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My Friend, Crunch
In a small rural town in Idaho, there is a little yellow house in which I grew up. My family consisted of my parents, my older brother, and myself. My parents were wonderful people and loved us children very much. Live was pretty normal for our family. Father had a fairly decent job and mother stayed home all day to take keep house and to be with us kids. My brother, Eric was a senior in high school and I was just starting second grade. I was never very popular as a child. I didn't have very many friends. In fact, I was very shy and thoughtful. My differences set me apart from the other children, making me somewhat of a loner. Still, I was a very happy little girl wherever I went. I can still hear my father's big laugh and his voice calling me his little 'Nugget,' because I was such a bright happy child.
Yes, life seemed just about perfect to me at the time. Then, somehow, everything changed and my life was turned around. It started with my brother. Eric came home late one night, past his curfew. Only, it was the police who bought him home. He was drunk and he and his friends had vandalized a building. Eric had been in trouble before; partying too late with his friends and coming home intoxicated, but this was worse. My father was enraged. I had never seen him so angry, and it frightened me. He yelled words I had never heard before and asked my brother 'when he was going to grow up.' That eventually past, it was only one incident in many, but afterward things began to proceed in a downward spiral. My brother got in more trouble when it was discovered that he'd had an affair with a teenage girl and she got pregnant and her parents threatened to file a lawsuit against Eric. My brother started going to more and more parties and began to smoke and drink excessively. There seemed to be nothing that my parents could do to stop him from ruining his life.
One night, a policeman came to our front door. They told my parents the words that no parent should ever have to hear. ' I'm sorry, but your son is gone.' Eric was killed in a drunk driving accident. He had been intoxicated while driving and he and his friends in the car had been killed in a collision with another vehicle. Even worse, the occupants of the other car, a father, mother, and three children had all been killed except one little boy who was in critical condition at the hospital. My parents ended up paying for everything, and from that point on, nothing was the same. My father suffered from the incident so much that he went to the extremes to remove all evidence from the house that his son had ever lived. He was trying to imagine it had never happened. I often caught my mother looking at forbidden pictures of Eric that she kept hidden from Daddy. Ever since that incident, my father was never really the same. He took to drinking, trying to cure his grief, and came home drunk almost every night. He lost his job and my mother had to take up work as a cafeteria worker in my school. When that didn't make ends meet, we moved to Montana where my mother could get a job as a bookkeeper. We ended up living in a tiny apartment house that always smelled bad and was real noisy with all the traffic outside.
I lost the life I had known. Father couldn't stop drinking and went to the bar every night. Sometimes, when my father was really drunk, and didn't know what he was doing, he would beat my mother or me, even. Of course, when he woke up the next morning and realized what had happened, he would apologize and try to make it up. Then he would go off, hunting for work. In the evenings, I would sit listening intently for my father. But not to go running into my father's arms for a hug and a kiss like I used to before Eric died. On the contrary, I would run and lock myself in a closet or the bathroom to escape a beating, whenever I heard my father coming up the front steps. It seemed like I would never again see my parents smile. Never again would I hear them tell me that they loved me. They even almost forgot my eighth birthday. My mother remembered and took me out for an ice cream cone. That was my birthday celebration. By the time I was almost nine years old, my family owed so much in debt that we were thrown out of our home. We went to live in an old, run down apartment that we could just barely afford. My father didn't have money to drink. Having been strongly addicted, that was one of the worst things that could happen to him.
Often, during rough times, when I felt like I needed alone time, I would go out walking around the neighborhood, looking for something to do and trying to comfort myself. One day, during one of these walks, I met a friend. He was a boy about a year older than I was. I can still remember when I first saw him. He was dressed in a pale green shirt, dusty blue jeans, and a great big black overcoat that looked like it was his father's, only not as nice as a well-dressed father would have, being dirty, frayed, and torn in more than one place. He was also carrying a great big, yellow umbrella with orange colored ducks on it. Yes, he was quite a sight! For some reason, though, it intrigued and appealed to me. We stood there for a while staring at each other, thinking, as the children of that age tend to, if the other one was worth making friends with. The boy spoke up first. 'Hi,' he said.
'Hi,' I replied. 'I'm Lila.'
'Crunch? What kinda name is that?'
'It's my name and I'm proud of it,' he said, scowling.
I didn't really believe that was his actual name. A nickname, maybe, but either way, his strange name seemed to make his appearance stand out even more. We talked for a while longer until Crunch had to go in to dinner, and that was the beginning of a new friendship.
From that day on, every afternoon when I came home from school, I went to play with my new friend. Mother was the only other person who knew about Crunch and she was very glad I had finally found a friend. By this time, I was too scared of my father to talk to him about anything, even when he was sober. He just wasn't the same anymore.
Crunch was defiantly the most interesting person I had ever met in my young life. He came up with the strangest games to play. Like what he called 'the game of death,' in which one of us would 'die' and then try to find a way to escape the other person who held you captive in his lair. If you escaped 'death,' you won. If you were caught in the attempt, you 'lost your soul' and would try to get it back by completing a dare that 'death' gave you. Once, Crunch dared me to run across the busy street, but I refused and lost that game. I wasn't going to risk my life just for a silly dare that could easily turn out to be reality, and no longer just a fun game. We kept score by scratching marks into an old brick wall behind Crunch's house. However, more than once I suspected Crunch of messing with the marks. Another game we liked to play was a follow-the-leader game, only not as simple as it may sound. When Crunch was the leader, he would do things like wade a river or climb a pole or even jump into a dumpster (dumpsters were the worst). I would have to do likewise.
On other days, we wouldn't play a game. We would just sit and talk about various things. This sort of friendship went on for a long time. Perhaps about one or two years, give or take a few months. One day, when we weren't playing a game, we walked to a community park and sat by the creek, talking. I will never forget the conversation we had that day. Probably because it was the last time I got to see Crunch, or maybe because what we discussed that day bought us closer together than ever before.
'You know,' Crunch said after about five minutes of silence as we sat. 'You're the first real friend I've ever had. The first friend who's ever really, really understood me. You know, most kids think I'm sort of weird.'
'Yeah,' I replied. 'I've never had any friends either. But that's cause I usually like to be alone. I usually have trouble being social. For some reason, with you, it's not so hard.' We were both quiet for a while longer. Then Crunch said, 'So, what about you. Do you have any brothers or sisters?'
I stiffened. 'Why do you ask?' I said icily.
'I donno. I guess cause, I've never had any, and I always wondered what it would be like.'
'Oh,' I said. After a moment I continued, 'yeah, I had a big brother once. Eric.' I almost whispered his name.
'He-he was killed. In a car accident.'
'Oh. I'm sorry.' After a pause, he said, 'I kinda know how you feel. My whole family died in a drunk driving accident, 'cept me of course. Now I live with my uncle and he doesn't like me none.'
My skin turned clammy and I stared at him. 'Your whole family was killed in an accident because of a drunk driver?'
I took a deep breath and proceeded to tell him the whole story. I don't know what made me do it. I had never told anyone of my brother before. For some reason, I felt ashamed of what he had done and the scar it had left on my family, more specifically my father. By the time I had finished, I was nearly in tears. Crunch was quiet for a long time and then got up and walked away. After a moment, I followed him. He was leaning his head against a tree, sobbing as quietly as he could. I put my arm around him and together we cried until it was dark and we had to go home.
The next few days I had to go out of state to my cousin's wedding. We spent a great time at my grandpa's farm, which just happened to be near where the wedding was taking place, and then we went home. The best thing about it was my father didn't drink very much at all the whole time and was almost his old self again. I could tell he was trying to change his ways, but I knew he would never again be the same. His addiction had caused him to age quicker and his heart and liver were failing on him. Doctors predicted he would die by the time I was in college. At least he was trying to make up for everything until then. I was proud of my Daddy. He showed he really, truly cared about us and wanted what was best for us. He just didn't understand that when he was drunk, he hurt us, not only physically, but spiritually as well.
The first thing I did after I had helped unpack and clean up was to go see Crunch. I hadn't seen him since the touching conversation we had and when his uncle yelled at him for being home too late. As I approached the house, I could tell that something was wrong. There was a police car pulled up at the house and Crunch's uncle was being put into handcuffs. As I hurried over to investigate, the second thing caught my eye. It was a small body being wheeled out of the house on a stretcher. The body was covered with a sheet. I knew right away that it was Crunch.
I can't remember much of what happened after that. I ran home, but I wasn't running. It was more like my legs were moving, but I had no control over them. When I got home, I went to the bathroom, threw up, and then passed out. Next thing I knew, I was lying in bed, crying, and it was around midnight. I was horrified and angry and heartbroken, yet somehow, I had somehow known it would happen, but I refused to believe my feelings. I'd had a dream that Crunch went away and I was standing in the middle of the road, waving after him. Then suddenly, I wasn't in the road. I was standing in a cemetery, looking down at my friend's headstone. It was so vivid, but I paid no attention to the dream. I knew from the scene of the police and everything exactly what had happened. Next morning's newspaper confirmed that.
Thursday's headlines were about a murder of a twelve-year-old boy by his lunatic uncle. According to witnesses, there were sounds of shouting and argument coming from the house, and at about 6:00 pm, a gunshot was heard. Six o-clock'only about thirty minutes before I got there. Only thirty minutes difference and I could have saved my best friend's life. Another detail caught my eye. The murder victim was named Jeremy Ronalds. I had always wondered about Crunch's peculiar name and had even asked, but he had always responded with, 'My name is Crunch,' and that was all.
For the second time in my life, I felt that my heart had been broken, and that nothing would ever be the same again. I soon learned to deal with it, but I never forgot Crunch and the times we had spent together. My father was finally able to stop drinking for good. He did die, however, when I was about seventeen. His liver just gave up on him in the end. He was ready to go, though. I miss my father as much as a miss Crunch. Sometimes I can still hear him in my mind, calling me his little nugget and then feel his warm arms around me in one of his big bear hugs. Then I think of Crunch and the way he had changed my life and my perspective of things. I got over being shy and made many other friends, but none of them were ever like my friend Crunch. About three months after his death, I dreamt that we were sitting together by the river in the park and he turned to me and said, 'Lila, you're the best friend anyone could ever have.' Then I laugh and tell him the same thing and it's just the two of us sitting there, side by side, Crunch and me.