Monday, October 03, 2005

Hello Larry

Has anybody ever saved your life? Literally saved your life? Somebody came close to saving mine once. I know that sounds weird since I'm obviously alive and all, but bear with me. He was the kid of my mother's best friend. He was the one that helped turn me on to the best that hip-hop had to offer back in the early 80's. His name: Larry Jones.

He was about 4-5 years younger than me. His mother worked with mine and they became best friends. So I got to spend lots of time with Larry on the weekends. Larry had a couple of older brothers. One was much older so we didn't have much to do with him. The other one was about 4 years older than me. My mother probably thought I'd become friends with him, but I couldn't stand the middle brother so I ended up hanging out with Larry. I never considered the kid my friend, but he liked Star Wars and Hot Wheels and when I was eleven those were important things. I also liked the fact that his parents could care less what we did.

I would spend the night on Saturday and get to stay up and watch Saturday Night Live. I could walk a few miles down the street to my girlfriend's house and spend the afternoon with her. It wasn't that I just used Larry. Far from it. We went down to Stewart's Creek many times just to wander the banks. We'd head out for a place where new homes were being built and have dirt clod wars with other kids from Larry's neighborhood. We'd spend lazy Sunday afternoons playing Star Wars or something else. I remember one day spent catapulting over the couch arm doing somersaults in the unused living room of Larry's home. I usually had fun hanging out with Larry.

But he often made things difficult. The age difference was one drawback. The other one was his completely wrecked homelife. His mother was a decent lady, but his father might as well have not been there. He was like a ghostly presence just hanging around rarely showing any emotion unless a ballgame was on the tube. This lack of control, while nice for me when I visited, was bad for Larry. He would get into insane screaming matches with his brothers that wouldn't end until he got belted one. I know this is not that unusual for a family, but these arguments happened constantly when he was around either of his brothers and the violence that always ensued couldn't have been too healthy.

I'd have to belt Larry too. He would decide to fight me and the fights always came from nowhere. We'd be having a good time and the next thing you know he'd be hitting me. Which was unwise since not only was I older, but I was much bigger. I'd let him hit me for awhile and ask him to stop since I hating fighting, but eventually his mosquito swats would piss me off enough to make me punch him in the head. It never took much more than one or two swings and he would stop. It wasn't until years later that I got to thinking that perhaps the reason he wanted to provoke me was some misguided attempt to find out if I actually liked him.

I sort of figured that Larry wasn't very popular with kids his own age from the way the neighborhood kids acted around him. But I found for sure when I was in 8th grade. I was invited to a big birthday blowout he was throwing at a local pizza parlor. I was having a great day just riding my bike around with some friends when my mother told me it was time to go to the party. I didn't want to go. I almost told my mother I wasn't going, but I decided it might be fun. I turned out to be the only kid who came to the party. He had invited everybody in his class at school. I felt awful for him. It was an embarrassing deal.

I started to see less of Larry. Not because his classmates hated him. It was because my family moved to the other side of the county. He came out a few times to see me at our new place. It was far out in the country so I told Larry that I had seen Bigfoot climbing the trees. He actually believed me. I knew then that I wouldn't be hanging out with him much more. I was in high school and he was still in grade school. He'd also taken to shoplifting and while I never told on him (until now) I wasn't a big fan of crime.

The shoplifting was probably just another manifestation of Larry's feelings of being unloved and unliked because his mother was always buying him stuff. He almost died then due to the onset of juvenile diabetes. I gave him a bunch of my comic books so he'd have something to read in the hospital. I was visiting him one cold winter weekend around this time when we decided to go see if the creek was frozen over. A thin film of ice covered the water under a bridge. There was a bunch of debris in the middle of the creek. A fallen log led to the debris. I decided to walk across the log. You can guess at what comes next.

I made it across the frozen solid log. Then I stepped onto the debris field. The thin ice gave way almost instantly plummeting me in freezing water up to my waist. This was disconcerting for a couple of reasons. One being that the water was very cold. Two was the fact that I couldn't swim. Yet I was oddly calm throughout the incident. Larry came across the log and helped me get out of the water. I could have just straddled the log and slid my way to safety, but I insisted on standing back up and walking back to the bank. Larry's house wasn't very far so I wasn't worried about frostbite. I got into a lukewarm bath and let me tell you...there was shrinkage. I don't recall Larry making a big deal about saving my life, since he didn't really. I was suitably grateful for the help he offered, but I pulled myself out of the water. I probably wouldn't have even attempted the stupid stunt if I had been down at the creek by myself.

But I wasn't down there by myself. I know the reason I didn't panic or become a "teenager drowns in frigid creek" byline was because I knew Larry would do whatever he could to help me if I couldn't help myself. My initial fear only lasting a few seconds. It was replaced by a little inner voice telling me how stupid I was followed by Larry yelling "Grab my hand." I had the log in a death grip by the time he said those words, but I know that he could have pulled me out if it had come down to it. That's about as close to saving a person's life as it gets I bet.

The reason I think about this is because Larry died a few years ago. I didn't even know he was dead until my mother told me months afterward. The diabetes combined with hard living caught up to him. He turned to more serious crime after he turned eighteen. He served time in prison and from what I could piece together he became nothing better than a two-bit thug. Just examined on the surface his life seems like it was a waste. Except he was there when I fell into a creek in the middle of a deep freeze ready and willing to offer me a helping hand. So here's to you Larry. I might have never considered you a friend when I was younger, but I'm proud to say you were my friend today.


djuggler said...

Great tale! It's amazing what difference we can make in each other lives even with small stuff.

What is "no big deal" to one person can be so life altering to another.

Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Good story

jones said...

Wow, very touching story.

elliott said...

That was great, Wally.

Wally Bangs said...

Thanks for the nice words. Larry was a decent dude, just got to running with a bad crowd etc...