The Kid

logo The Kid. I'll always remember him as that, although our youth is far behind us now. The younger brother of my best friend and next-door neighbor - a year behind us in school - he wasn't a tag-along, but an integral part as we played outlaws and cowboys. Freckle faced and a broad smile, with a gentle demeanor - he reminded you of Huck Finn, and he loved roaming the mountains and forests, hunting and fishing, hiking, and swimming in the river. We used to borrow his father's car - the pink one with the big fins and the push button gear shifts - and drive out to the river with a bottle of Boones Farm wine and a box of Swisher Sweets.

The Kid grew tall and broad. We grew apart. One day another one of our friends - a young man filled with intelligence and a wonderful sense of humor - drowned down at the river - and we never went back there anymore. The Kid never was much for book smarts - didn't make him a bad person. He left the mountains and moved down to California.

kid The Kid never had much luck with women. He seemed to get mixed up with the wrong kind. But he got himself a steady job at the prison as a guard and tried to make ends meet, although he always longed - like all us exiles - to return home to the mountains and valleys of our youth.

The phone call came over the weekend and I felt the cold chill fill my body. Too much drinking. An argument among friends. A 911 call and a hangup. The authorities arrive. The Kid comes out the back door - his pistol drawn. He emerged from the shadows and... oh Kid. The sheriff shot him down. His 10-year old son in the house listening to his moans as he died.

I am sitting tonight in a Mexican restaurant. I have never been here before and may never be here again. I am surrounded by family and friends, but my heart is still down by the river. The jukebox is playing a familiar tune, but what? "Hang on Lupe?" I discover it's not a jukebox after all, but rather a short dark-haired man in a well-cut suit singing karaoke to the crowd. He closes his eyes and puts his energy into providing us with emotional renditions of popular songs in both English and Spanish. "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?," "Under the Boardwalk," "La Bamba," even "Feelings"...

The people in the crowd clap their hands and grin and sing along. We all know the words or at least the tune. We all forget our troubles for a few minutes. I am reminded of something so obvious, yet bears to be repeated, especially to those of us who tend to drift in melancholy pools and eddies: We exist in the midst of a Mexican Standoff between hope and despair: Life is short - Sing while you can.

And the Kid? Well the Kid is going home.

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