Doing Something by Cole Parker

A sixteen year old boy faces major life changes, ones he hates,
and there isn’t anything he can do about them but make the best of it.


Chapter 3



We drove in silence after he’d told me he didn’t know where he was going—where we were going.  The ridiculousness of that statement alone helped me understand the depths he’d sunk into.  My dad wasn’t a man who gave in to his emotions like that.  He was a computer geek who’d turned his love of computers into a good living for his family.  He was the IT director of a small firm in the city where we’d lived.  And while his was a management position, he was happiest working with the computers, not running a department.  He worked well with people, was roundly liked, but mostly he enjoyed the technical challenges he was so adept at overcoming.

He was a technical man who solved esoteric problems in the high-tech world.  But now he was dealing with real-world problems involving personal feelings and he was out of his element.  I decided I needed to stop being a spoiled brat and become supportive.  He needed that.  He’d been there for me all my life.  He needed that from me now.  It wasn’t doing either of us any good for me to pout.  I needed to man up.

I wasn’t sure how much I had in me to give, but being angry and sarcastic sure wouldn’t help him any.  I wouldn't get my life back till he’d worked himself out of the state he was in, so any help I gave him would ultimately help me, too.

We drove for another hour in silence.  We were well away from any large cities now, in rolling countryside, a mixture of farms and wooded stretches.  We passed through a couple of small towns, and I looked around as we drove through.  We seemed to have driven into the past.  These towns had old-fashioned stores and didn’t seem to have any McDonald’s or Pizza Huts.  The one we’d just left did have Marge’s Café and Nicky’s Ristorante Italiano.  It also had only one traffic light, one street with shops, and a single gas station.

I was thinking all the time we were driving.  When, thirty or forty miles later, we got to the next town, which appeared to be somewhat larger, and Dad showed every sign of driving through it as well, I said, “Dad, can we stop for a moment?”

He glanced at me, then pulled to the side of the road, under a leafy canopy provided by spreading oak trees.  We’d left the town’s center, which was more substantial than the several very small towns we’d just passed through.   We’d seen a small shopping mall, a business section that was more than one street, and several traffic lights.  We were in a residential area on our way out of town. 

“What’s wrong with here?” I asked.  “This is as good a place as any.  We need to find somewhere to live, and driving for miles on end won’t get us anywhere.  As long as you don’t have any place special in mind, this is good.”

Dad looked around, actually seeing the town we were in for the first time.  The houses where we were parked were of modest size and old.  But they were kept up, the lawns were taken care of, and a couple of kids were riding bikes across the street from us.

“Let’s not keep driving to nowhere, Dad.  Please.  Let’s stop here.”

Dad looked ahead of him and didn’t say anything for a moment or two.  Then, sounding deflated he agreed. “OK,” was all he said.

I smiled and settled back in my seat, taking a deep breath. “What’s next?  Did you want to find an apartment?”

“No,” he answered, sitting up straighter and sounding more decisive than he had.  “We need a house, and I want it to be away from things.  Sorry, Troy, but I need to be away from other houses, away from distractions.  Out in the country someplace.  Probably not the best thing for you, but that’s what I need.  I guess we could drive around the area looking.”

“There’s a better way.”  I sat up straighter, too.  It felt as if I had to be more involved in all this than what a kid should have to be.  Dad didn’t seem to have much of a clue.  “We should find a Realtor and ask about houses that are available,” I said.  “Do we want to rent or buy?”

Dad frowned.  I could see that practical details weren’t what he wanted to think about, and I was rushing him.  I didn’t know what his head was full of, but he’d been deep inside himself and I was distracting him.  That was good and bad, I thought.  He needed to come back to the world the rest of us lived in, come back to me.  But he needed to deal with whatever inner demons were troubling him, too.  My thought was to find somewhere to live, then he could work on finding himself again.

I needed to help him with the normal stuff, needed to do some of the routine, everyday thinking for him.  But I was only 15, just 15.  I didn’t really know the ways of the world.  It was good, I thought, that being practical was something I did pretty well.  He’d always said I had a good head on my shoulders, back when he was himself and was saying that sort of thing.

“Dad, you said at breakfast you needed time to get yourself back together, to cope.  And when we left our house, you said we needed to be out soon because you’d promised the keys to the renters.  Putting two and two together, that sounds to me like you’re planning on returning to our house some day.”

That made me think of something else.  “Did you quit your job when we left?”

He shook his head.  “No, they gave me a leave of absence.”  I was surprised, because I saw a brief hint of a smile come and go.  It was a sad smile, but still… he hadn’t smiled at all recently.  “They told me they wanted me back.”

“OK, then.”  I was forcing myself to be very positive and trying to sound that way.  “We go to a Realtor and tell him we’re looking for a house to rent, a furnished house that’s out in the country.  If there’s anything else other than isolation you’re looking for, you can tell him about it then.  OK?”

He didn’t answer.  Instead, he nodded, gave me a brief, wry grin, and started the car.  I saw just a glimpse of my old father then, a father I hadn’t seen for much too long a time.

We spent the afternoon and then the next morning looking.  The Realtor looked like a starving man seeing a Thanksgiving turkey sitting on a festive table.  I could tell business was slow.  But he did have several houses to show us.  Dad wanted something isolated, something furnished, and something that he could rent, and the guy said we’d come to the right place, that this county specialized in isolation.  I think he was making a joke.

He gave us some history while he was driving us around in his four-year-old, silver Caddy.  “White Oak is an old, old town.  Used to be a mill here, beginning of last century.  Ground all sorts of stuff, not just grains.  This has never been a thriving town, people have lived more of a subsistence life here.  There was a little mining, and the mill ground ore, too, when it wasn’t harvest time.  It’s been moderately prosperous, at times.  Things are tight right now; most of us are just getting by, now.

“Farming, mining, and then the sawmill, too.  People did OK, most years, and no one got rich, but it always was a good place to raise kids and live independently.  The biggest the town ever got was just under seventeen thousand people.  Now, it’s only twelve thousand.  Lots of people have died, a few have moved away, and when the railroad business slowed down and the Interstate got built about fifteen miles from us, well, we’re smaller now.  Lots of kids grow up and go off to college and never really come back.  But it’s still a nice area to live in.  Real nice.  Not much crime, no youth gangs, just families. ”

“Is there a high school?” I asked.  I knew there’d be one somewhere, either here or a central school that took kids from here and surrounding towns and was located who knew where.  I’d be going into tenth grade when school started back up.  I figured twelve thousand people merited a high school in town, not a central school miles away by bus every day.  Of course, I had no idea how far out of town we’d be living.  Schools would be starting up in only a little more than a couple of months now.  No way we’d be leaving before then.

The Realtor was so busy with his sales pitch, he didn’t even answer my question.  I guess he felt he had to play up the town because the rental properties he showed us weren’t anything much.  They were old, mostly.  I guess when the town had shrunk by five thousand people, a lot of houses hadn’t been needed any longer.  The ones Dad was interested in, the isolated ones, were well out in the country and either surrounded by farm land or woods, or sometimes both.  We didn’t need anything big, but I guessed farm families tended to be big families because besides being old, and needing work, the houses we saw were big.

Some of them didn’t have running water—or electricity.  I guessed from the looks of them they’d been on the market for some time, and looked to me like they would remain that way, too.

We didn’t find anything that first day and spent the night in a motel the Realtor recommended.  We ate at a café that wasn’t very crowded but had decent food.  I had meatloaf.

Dad went to bed right away after we got in late from dinner.  He said a few words to me, which was an improvement.  But he was still not himself.  I could see it in his eyes.

We had breakfast at another café and drove around looking at the town before meeting with the Realtor again.  I saw the high school, the library, a small hospital, a couple of city parks.  They had a municipal swimming pool, and even though it was only nine in the morning, I saw kids carrying towels rolled up under their arms headed for it.  As hot as it had been yesterday, I imagined that pool got lots of use.

We were waiting for the Realtor when he showed up at ten.  We got in his car.  Just like yesterday, he started out asking lots of questions, like where we were from and why we were moving here and what my dad did for a living and whether there was a wife and on and on, and when dad didn’t answer any of them, just looked out the window, he didn’t seem discouraged at all and hardly even hesitated.  He just kept talking.  He was a salesman, and I’d seen it before, especially in stores where the salesmen were on commission.  Sensitivity to customers seemed like something that’d been stamped out of them in salesman school.

It was just after lunch that he told us about the house he called the Higgins place.  He said it was probably too far out, but he was running out of properties. 

We drove about ten miles out of town, then turned off the paved country road onto a dirt one.  There was farm land on the left side, woods on the right.  We drove until eventually we passed a single farmhouse.  Then we drove some more.  Finally, after at least another mile, off on the left I saw a second farmhouse set way back from the road.  My thought on seeing it was, what a lonely looking place.

The woods formed a wall to our right.  It wasn’t an impenetrable wall, but looking at it from the road, I couldn’t see very far into the woods.  There was farm land to the east of the house and from what I could see, behind it.  To the west, there was just scrap land covered with weeds, bushes and outcroppings of large rocks.  The farm fields didn’t look like they were being planted or that they had been for some time. 

We kept driving alongside more woods on our right, then came to a driveway on the left.  Way farther back, I could see a small house with a barn behind it.  The area in front didn’t look as much like a front yard as it did like a field no one had paid any attention to. 

The driveway had weeds growing in the ruts, larger weeds between them.  The Caddy bottomed out a couple of times, even though it was being driven at about three miles per hour.

“No one’s lived here for a few years.  A big corporation bought a lot of deserted farm houses and their properties.  I think they use them as a tax write-off.  They got them for a song.  I get a commission if I can rent any of them.  This is one of those.  It was a nice house when the Higgins family lived here.  I don’t know what it’s like now.  I haven’t been in the place for over a year.”

The house was smaller than the others we’d looked at, but that appealed to me.  It meant we didn’t have extra rooms we didn’t need that had to be heated and kept clean.  But during the time it had been unoccupied it had developed a stale and unpleasant odor, and there was a feel of grungy dirtiness about it.

It was full of dusty furniture showing the many years it had been used.  Dad walked through the rooms without saying a word, then walked outside to look at the surrounding property, glancing in the barn as he did so.  No other houses could be seen from this one, and the wall of trees across the dirt road from us exaggerated the impression that we were completely alone.

All in all, everything seemed pretty dismal and lonely.  Dad pulled me aside and asked what I thought.  I felt that was generous of him, considering. 

“What I think is, if you want a place where you’re not going to be disturbed, it would be hard to do better than this.”  If I was going to be supportive, this was certainly the time to start.  My heart was telling me to scream and fuss.  Living out here would be awful.

He looked at me, nodded, and said, “I’ll tell the man we want it.”

“No, Dad.  Don’t.  Let me do it.”  I walked over to the Realtor who was leaning on his car, chewing on a toothpick.  “Dad’s undecided,” I said.  “The rent’s too high for a place this size and in this location, even if he does think it has possibilities.  But he wants to check with another Realtor.  My feeling is it’s too far from town and too far from the school.  I’d go crazy here.  But, I’m tired of all this, and I know him.  He could spend a week looking and never making up his mind.”

I stopped and looked upset.  It wasn’t all that hard to fake.

“See, the thing is, I don’t see the point in keeping looking.  One house is as bad as another, to me.  So, what I’m thinking is, you want to close a deal and I want to be done with this, and the house itself doesn’t make much difference.  You can make a deal with him on this one if you just work it a little.  You know, lower the rent $400 a month from what you’re asking, tell him you’ll have a crew come out and clean the place from top to bottom, stuff like that.  You could easily talk him into taking it and earn yourself that commission.”

We got the house.  I wasn’t sure I’d done the right thing in being as supportive as I’d been in agreeing to rent the place.  I’d have been much happier living in town.  There was nothing really good about the house, the countryside, the location, anything I could see.  It only had one thing going for it, and that wasn’t something I wanted for myself.  But it did have what Dad desired.  It was certainly isolated.

 

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I get up and start unpacking.  This room is smaller than the one I grew up in.  I don’t know where to put everything.  I decide some of it will just have to stay in boxes.  I don’t know how long we’ll be here. Forever?  A month?  At some point, I’m going to sit down and make Dad talk, but right now, I don’t think he knows, either.  What good does it do to take my anger out on him?  He has as much right to his feelings as I do to mine.  We’re both doing the best we can.

I can’t unpack any more.  This is crazy.  I’m going crazy.  I have to get out of here.  I turn away from the box of books I’ve been unloading into the empty bookcase near my bed.  I take a deep breath. 

Downstairs, I don’t see Dad.  He’s somewhere around but right now I don’t care where.  The front door is standing open; just the screen door is closed.  I guess Dad wants some fresh air in the house.  The day is warm.  I begin to think all the days will be hot here.  Well, it was like that in Missouri, too.  I’m used to it.  I walk out the front door, letting the spring on the screen door pull it shut.  I head for the woods.

My mood changes when I’m in the woods.  My anger is still present inside me, I can feel it, but it seems lessened by my surroundings.  Here, the outside world doesn’t intrude.  Here, I’m among trees and bushes, and they seem real and substantial and indifferent to the problems I’ve been living with.  There is an overarching sense of peace in these woods.  The air is redolent of growth, of wildflowers and earth, of the trees themselves.  I identify elms, the many oaks and cottonwoods and of course the distinctive red maples.  There are occasional red cedars and their resinous bouquet scents the air.  There are many scraggly wildflowers and low, spreading bushes growing here and there, and the groundcover includes many small, soft purplish-colored flowers among deep-green, heart-shaped leaves.  I stoop and pick one and smell it.  Yes, its odor, its subtle woodland perfume, is part of what I’m smelling.  I rub the petals between my thumb and index finger and the scent becomes stronger, but just as sweet.

I walk deeper into the woods, conscious that I have no experience here, that I need to keep track of where I’m going.  The trees aren’t so dense as to make seeing what’s around me too difficult.  Maybe that’s deceiving.  I’ve been walking in a straight line, yet, when I turn around, everything looks the same as in front of me.  Without a good sense of direction, I could easily lose my way.  If I walk straight back, what I think is straight back, will I get home?

An uneasiness strikes me, and I do begin walking back and soon see the house in the distance through the trees.  I stop.  The lost feeling goes away; the sense of being alone here doesn’t.  I feel like I’m the only human for miles around.  I stand still and absorb the woods.  There are sounds.  The leaves are being ruffled by a wind I can’t feel down on the ground.  They brush each other and make a gentle, rustling murmur.  There is birdsong and skittering noises made by squirrels or rabbits or something.  I’m a city boy, out of my element.

I turn back around, put my backside toward my house again, and walk a little further into the woods.  I see a natural clearing ahead and off on my left.  I stand and just stare at it for a few moments. 

There is an aura about this clearing.  The leafy cover is thinner here than in other parts of the woods, letting more sun through.  But the sun, for reasons I can’t imagine, picks up the green of the leaves, giving a greenish hue to the light.  There are tall ferns growing, and I haven’t seen ferns anywhere else in the woods.  The floor of the clearing, when I step into it, is soft and velvety.  There is a rich odor, too, a spicy musk that fills my head and stimulates my senses. 

This place is special.  I can sense that.  There is something about it to make me feel... feel what?  A sort of reverence, I think.

I make my way farther into the clearing.  It is surrounded by close-growing trees and looks more like a large room, separated from the rest of the woods.  It is quieter here, as though the animals of the forest are being respectful of this place.

A fallen tree marks one side of the space, creating a natural bench.  I move slowly to it and sit down. 

My thoughts, thoughts that have been swirling through my head seemingly for months, have been stilled by the peace I experience in the woods, and I recognize how comfortable that tranquility is.  I take a moment to feel the beauty of that, and to think.  I’m so tired of being angry.  I’m so tired of all the upset in my life.  I want to start over.  I want to be happy again.  There has been so much happening, so much worry and pain.  I’ve let it consume me.

I think of Dad and Mom—and more specifically of Carly. I think of Mom now living somewhere in a new state.  I think about being alone out here in a nowhere house, about going to a new school, about meeting new people there, trying to get to know them. 

My thoughts are whirling again, more than I can handle.  I try to still my thinking, to focus.  The one thing that quiets the furor in my head is when I think of Chase.  I imagine having him here with me now.  Here in the woods with me.  Here in this clearing, this almost mystical place.  Just us.  Thoughts, memories of him, fill my consciousness.  It surprises me, but I get hard.

I’m startled by my reaction.  It’s been a while since there’s been any reason to get hard.  It must be the atmosphere, the fact I’m alone, the enveloping sense of peace that’s turned me on.  I suddenly realize, sitting here, that much of my anger has subsided.  I don’t feel as upset as I have been recently.  What I do feel is that I’m part of nature, here in this clearing.  My body is responding; primal feelings assail me.  I touch my hardness, press against it with my hand.  I’ve never, ever done anything outside.  Here, I’m alone.  It’s been days since I, since I…

I open my pants.  I’m eager, my heart is thudding powerfully.  Thoughts of Chase consume me.  I think of our first time...

 

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He’d looked at me and I at him, and then, boldly, he’d slipped off his briefs.  I was sleeping over at his house, like we’d done often.  There’d been tension in the air all night, back and forth between us, leading up to something.  Tension like nothing I’d felt before.  We’d been undressing for bed.  We always left our underwear on when either of us slept over.  But that night, he took his off.

He was hard and stood there, letting me look.  He was always braver than I was.  Always pushed limits more than I did.  Anything we did that was adventurous was at his instigation.  I looked and blushed, but not from embarrassment.  From excitement, from wanting to do what his body was telling me he wanted to do, too.  Blushing from wanting.

We held each other and moved around in his bed, and I’d never felt alive like that before.  We were 12 and what I was feeling was like a miracle.  What we were feeling.

 

--- --- {} --- ---

 

My arousal is so strong.  Sitting here, holding myself, isn’t nearly enough.  I stand up and feel the need to go farther, to be one with the clearing.  I leave sneakers on but drop and wrestle off my cargo shorts and briefs.  It’s but a moment, and my tee shirt follows.  I stand bared to the world.  I can’t remember ever being so stimulated.  Is it the woods themselves, this clearing, that causes this?  Is it the freedom I feel?  The calming of the anger that has been a disturbing presence for so long?  I don’t know.  I just know all the sensations I’m feeling are heightened far past what I’ve ever felt before.

I walk to the edge of the clearing.  I’m so hard there’s very little bouncing.  I step out to where I was originally walking in the woods.  I walk a short way, holding myself.  Just to see what it’s like, being alone and naked and alive. 

I can tell from the way my body feels, not doing anything more than just holding myself in a firm grasp, I’m going to explode soon.  The excitement is building, and I know myself well enough to recognize the early feelings.  I don’t want it to happen here.  I turn and walk back to the clearing.  My pulse is throbbing; I can feel my heartbeat in the hand I’m using to hold myself.

The urgency beneath my stomach that announces I’m close, that the race to the end is starting.  I move to the center of the clearing.  I kneel down on the soft ground cover, old cedar needles, mossy undergrowth, decaying deciduous leaves, the abundant soft and tiny purple flowers.  The scent of earth and life is strong.  I can feel my body responding, and I let it happen, not even stroking, just holding myself.

When it’s over, I gasp for air, still on the ground.  I feel tears on my cheeks.  It takes several minutes before I arise.  I stumble to the fallen tree and rest there till I have the strength to dress.

I feel a sense of change, of rebirth, and while that seems a pretentious thought, there is no question my mood has lightened.  The anger that I’ve lived with so long is no longer present.  When I entered the woods I felt it slip into the background, but also knew it was still there, hiding for the moment but still waiting for me.  Now, I can’t feel it at all.

I stay in the clearing awhile, sitting on the tree, absorbing its atmosphere, its aura.  I relax and let myself go.  I don’t think; I feel.  I allow my emotions to wax and wane.  I miss Chase.  Thoughts of Carly bring pain but not the dark mixture of fear and agony and grief that has afflicted me before.  Dad is suffering, and I don’t know how to help him.  For some reason, I seem to have condensed and isolated these thoughts, these feelings, and somehow I know I can deal with them better now, put them into perspective without letting them eat away at me as they have been doing.  The powerlessness I’ve been feeling is gone. 

I walk out of the clearing without any fear at all, and trusting myself and my judgment, turn and walk in the direction of the house.  I’m not lost.  I’m not going to be lost. 

I walk for a time, and see our house through the trees in front of me.


Continued


<< Chapter 2 | Chapter Index | Chapter 4 >>

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