Responsibilities of Being a Man
by J. C. G. Goelz
Table of Contents|
1, 2 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Kelvin Stoddard is 15 years old and in his second year of high school in Laramie, Wyoming. He feels highly loyal to and protective of his family, particularly his younger brother, who is about half Kelvin’s age; his father, who has been severely injured; and his sister April, who is more than a year older than he.
Kelvin is keenly suspicious and critical of schoolmates he considers pretentious and potentially dangerous. Cautioning his sister April against them is futile; she is as strong-willed as he is, and no younger brother is going to tell her how to lead her life. Only Kelvin’s intense feelings of fairness and justice keep his temper in check. That is, until actions incur consequences.
Kelvin Stoddard’s Journal. October 2002.
I’m not one to judge, much less be jury and executioner, unless I know all the pertinent facts, and I’m wise enough to know that one side of the story seldom tells you everything you need to know. So those bastards in Laramie that beat up that faggot and left him to die against that fence, or those guys in Texas that dragged that black fellow behind their truck, they probably deserve God’s rightful wrath to fall upon them, but I’m not one to judge, prematurely.
There is probably some verse in the Bible that would justify taking those yahoos out into some lonely field somewhere and riddling their bodies full of bullets until you couldn’t recognize them, even by their dental records, but like I said, I don’t know the full story.
I never bothered remembering Bible verses myself. Whenever I’ve heard someone say something like, “As it says in Isaiah,” or Leviticus or whatever, I’ve prepared myself to receive a stinking pile of bullcrap. It happened, every time. I suppose you can justify just about any action if you pick and choose the right passage in the bible, but then you aren’t any better than those Arabs and their Koran.
But there is a right and wrong. Make no mistake.
If I caught that fag diddling my seven-year-old brother, I would have beaten him to death, too, or if I dragged him behind my truck I wouldn’t have stopped until his body parts were littered all along the roads of south-central Wyoming. But if he was doing his thing only with consenting adults, it would be none of my business.
I know all you people from New York think that everyone from Wyoming wants to kill gays, after that Laramie thing you could see on cable, but it’s not the truth. Hell, most people from New York probably don’t even know what state Laramie is in. Someone needs to write a story about some gay Wyoming cowboys or sheep ranchers to let folks know that we’re more open-minded than they think.
But if someone does something wrong to someone else, you gotta respond. It’s part of being a man. Men defend the weak. At least good men do.
And if you get there too late to defend someone, it’s time to take your pound of flesh. I don’t know if that pound of flesh reference is apt or not. Like I said, I’m not a bible scholar. It sounds right, though. Maybe lethal force should be a last resort, but the son of a bitch should know there are consequences of being a jerk. It’s part of being a man.
I want to reiterate that I don’t condone a rush to judgment. It’s too easy to get these kinds of things wrong, and then you’ve compounded the error. I know that. If some guy treats girls like whores, maybe he’s been seeing a bunch of whores. There are certainly enough to go around. But if he’s wrecking a bunch of good girls, young girls that don’t know any better, maybe he ought to be encouraged to stop. It’s part of the responsibility of being a man. I take that seriously, though I’m only fifteen.
* * *
I drove the truck into town on Saturday on an errand for my dad. I took my sister April along with me. I dropped her off at a strip mall that had a discount woman’s clothing store and a discount shoe store, and she’d have an hour to look around while I rounded up some things from the hardware store and feed store. My mom had the car, and I’m the only one who can drive the old truck, with its three-on-a-tree shifter, so my sister had to be the passenger, even though she’s sixteen months older than me, and a year higher grade.
I pulled up in front of the discount clothing store to pick her up. The asphalt had been torn up for some reason, so the truck tires ground to a stop on a patch of dusty gravel. Everything was dusty in Wyoming at this time of the year.
April saw the truck pull up, and she moved like a marionette on a string, jerky-like. She’d take a couple of quick steps towards the truck, then stop, drawn back towards the store. She wasn’t alone. There were a couple of different hands on the strings. Damn Sterling Richardson.
I know there is silver in Wyoming, but what kind of man names his son Sterling? He’s a senior, and two years older than April. All summer he had been bragging how the team was going to the state championship with him as quarterback. He had been the backup for three years, but this was going to be his year for glory. No one told Coach Roberts or my friend Jimmy Timmons about that, though. Jimmy was named the starter just before school started, and the team was undefeated with a sophomore quarterback. Jimmy was even a “young” sophomore, like me, and smart, like me.
Sterling was not smart, though he looked the part of the Big Man On Campus, and he played the part, regardless of his football-related setback. I might be jumping to judgment on his intelligence. It might be he just never tried. He never really had to. His dad is rich, for these parts. Money rich, not just land rich like a lot of folks. McDonald’s franchises. It says a lot about the quality of teachers I’ve had that most were sufficiently impressed by a fast-food mogul to give his son passing grades, and even A’s most of the time. Maybe they got supersized for no additional cost or something.
Around here, the BMOC didn’t wear New York-designed fashion and one hundred and fifty dollar Nikes. We were in the West, and we wore Western wear, damn it. But, you could tell Sterling was an ass, because he wore Tony Lamas. Most of us wore work boots, or if we wore cowboy boots, they were Justins or something like that. Tony Lamas were for city boys or fairies to wear.
His jeans didn’t have wear marks, either. They were a uniform indigo, on their thighs and ass, and all over. His shirt was like things I’ve seen on the dust covers of my folks’ old country and western albums. I don’t think real cowboys ever wore that kind of crap. Singing cowboys did. Drugstore cowboys. Pussies. I don’t know why the girls liked this guy, though he was tall and could maybe look the part of a real cowboy, if someone put him in something other than this Halloween costume he was wearing.
April kept looking back at him and smiling when he talked. She’d look down, diverting her eyes from his lordship, fingering her hair while she smiled. She had odd hair. We were one-thirty-second Sioux, and she had their straight black hair, but it always looked like dry straw, like it would turn gray any second. She was pretty enough, I suppose. I liked her well enough, for a sister. I didn’t like that Sterling seemed interested, and I didn’t like that she seemed interested in him.
“We gotta go,” I said, then pushed open her door.
“Just a second,” she said. “I’m talking.” She wasn’t, though. He was doing all the talking. She stood on the gravel, between the open door and the body of the cab. I engaged the clutch, for just a moment, and the truck lurched a few inches forward.
“Stop it.” She glared at me. I had seen that look before, and I knew the consequences. She would get back at me, and she would tell our folks. “Are you trying to kill me?”
I wasn’t smiling. She rolled down the window before she got in, and Sterling closed the door, but set his forearms on top of the open window, leaned in, and spoke to me.
“Aren’t you a little bit young to be driving this truck, Stoddard?”
“Fifteen-year olds are doing all sorts of things these days, like quarterbacking their football teams. I hope you weren’t injured yesterday. You didn’t get a sliver from the clipboard, did you?”
“That’s funny,” he said with a slow, measured pace. “I’ll have to remember that. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that about you driving. I know your dad can’t drive a stick shift these days.”
I wish that I could forget that day — just for a few hours — but I can’t. It always comes back to me, but that ass Sterling Richardson made me think about it all over. The auger was lifting grain into the silo, and I was there with my father. I don’t know why he did it. We know better. He taught me that the auger was dangerous and never to put my hands near it. I don’t know if there was some cornstalk stuck that he thought he could get out of the way. It has never made sense to me.
It caught his shirt sleeve first, and he tried to tear it free. I thought he did, and I saw the fabric spiraling up the auger, but then there was the blood, a big shower of it, and things went crazy. My dad couldn’t reach the switch, so I ran to it, pushing buttons, but nothing was working. I don’t know if I was so hyped up I kept hitting the button twice, turning it right back on, or if something was broken.
Then I saw his flesh spiraling up the auger, and I threw up. He was stuck there, he couldn’t get free, and the machine was eating his arm. A red ribbon moving up into our silo.
I ran to the tractor that gave power to the auger through its PTO, and I turned off the ignition. Finally the auger stopped, and I went to my dad. I don’t know where his forearm was, and his humerus was somewhere up the auger, torn out of his shoulder. Part of the flesh of his upper arm was still attached to his body, but a strip of flesh wound away, up the drill.
He had passed out, and was hanging from the machine by the strip of flesh. I took out my pocket knife and had to cut him away. I had to cut through the flesh that used to be his upper arm. I kept tying things around his stump, my kerchief, and some nylon rope. The blood stopped. I didn’t know if he had much left in him.
I thought he was alive. I mean, I didn’t check for a pulse, and things were so confusing that I didn’t even notice if he was breathing. I had to get him to the hospital, and it had to be me. My mom, sister and little brother were in town.
I was only fourteen then, and my dad weighed about two-twenty. I mean, at least he weighed that much if he still had his arm, and all his blood. I probably wasn’t more than one-ten. I really don’t know how I got him to the truck. I remember slinging his good arm behind my neck, and half-carrying half-dragging him. It’s not very clear. I’m not ashamed to say things were rather confusing, and I was bawling like a baby.
I got him into the truck. I had never driven it down a public road before, at least not for any distance. I had driven it around the farm plenty, but not on good gravel and cement roads.
They clocked me going one-ten when I was getting near Laramie. I don’t know how I got that old 1966 pickup going that fast. I must have been going down a hill. I never heard the sirens. I do remember bouncing over the road divider when I got near the hospital. Part of the suspension broke then, but it didn’t slow me down much. The police report said I was going about fifteen miles per hour when I ran into the wall of the hospital, right next to the emergency entrance.
They didn’t file charges against me, and they even did a write-up in the paper that made it to the national wires. They made it sound like I was a hero. I wasn’t a hero, though I think that’s the day I became a man. My dad was in the hospital for over three weeks, but he made it out. He weighed about one sixty-five when he walked out. His deltoid muscle survived the ordeal with an intact blood flow, and they kinda tacked it down, but there is this big empty spot around where his armpit would have been. It’s piss-your-pants scary to look at, and I’m not kidding.
And all that came flooding back to me when that damn Sterling Richardson mentioned that my dad can’t drive a stick. It was probably the fourth or fifth time that day I replayed it all in my mind, and it wasn’t lunchtime yet. Sometimes I see a pool of blood or my dad’s bleeding body when I get into the truck.
I popped the truck into gear and let it make one jump. Sterling straightened up and hit his head at the top of the window. He seemed OK, but he rubbed his head. Now my sister was really mad, and she screamed something about me being a psycho idiot. That got me thinking. Do idiots become psychos or do you need a certain amount of intelligence to be really twisted? Anyway, there is going to be hell to pay once I get home, if not sooner.
I guess April thought a screaming rage might not be attractive, so she turned away from me and started apologizing to Sterling, although there were plenty of insults directed my way to blame me, rather than besmirching Sterling’s opinion of April. That’s OK. A man takes responsibility for his actions.
Sterling smiled at April. It was an odd kind of smile. I don’t know what it meant, because I know I’ve never made that sort of smile before. “That’s OK, April. I’ll let you make it up to me someday. Maybe I’ll ask you for a stick of gum or something.” Then he raised his voice at me, pointing a finger. “But I’ll remember this, Stoddard.” I was sure then that he didn’t know my first name. “We’ll get even, too. I’ll be seeing you.”
“I guess you’re out of luck, April. It sounds like he’s trying to make a date with me.” I won’t lie; I stammered a bit.
I punched the pickup into gear and hoped to spin some gravel back at him. I heard him yelling, “I’ll be seeing you, Stoddard!”
“He looks so dreamy when he gets angry. It really brings out the red in his eyes.” I smiled at April.
“You are dead!” she said, poking her finger at me. “If Mom doesn’t kill you, I will. You’re not my brother anymore.”
“You can do better than a jerk like him.”
April turned away, shaking her head, lips tightened into thin line, and hands clamped down hard on their opposite triceps.
* * *
Copyright © 2019 by J. C. G. Goelz