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A Father's Pride
“He’s such a good boy.” Mrs. Rowe said to the police officer. “I know you hear that all the time, but it’s true. He has gotten messed up with drugs and alcohol since is father died, but he would never hurt another person. I know that.”
“Well, ma’am, maybe so, but it doesn’t look good. He was seen with a drug dealer an hour before he was killed, which makes him the biggest suspect in our eyes.” The man said, stepping off the porch.
Mrs. Rowe touched her face, and said, “I’ll let you know if I see him, but, please, look at your other suspects.” Tears began sliding down her face, as the police car. She went back into her empty home, and sat down in her small cozy living room. The picture that had set beside her chair for twenty years, made her eyes fill, even without her son being accused of murder. It was of her husband, a good-natured man with a big smile, and open heart, and her son, Travis, when he was only fourteen. It was taken only months before her husband was killed in a car wreck. Travis had changed so drastically in the years since then, that his mother could hardly recognize him.
Barely a day later, the son Mrs. Rowe knew turned himself in; Travis, though he looked like a criminal in many ways, had a conscious. He felt awkward, and looked terribly shifty, but Travis showed up anyway. The police officers led him to a closed room with a one way mirror. A balding man with squinted eyes sat across from Travis. They spent hours grilling Travis on his whereabouts and Travis tried to answer; however, he was much too afraid of getting into trouble.
“Come on, son, just tell us what happened. Start at the beginning, and let it come right out.” The man said, wiping a bead of sweat from his forehead. Travis sighed, and leaned forward on the table. His heart was beating rapidly, and everything in him was trying to stop him from opening his mouth.
“Okay, but this story goes back a while.” Travis said, and the officer nodded. “I met Jack in third grade. He was a small, scrawny, slacker of a kid. He was the loner of the class, but it was different for me. I was the best in the class. My teachers loved me. I played the most sports, and I was popular. Well, when we went outside for recess, we would play the cops and robbers game. This game had the song, oh, how does it go?
‘Running and playing and,
Running and playing and,
Booming and banging and,
Booming and banging and,
One falls down,
And the ground is covered,
In a dark red
But everyone is calm
Everyone keeps on
Running and playing,
Booming and banging.’
We would sing it everyday, and none of us knew what it meant. Not until it was too late. We began playing one day, and Jack came up to me. He asked to play, said he would be the robber or the cop. It didn’t matter to him. I remember the other kids were all watching me; they were waiting for my decision. I looked at him, and saw just a kid, nothing more or less, then one of my friends made some joke about him behind me, and I had a moment of weakness. I told him to get lost; he couldn’t play with us, because he wasn’t good enough to even be a criminal. I can see his face still; his small, overly pale face, with his small dark eyes. It looked like he was about to cry, but then he ran away.
‘We grew up, and I was still the popular guy in school, and Jack, well, he was the same or worse almost. We shunned him from that time on, and he was finally forgotten. Then, I was fourteen, and my dad died. My friends left me; they didn’t want that kind of baggage. I remember wandering around the old house up at Willows Creek Rd, and I found Jack. I was overwhelmed immediately by the emotions I had pushed back for all those years. I went to him, and I apologized repeatedly. I was crying before I realized it, and he was trying to comfort me, I think. He told me he understood the pain I was feeling; that he had been through something similar. He told me that he knew how to help me. He said to meet him there the next night with the thing that hurt me the most, and twenty dollars. I was desperate; I was hurting; I felt like dying. I met him the next night with the money and my father’s picture.
‘Jack had the shovel with him, and we buried the photo under a big tree in front of the abandoned house, and then he told me for fifty dollars he’d give me some drugs to make the pain go away. I had lost trust in everything else; my friends left me, my father died on me, my life had changed in a way I thought was impossible, so I gave him the money and took the drugs. The next few years were hazy, but I know I kept paying him. The drugs were my support; they made me feel whole again. I know I wasn’t myself, but I was at least someone. I thought that jack and I would be friends, and for a while we were. We went partying every other night; we would steal alcohol from his friends, and skip school. We graduated at the bottom of the class, and the people I used to consider friends ignored and made fun of me like I did to Jack.
‘Then, I walked in on my mom crying, it was one of my few sober moments of the day. She was holding the picture of me and my dad. I asked her if she was okay, but she only cried harder. She told me that I wasn’t the boy she knew, that when she lost her husband she didn’t expect to lose her son to. None of this made any difference to me; I had heard it all before. Then she said to look at the picture, and when I wouldn’t, she held it in front of me. I couldn’t help but look at him. It was the first time in years. I began crying in earnest, and I told her I was sorry, so sorry for hurting her. But she didn’t say what I expected her to say. She said that it wasn’t to her I should apologize, but to my father; the memory of him that I had disgraced so terribly.
‘From that day on, I never went to Jack. I stayed away from everyone in this town. I moved away, and joined a support group. I got a job, and I got sober. I didn’t tell my mother, ‘cause I didn’t want to disappoint her if I failed. Then last week, a girl in my support group, Lisa, told me to get the picture of my father. She said that if I went to the place where everything started it would help me to move on. I went back to the house on April 24, six years after my father died. I don’t know how Jack found me. I hadn’t been in contact with him for almost a year, but he did. He did find me.
‘I was kneeling in front of the tree, holding the picture in my hand when a car came up the road. It was dark so I didn’t know who it was at first. Then Jack got out of the car.
‘Travis!’ he yelled. He was so drunk; he couldn’t walk over to the tree without stumbling. ‘Where have you been? People think I’m crazy, ‘cause I lost my best customer!’ I told him I was clean now; that I was done with that stuff. He didn’t except that as an answer. He told me that he’d been losing a lot of money recently, and it was my fault. He said that I owed him money for drugs I bummed off him. I hadn’t done anything like that, so I told him. Then, he changed tactics. He said, his words slurring together, ‘Hey, man, aren’t we friends? I need the cash, and you need the drugs; just buy them from me.’ I told him yes, but I didn’t want any for me. Then he said, ‘Travis, you need them. Your dad died. He left you; he left you all alone with your mom, and all you wanted was to die too. Then your friends left you. Then you failed high school. You need these, so you can feel human again. Because, don’t you remember, we were right here, you told me you didn’t feel like a person anymore; you felt like an empty space of pain, like something was eating away at you, and you couldn’t get away. That feeling is why you need them.’ I stood up, and I turned away from him. I was headed to my car, because I could feel those feelings he was talking about start to come back.
‘That’s when he saw the picture. ‘No!’ he screamed, and shoved me, before I could look back. ‘No, you can’t take that back!’ I told him it was mine, and I was leaving. H didn’t like that. He stumbled in front of me, and pushed me so hard I nearly fell. ‘We’re not done! We’re so not done. Not yet Travis. We haven’t even started.’ I began backing away; he wasn’t a stable drunk even when he was in a good mood. I tried to move around him to get to my car, but he wouldn’t let me. He picked up the shovel I had brought to dig up the picture, and started at me. I didn’t know what to do, he was screaming, and I couldn’t tell what he was saying. He looked murderous, and I panicked, so I ran into the house. It was falling apart and crumbling literally beneath my feet, but I ran up the stairs, anyway. He came in after me, and I could hear what he was saying then,
‘Running and playing,’ he yelled, and hit the shovel against the railing. I ran into one of the rooms, and locked the door, but I could still hear him. He screamed, and threw the shovel at something else, ‘Running and playing, booming and banging, booming and banging.’ He was quiet then, and I thought he had left. I crept over to the door, and was about to unlock it when he whispered, ‘Come on Travis, you know the rest. Come play with me, even if I’m not good enough for you.’ He kicked the door, and it fell with a thud. ‘Come play with me, ‘cause you’re not getting away any other way!’ He yelled, and punched the wall. I ran to the other door, and tried to force it open, but it was locked. I picked up a piece of the ceiling that had fallen down thinking I could use it for protection. ‘That’s it Travis boy! Fight back, you wimp! You can pick on people smaller than you, but what about now? Huh?” He yelled, and aimed a punch at me. I slid under it, and he added, “Now, I’m bigger; now, I’m stronger!” He turned around, and jumped in front of me. “What are you gonna do now?” He whispered, and I threw the ceiling piece at him. It knocked the breath out of him, and the dust distracted him. I managed to run out of the room. By the time he reached the door, I had gotten out of the house, only Jack didn’t know.’
‘I was on the porch when I heard him. ‘The Ground is covered in a dark red, but everyone keeps calm, everything keeps on running and playing! If I can’t find you, I’ll smoke you out!’ He screamed from the second story. I was at the tree when I saw the smoke. It started in the room we had been in, but was spreading quickly. The flames licked out the windows, and Jack’s screams began to fill the air. I tried to save him. I did. I ran back in the house, but the stairs were already burnt to ashes. It was covered in smoke, and I could barely see anything. There wasn’t any other way up the stairs, and I tried to call to him, but he didn’t hear me. I could feel the fire searing off my hair, and the smell of burning flesh, whether mine or his, I don’t know, was mixing with the smoke, making me almost pass out. I barely got out of the house before the door collapsed.
‘When the fresh air got to me, I began to freak out. The burns I got were beginning to hurt, and I didn’t know how else to help. I called an anonymous tip to the police, and left.”
The police officer stared across the table at Travis, and looked him over. Travis was nearly in tears, and he stroked the burn on his arm lightly. “Well, that’s some story. If you had a shred of evidence, it might stick, but as you don’t, well, better start praying.”
Twenty minutes later, the same police officer entered the room where Travis was sitting. “Our witness, a gardener for the property next door, claimed, originally, that you and Jack had been fighting outside around 7:00 p.m. However, he failed to mention that he also had seen you trying repeatedly to save Jack the following hour. Since you have proof from an eyewitness, and he can specifically testify on your defense, no charges will be filed against you.” The man said, and his face showed no emotion. As Travis stood up, the officer added, “If I were you, I’d be very proud. Not many people would be willing to risk their life for someone else, let alone a drug dealer who tried to kill them.” He smiled slightly, and Travis could hardly breathe.
“Thank you so much, sir.” Travis replied, and shook the man’s hand.
“You’ve made your father very proud, son.” The police officer said, and a tear began to slide down Travis’ face. Finally, he felt like that was true.