Albuquerque, NM – 1994
In Dallas, my parents had a couple of close friends who they had known since before I was born. They had a son my age and a daughter my sister’s age. This was a perfect arrangement for our parents. My sister and their daughter were inseparable; they have remained close friends to this very day. Not so much for their son Chandos and I. As we aged it became clear that our personalities were incompatible.
When my family moved to Albuquerque, our friends came to stay for a long weekend. Within hours of their arrival I realized that I was in trouble; Chandos was as soft and weak as they come. He didn’t want to play outside – he didn’t even want to leave the house. And the only thing he wanted to do in the house was play cards. But he refused to play anything other than Old Maid and Go Fish. I suggested that we play poker. My conservative father even suggested that we use matchsticks as poker chips. But he refused because gambling is a sin and matches are dangerous.
I was a rambunctious young boy. I craved action and danger. By the time I was thirteen there were no more intriguing toys than Chinese throwing stars and cigarette lighters. Chandos was not so inclined. I was dying to see the newly released Terminator 2; he was dying to see the straight-to-video classic The Brave Little Toaster. We could not have picked worse weekend company for each other.
I remember this all so vividly because it is one of the few times that my dad authentically commiserated with me. He could tell I was frustrated and he knew why. He came into my bedroom at one point and said he realized that Chandos was not my kind of kid, but just to humor him for a few more days until he left. I agreed.
The worst part was that I couldn’t go hang out with Dan, my real friend. I asked my parents if it was alright if Dan came up to the house just to introduce himself to Chandos and they said it would be fine. I called Dan and told him the situation: I was trapped at home with the biggest sissy in the world. I told Dan to come up to the house. I’d introduce him to Chandos, but I wanted Dan to try to intimidate him or scare him a little. I figured we’d all get a kick out of it.
Dan rode his motorcycle up to the house and was there in ten minutes. He had dressed up a little, equipped with leather jacket and shades. He had even pulled his motorcycle across the front porch, which I thought was a nice touch. I greeted him at the door and we both snickered. I said, “Wait here, I’ll get Chandos.”
I stepped back into the house and called for Chandos several times. He was sitting at the kitchen table playing solitaire. He asked what I wanted and I asked him to come meet my friend. He said no thank you and kept playing. I said, “C’mon man, come meet my friend, he came up here to say hello.” “No. No.” He repeated, losing the sheen of politeness. My parents overheard this conversation and said, “Yeah Chandos, go meet his friend. It’s nice to meet new people.” Now he began to escalate almost with panic, “No! No! I don’t want to!”
We all exchanged confused glances. He seemed afraid, but there was no call for it. He wouldn’t even come to the door to be intimidated like he was supposed to. I told Dan thanks for coming and he returned home. I slunk dejectedly into the house, knowing that I would have to spend three or four more days with this guy.
That night he slept in a sleeping bag in my room on the floor. We went to sleep without much conversation. During the night I got up to use the bathroom. I climbed out of bed, put my feet on the floor and tried to step over him. As I stepped, I felt my toes brush down the side of his leg on the way to the floor. It was not enough to wake up most people, let alone hurt, let alone cause injury.
Chandos shot upright in his sleeping bag and let out a bloodcurdling scream. I froze in place wondering what to do. He continued shrieking like a banshee while I stood there in disbelief. It was like a train whistle. Our parents flooded the room and turned on the lights. His mother ran over to him and cradled his head in her arms while he sobbed hysterically. “What happened?” they all asked. I had no idea what to tell them. “I don’t know.” I stammered. “He stepped on me!” Chandos screamed. I was at a total loss.
“No I didn’t! I didn’t mean to!” All the parents in the room stared at me as though I had committed murder. After many long minutes he finally quit crying. His mother helped him up and he took his sleeping bag into their room to finish the night. My parents seemed confused, and kept asking what had happened. “Did you step on him hard?” they asked. “No, I don’t think so.” They told me to go back to bed, which I did promptly.
The next day we were back to square one. He was back to sitting at the table playing solitaire and I was circling the house bored out of my mind. I was desperate for something to do. There was a large prairie dog field up the street from our house. I implored him to go on a walk to the field; at least there there were sticks and stones and animals to pester. He refused. Finally, to my relief, his parents intervened and told him to go get some exercise. He grudgingly put his shoes on and we headed out.
We walked together with nothing to talk about. We climbed the rail at the end of the street and trudged out into the field. On the horizon we could see prairie dogs scampering in and out of their dens. One of my favorite pastimes was to throw pine cones and rocks at them. I picked up a rock and lobbed it in their direction. Rarely did I hit one, and even if I did it wasn’t hard enough to hurt them. The rock bounced across the dirt and the prairie dogs scurried to their burrows.
“I don’t like this, I want to go home.” Chandos whined as soon as we had arrived. “We just got here! C’mon man, lets do something. Please!” “No. No. I don’t want to.” and with that he turned around and headed home. My heart sank. I hung my head and followed five paces behind him.
Next to us as we walked, on a telephone line, sat three large black crows. In a moment of inspiration I picked up a rock. “Hey Chandos, watch this!” He turned around as I pitched the rock full-steam at the birds. With perfect precision the rock pegged the crow on the left dead center of mass. It echoed with a solid thump and the sky exploded with black feathers. The bird plummeted to the earth directly under its perch, deader than a door nail. Stunned by my own success, I turned now to Chandos who was watching with his mouth open. He looked at me, burst into hysterical tears and ran home.
I showed up at the house fifteen minutes after he had arrived to find him still crying and stammering about the poor bird. My parents were mad that I made him cry. But when I retold the story after our guests had left, their smirks betrayed pride in my boyish hunter’s marksmanship. My dad remarked “you always did have had a good arm. You should have played baseball.” I think they pitied the softness of my companion, and ultimately didn’t want to upset his parents.
I did not see Chandos again for almost twenty years. When I finally saw him he was the same as I remembered, although married now with two children of his own. He avoided me but talked at length with my sister, sharing with her several stories about how I had broken his toys when we were kids and once threatened to pee on him. I don’t recall any of that.