Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Battle at Dawn

Despite the small delay due to vacation, I have wanted to write this piece for some time. First of all it introduces you to what I hope will be a frequent character, Geronimo, my 1984 bronze Jeep Cherokee. However, this story itself has always been a great representation of the humor, the tensions, and the friendships between siblings as they make their way toward adulthood. I am sure that my brother will refute the facts, and perhaps he will post his own version, glorious and triumphant in his own way. That being said, I hope you enjoy.

Like most mornings in the frigid winter, we had started our day with the chill of unraveling from our blanketed hide aways. The sun had not made its debut just yet and so the darkness reeked of midnight with the yellow orange tint of the kitchen lights welcoming us to the day. As usual, I was sluggish in my wake. I was seventeen, which would make Jud fifteen and Sarah nine or at least very close. Since I had turned sixteen, our morning gather for the school day was of our own adolescent will power. It is not to say that Mom and Dad weren't there for the occasional spark, but we had to be at the bus by seven and they had to be at work at nine and thus the days of the inevitable “Get up boys!!” bellowing from my dad's silhouette in the door had long passed. And so being the youthful sleepers that we were, every morning was a struggle and battle between Sarah, Jud and I that at times manifest itself in less than kind words between the brothers, arguing over who was halting the group's great ascension to higher learner.

On this particular morning, Jud was more than adamant in his conviction that, in fact, I had caused this mornings delay and perhaps every delay in the history of car rides.

“You're always fuckin' late. Uh huh, uh huh, blame of fuckin' Sarah.”

Of course, my recollection of the morning differed drastically, and I wholeheartedly believe that it was truly and fully Sarah's fault, which I told Jud in the kindest and most brotherly of tones,

"Shut the fuck up Jud. Where is Sarah? . . . . Still in the house, that's what I fuckin' thought. You little shit.”

You see, I had gotten up, done my morning routine, a quick shower, dressed and ran out to warm of the car, as there is nothing worse than a dash to the parking lot in the morning only to find that your ride away is but an ice box with an engine. In particular, Geronimo, my crusty old Jeep, was known to be slow and uncooperative, and so it was always worth an extra ten minutes of warming up. In the preparation for this day's journey, I had completed my morning agenda and as far as I can recollect, I was completely on time.

Regardless of my timing on this or any other morning, we had to leave no later than 6:45 if we were to get Sarah to the bus on time. This, of course, would be the basis of Jud's argument on this glorious morning. You see, Jud was, and still is, punctual to the nth degree. Every morning, without fail, he sat in the passenger seat at 6:40 smoking a cigarette, seatbelt fastened and ready to take on the day. He would fiddle with the jimmy rigged CD player and wait impatiently, windows fogged over as the last bits of frost swung off their icicly hinge and slipped down the windshield. He didn't care if the car was cold, he didn't care if there was no rush. He was ready to go and that was it. Any delay beyond this magical point was considered by him to be ridiculous and unconscionable. “How fuckin' hard is it to get ready!!” he would say.

On the morning in question, the stewing wait was more aggravating to him than usual. As I walked to the car, I could see his face through the frosted panes, irked and bothered with the day's already fouled up schedule. The sun had begun to share the slightest hint of silvery grays to the scene, but it was still dark and haunting against the creaking shadows adding a sinister tone to the mood. As I threw my bookbag into the back, I could hear the grumbling begin. By the time I got into the car, Jud was fuming with angst, spilling over with malcontent at my inability to be prompt. Rarely one to believe I was ever wrong, I shot back harshly, and thus we proceeded to tell each other exactly how the world was and exactly how it was going to be, all in full graphic color spewing from our country lips. As we waited for Sarah to meander her buddled self out the door, tensions began to rise. I watched her shuffle her little legs across the slippery walkway while Jud and I continued to smother each other with stinging words. When Sarah opened the door, our rage probably fringe her eye brows blowing like a furnace as she opened the door, breaking heavily into quiet somber of the mountains. Sarah, stunned, climbed in and with curious and fearful hands settled herself in to her seat. Up front, we paid her no mind and the torrent of teenage tirade maligned the crisp morning air.

At this point, the matter of who exactly had caused the delay seemed more than evident to me and as I turned the car around to begin the bumpy descent down the windy forest road, I reminded Jud that we had been waiting for Sarah. “If you would fuckin' help your sister in the morning then we wouldn't have to wait on her!!!” I said calmly with my famously know it all seventeen year old swagger.

His response was heated, to say the least, and now our baby sister had been pulled into the fight. However, time was of the essence and our sibling struggle snowballed along while Geronimo bumped down the through the woods, headlights lighting our way under the spotty shade of barren trees. Despite my attempts to warm the car, a steady draft seeped over the crack of our open windows as Jud and I yelled and smoked our cigarettes, huffing and puffing swells of smoke between verbal jabs. Sarah was now on the brink of tears, uncomforted by the steady chill of brisk air. As we approached the end of the drive way, the last steep bank before we settled onto the flat gravel of Dry Branch Road, tensions truly began to bubble over. Like a bad metaphor, we were at a crossroad and decisions had to be made and action had to be taken, and they had to be done with absolute haste and disregard for the world around us. Pickering siblings know very little of rational thought and thus with all the wondrous energy abound, a punch was thrown. To avoid any future confrontation, I will say that I do not know who land the initial blow, although I am pretty sure it was Jud. Who throw the first punch is of little consequence, because at this point a full on fist fight had ensued, only sporadically broken up so that I could steer and shift into third gear. It was a flurry of words and fists and smacks, like being inside the Tazmanian Devil's whirlwind. Grumbling and cussing overlay a steady beat of pop boom pows with Sarah's explosive tears wailing her hysterics in the background.

If you were meet Jud now, this story, so far, may sound fantastical, as he stands broad and towering over his older brother, brawny and strong. However, in our youth I was the tower, the booming five foot eleven tree that you know today, and Jud was decently tall but skinny and lanky, awkward at times. He wore big circular wire-rimmed glasses the snugged up against the brim of his ever present ball cap. He was stout enough but hardly a match for his older brother. However, despite the advantages I carried, Jud had a secret weapon, a strange “upper hand” that gave him great pleasure to wield, a pure as sunshine smart ass comment followed by an insulting laugh that with every beat questioned your virility. For as long as I can remember, this was Jud's reaction to a good punch. He would laugh. I would punch him in the stomach. He would laugh. I would punch him in the chest and he would laugh. The more he laughed, the angrier I got and the more I punched and so on, until tears would pour out and he would maintain his steady laugh, more challenging with each breath.

On this adventurous morning, no tears were shed, only insults, his laugh and the occasional swing across the console. In the midst of our battle, Jud paused to discover that I had “supposedly” broken his glasses.

“Way to go asshole!! You broke my glasses. Now you owe $200 bucks!!” As he spoke his distraught expression twisted into a quiet yet perfectly snide laugh and without a blink I swung at his stomach.

Tired of our fight and knowing that his laughter would only lead to worse things, Jud had decided that he had had enough and he began asking me to let him out of the car. “Stop the fuckin' car!!”

“No,” I said, “we're already late.”

“Let me out of “No!”

“Stop the car!!” As we yelled, Jud motioned as if he was trying to open the door. His focus was no longer on me or the fight, and he surveyed his surroundings as if he was threatening to jump from car as we barreled down the old gravel road. Sarah picked up on this and began to scream. “Don't jump Juddie, Don't jump!!!”

Still convinced to have my own way, I slammed on the gas hoping to scare any ridiculous notion of escape out of his head. Jud paused and with certain stubbornness and cracked open the door. The clank of gravel tinking against the fenders reminded all three of us of the actual speed of our situation. In Jud's face was a look of calculation, blank from our argument, filled with determination. His head almost bobbed as if timing the rotations of the tires against the road. Scared that he really was going to jump, I stepped harder on the gas pedal. Jud's eyes lit up and just as we began to accelerate more, he slipped through the opened door and out onto the road. There was no thump or thud, just the quick flash of Jud's body in the side view mirror, bouncing off the road and to his feet and just as quickly darting up into the woods.

In shock, I slammed on the brakes and started to turned around, Sarah's panicked, balling filled every nook and cranny of the car as she screamed at the top of her lungs. I, myself, was completely suspended in awe of the scene that had so quickly unraveled. As we turned back on your tracks, Sarah and I began to scan the wintry landscape, silver and black trees against the dark forest floor, the creek bed darking looming just off the road, looking for our escapee brother. Creeping by, it didn't take long to find him. He was crouched upon a craggy pile of rocks, hiding, I suppose, still as a grouse. As his hiding spot was less of conspicuous cache and more of a platform or a pedestal, we announced the obvious, “Jud we can see you!!!” But he only stood their huffing cold white puffs under the rising sun's light. Not a word, not a single movement came from his perch. He just stared, hard and angry, catching his breath. “Come on Jud, we have to go to school!!”

Realizing that we had come to standoff and still wallowing in my own befuddledness, I got my teary eyed sister back in the car and drove back to the house checking the rear view mirror for Jud to come jumping from the back onto the frozen road. When we got home, I told mom what had happened as she cleaned Sarah's tears and shook her head. Although she was slightly shocked by our behavior, she had seen things like this before. After calming the situation, she sent Sarah and I on our way and waited for Jud to make his inevitable climb through the woods and up the mountain back to the house.

It is important to note that this entire scene had occurred only a few hundred yards from our first stop on the way to school, Aaron's house. Aaron was our first stop on the country car pool, and he had been waiting impatiently for his ride. As we pulled up, Aaron looked around grinning and asked where Jud was. I told him the grand story of our morning, to which he replied, “Sweet, shotgun,” laughing as he climbed into the passenger seat. Thus the drama of the morning had ended. I would finish picking up the rest of our passengers, and we would drive Sarah to school since she missed the bus. Hours later I would run into Jud as he signed in at the front desk at the high school. After sharing a quick glance, we shook hands and hugged. Jud began to smile and as I started to walk away, he pulled me in and said, “You know what's funny, I tried to time my landing, and realized when my foot hit the ground that I was running the wrong way!!!” and that is how I knew everything was going to be okay.


  1. Anonymous11.12.08

    Great story cus. I can't wait to hear the one where Rye put your moms car on the old gas pump, and you took the blame. Hope to see you soon, and what's up with the cousin reunion?

  2. Anonymous11.12.08

    I love the way you describe things. It makes me feel there.

  3. Anonymous11.12.08

    You're a great writer! Never knew this about you. Loved the story and since I know the geography of the area it was very easy to see it all in my head.