's a girl got to do to get you to play for her? That did the trick! Next thing I knew, I was picking him up at the half-way house he was living in, and driving to Olive Garden, where I spent the next few hours being pleasantly surprised.

He peered at me over the glasses that had slipped down his nose. It was an incredibly endearing look, made all the more so by his determination to tell me his story. The words spilled out, tumbling on top of one another in his hurry to fill me in. Yes, he said, there had been years of chaos and insanity. After his marriage ended, there was a relationship in which he had become a battered boyfriend, and alcoholism that would've killed him if he'd let it. The half-way house was his salvation, coming, as it did, after thirty days of inpatient rehab. Duddy was sober, and proud of it. His new-found enthusiasm for life was infectious, and by the end of the evening, I found myself hoping that we would see each other again soon.

In fact, we got together again the very next night. He brought his guitar along, and spent an hour or so singing all sorts of songs - including "Lonely People." It was my own private concert, and I relished every minute of it. Things had clearly changed between us, after all those years, but the changes were for the better: now, we brought sanity and sobriety to the mix, as well as the maturity that comes from having lived and learned. We were still giddy teenagers, but we were sensible adults now, too. It was an interesting mix of feelings.

When the radio announced that America would be playing a concert an hour away, we jumped at the chance to see them. We arrived early at the gated community that was hosting the gig, marveling at the genteel charm of the village as well as the incredibly cheap ticket prices. The seats in the 80 year-old auditorium were first come-first serve. We ended up in row 17, center aisle. We couldn't have bought better seats at any other venue. When America came on stage and started singing "Lonely People," things seemed to come full circle: there I was, listening to the band whose songs Duddy had played at that party all those years ago, and there he was, sitting right next to me, playing air guitar to his favorite tunes. It was - yep, you guessed it - magical!

It was unfortunate that Gerry Beckley had some sort of voice issue going on that rendered him more of a Muppet than an actual singer. Imagine Kermit the frog singing "A Horse With No Name" and you'll understand what I mean. His backup vocals were fine, but when he sang lead, his voice went places it simply shouldn't have, which sent Duddy and I into fits of giggles. And here's the Thing: Duddy and I laugh with abandon. We giggle like teenagers. And we smile like people who have been to hell and back and are grateful to have survived the trip. Life is suddenly very interesting indeed!

Where the future will take us, no one knows, but this much is certain: after years of wondering what could've been, we're finally getting a chance to find out. Few people get this lucky, and we both feel extremely fortunate that the Gods smiled on us after all our respective years of agony. We've definitely earned our do-over, and we fully intend to make the most of it!

That's all for now! Thanks for reading this anyway, even though it had nothing to do with critters! Please feel free to leave a comment below so I know you were here!