As my editor works on my novel, The Rocky Orchard, I may have been struck with a possible idea for my next book…
I hated that school. That hated school in that dreadful town. That dreadful town in the part of the world where winter was not even winter. Not the light snowfalls that dusted each twig of each tree and lay spread out across the hills where I had grown up. Where the tiny footprints of birds and chipmunks and squirrels left their perfect imprints across our yards. In this feckless land, winter was nothing more than an endless gray sky that spit intervals of drizzle. The drizzle froze on the ground, making the school an ugly and hazardous wasteland of ice. A wasteland that tripped us and made us fall down and spit on us as we lay on the ground.
A year so bad that I passed the time mainly by drinking too much. A year so bad that I got an ungodly amount of pleasure from barfing out the window of my fourth-floor dormitory room. I didn’t plan this, and was likely too far gone in my misery to have thought of such a magnificent metaphor. I had drunk most of a bottle of Southern Comfort and was, quite simply, too drunk to make it to the bathroom. Being that drunk also meant, as it turned out, that I could not lean my head very far out of the beautiful Gothic window without losing my balance. I held on to each side of the window frame to steady myself and leaned my chin on the sill. Hence, the vomit cascaded down the entire length of the side wall, where the winter temperatures froze it in place.
And where it remained for a very long time. A slight warming of the temperature, or a sleety mix, would cause sections of the whole to rain down, creeping its way through the brick and ivy as the mass oozed farther down the wall. Sometimes, a larger chunk would break off all at once and hit the ground below. I checked my vomit every day, as if it were a pet, as if it were something precious whose care was my honor and responsibility. By early spring, the last vestiges of the only Southern Comfort I would ever drink were gone.
I wanted to leave so much that I had been counting down the days, making large X’s on an enormous wall calendar like a child marking the time until Christmas, or the end of a school year with a teacher whose dislike of teaching was only surpassed by their hated of children.
It was my last night on campus. All I wanted to do was say goodbye. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye. It was time; it was finally time. I had nothing left to do but take my victory lap around the campus and hug hug kiss kiss the assorted souls who had weathered the winter of my discontent along side of me. I was gleeful. I was drunk. I was pressed for time.
I could not find my friend Patrick. John hadn’t seen him. Sandy hadn’t seen him. Brent had seen him earlier, but…. Charlie said, yeah, he was just here. I’m pretty sure he’s in the bathroom. As I mentioned, I was drunk. And pressed for time. I flung open the door to the men’s bathroom on the floor of his dormitory, and found Patrick unzipped and just beginning to eject an impressively forceful stream from what seemed to me, having little to no experience here, to also be an impressive distance from the target.
Patrick turned his head at the recognition of my voice, as I began the delivery of my goodbye message. Then the overall nature of the situation seemed to occur to him, as he registered – in rapid succession – shock, surprise, perplexity, amusement, and all-out mirth, as evidenced by an open-mouthed belly laugh. My own emotions, amazingly enough, ran much the same gamut, but in reverse, as Patrick had continued to pee an enormous, unwavering stream the entire time that I had been talking and he had been laughing.
I was amazed, and felt like it was one of the most interesting and significant and noteworthy things that had happened to me in that entire year. I remarked on this to Patrick, who continued to both laugh AND PEE. A small crowd had gathered in the men’s bathroom, as word passed about this event; so there was, in fact, a group of people watching me watching Patrick Killarney pee while I said my last goodbye. He zipped up and we hugged and I practically skipped back to my room knowing I would leave this awful world behind me the next morning.
How was I to know that forty-five years later, Patrick Killarney would tell me that I had changed the course of his life.