“A-roooooooooooooooooooooooooo! Holy smoke! Is this the Mighty Casey? Is this the man whose madness I see in the moonlight?”
“Hey, Todd, I’ll get Dad.”
“No, bro, it’s you I’m looking for. I’ve got a little side job tomorrow; you want to make some cash-ish? Some people like hashish, but I likes cash-ish!”
My Uncle Todd was a certified loon. Even though I was only fourteen, I had worked with him doing landscaping for the summer. It was bust-ass work, but I had gotten money, as decent a tan as my pasty skin could hold, and something resembling muscle tone, so it was a pretty good gig.
“You remember how to install a French drain?”
“Uh, I dig a hole and you put in a French drain?”
“Correct, you little genius of the Monte Carlo, you little Aristotle of the Netherlands. Have your shit ready by seven in the a.m., my friend. Now let me talk to your dad.”
Uncle Todd was my mom’s brother, but he and my dad were best buds. When he wasn’t landscaping, he was a professional ski bum, though I wasn’t sure if that was a real thing or just one of those abstract things he said. I knew for real that as soon as winter hit, he took a pink slip from his boss and just skied until spring. If there was any professional aspect to it, it was beyond me.
I was waiting outside my house in my grubby clothes with my jug of water when Uncle Todd pulled up.
“Casey, show me your hooters!”
“Come on kid, show me your hooters.”
“Shut up, you know I got no hooters.”
“Alright, anybody show you theirs yet?”
“Yeah, all the time, every day.”
Hanging out with Uncle Todd was always a learning experience. He taught me about ninety-two percent of what I knew in the way of swear words and the female anatomy. When I turned thirteen, he asked me if I had gotten laid yet, and when I said no, he promised to take me to the truck stop and find somebody to make a man out of me. He hadn’t done it yet, which was good because I was kind of hoping my first time would be a little more special. But then, since I was turning fifteen in a few months and had no hopes of losing my virginity anywhere on the horizon, I thought maybe the truck stop wasn’t a totally bad option.
As crazy as he was though, I felt like I could talk to Todd, though I didn’t know exactly how to talk to him about something like Jeremy. It wasn’t until after we had stopped for coffee and donuts that I had the courage to bring it up.
“Hey, have you ever had a friend who . . . died?”
Todd took a sip of his coffee.
The name threw me off. In my head flashed this parallel universe where I was Uncle Todd, and Jeremy and Andrew were there and we just kept living this cycle of death over and over. Andrew died, then Jeremy died, then I/Uncle Todd would die in the next generation. But then Uncle Todd continued.
“Andrew Stanton. We were maybe twelve? Some guys were building a tree fort out in the woods near Indian Cliffs, on the water company land. I had been to it a couple of times. Andy fell off, broke his back. He was paralyzed and . . . had to be hooked up to some machines or something. Then he died.”
“I heard that story, sort of. Wasn’t he my mom’s age? That’s why mom never let us build forts.”
“Nope, he was my age. He was my friend.”
I didn’t want to finish my donut. If silence can be deafening, silence from Uncle Todd was a cataclysmic roar from the heavens. We didn’t say anything all the way to the job site. We were halfway through our ditch before Todd said anything even remotely zany, and even that felt forced. He never even asked me why I asked.
That night I couldn’t get to sleep. My bed was the same height as the window in my room, so a couple years before I had moved my bed so I could look out onto the highway. I would watch cars go by, wondering what important places they might be going to. I could see a good part of my town from here. I could see down to Main Street; I could see the Shell gas station sign and the ball fields over by the highway.
The thing about Uncle Todd’s friend dying, I couldn’t shake it. Why was he named Andrew too? And why did that story always stick out? Was it just because it was a story about a kid who died, or did it mean something else?
I thought about how life was going now with Jeremy gone and how it might be different if he were around. Chris was probably right; I could see maybe Jeremy drifting away from us and being more friends with Andrew. Maybe they’d be in the clique with the art kids, or maybe they’d start a computer club or something.
I didn’t feel like I fell asleep that night; I felt more like my dreams were just part of my thoughts. Every once in while, I’d find myself lost along that highway running outside my bedroom window, my thoughts traveling far and fast. And then I’d be back in my room alone, wondering if I would ever sleep.
Dan Pullen lives in Connecticut with his wife and three children. He writes stories about simple people and their complex lives.