SYMBOLS OF MY YOUTH
*Inspiration for the stories Iíve written over the years has come from many different sources.† Often times my own imagination, while at other times, readers will offer me ideas from their imaginations.† Iíve also been inspired to write stories based on newspaper articles Iíve read, stories Iíve seen on the nightly news, amusing anecdotes friends and co-workers have told me about their children, and sometimes Iíve been inspired by songs or song titles.† Symbols Of My Youth was inspired by a song sung by Billy Ray Cyrus entitled, Words By Heart.
†††† I purchased my home on the Grand Canal two years ago, and since the day I moved in my mother has been after me to return to my boyhood home, and as she put, "Go through all that junk in the closet and take with you what you want to keep.† You've got just as much room to store all that stuff now as I do."
†††† Lack of time and desire had caused that request to be put on a back burner.† I was finally spurred into action when she stopped by the office one day last week and ordered,† "A.J., I'd like that closet cleaned out this weekend please.† I've got company coming from out of town next week, two of my cousins and their husbands, so I'm going to need the guest room, as well as your old bedroom.† I want to make room in the closet for their clothes.† If it's not done by Sunday I'm throwing everything out."
†††† I knew Mom meant business, so promised I'd show up on Saturday afternoon to get the dirty deed done.† I tried to enlist my brother's help as well. After all, half that closet space had once belonged to him.† As usual, though, when it came to work on a Saturday afternoon, Rick found a way to weasel out of it.
†††† "Uh...I'd like to give ya' a hand, A.J.† I really would.† But I promised Ed - the guy that owns the motor-cross track - that I'd help out at the time trials this weekend.† Tell ya' what, if you run across any of my stuff just pack it in a box and leave it on a shelf out in your garage.† I'll go through it later."
†††† I didn't bother to tell my sibling that if I ran across any of his stuff it would likely end up in Mom's garbage can. I decided Rick could find that out for himself.
†††† Early on Saturday afternoon I found myself alone in my mother's house with my head and upper body buried in a closet that had once seemed so big, but was actually rather small, cramped, and cluttered.† "No wonder she wants this cleaned out," I muttered to myself.†
†††† I walked over and opened a window to let some fresh air in the room. I paused by the old record player Rick and I had once shared that was still sitting on the dresser.† I smiled as I pulled an old scratchy Beach Boys album off the shelf.
Mom was gone to a garden party of some sort, so I didn't hesitate to turn the volume up on that old phonograph, just like I used to do when I had the house to myself back when I was a teenager.
†††† Appropriately enough the first song that started to play was In My Room.†
†††† There's a place where I can go and tell my troubles to, in my room.† In my room.
†††† That song brought back a lot of memories of a time when that bedroom was my haven from the outside world.
†††† "Mom's not going to be too happy if she comes home and finds out I haven't even begun cleaning this closet," I commented to the empty room.
†††† Twenty minutes later I was knee deep in nostalgia.† The empty boxes I had brought along were quickly filling up.†† One I had reserved for the garbage man, one for old clothes that could be taken to Goodwill, one I had marked appropriately, Rick's Crap, and the last I was using for things I wanted to save.†
†††† I smiled as I stacked another trophy in the box of things I was taking home with me.†† I had forgotten just how many winning sports teams I had played on throughout my Little League career, and then beyond, when I was in high school.† Trophies for triumphs in baseball, basketball, football, and track soon weighed the box down.† I had no idea what I'd do with those old things. They'd probably end up tucked in the back of a closet at my own house, but I wasn't quite ready to give them up for some reason.† They brought back a lot of pleasant memories.† Piled in the box with the trophies went several folders of old school papers and report cards that I wanted to look through more closely at a later date, as well as yearbooks, the baseball card collection I hadn't added to since I was thirteen, and a football that had been autographed by Vince Lombardi.
†††† I stood up and began going through the clothes that had been left in the closet when Rick had gone off to Vietnam, and I had gone off to college.† Some were so well worn they were immediately tossed into the garbage box, while others - mine and Rick's - I folded neatly and piled in the box for Goodwill.† I didn't think either one of us would have an occasion to wear bell bottoms again, tie dye shirts, Nehru jackets, or the black Sunday suits I found that probably hadn't fit us in over twenty years now.
†††† Way back at the end of the clothes rod, in a corner of the closet where it was too dark to see, my fingers encountered soft leather.† "What's this?"† I frowned, pulling the garment off the hanger.
†††† I smiled as my old letterman's jacket came into view.† The school colors, blue and white, were still as bright as they had been the day that coat was put away for good.† On the back was written Mission Bay Sharks, and underneath that was the large head of shark with its teeth showing to form a menacing grin.† On the front of the jacket my initials were etched on the right side, while on the left side was sewn a large white patch that formed the letters MBS.† From that patch hung a multitude of medals that had been earned throughout my four years on the various sports teams.†
†††† I had forgotten all about that jacket.† If someone had asked me the day before I cleaned that closet where it was, I'd have had to say I didn't know.† I'd have probably thought it had long ago been unintentionally thrown out.
†††† It's funny how something as insignificant as a jacket can bring back such strong memories.† I moved to sit down on my old bed, fingering the white leather of the sleeves as I did so.† I thought back to my Freshman year and how I wanted nothing more than to earn the right to wear one of those jackets.† It seemed then, that if a guy was going to be popular and make a success of himself in high school, a jacket like that was a necessity.† I spent most of that year eyeing with envy the upperclassmen that possessed a coveted letterman's coat.† My excitement practically flew me home that day in the spring of my first year of high school when I found out I had been awarded one of those jackets.†
†††† Mom was as thrilled as I was.† Even Rick couldn't hide his pleasure when he saw me wearing my coat the next time he was home.† He threw an arm around my shoulders, grinned, and said, "So, you're a big man on campus now, huh, little brother?† I suppose all the chicks will be hanging on your arm.† You won't have time for all the girls that will be throwin' themselves at you now."
Rick had never earned one of those jackets, not because he couldn't have, but because something like that wasn't important to him.† ĎA symbol of the establishment,í he called it.† Hell, I didn't care what he called it, I loved that coat.††
†††† I slipped the coat on for old timeís sake and reached my hands in the deep side pockets to see if I could find any other long forgotten treasures.† My fingers encountered a tightly folded piece of paper.† I pulled it out, thinking I'd run across an old homework assignment.† The faded pink stationary told me I was wrong, however.
†††† I fingered the paper for a moment, started to unfold it, then just as quickly decided against that action.†† I put it back where I had found it, then remained seated on the bed lost in thought for the longest time.†
†††† I hadn't read the words that piece of paper contained in fifteen years, but I didn't have to read them to know what they said.† I knew the words by heart.† I could picture your handwriting clearly in my mind, and I could recall the words as if I'd just read them yesterday.
†††† Dear A.J.,
†††† †††† I'm so sorry.† This isn't easy.† My brother's death has hurt me in a way I could never have thought possible.† Because of that, and some other problems, I have to break things off with you.† I really love you, and I don't want to hurt you in any way.† You're a great guy.† We had some wonderful times together.† Some very special times that I'll never forget.† Please get on with your life.† I still care about you, I really do, but what we had is over.† In time, I know you'll meet someone new, someone who deserves you more than I do.† You're going to college in the fall.† There will be so many girls there who are smarter and prettier than me.† Find one who will treat you with the kindness you deserve.† I'm sorry about all of this, but I know you'll get along just fine.† You're a strong person.† I'll always love you.
†††† I sat there, those words echoing in my head, and thought back to the homecoming game our senior year.† I was the big man on campus I suppose, the quarterback, and you were my girl.†† Do you remember the dance, and then the wild party afterward at Jerry Reiner's?† Who would have thought that some day it would all seem so long ago?
†††† Appropriately enough, the Beach Boys were harmonizing to our song in the background.
†††† Wouldn't it be nice if we were older then we wouldn't have to wait so long.†† And wouldn't it be nice to live together in the kind of world where we belong.† You know it's gonna make it that much better, when we can say good night and stay together.
†††† †I looked down at the bed I was sitting on, suddenly remembering that night we had the house to ourselves.† Two kids, so inexperienced in the ways of love, but neither of us caring.† We gave ourselves to each other twice that night, and even all these years later, I don't think there's been a time that's been any sweeter to me than that night was.† I was foolish enough then, to think it meant forever.†
†††† Wouldn't it be nice if we could wake up in the morning when the day is new, and after having spent the day together, hold each other close the whole night through.† Such happy times together we'd be spending, I wish that every kiss was never ending.† Wouldn't it be nice.†
†††† I sat for a long time, remembering clearly the days on the beach, the nights at the movies, and the times we just held hands and talked about our future.† Everything from the kind of house we wanted to buy when I finished college, to the kind of car we'd drive, to the neighborhood we wanted to live in.† We were going to have four kids, remember?† Two boys and two girls.† I bet you donít remember what we were going to name them.† I do.† I picked John Richard for our first son, and you picked Christopher Paul for our second.† The girls were going to be Kelly Kathleen - your choice. And then my choice - Melissa Anne.† How naive we were.† We thought just by planning it, it would happen.† But, life rarely worksout that way, does it?
†††† Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true.† Maybe then there wouldn't be a single thing we couldn't do.† We could be married, and then we'd be happy, oh wouldn't it be nice.† Wouldn't it be nice.† Wouldn't it be nice.
†††† The memories were bittersweet, and I had already allowed too much idle time to pass.†† I still needed to get all the boxes to my car and clean up the room for Mom.† I took the jacket off, and with your note still tucked away in its pocket, laid it carefully in the box of things I was saving.
†††† An hour later the job was done.† I carried three boxes to my car, then deposited the final box by the garbage can.† I went back in to lock up Mom's house, stopping in the kitchen for a drink.† Mom usually kept beer in the refrigerator for her sons, and she didn't disappointment me on this hot afternoon.† I pulled a can out and sat at the table thinking back to the paper hidden away in the pocket of that old letterman's jacket.†
†††† I could see your face as clearly as if you were sitting there with me.† I offered up a long, silent toast to us.† To the way we had been.† To the good times we'd had. And still I knew I wouldn't have to read the letter.† I knew your words by heart.†
†††† You were right, it wasn't easy, but yes...I've gotten along just fine.†††
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