A Poor Decision of a Different Order

Dallas Crow

 

When people find out I’m a PK, they always want to know what it was like. It’s a hard question to answer. After all, I never had the experience of not being a preacher’s kid; I don’t really have anything to compare it to. What they want to know, I think, is whether it was repressive, whether I had to play some pious role in my father’s dog-and-pony show, if I was held to higher standards of behavior, that kind of thing.

The answer to those questions is no. My dad was—is—a moderately liberal Methodist. There was no speaking in tongues, no gothic Fanny & Alexander shit, no outrageous discipline or expectations. I had to go to church every Sunday, but so did a bunch of other kids. Though I didn’t want to, I had to go to confirmation class—as did many others. I had a summer job mowing the church grounds for $25 a week, a nice, though small benefit. I chose to sing in the youth choir because I liked to sing and my friends were in it, and I chose not to sing in the adult choir when I got older because in truth I was not a very good singer, and no one mourned my absence there, except for a few old ladies whose hearing was going and who would have encouraged anyone to stand up there in a purple robe with a yellow yoke. I looked forward to the church youth group meetings for the endless pop and chips, and activities like a hay ride in the fall, volleyball and s’mores at the nearby state park, and the annual trip top see the AAA Iowa Oaks—and for the lack of religious indoctrination.  It was basically a fun, safe place for younger teens to get together. It was also the only occasion I recall when being a PK came back to bite me—twice.

The other thing I think people want to know when they ask what it was like being a PK is whether I was a goody-two-shoes or a rebellious bad boy. Those seem to be the two clichéd roles assigned to PKs, and I was safely lodged in the middle of the spectrum. I may have leaned a little to the goody-two-shoes side of things, but mostly, like most adolescents, I just wanted to fit in.

Sometimes I did things I didn’t really want to do, like inviting Ricky Roush to one of our youth group lock-ins. Ricky looked like Howdy-Doody with a goofy smile and a haircut that would have been 30 years out of date if we hadn’t been living in the middle of Iowa where it felt like the 60s and 70s never happened. I wasn’t a big fan of his, but I didn’t despise him either. We were both small guys who were in the same advanced classes together; we were guards on the basketball team and middle infielders on the diamond, so we played with and against each other every day for months at a time. We were part of the same peer group, but his dad was a lawyer, and he seemed a little too pleased with himself when it didn’t seem to me like he had that much to be pleased with.

And he was going out with Kim Lancaster, who was not as hot as her blonde homecoming queen sister Lisa, but who still seemed to me too good for him. She had mousy brownish hair that frizzed out a little in an indistinct, shapeless way and the faint dusting of a moustache, but she was a cheerleader, and she also had some social status due to her sister. She wasn’t in the top tier of popular girls, but she was probably a B+ or an A-, better than the majority of the girls in our class. She was someone I thought I might have had a chance with, unlike the top tier girls, who saw me as friend but not boyfriend material. My only previous girlfriend had been a 7th grade girl who asked me out when I was in 8th grade, intitated our first kiss, and broke up with me shortly thereafter.

Kim and Ricky were inseparable and a bit nauseating. They would walk around with their hands in one another’s pockets, which seemed over the top and unnecessary, but also kind of intriguing. I had never placed my hand in a girl’s pocket, and though I couldn’t imagine walking around like that in public as they did, I would very much have embraced the opportunity to do it in private. In any case, Kim was a member of our church, and it was made clear to me by various parties that it would be a good thing for me to invite Ricky to the lock-in as my guest.

At some point late that evening, after nightfall, after pizza and pop, after a ping-pong tournament, and after popcorn and more pop, we decided to play Sardines, which is kind of like Hide-and-Seek in reverse. One person hides, and everyone else spreads out in search of that person. When you find the hiding person, you join them and wait for the others to find you until you are all crowded in a small, dark place like sardines, trying to be quiet, while the last remaining people seek you out.

During the first round, Ricky and Kim found their own small, dark place, and hid out there. As more and more of us gathered in the dark, there was a whispered, giggled explanation of why they weren’t showing up. We went about our business, with the last person to join the sardines being the person to hide and start the next round. I don’t know whether my dad got wise to what was going on or whether he was taking care of business of his own, but he found the two lovebirds partially undressed in the sanctuary closet, at which point the lock-in came to an end for Ricky, Kim, and me.
 
 

My dad was haggard from lack of sleep when he got home the next morning. He was also angry and embarrased. That was the thing that stayed with me. We had a long, painful sit-down in the kitchen, my dad, my mom, and me. Technically, it wasn’t much of a sit-down for my dad, as every time he got agitated or wanted to emphasize a point, he jumped up and started pacing. He held me partly responsible for what had happened. He acted like I was party to their behavior, like I had conspired to help make it happen. After his intial anger at me had dissipated, but not willing to end the discussion, he emphasized that it had been  the most embarrassing moment in his career.  “Do you understand that, Dennis? I saw her breasts. A teenage girl’s breasts. In the sanctuary of my church. Then I had to call their parents and explain why they were being sent home. I hope never to have to experience such a thing again.”

I think my mom felt I had borne enough blame for an event I really wasn’t involved in and that maybe my dad was carrying too much of a burden as well. “They made a poor decision, Gus,” she said.

“Dennis made a poor decision, too.”

“He made a poor decision of a different order than they did.”

 
 
Once I had weathered my dad’s dismay, I thought I was in the clear, but on Monday, I started to hear rumors that Ricky was gunning for me, rumors that made no sense to me until I heard he thought I had narced on them, an absurd theory that took no account of how uncomfortable I felt being caught in the middle of this mess.  I actually laughed dismissively when I heard it. Short, scrawny, honor students with white-collar parents, Ricky Roush and I weren’t the fighting types.

Nonetheless, as I was walking home across Shay Park, Ricky plowed into me from behind like an all-pro defensive back. He had enough momentum—he had probably run halfway across the park to tackle me—and I was so unprepared for the hit that I was immediately face down on the ground. Shay Park was a favored place for fighting because it was right across the street from the school entrance, so most kids crossed it coming to and going from school. If you didn’t ride the bus, it was hard to avoid a confrontation there. Eventually, a teacher would come down and break it up, but the good thing as far as the student body was concerned was that it was officially off-campus, so you couldn’t get suspended. Fights here weren’t uncommon, but this would have gone down as one of the strangest ones ever if anyone bothered to keep track of such things. I was so stunned by the attack, I just laid there while Ricky sat on the back of my thighs and pounded on my back, not punching me with his knuckles, but using the bottom of his fists in a hammering motion. It didn’t even hurt.

A circle of kids had gathered around us, chanting “Fight! Fight! Fight!” but the bloodlust quickly faded to disbelief when they saw no real fight was going to happen and then shifted to laughter and disgust. “He looks like a baby, an unhappy baby,” I heard someone say about Ricky. Someone else sneered, “The other one’s just laying there—like a log. Like a fucking log.” Pretty soon there was a chant of “Log, log, log.” Passive resistance may not have been a familiar concept to the teens of Kendrick, Iowa, but my refusal to respond inspired more support, even if it was at least half-mocking, than did Ricky’s strange baby-like pummeling of my back. Before long, the shop teacher, Mr. Metcalf, was pulling Ricky off of me, but the damage was done: for the next 3 ¾ years, I would be known as Log even to my teachers and coaches.
 
 

I made it to senior year without sustaining any other fallout from the lock-in incident aside from the chagrin of being called Log more than I was ever called by my own name. Kim and Ricky had broken up by the end of 9th grade, and all three of us were among the small core group of kids taking advanced classes. Ricky and I never became overly friendly, but then we weren’t tight before our farce of a fight. For some reason toward the end of junior year, Kim and I started flirting and seeking each other out when we were in big social groups. Nothing came of it, at first, and I kept telling myself nothing would. I was drawn to her and desperate for a girlfriend, but whenever I would leave a party where she and I had hung out for a while, I would hear my dad’s voice intoning, “The most embarrassing moment of my career.” I could see my dad opening the sanctuary closet door and seeing her breasts, breasts I had not seen and desired to more and more. What a stupid thing to do—to make out in the church. Like I said, I was no goody-goody, but c’mon. There was no way I could date her, no way I could bring her home to my parents. She was a good student, a nice person, a varsity cheerleader. She would have been a catch if it weren’t for that single catch.

On the way home from the last football game of the season, an away game at Saydel, there were six of us smashed into Mark Simpson’s Vega, four of us in the backseat. Kim was sitting next to the passenger side door on my left, half on my lap, her best friend Lauren Robinson, was on my right, her thigh pressed hard against mine, and of all people, Ricky Roush was pressed up against the other door, though his presence would play no part in what was to pass.

We were having a good time, six seniors who had just cheered their schoolmates to a season-ending victory over our rival Saydel Eagles, the first time we had beaten them in our four years of high school. It was chilly that night, but we were plenty warm in the back seat, peeling off layers, clowning around, laughing—not a care in the world beyond our current pleasure. I was squeezed between two attractive girls in their cheerleader skirts. I could almost feel the bareness of their legs through my jeans, and with the vibration of the car rattling through the dark, I had a boner the whole ride back. I would have been happy if Mark would have kept driving all night, but just outside Kendrick, he took a corner a little too fast, and when Kim reached down to brace herelf against my thigh, she felt the full effect of my hard-on, and whispered in my ear, “Now I know why they call you Log.”

That night Kim and I crossed the line we had been awkwardly moving toward for months, maybe years. We made excuses to drift off from the rest of the crowd, drove down to the river, where we parked and made out fiercely for hours. It was intoxicating. As much as I hadn’t wanted us to ever arrive back in Kendrick, I even more didn’t want the dashboard clock to reach my curfew. Her downy mustache seemed blonder, paler than when she was a 9th grader, but it also added a texture to our kisses that was exotic and compelling. She pressed herself against me and held me as I kissed her neck. It was one of the best nights of my life. I did not want to leave her, though I also knew I couldn’t date her.

Over the coming months, Kim and I managed to continue our romantic pas de deux without ever officially becoming a couple. We didn’t talk about it. We just seemed to come to some kind of unspoken agreement. We’d hang out and chat and flirt at school and around friends, and then when we were alone, we’d grab onto each other as if we couldn’t bear to be apart.

Since we weren’t publicly a couple, I guess it was no surprise that someone else, in this case a junior named Lauren Miller, asked me to the Sadie Hawkins winter dance. Lauren was foxy, someone who was probably out of my league even though she was a year younger. Kim hadn’t asked me to the dance, and I wasn’t sure I wanted her to, though I thought if she had, I could have passed it off to my parents as a “just friends” date without too much trouble. This seemed to erase that conundrum. I could go to the dance with Lauren, stave off any suspicions our friends might have had about Kim and me, and if I got really lucky, maybe even make out with the hottest member of the junior class.

As it turned out, I was right about Lauren. I was out of her league. She was just using me to get back at her ex-boyfriend, Troy Adams, our starting running back, who became her boyfriend again about five minutes into the dance.
 
 
I could hear the anxiety in my mother’s voice when she woke me the next morning. I had got in late the night before, hadn’t bothered to close my shades, and the low angle of the early morning light seemed a personal attack. “Dennis, you need to get up right now.”

The sun glared off the thin layer of snow that had melted the previous afternoon then refrozen during the night. I threw on my jacket and walked out to the street in my slippers. My parents’ car was right where I had parked it, directly in front of the house, but now on the side facing the house in big blood red letters that reached from tire to tire was the word “SLUT.” On the other side facing the street, there was an entire sentence: “LOG IS A SLUT.”

“Anything you can tell us about this?” my dad asked.

I shook my head.

“I find that hard to believe.”

I didn’t know what to say. A fastball had just been thrown at my head, and I didn’t even know I was at bat. “It wasn’t there when I came home,”  I said. That was a true statement. It didn’t answer his question, but I was being honest.

“I suppose I should call the police,” he said.

After all these years, I can’t fully convey how slowly this conversation moved and at the same time how quickly things were racing to meet me. I was still waking up from a short night’s sleep and fighting the effects of a couple beers after the dance. The sun needled my eyes, and my dad’s deliberate voice, the tension of his restrained anger and frustration, unnerved me. Though I hadn’t really thought I had done anything wrong to Kim, I was also pretty certain it was her handiwork.

“Do you think that’s necessary?”

“It’s vandalism, Dennis. Pretty serious vandalism. I’m supposed to drive that car to the church? And to the hospital and nursing home and funeral home? People are supposed to see their pastor driving down Main Street in that abomination? Should I just honk my horn and wave at everyone I recognize like I’m in some perverted parade?”

I shook my head again. It was really the only response that made sense to me. “I’ll pay for it,” I said. “I’ll pay to get it repainted.”

“The car has over 100,000 miles on it. You’re going to have to pay almost as much as the car is worth to get that done.” He paused. “You don’t know anything about it, but you’re volunteering to pay a pretty big sum to fix it? It makes it hard for me to believe you don’t know anything about it.”

“I don’t, dad. Really, I don’t. I came home last night and parked it there, and everything was fine. Mom woke me up fifteen minutes ago, and that’s the first I knew about it. I’m as surprised as you are. But it’s got my nickname on it. I doubt any of your friends did it. So, I’ll take responsibility for it.”

My dad called the police anyway. They asked me a few questions, and since I still hadn’t talked to anyone else, I could answer most of them fairly honestly without giving anything away. They did ask if I had a girlfriend or an ex-girlfriend who might be mad at me, and since Kim and I were never an official couple, and to the best of my knowledge, no one else knew about our adventures, I felt I could deny that without perjuring myself. If it came back to haunt me later, I could say I hadn’t thought of her as a girlfriend or ex-girlfriend and pretty much believe it myself.
 
 

I ended up not going out for baseball my senior year, so I could make enough to pay for the car, and then worked another job over the summer to pay for college. In addition, a few kids heard that I hadn’t narced on Kim and tossed a few bucks my way as a sign of their respect. Kim was equally sanguine. She confessed she was so angry and hurt that night, she had got herself perfectly drunk, then walked over to my house and did the deed. She was so drunk, she said, the next morning she initially thought she had dreamed it rather than actually done it. She, too, took a job she hadn’t planned on taking and funnelled some of the money to me.

We never made out again, but we finished high school the way we had started it—as friends trying to help each other out. A week or two after the body work was finished, someone plowed into my mom as she exited the Safeway parking lot, totalling the car. The money I had sacrificed my senior year of baseball for and spent the spring earning had disappeared into a car that no longer existed. During my first semester at college, my dad got a new job, and my parents moved away. When I went home on breaks, I went to a town where I didn’t know anyone. Before long I lost contact with everyone from Kendrick, and I was never called Log again.

I don’t usually think of myself as a PK. I think of myself as a lawyer (maybe not so different from Ricky’s dad—or even Ricky himself for all I know), a husband, a father, a weekend basketball player, a homeowner. I think of myself as a fairly happy guy, but sometimes when everyone else in the house is asleep, I go upstairs in the dark, flip on the computer, and search for the slightest trace of her.


dcroad3 Dallas Crow has fiction forthcoming or in recent issues of Cloudbank, The Flyfish Journal, and 100 Word Story, and in the anthology, Condensed to Flash: World Classics. He is the author of a poetry chapbook, Small, Imperfect Paradise (Parallel Press), and he teaches at Breck School in Golden Valley, Minnesota.


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