It is absolutely my pleasure to introduce to you...author, Norman Rawlings! He describes himself as "someone who brings to the forefront of the reader's mind the reality of life's elements that seem to pass unknowingly in and out of focus."
I couldn't agree more and having Norman write a guest blog post (or few) for me is an honor. As soon as I read this particular post, I knew I had to read more by him. I'm officially a fan of his! By the way...everything he writes is based on a true story, either his or another's.
Please check out hisBio and other writings after this phenomenal story (and musing).
You wouldn’t really recognize him even after seeing him a dozen times. He sort of blended into the scenery so well that it was only when he showed up on my door step the night of my brother’s graduation party did I ever really see his face. On hindsight, I knew he was the same age as me but at the time I didn’t know what grade he was in or even if he went to the same school. He was nearly a ghost.
I opened the front door quickly as I was heading out to the car to get the last of the groceries my mom had bought for the party. I ran right into him.
“Oh, wow! I’m sorry! Can I help you with something?”
He looked over my shoulder into the warm light of the living room like a hungry child would look at a tray of warm rolls through a bakery window. He looked back up at me and for the first time in my young life I was taken aback by the depth of a simple glance from another human being.
“Um..no. No, I was just…just….you guys having a party, huh?” He showed no remorse in being caught peeking the small square window on our door but rather seemed like he had something desperate he wanted to say but couldn’t find the words.
“Yep. We are.” I nodded over my shoulder toward the kitchen. “My older brother is graduating high school. We’re throwing him a party.”
He closed his eyes and nodded knowingly. “Oh sure, Yes….sure. Martin Allen Waite. Great ball player. Good arm. Turns a nifty double play.”
I started to agree out of habit as I knew that everyone in town and all of my classmates knew who my older brother was but then stopped suddenly with a look of surprise. “How did you know Marty’s middle name?”
The boy opened his eyes suddenly and snapped his gaze from past me to directly down to his feet. Without saying anything further he mumbled “Happy graduation to him” and quickly bolted from the porch and up the street away from the street light and into the darkness of the neighborhood.
It was three months before I saw him again. I was walking back from the corner store with two pockets full of caramels and slurping on a bottle of Mountain Dew when I saw an ambulance and two police cars with their lights on outside of a house a few blocks from where I lived. My curiosity carried me down amongst the onlookers when I noticed him sitting on the side of the yard of the house with his back up against a tree. He saw me, stood up quickly, and ran through the narrow opening between both houses. I asked an older kid from the neighborhood what had happened.
“Don’t know,” he muttered “but they just pulled a dead body out of that house. Cops are asking a bunch of questions to everybody. Nobody knows nothing.”
“What about him?” I pointed in the direction of the disappearing kid scurrying behind the house.
“That retard don’t know shit. Can’t tie his shoes without falling over himself.”
I turned away from the crowd and walked a few steps before looking down the narrow space that separated the two houses. I saw him again. He was sitting with his back to the street and his head in his hands. Every fiber in my body told me to keep walking but for the life of me – up to this very day – I don’t know what made me turn in his direction. I walked up slowly behind him and knelt down to his level.
“Hey. You ok?”
He gave a startled look and rubbed his bloodshot eyes. “Oh yes. I’m ok. What a silly question.”
I smiled. For some reason, hearing the word “silly” come from a 10 year old was funny to me. “What happened? Do you know?”
He sat cross legged and looked down between his feet and shrugged. “Dad punched mom. Mom shot Dad. It’s a pretty simple thing.”
I caught my breath and looked at the side of the house trying not to imagine the horrors of the events that took place on the other side of the wall. After a few moments of breathless silence, I looked back at him. “I’m Eric.”
He looked up at me. “I know.”
“Yea. Ok. What’s your name?”
He sighed deeply (almost disgustingly), stood to his feet, faced me and held out his hand in the most formal manner I’ve ever seen a kid display. “I’m Gilbert Ramone Elizabeth Arthur Torrence.” He shook my hand firmly and looked me dead in the eye.
“Wow…that’s a mouthful to…” I paused as I squinted back at him. Before I could put the thought together in my head he beat me to the punch.
“It spells out G.R.E.A.T. But you can call me Gib.”
For the next two years Gib and I saw more and more of one another. He was the adopted son of a logger and a part time librarian. His mother had miscarried three times before finally deciding to adopt. The toll of the deaths was, apparently, too hard on the father. He took to drinking heavily and was prone to violent spasms of rage. After years of beating his liver, his wife, and his son (in that order), that late summer afternoon was the final climax of his anguish. The police took away the mother for a little while and then brought her back. That’s all that I remember. Gib never mentioned it again.
As it turned out, we did go to the same school. The school administrators had put Gib in the “special class” which meant to the rest of the kids that he was slow. Actually, he was probably the sharpest kid I had ever known. He knew facts about things that my parents didn’t know. He played chess by himself all the time and was always reading something. Sooner or later, the geniuses in our school district realized he was smarter than they were but more importantly, smarter than they pegged him for.
By the time he was in high school he was sitting next to me in almost every class. We rode to school together daily. I found his company to be calming. He never really got upset about anything. His favorite response to my ravings about homework, girls that wouldn’t notice me, or the crappy hot lunches was the same each and every time: “Things could be worse, Eric.”
Graduation came and went for both of us. Gib decided to stay in our hometown and work at the local mill as a repair man of the machines that kept the mill running and half the town employed. I went off to the state college nearby and got a degree in teaching. I met my wife there; we got married and had a son named Gus. We packed and and moved away to the next state over to go to graduate school together. Years had passed before I heard from Gib again.
We came home for Christmas one year. My mom met my wife and I at the door with a big hug and immediately took our young son from my arms. As we were getting settled mom looked solemnly at me and nearly whispered, “Eric…honey….your friend Gib was shot and killed last week.”
The rest of the house fell silent. Even the Christmas music that mom kept playing in the kitchen seemed to fade away with the dull ringing in my ears. I dropped the bag I was holding and slumped to the couch. He was shot by a mugger for $40 cash and a backpack full of books as he was walking through the local park on his way home from work.
I wept. For the first time in years, I cried openly from a sense of loss. I really don’t know why. Gib and I hadn’t spoken in years. I received several letters from him after high school. I responded to a few but after a while my workload and my personal life took over my schedule to the point where writing an old friend became less and less a priority. The last letter I got – that I remember – outlined Gib’s feelings about working with his hands. I remember an unusually callous sentiment coming from such a sweet man:
“Eric? Have you ever noticed that people seem to lose interest when it comes from thinking to talking to doing? Why do you think that is? It’s like they have a hook in the water, a fish is on it, and by the time it’s in the boat they don’t know that they’re even fishing. That seems silly to me. It’s not like the thought is going around the universe before it gets to your mouth. And it is lightning fast going from your brain to your hands. Just plain silly.”
The next morning after hearing the news, I went to the cemetery where his mother had buried him. There were fresh flowers on his grave. As I held my young son, I looked down at the tombstone expecting to be filled with more confusion and anger, praying for some answers or even a small sense of finality. I found neither. But as I read the marker, a smile slowly formed at the corners of my mouth. It was just like Gib to have the final say that calmed my broken heart over this senseless loss.
There, etched in the black granite was the answer to my suffering; Simple words, from the mind to the mouth…and from the mouth to some carver’s hands.
“He was GREAT”
“Yea…” I nodded slowly, squeezed my son in my arms, and walked back to the car.
Norman Rawlings was born in Artesia, California and adopted by a Toledo orphan and a Native American flower. With the richness and depth of field of the Pacific Northwest as his backdrop, he has created short stories, essays, and imaginings ranging from road trips to waffle dreams to suicide.
Rawlings is the father of a son and daughter and shares his time between Seattle and Portland. His works include "My Waffle Dreams" and "Searching for Max". His third book, "The Barstool Side of Grace" is expected to be available in the fall of 2015.
Books by Norm:
"Searching For Max": Rawlings writes of the complexities and hilarity of a brother and sister out on the open road as they uncover their father's past and discover their own identities in the process. It weaves suspense, tenderness, and a dark edginess into a dramatic plot.( "Searching for Max" is available for electronic download through Amazon.)
"My Waffle Dreams": Rawlings shares an eclectic collection of both thought-provoking and light-hearted personal essays inspired by his life experiences, relationships, and loves.For Rawlings, clarity and epiphanies arrive like bolts of lightening; as he responds to his circumstances and describes what he has ventured out and found through self-discovery and reflection, he leads the way for others to do the same.
I'm passionate about no-nonsense self-improvement. Too many of us are plagued by faulty thought patterns- I aim to change that!