Richard + Bobby,
Chapter 12: CRANBURY, NEW JERSEY (Part 10, 11, and 12)
I’m on the road to the East Windsor YMCA. I’m concentrating on driving, pushing away the boy’s smile and memory. I focus on the roadside book of garbage I’ve read hundreds of times—markers, ads, signs, bits of litter. Slowly the smile fades away and I’m speculating as to why people must litter, why a clean car is more important than a clean road, as I pull into the Y’s parking lot. And that leads me to Richard, a prime violator.
I was composed and arranged by the time I reached home. I went directly to my room, saying nothing about the incident, or anything else, to my mother. Bobby frightened me and I didn’t doubt he was willing and capable of hurting me if I told on him. But fear wasn’t what stopped me. It was Richard, what Bobby said Richard thought of me, how Richard went out behind my back with other girls, girls willing to give him more than kisses, to allow him to go farther than groping under clothing. And how he could take a boy like Bobby for his friend. Before telling anybody about Bobby, I needed to talk to Richard.
Richard and I had planned a date for the evening and he picked me up at seven. We were going to the drive-in movies in Kills River in Bobby’s borrowed car.
As Richard drove, I compulsively glanced behind me, at the backseat, envisioning what transpired on it between Richard and me, and Richard and Terry just that afternoon, and with others like Terry.
“Babe,” Richard said, “what’s with the neck? Somebody following us? Maybe your father checking up on us?”
“No, nothing,” I said. “I don’t want to talk about it now.”
“Sure, anything you say, Babe.”
At the drive-in, Richard parked toward the back, over to the side, away from the route people usually followed to the concession stand and restrooms.
He slid his arm around me. “Cozy,” he said, pulling me to him.
I resisted and anchored myself next to the door.
“Hey, what’s eating you? Did I do something?”
“Bobby says you take other girls out in this car.”
He turned full on me. “Bobby said what?”
“You heard me.”
He laughed. “What a son-of-bitch. Forgive my French, Babe, but Bobby’s lying.”
“He said some horrible things about …” I couldn’t bear to utter the word, freighted as it was with disturbing images, and nodded toward the rear instead. “And there’s nothing funny about it.”
“Hey, I agree with you. Bobby’s pissed with me. Forgive my French again, Babe. Look, the guy wanted to double with us tonight.”
“I would never double with Bobby. Besides, no girl would ever date Bobby McFarlane.”
“I know, Babe. Why do you think Bobby’s mad? I told him you don’t like doubles. And I tried to fix him up with Terry Bishop. No luck.”
“He said you where with Terry this afternoon,” I said, casting my eyes to the back.
“I was. Bobby and I were cruising and passed her on Creek Road. She was riding her bike. Bobby asked me to give it another shot. I let him off and circled back to talk to her. Down in flames twice. If you can’t get a date with Terry, it’s hopeless.”
I was silent for a while, considering what he said, somewhat assuaged by it, and troubled, too.
“Richard, why didn’t you ask me when I talked to Bobby. You know I never talk to him?”
“Hmm, well, I figured you must of run into him somewhere.”
“He ran into me on the path by the creek when you were with Terry. He didn’t tell you?”
“No, Babe, not a peep. I guess he was too ticked about Terry.”
“He attacked me, Richard.”
“He pushed me and knocked me down and said some foul, insulting things to me.” He tried pushing closer to me, but I held up my hands. “Don’t.”
“What did he say?”
“I can’t repeat what he said. It was too horrible. And he said terrible things about you, too.”
“What you think of me, Richard, that I’m too prim and proper, that you see other girls because …” I had a difficult time forming the words. “That I don’t put out enough for you.”
Over the years, Richard learned to control his emotions, to project a placidity, a wall competitors, customers, associates, and his wife could not penetrate, an equanimity that, he boasted to me when I questioned his spiritual deadness, gave him the advantage, that put and kept me and the girls in the big house filled with an abundance of things. Early on, I didn’t notice him laying the bricks. That day I credited his fleeting stony reaction to being stunned by the loathsome behavior of a false friend, the way I would respond, as I did, regretfully, respond years later when Angie told me about Bobby and her.
“Babe,” he said, “I would never cheat on you. Not ever, because I never want to lose you. And because I know what it can do to people.”
“You do?” I said. I didn’t know what he meant, didn’t press him, assuming it was probably a girl, perhaps back on Staten Island.
“And it’s why I couldn’t betray a friend, even somebody who did something bad, like poor Bobby.”
“Poor Bobby?” I wheezed, virtually on the verge of tears over the tale of his parents, his wound, and his misguided compassion for Bobby McFarlane.
“The guy’s a mess, Babe. Don’t get me wrong, what he did to you, it wasn’t right. And you better believe he’s getting it from me. No way am I letting him take his frustration out on you. No way. He’s going to get it. But, you know, he’s such a sad sack. In a way, you’ve got to feel sorry for the guy.”
My incredulity was unrestrained and all I could do was exclaim, “Richard, are you insane? He assaulted me. He called me names. He said disgusting things about you, about us. And you’re, you’re making excuses for him? Richard?”
“I’m going to pound him, Babe. I’m going to set him straight. He’ll never do anything like that again, never. I promise. But with Bobby, you’ve got to understand.”
“Understand what, Richard? I understand he’s a lowlife, and he’s dangerous, and he could do something worse another time.”
“There won’t be another time, Babe. But—”
“But what? He’s your friend. He’s still your friend after what he did, what he said? Take me home, Richard, right now.”
I refused to see or talk to Richard for two weeks. He phoned. He visited my house. I saw him in the coffee shop and snubbed him. I was lashing back at him, hurting him, and myself, too. In the end, however, I missed him; I wanted him; I believed I needed him. And I persuaded myself that his staunch loyalty, even to someone like Bobby, was commendable. Richard was a boy I could trust, who I could count on to stand by me. In the end, I compromised on Bobby McFarlane: As long as I had nothing to do with Bobby, Richard could remain his friend. I suppose I believed eventually Bobby would betray Richard in a way he could not forgive.
I park in the YMCA lot and pick up Samantha and Emily in the all-purpose room. Other parents, mostly mothers, are doing the same, all of us waiting for our children to gather up the projects they’ve been laboring over for the past hour.
In the car, I ask Samantha about what she had worked on. “Nothing,” she says. She’s a teen and often sulky. I assume today it’s the YMCA camp, which she doesn’t like. She argues she’s too old for it. She’s probably right and I’ll have to find something else for her next year.
Emily volunteers that she’s been drawing and, from the backseat, inserts her creation between Samantha and me. It’s familiar, a brightly colored woman and two girls holding hands dancing in a circle. From the first time we lived in Cranbury, when Emily began drawing, I’ve thought of her as a fauvist, a little female Matisse. After our relocation to San Diego, I bought Samantha and Emily gifts, sort of welcoming presents to smooth away some of the edge of dislocation. Emily’s was a book of Matisse paintings and drawing, because I remembered her picture of a floating, disgruntled cow. Occasionally, in rare moments when she tired of her dervish larking, she’d flip through the book. I can see now the book has made an impression, for the drawing, in color and composition, bears a striking resemblance to “Dance.”
“Beautiful, Emily,” I say. “Looks like everybody is happy.”
“Maybe,” she says.
At least, I think, this time nobody in the picture is distempered.