I always thought that I was a really good judge of character. Don’t we all? I have heard people admit that they are selfish, lazy, unorganized, vain, but I don’t recall anyone ever saying to me that they are a bad judge of character. Why is that?  Do we want to see the best (or worst) in people despite contrary evidence? I have been struggling with this concept lately. I think most people are embarrassed to admit that they were wrong about someone’s character when their hearts were broken or money was stolen.

I met Jake a couple of years back when he still was a boy. The first time I saw him, he was walking his dog by our house. At the time, I thought maybe he would be a good friend for my son. One day I just happened to be looking out the window when Jake walked by. I just let my dog out and was looking towards the road when I saw Jake’s dog drag him over the meet my dog. In the process, Jake got clotheslined on our mailbox. The dog further dragged him into the ditch. Jake laid wounded on the grass with blood coming out of his neck. I freaked out. I sent my oldest daughter out to get him while I panicked. Eventually I bandaged up some of his wounds and gave him a warm washcloth to put on his scraped and bloody neck. I tracked down his muddy mutt and loaded them into my car to give them a ride home. Welcome to the neighborhood!

A few days later, Jake’s mom sent me a note thanking me for taking care of her son. I still have it which is remarkable because I throw everything out. Over the years, Jake and my son became very good friends. I always liked Jake. He was courteous, quiet, happy, friendly, and kind. He always thanked me when I gave him a ride to school. He was the kind of kid that I wanted my son to hang out with.

Then this summer, things changed. Jake grew into a troubled teen. He was no longer happy. He stopped thanking me for rides. He went to the gas station and stole a pack of cigarettes. His parents made him return them and apologize to the owners. He was grounded for over a month from everything. Then one cool rainy night, he ran away which I blogged about previously. He vanished for almost 48 hours, then went back to school like none of it ever happened. He was present, but not quite there.

A few days after Jake went back to school, his mom texted me with concern. She said that a teacher asked the students to draw a picture of what they were doing for the weekend. Jake drew a picture of himself alone in the corner of his room with his knees folded and his head down in despair.

Then a few weeks later, a note came home from school stating that a student talked about bringing a gun to school. Apparently, a boy had created a hit list with 6 names on it and stated that he was going to bring 7 bullets to school. It was Jake. Jake said that he didn’t mean it, but he was sent away for a couple of weeks for treatment.

Last week I saw Jake walking his dog when I went on a long run. I asked him how he was doing. He smiled and replied that he was doing good. I just have to wonder if his smile was sinister or sincere. I always liked Jake and thought he was a good person. I still want to believe that despite all of the contrary evidence. How could I be so wrong?? In my mind, he is still the sweet and caring boy that I first met years ago. Not the troubled teen that he has become. I have been having a really hard time with this. I feel unsettled, I want to trust him again but can’t. I feel thankful that the troubles with my teens are trivial in comparison. I worry about his family. I pray that Jake can find the friendly and happy boy he once was.

Grounded for life, part 5

A few days later, Randy showed up with a car full of friends in his old boat of a car wanting to go for a ride. But I was grounded. Sometimes if I knew that my mom would say “no”, I would ask my dad. He always said “yes”. I suspect that if I asked my dad if I could go out for a wild drunken night of debauchery he would still say “yes”. But no such luck, my mom was home. Plus she got pretty angry if I went past her and asked my dad. Anyway, there was no getting around it, I was grounded.

Randy drove off leaving us behind. That was not all he left behind. As Randy drove off, the guys noticed that Randy’s car was leaking fluid of some sort. Brake fluid! Back in the day, we couldn’t just call him on his cell phone to tell him. I will liken it to my parents stories of walking to school uphill both ways. How did we survive? Sometimes it is amazing that we did. Instead we worried. Randy never came back to pick up my friends. Later that afternoon, we received a call that Randy got in a car accident and was in the hospital. He was going 65 on a back road. As he approached the stop sign he didn’t have any brakes, lost control, and ended up hitting a tree head on. Luckily he walked away with a few bumps, bruises, and glass imbedded in his face and body. It was a miracle that he survived a head on collision with a tree without wearing a seat belt. He remembered wandering around aimlessly in confusion. His Def Leppard tape still playing but the front end of the car was gone.

The next day, my friends and I went to the junk yard to see the remains of his car. It was a pretty dismal sight. We wondered what our fate would have been if I hadn’t been grounded. Would some of us be underground?? I remember getting the call that night and driving my parent’s car to get to the hospital. I was afraid and crying. We were all pretty shook up. I think that God was watching out for us that day. If I wasn’t grounded there is no way we would have all survived that crash.

It has been over two decades since I saw Randy. I don’t think of him all that often anymore. To be honest, if I saw him walking down the street I would turn around and walk away. Some doors are meant to stay closed.

Grounded for life, part 4

It was the summer right before my 17th birthday that I got grounded. It was the first and last time that I got grounded. I remember being pretty upset about it at the time. I just wanted to hang out with my friends. I never thought on that 4th of July that a spark would set off a chain reaction that ended up saving my life. At the time, all I saw was red from the fireworks exploding in loud angry cracks. 

My mom told me that I needed to come home right after the fireworks. Randy showed up that night in his 1970’s big boat of a car with my new boyfriend and a friend of his. Perfect, I set up my boyfriend’s friend with my friend Connie who I invited to come live with me that night. Connie had a rough life. Connie and her younger siblings spent the summer living with whatever friends would take them in. She never had many clothes to wear, no winter jacket, and her mom would leave the kids for days at time with only cough drops to eat. She never called to look for Connie when she didn’t come home. Eventually, the kids ended up in foster care but for those couple of weeks I took Connie in like a stray cat. Connie had a horrendous upbringing, but that is her story to share. Growing up the way I did, I had a hard time relating to kids whose biggest problem was a bad hair day. 

After the fireworks that night, Randy had every intention of taking us right home. However, he decided to take the guys home first and then drop Connie and I off last as we were on the way home for him. It would be a half an hour out of the way to take the guys home, not really a problem. The problem was that Randy said that he knew a shortcut to get back home. After taking some back country roads, it was apparent that we were lost. We wandered around aimlessly for over an hour, turned around, stopped when the road dead ended in a field, turned around again, and eventually ended up in a town over an hour away from my house. I wish I could say we had a map in the car or a cell phone to call home.

We eventually found our way back and rolled in the driveway after 2 AM. So much for coming right home. How do you explain getting lost for hours when you know the route home like the back of your hand? Oh, and by the way, I brought a new friend home that is going to stay with us for a couple of weeks. I almost felt sorry for Connie, it probably wasn’t the best time to have a new friend live with us. Being grounded that night stopped Connie, our boyfriends, and me from what happened next. It would have been tragic. 

Grounded for life, part 2

Sometimes things happen that really aren’t technically our fault, but could be because we didn’t do anything at all to stop them. Guilt by association. Inaction as an action. It is rather embarrassing sometimes to talk about events that happened when I was a child, the age my children are at now. Events that were stupid and childish looking back in middle age adult eyes. 

Today’s story takes place out in a very rural area by Mary’s house. I mentioned Mary previously, she was my friend that had 14 or 15 siblings. I can never remember. Please don’t make me mentally count each one by name. Randy wasn’t an only child either. He had 4 brothers. He shared a father with his oldest brother, each of his younger brothers had a different father. His older brother was along for the ride. Mary’s house was always a zoo, so we decided to take a walk. It was autumn, I remember that because the corn was high and ready for harvesting. Later that evening we were running through the corn fields hiding out. Randy’s brother lifted me up to see if I could see anything over the corn, but it was dusk and the husks were so high I could barely peek over. 

The trouble started when we got to the creek. Randy and his brother found a large sheet of plastic lying on the road near the bridge. It was like bubble wrap plastic. They thought it would be a great idea to burn the plastic. I still remember the sizzling and cracking sound of the burning plastic. To make matters more troublesome, Randy and his brother pulled out the signs for the bridge and threw them in the ditch. Around this time, Mary’s dad drove by on the way home from his third job. Mary told the boys that her dad was going to call the police if he saw the fire and suspicious activity. Not long after that we may have even heard sirens. And that is how I ended up over my head in a corn field at dusk. 

Mary decided she wanted to call her sister to see if their dad said anything. She babysat for the farmer’s kids down the road and said we should walk there so she could call home. I remember walking into her neighbor’s house at night to use their rotary phone. The TV was on and the farmer snored softly in his chair never waking up. I don’t know where the rest of the family was. It seems surreal that night in a stranger’s house as Mary called home. Mary’s dad didn’t see anything, so we walked back to her house. No one got grounded that night. 

Grounded for life, part 1

The first time I met Randy was on the school bus. The bus was full when Randy got on except for one seat, my seat. He sat down next to me, jumped back up looking for another seat, and after finding none sat down next to me again. He nervously explained that he couldn’t sit by me because I was too beautiful, but there was nowhere else for him to go. He stuttered, chuckled, and wiped sweaty palms on his jeans. It was a couple weeks later in the middle of May that he asked me out. It snowed 6 inches on that day. My first relationship lasted as long as it took the May snow to melt away. But a friendship was struck since that first day. 

It was later that I learned more about the real Randy, but I will never know for sure. He never told the same story more than once. He loved to laugh and have fun. That was part of the problem. I learned later that he was in foster care for stealing a car for joy riding. Randy never caused me any harm, however trouble seemed to follow him everywhere he went. 

As a teen, I never had any boundaries. I was treated as an adult at a young age. I guess it was a benefit for having many adult responsibilities. For the most part I was trustworthy. There were times, however, that I wished I was grounded. Like the time Randy came over with a couple of friends to go out. For some reason, I was afraid of Randy’s friend. He was downright shady. There was something bad about him. My mom told me to go out and have a fun time when I really wanted her to say that I was grounded for life. I remember sitting in the back of this guy’s car. The floor was rusted out in the back seat. If you sat in the middle, you could see the ground. I was afraid that a bump would cause the whole back seat to fall out. 

There were other outings with Randy. He went to meet up with someone to talk about things that future felons probably discuss. I was offered a beer. Being the goodie two shoes that I was, I did not drink it but put it in my trunk. My dad found the beer. He told me I could get in a lot of trouble for that so I took the can and smashed it against some rocks. But I didn’t get grounded. 

The time I did get grounded though probably saved my life…