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Out of Kindness

a short story

By Steve B HowardPublished 2 years ago 13 min read
Out of Kindness
Photo by Goashape on Unsplash

The camping trip was their idea. It was always their idea. Ever since I can remember my life was their idea. The camping trip was their way to fix my suspension from school for drinking. Not so much drinking as it was guzzling whiskey till I passed out. Some rich looking Alumni couple heard me choking under the bleachers at the homecoming game. Monday I returned to the scene of the crime with parents in tow to receive the judgment. Punishment would come later.

“I recommend family counseling and drug rehab for Tommy. He clearly is dealing with some issues that,”

“He’s a good boy most of the time, just not a winner like my older son Darren. He made All State and won a scholarship,” my Dad said interrupting the counselor.

“But his hairs much too long,” Mom threw in.

“What I mean is Tommy needs serious help. His blood alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit. I think he’s headed for more trouble. High School counselors like myself are not trained to deal with this sort of crisis, we can make recommendations, but we can’t treat Tommy,” Counselor Davis said. “Maybe one of these clinics would be best,” he said pushing a pile of brochures towards my parents.

“Why do they act like I’m not in the room; why don’t they tell me these things?” I thought.

I looked at Counselor Davis’ report while they were talking and caught words like apathy and anti-social tendencies. I was gonna look those words up in the dictionary, but later decided “what the hell do I care.” My parents listened to the counselor, or I should say heard his words. They’d already decided what caused my problems. Nodding in all the right places and saying, “That sounds very interesting Mr. Davis,” at the right time was as close as they came to listening to the guy. That’s about how closely they listened to me too.

On the car ride home my Dad told me not to worry about what Davis said. He knew exactly why I’d gotten drunk at the football game. In fact he got drunk a few times during High School pep rallies, but never at the actual games because he’d been a star linebacker. He was definitely making up for all those sober times during football games these days at home though.

“Hey, I got a little tipsy when I was young, but I never passed out, and neither did your brother Darren. If you’d been playing the game instead of watching it like a sissy this wouldn’t have happened.”

“Darren has a D.U.I and two wrecked cars on his record,” I mumbled.

“You being a smart ass again Tommy? You wanna end up a loser?” my Dad yelled into the back seat.

My parents thought I wasn’t smart or gifted like my brother. I didn’t play football so in Dad’s eyes I didn’t exist. The football gene hadn’t been passed from father to son in my case. Cutting my hair and changing my friends was their solution. This would make a big difference they said, a big difference for them or for me? I wasn’t sure it mattered to them. The part about my hair and new friends had been Mom’s “two cents” dumped in the pile of crap they were making of my life. I’m sure she forced it out of my Dad, since she was silent now, letting him sweat the decisions. Of course he didn’t sweat tough decisions. He was a High School football coach. Handling tough situations was his job. His football rallying speeches were practiced on me until I finally quit the game in Junior High. My good grades weren’t as important as the winning touchdown. A C average and a full athletic scholarship were all you needed to get into college he said.

Changing my friends was a joke. They didn’t know any of my friends anyway, but cutting my hair was a real threat. People said the long straight dirty blond color made me look sort of like Kurt Cobain. I really didn’t want to lose this critical advantage with the girls at school. Fighting it though meant I’d get a month’s worth of grounding. Which meant I would be trapped with these jerks for weeks.

The haircut could have been worse. I couldn’t argue my way out of it, but I was able to bitch enough to make them take me to Sabrina’s hair salon. I used to date one of the chicks that worked there and I figured she’d at least try to keep some of my hair for me. The hairdresser was nice to me. She only removed the split ends. My Mom kept asking my Dad if it needed to be a little shorter. He was into his Sports Illustrated and didn’t listen to her. I made Mom tip the chick ten bucks just to piss her off. She complained about it and my hair the rest of the way home.

Dad started the lecture on bad influences and how the wrong friends could make you do stupid things. He talked about being a winner so the right people would recognize you.

Mom jumped in and said, “Oh like that foreign boy at your school, the exchange student from Denmark.”

“What’s his name? Bjorn Something or Other.” she asked.

My parents read about the Golden Dane in the local paper. He’d got his name in there for saving his girlfriend from drowning last summer at the lake. It also mentioned he was a straight A student, a three-time Letterman in track, swimming, and soccer, and was fluent in three languages. It didn’t mention that Bjorn and his girlfriend were stoned out of their heads the day of the rescue. Dad agreed that Bjorn Something or Other was definitely a winner.

“Athletes can always be trusted. It takes discipline and hard work to be a three time Lettermen. Get into one of his sports and introduce yourself. A friend like that can make changes in your life,” he said.

“Not with that hair though,” mom muttered.

I knew Bjorn Something or Other. Bjorn hung out with my friends once in awhile. Normally a guy like Bjorn wouldn’t hang out with the stoners, rockers and punks in the smoking section. He liked Heavy Metal and Grunge, but that’s not why he hung with us. The jocks were his normal crowd, but he had a need that my friends took care of. I asked my parents if I could take Bjorn with us on the camping trip. We’d see if a new friend and a camping trip would change my life. Bjorn thought it was a little strange when I asked him to go camping. We were barely on a first name basis. He’d seen me around the smoking area and we hung out with some of the same people, but we weren’t really friends. He was reluctant at first, but a half a dozen new CD’s to listen too, a bag of weed, and a stolen fifth of Jack Daniel’s was enough to convince him. Then I gave him thirty bucks and asked him to get some of his stuff. I figured if we’re gonna party, we should do it right.

Bjorn lived nearby in a rich suburb on the hill. We picked him up Friday afternoon. Mom couldn’t help but ask him about saving his girlfriend from drowning in the lake last summer. Bjorn told the story quickly and nothing else. He was polite enough though, and his answers satisfied Mom’s curiosity. Bjorn and I were expected to sleep in the two-man tent Dad brought along. I thought this was stupid since it was the middle of November, but Dad started his tough guy jock talk so to shut him up I let it go. When it came to manhood my Dad and my older brother were the experts. I didn’t tell Bjorn about the tent. He might have come up with an excuse to get out of the trip.

It was raining when we pulled away from Bjorn’s house. The bitter gray rain that only cold Oregon in late November can produce. I sat opposite Bjorn in the narrow metal and plastic camper shell. I offered Bjorn a smoke. My parents didn’t technically allow me to smoke around them. They had decided since I would probably do it anyway I could smoke as long as they didn’t see it or smell it. They found out about my habit around the time my brother wrecked his second car. I guess since that accident was serious enough to nearly end his football career they’d forgotten about catching me smoking. Mom found a pack of cigarettes in my coat about two weeks later, but Dad didn’t do anything about it. I’d been smoking ever since. With the sliding window closed they couldn’t see us and I figured as long as we blew the smoke out the window they wouldn’t smell it. The cigarettes were only a test. I wanted to make sure my parents couldn’t smell the smoke before we did anything else. Bjorn and I hadn’t talked yet. But I knew the reason behind it. We weren’t really friends. He was here because I had new CD’s, pot, whiskey, and he had his stuff. Until I brought these out we had nothing in common. I waited through three cigarettes before getting out the pot. I wanted a good half-hour on the road to go by just in case we did get caught. This camping trip was as much for dad as it was for anybody. I knew he was unwilling to give up on a camping trip after he’d put in a certain amount of miles.

The pot brought a smile to Bjorn’s face. We opened the passenger side window to blow the smoke out. Smoking dope was a big risk. Cigarettes were one thing; my parents sort of knew about that, but pot in Dad’s eyes was heavy drugs. I’d seen him knock Darren’s head through a wall one time when he tried it. Of course the steroids his players used were never brought up. Somehow Dad didn’t see a connection. Bjorn loosened up a bit and told me he used to buy hash in Amsterdam when he went there on summer holiday with his parents. He asked if I had any tattoos. I told him I didn’t because my parents would have freaked, but I really wanted one. He showed me a small soccer ball he had tattooed just above his left ass cheek.

“I got this one when I was ten years old. My Mother didn’t want me to get any either,” he said.

He told me he’d hidden it for three years then got his second one. Showing me a small dragon high on his left arm he said once they are on, there’s not much your parents can do. I considered what he said. I’d always wanted a “Red Hot Chili Pepper’s” tattoo. Since I’d be seventeen in the summer I thought maybe I could have it done and hide it. I turned on my boom box. The metal floor and plastic canopy gave the pounding music an extra thudding kick in the close confines of the truck. On one of the passes I dropped the pipe. Bjorn laughed and accidentally blew a big cloud inside the camper. I opened the back door a little to let some of the smoke out. The loud music was a risk, but I was hoping to get high enough not to care.

As the pot kicked in I became a little paranoid. I knew my Dad would pull into a rest stop somewhere, but I didn’t know when. I was starting to panic. Bjorn and I were still pretty high. I hoped we could relax enough to hide it from my parents. Half an hour latter we stopped. Dad came around back to let us out of the camper. I hoped our red eyes wouldn’t give us away. Since I’d never been caught for smoking weed I figured we’d be all right. But I couldn’t tell if the camper still smelled like pot. Bjorn grabbed his jacket and headed for the bathroom. Dad went in the camper to find a screwdriver so he could remove the windshield wipers. Mom asked me if Bjorn was feeling all right. She was worried when he headed to the bathroom.

Most rest stops are pretty boring. They all have brown or gray painted buildings and tan cement walls. I liked this one though because it had a river flowing behind it. I walked down to the river to smoke and look around. Normally when we stopped here in the summertime the river was very shallow and slow. This time of year it was wide and moving very fast. Whitecaps and muddy water drifted past the bare maple trees on the far bank and short dead grass on the shoreline. I sat down and smoked watching the water go by. My Dad used to tell me you could judge the coming winter from the flow. My winter was coming and it would be nasty.

My dad called for me fifteen minutes later. Bjorn was already waiting in the truck.

“Dad how much longer to the campsite?” I asked him and he said forty- five minutes. I was tired of sitting in that truck. Bjorn was asleep when I got in. His head was lying against the window and his body was sort of slumped in the seat. I figured the pot had caught up with him. I hoped he’d sleep it off before we got to the campsite. I dozed myself the rest of the way.

The scent of the pine trees was always the first thing I noticed when we pulled into the campsite. The ground was bare this time of year. An early frost had killed off all the grass and the loose soil had flowed into the parking lot with the first heavy rains. Dad would be itching to set up camp. He was lazy and stupid about most things, but when it came to camping he became very hyper. By jumping right into the unpacking I planned to let Bjorn get straight before facing my parents. I pulled the tent out from the back of the truck and started clearing a spot on the ground to set it up. Dad immediately asked me why Bjorn wasn’t helping. I told him I thought Bjorn was sleeping. He made like he was gonna wake him, but Mom said to let Bjorn sleep. To him neglecting the campsite was a sacrilege. Just because he had wood up his ass though didn’t mean the rest of us were into it.

It was late afternoon when I finished putting the tent together. I was sort of pissed that Bjorn hadn’t helped me, but I wanted some of his stuff later on so I didn’t bother him. Dad had gathered enough wood to start a fire and was preparing steaks for dinner. Mom decided she should wake Bjorn for diner.

Thinking back on it now she didn’t scream which surprised me. She just walked out of the camper very stiffly with a pale face and said something was wrong with Bjorn. Dad went in to check on him and that’s when everything broke loose. He came out of the camper screaming, “I think he’s dead. Oh God I think he’s dead.” Mom collapsed to the ground. I remember I was surprised at how panicked my Dad was behaving. He’d always been so calm in crisis situations involving sports that I didn’t recognize his lack of control. He yelled for me to call an ambulance. When I tried to tell him that I didn’t know where to direct the ambulance; he began shaking and screaming in my face.

“Did he have heart problems? Why the hell did he die?”

I handed him the phone and went in the camper to see Bjorn; to see if maybe my Dad was wrong, but I knew he wasn’t. Bjorn was still slumped in the seat like before, but his head was tilted away from the window. His skin had an unhealthy blue tint to it.

During the police report I came clean about everything, the pot, the booze, and my desire to try heroin. I’m in counseling now, back in school, and my hair is military short.


About the Creator

Steve B Howard

Steve Howard's self-published collection of short stories Satori in the Slip Stream, Something Gaijin This Way Comes, and others were released in 2018. His poetry collection Diet of a Piss Poor Poet was released in 2019.

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