Always able to strike just the right emotional chord
Growing up, I loved The Wonder Years. Matter of fact, I still do. Launched in January of 1987, the show took its audience on a magical tour of suburban life in the late 1960's. The first person narrative enabled us to see the world through the eyes of young Kevin Arnold, who was coming of age in an age of turbulence. Like so many who watched the show, I identified with Kevin Arnold. It's even been said that my writing from time to time evokes the infamous voiceover, but I digress
"Armed with only his instincts and a spear, he roamed the earth in tribes"
In a lot of ways, high school boys are a lot like primitive man
They foraged for their food
They fashioned cruel tools
And of course, they hang out in groups
In fact, about the only difference between my clan and neanderthal man was....
*ahem* "Any questions?"
Neanderthals had bigger brains
"Listen, you guys wanna shoot some hoops after school?"
"Oh yeah, count me in"
"Hey Kev, you playin'?"
The tribe. That year we were inseparable. We faced all the challenges
All but one, anyway. Women
"Uh, look guys, I'm gonna hafta take a raincheck, k?"
Julie Aidem. We been going out for 2 weeks. And to put it mildly...
"Carry my books?"
"You don't mind?"
"Are you kidding"
She appreciated the little things about me
"You know, you have a really cute laugh"
She liked my laugh
"I thought about you today, Kevin"
"Yeah, I was thinking about you too"
She thought about me... lots
"I thought that you look REALLY good in stripes"
"Yeah, with the collar up. You know, it really suits you"
That was Julie. She watched over me. Took care of me. Civilized me
"SO MUCH BETTER!"
Let's face it. She was good for me
And if that wasn't enough
"Hey Julie! Hey Kevin!"
She had a great dad, too
"How's the car coming, Mr. Aidem?"
"How many times do I have to tell you to call me Ben?"
"Well, finally got that problem solved. Now she's ready for a little spin"
I admired the guy. He had hobbies, he was funny. A real man's man
"Honey, did I hear you say you're going to take the sports car out for a drive?"
"Thought so, yeah"
"You remember our agreement: You ONLY drive the sports car on the weekends"
"Heh, I don't know what got into me!"
A man who was surrounded by women
"He'd be off driving it DAY and NIGHT if I let him, wouldn't you, Ben?"
Not that Julie's mom wasn't every bit as fun loving as her dad
"Hey Kevin, why don't you stay for dinner?"
"I'd love to, June!"
She was just more...... civilized
"I mean... Mrs. Aidem"
After all, like mother...
... Like daughter
All in all, it was quite a household. Filled with doilies and laced curtains. And of course, Pupu
"Quiet, Pupu! Quiet!"
"I don't get it, Daddy. You're the only one that Pupu barks at"
"That's because Pupu loves Daddy!"
The Aidem family was a model of decorum. There may have been a reason for that
"Oh Ben, the salad fork"
The girls outnumbered the boys by a ratio of four to one
Five to one if you counted the pooch
"So Kev, who do you like for the World Series?"
"I don't know. I think I like the Tigers, or maybe the Cubs"
"Oakland's gonna knock everyone else on their butts"
"Oh, sorry. NOT at the din-ner table!"
Still, I had to admit, I liked it there. It was nice being in a civilized home
"Oh Ben, fix your collar"
A home where people actually said please, and used butter knives. As oppose to say...
The Arnold house
We were a house of men
A house of slobs
"Milk and cookies?"
Yeah, this was the life. Catered to. Coddled. Taken care of
"So, did you miss me?"
".... You just went upstairs to get some cookies..."
"I MISSED you"
".... Well, yeah. Yeah! Of course I missed you"
Still, at two and a half weeks into the relationship, it was beginning to occur to me that civilization was not without its discontents
"What are you thinking?"
She asked me that a lot
"I'm thinking... these are great cookies!"
"Well tomorrow I'll make brownies"
"Oh, daddy must be home"
"Anyone down here?"
"Hey Kev, how you doing? New muffler, check it out"
"Well that's great, daddy"
"... OH yeah, lemme get something outta my tool box and I'll get out of your way"
*Pupu continues barking*
"Daddy! Look what you're doing to Pupu! You're hurting her feelings!"
"Oh, I don't know what got into me!"
"I'll go get her a biscuit"
And suddenly, the thought struck me this guy might appreciate a little male bonding
"So Ben, this is a great cell you got here"
"A few too many linens for my taste"
"Oh, yeah, me too"
"She's no Duke"
"I got the biscuit! Pupu, I love you so much"
"I'll tell you about Duke some other time"
And there ya had it
"Did you miss me?"
So much for guy talk
"Yeah, of course I missed you"
The next day the guys were on me about Julie
"Look, I can do whatever I want. I don't have to ask anyone! I'm playing football today after school, and that's that!"
"Yeah sure Kev, whatever you say"
"I'll be there!"
But there was one little problem. Leaving the bathroom, I heard it
"KEVIN! I missed you!"
Maybe that's when I began to realize... the undeniable truth. Julie Aidem had me.. on a very short leash
"Primitive man derived his power from the tribe"
"But occasionally, one of its members betrayed the rest"
"Soon, this lone hunter was set adrift from the pack"
"Shunned, and ostracized"
"So Paul, you wanna play some football this afternoon?"
"You got it, Chuck"
By the next day, one thing was clear
"Hey guys, what time you playing?"
"You guys hear something?"
In my tribe, my name was mud
Still, I had one skill primitive man did not: I could whine
"C'mon guys! I wanna play!"
"Look Kev, you bailed on us yesterday, and you didn't even tell us"
"I got tied up! It was an emergency!"
"It was JULIE, wasn't it?"
"It was ONE time. I promise, it'll never happen again. Please?"
And with that, I bared my soul
Thrown myself on the mercy of the tribe
And they, in turn, pronounced their verdict
"What the hell"
And so, that afternoon, I was... reborn
A few hours with the guys and I remembered who I was
Kevin Arnold: Runner. Passer. Hunter. Warrior
And it felt GOOD
... By the time I came home I was a new man
"Kevin, you have a visitor"
"... H-Hi. I wasn't expecting you. So Julie, what's going on?"
"Oh nothing. I thought you were coming over today"
OK, it was clear we reached a critical juncture. It was time to set ground rules, here and now
"Every once in a while, guys gotta, you know, hang out with other guys"
And there it was. Gentle but somehow, firm
"I guess you forgot what today is!"
"It's our 3 week anniversary!"
"I got you a gift!"
Made you wonder if they knew how to giftwrap crow
"Do you like it?"
"Yeah! I- I love it, it's great, it's it's..."
"You know Kevin, if you wanna be with the guys sometimes, I understand"
"No, no, that's not it. It's just --"
"I wouldn't want you to feel like I'm smothering you"
"No! Don't be ridiculous. You're not smothering me"
"Because if you don't think we're right for each other..."
"No Julie, I definitely think we're right for each other"
"Oh that's what I think, Kevin!"
And right about then, something went wrong
"So maybe it's time we made more of a commitment"
"Oh Kevin! This is so exciting! I can't wait to tell everyone we're going steady! But first we have to tell mommy and daddy at dinner"
And suddenly, somehow, I was going steady
Not that I'd actually agreed to anything, you understand. Not technically, anyway
Still, that night outside Julie's house, I knew I didn't have the courage to turn back
"I hear there's gonna be a little announcement tonight"
Great, the whole family knew. And not only that, now we were gonna have the talk
The father-of-the-bride speech
About the birds
About the bees
"Duke loved nights like this"
"Was Duke your dog?"
"Duke was a hell of a dog"
*Pupu barking in the background*
"I like Pupu back there. Duke was a black lab. Eighty pounds. He was so full of fun, and so full of spirit. He was a real man's best friend kind of dog, you know. And Duke wasn't afraid of anything"
I could tell Duke was more than just a dog to this guy
"What happened to him?"
"Ran away the day I proposed to June. I still think about him you know. Every now and then, at night....
... I SWEAR, I can still hear Duke's howl"
*long silence except for the chirping of crickets*
That night I did my best to forestall the inevitable
"Uhh.... terrific mash potatoes, Mrs. Aidem"
"Thank you, Kevin"
But then, I suppose they don't call it the inevitable for nothing
"Kevin, don't you have an annoucement to make?"
At least not around the Aidem household
"Uhhhh, yeah. Yeah, yeah. I do"
"Kevin, I think you should stand up"
And so, it arrived. The last exit. The final whistle
And that's when it happened
"Honey, fix your collar"
It was.... weird
"I thought Pupu only barked at you Daddy!"
It was horrible. It was amazing. Almost as if Pupu knew I was about to join the ranks of Aidem men
And then, from out of nowhere, I swear I heard it
It was a clarion call. And I knew what I had to do
It was now or never
"Julie I can't do this. I just -- CAN'T! I like my collar down! And I hate, HATE wearing striped shirts! And I don't like cookies! And another thing, I don't want to spend every minute with you. I like hanging out with the guys! I'm a HUNTER! And a warrior!!"
"AND WHAT ABOUT THE MASTODONS?!"
OK, maybe I got a little carried away about the mastodon thing, but I wasn't just speaking for myself. I was speaking for all mankind. For Ben
And even, for Duke, wherever he was
"I can't do it, Julie. We can't go steady"
*Aidem girls run off crying*
And then, it was over. Except for one thing
"I think you better go, Kev"
".... Good idea"
"Man. Fire maker. Tool maker. Thinker of complex thoughts"
"Noble. Furious. Dignified"
Over the next few weeks I rejoined my tribe. And in a lot of ways, I was back where I belonged
"Guys, I'll be right back"
Still I guess I knew there was still some unfinished business
Between Ben and me at least
"Hey Kevin. I thought that was you. You look pretty good out there"
"Thanks. So.... how's Julie?"
"Oh she found a new guy, they're going steady"
"Huh, no kidding!"
"Yeah, he looks great in stripes"
"I bet.... hey! You got the car out on a Thursday huh!"
"Yeah, I thought I go a little crazy"
And in a way, I couldn't help thinking I had something to do with it
"Well, it was nice seeing you again, Ben"
"Hey Kevin.... one day you're gonna see"
"It's not that bad.... having people who care for you, y'know"
I guess Ben understood something. Something I'd learn... in time
"Thanks. I'll keep that in mind"
But me, I was just a sixteen-year-old guy, and the way I saw it, there were still a lot of mastodons yet to be slayed
JULIE AIDEM... MEET SARAH FRANKLIN
Some say high school are the most critical years of your life. You made friends, enemies and memories. Sometimes you even broke hearts
Looking back at my junior high and high school yearbooks I see a lot of faces that pass through the years. Some I wonder how they're doing and what they're up to. Others, I wonder if they ever wonder about me. And then... there's Sarah Franklin
I was a junior in high school. Ironically, my tale happened when I was 16, much like Kevin Arnold
It was a language arts class, and we were watching a great film called Smoke Signals
In fact, it's one of my all-time favorites. If you haven't seen it, it's definitely worth checking out
It seemed like an ordinary day, a day just like any other. Little did I know, it was anything but
Sarah Franklin. I'll never forget her, even if I want to
So I'm sitting there enjoying the movie, when I started to notice Sarah giving me funny looks. I didn't know why exactly, but I knew something was brewing
And surprise surprise, there was something cooking all right
On my way out of class that day I felt a tap. When I turned around, Sarah Franklin shoved an envelope in my hands and dashed off. The thing happened so fast I almost couldn't believe it. Not wanting to involve the guys with this matter, I kept silent about it throughout lunch. When I got home I ripped the envelope open
Whatever was inside.... I knew one thing... it was more than just a party invitation
I found a 2-page letter, printed on yellow and green paper. I lost the damn thing several years ago, so here's the gist of it:
I know we only see each other in English and Study Hall, but what I'm about to tell and ask you is HUGE. You see, my sister met a wonderful guy 10 months ago. They shared such a wonderful relationship and I'd never seen her any happier before than in those 10 months. Regrettably, good things never last, and his family ended up moving 10 months later. They knew a long distance relationship would never work, so they reluctantly broke up. My sister, ever since, has not been the same and as her big sis I'm looking for a great guy who is looking for a meaningful and loyal relationship
As I said, we don't really know each other, but from what I know of you, you seem like a really great guy! It's hard to find a good guy in this day and age
So... what I'm getting at is.... would you like to meet my sister over lunch? If you're looking for a great girl who will love and be loyal to you, my sister is the one. Please call me later today between 4 and 9 PM. My number is 867-5309
PS- If I seem weird tomorrow in English class it will be because of you know why! =)
Wow. It's not every day you get a letter like that!
I knew what I had to do. To this day I remember vividly the enthusiasm and giddiness in her voice as she picked up the phone...
... And I'll also never forget how I took the wind right out of her sail
"AND WHAT ABOUT THE MASTODONS?!?!"
I didn't quite go berserk like how Kevin Arnold did. There was no talk whatsoever about being a hunter, a warrior, or slaying mastodons. Not quite. Instead I opted for the classic American way: a quick courteous note followed by friendly rejection
Like Kevin, I wasn't ready to be tied down like that. I too was sixteen-years-old, and the way I saw it, there too were mastodons yet to be slayed -- and mountains yet to be explored and conquered
Looking back, am I sorry about what I did? In a way, a little bit. Maybe the least I could have done was have lunch with the poor girl. But you know, when you're 16 you do "dumb" things. Sarah Franklin figured I was different from the other guys. After what happened, she probably hated my guts
Senior Grad Night. All the seniors were living it up at DisneyLand. On one ride, my eyes met Sarah Franklin's. We exchanged a nod -- an unspoken pact of forgiveness. A moment that signified her younger sister was doing dandy in the game of life and that bygons would be bygons
That's what I'd like to tell you
... But no such Wonder Years ending
I really don't remember what happened to Sarah Franklin. In fact, I hardly recall seeing her around my senior year. We haven't spoken to each other since that one fateful phone call. Then again, not like we ever did before you understand
In life, we've all broken someone's heart... and we didn't mean to... it just happens. Lord knows, we've been on the other end as well
Yup, in high school we made friends, enemies and memories. Good and bad. And every now and then there are people you wonder about, and people you wonder if they ever wonder about you. And then there are the Sarah Franklin's of the world. You don't really want to remember the memories of the Sarah Franklin's....