Richard at Thanksgiving
There were three of us. We were troublemakers. The girls hated us and the big kids wanted to catch us and kill us. Laurie was a not so orthodox Jew, pale skinned and blonde. He was light-eyed and his eyelashes were blonde. It gave him a peculiar look. Richard, olive-skinned, dark-eyed, always seemed to have a fresh haircut. It was easy to make Richard laugh. The slightest sarcasm would drop him with laughter. Laurie was smart and fast and adventurous. That made him my best friend. Richard was flat-footed. He didn’t have the wings on his heels Laurie and I had. Sometimes, when Richard couldn’t keep up, we’d leave him behind. Richard always got caught when the big kids were chasing us. He was my second best friend. We were ten years old. We lived in the tenements on the south side of Chicago.
When Richard’s pants got caught in his bicycle chain, he wouldn’t stop and lay the bike down to get free, he’d coast to a stop, dreading what was about to happen, and crash to the concrete. I’d help him free his pants. He never cried, but he always had tears in his eyes.
One dark, freezing cold day, it was Thanksgiving. Richard’s mom had to work. My parents were expecting company, but I didn’t care. I hated company. I had to dress up. I walked down to the lake. Richard followed. Lake Michigan always froze up against the rocks along the shore and the swells would crack and crunch the ice into a rugged, frozen terrain that rose up and down. I wanted to walk around out there. Richard followed and fell through up to his shoulders. He caught himself with his arms outspread on the surface. I burst into laughter. It was so Richard to be the one to fall through the ice. His eyes widened with the shock of the freezing water. He had the most amazed look of Oh, my God! on his face I had ever seen, even in the movies. He struggled in vain to pull himself out. Every swell that raised and lowered and crackled the ice scared him more. He gasped and shrieked and struggled. If I went to close to him, we’d both be in it. I told him to get his sleeves wet. He could lay his arms on the ice and they would freeze to the surface. He could pull himself out. He said he couldn’t. I had to think of something, so I peed on his sleeves. He screeched, but there was nothing he could do.
His sleeves did freeze to the ice, and he pulled himself out. On the way home, I bought him a Baby Ruth. I asked him if he was freezing. He was covered with a coat of ice up to his shoulders. It made a racket as he walked. He said he was fine. He was pretty good natured about it.
I didn’t see Richard for a long while after that. Then some of the girls said he was calling me names and talking bad about me. When I saw him again, I grabbed him and pulled him into the walkway between two buildings and shoved him down on the sill of a basement window. I had ripped a piece of flimsy wood off a cabbage crate. I whacked him on the head a few times, asking him what was the big idea? It didn’t hurt him, but the noise made him blink and flinch. It didn’t occur to me until much later Richard was getting attention from the girls, or to Richard the girls would tell on him. Some girls, they start on men early.
Later, I felt bad about Richard. I still do. I imagine putting my arm across his shoulders and saying I’m sorry. It doesn’t ease my conscience any, but I like to think maybe it does Richard some good. It’s hard to believe we are all gurus, each to the other, when your feelings get in the way. But there is that and there is the other. What we do with it is to our convenience. I truly hope Richard, where ever his is, is having a good Thanksgiving.
I saw Richard again a few years later in a crowded magic shop in downtown Chicago. He looked away.