Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Johnnie B-Part Two

"Don't worry about things you can't control."

I was kneeling at the end of our dock, looking through the clear lake water at the muddy surface below. A swarm of sunfish and their ugly cousins, the blue gill, were likely hiding under our dock, and my mind was in a daze. I was probably about twelve years old, and had been crying. The evening before had been rough, with my dad and Johnnie B. out drinking even later than usual, and drinking whiskey at that. Because among the six kids I was my father's pet, I usually bore the brunt of such occasions, a brunt usually administered at about 2:30 in the morning. The worst things tend to happen to children in alcoholic families at about 2:30 in the morning because, you see, that is about half an hour after the bars close.

"Don't worry about things you can't control." Johnnie B. touched my shoulder. He had witnessed my father's actions, one of the first and only times I had been beaten in front of somebody outside the family.

On the lake, Johnnie B. was the closest thing we had to a celebrity. His dad was a lawyer. He had been to college for awhile. He was handsome, he was witty, and at the age of twenty three or twenty four, he too was already an alcoholic. During a short lived phase in which his dad went on the wagon, Johnnie B. stepped into the breach with my father. They would "two track" together, they deer hunted together, and they closed down bars together. They became so close that Johnnie B. even tried to work with my dad for awhile. He tried his hand at "mixing mud," the lowliest of the masonry tasks, the task most akin to being a slave, but he only lasted a week. Too much pressure, too intense, I remember him laughing and saying. It may have been the last job he had.

On this particular morning, he snuck up on me while I wasn't expecting it, and he hit me with a piece of advice before I could get my guard up. His simple advice was so penetrating that, even today, thinking back on that instant, I can remember what the lake smelled like that morning. I wish I had better tools to describe the effect it had on me, but the feeling was something like "well I'll be goddamned, he's right."

After that most significant of mornings, when the storms came again, I was able to weather them with the detachment of a narrator, because I knew there was nothing I could do to change things, short of getting the hell out of that house and away from that lake.