You are probably wondering why I asked you to come here alone today I said to my daughter Ruthie from my hospital bed. The fact that you and I have always been at odds with each other is no secret to anyone who knows us. I have tried hard and I know that you to have tried but for some reason it just never worked. Maybe we are to much alike you and I, maybe we are both just to damned independent. Maybe it had something to do with the booze that was so much a part of both of our lives for so long. Anyway, the doc says that I have another month or so before the pain gets bad enough that I will have to be on some pretty strong stuff and I might not be to coherent then. I wanted to talk now. I wanted to share something with you . Something that happened to me a long time ago. Something dark that no one else in the world knows about. The story starts way back when I was a skinny pubescent twelve year old. There is a picture somewhere that was taken of me at that time standing in my brief bathing suit, brush cut hair, hands on hips smiling at the camera. My chest wasn’t any wider than my hips and my ribs were showing through. Anyways Grandpa, grandma, aunt sue and I were visiting a friend of your grandma’s in Boyne City, Michigan. They had a beautiful old restored home near Lake Charlivoix. Another family was visiting that week also and they had a daughter about the same age as me. She was a really nice friendly girl and we got along well together. About the third day that we were there she introduced me to a friend of hers named Linda Hampton. I was smitten immediately. I can still see Linda today and it has been fifty one years. I remember her smile and her blonde hair. She had blue eyes and a very cute shape. Her laughter was musical. She had just come back from swimming with her dog ,a collie named Rex. I found out the next day that Linda’s mother made her take Rex when ever she went swimming because he watched her carefully and would run in and drag her from the water if she put her head under. We talked awhile and then went to the ice cream shop that was a couple of blocks from the house. I completely forgot that the other girl whose name I can’t remember was even with us that’s how smitten I was. I had my first case of puppy love and it was a bad case too. We hung out together for the next two days. I felt that she had the same feelings for me. Neither one of us said anything to each other about these feelings. I said goodbye to her Sunday afternoon and walked back to the house where we were staying with the other girl who had been part of the threesome during those days. I was beside myself. I knew that I would probably never see Linda again. I actually hurt in my heart. I had to see her one more time so I walked through the now rainy night to her house and rang the bell. She appeared and came out on the porch. My heart was racing. I told her how I felt. She looked into my eyes and told me that she felt the same way. I asked her if I could kiss her goodbye and she nodded her head. I leaned forward and kissed her on her mouth. I couldn’t believe how wonderful she smelled and tasted. It was my first kiss and it was unbelievable. I was so overjoyed that I was almost crazy. I couldn’t sleep all night . The next morning we left at 6:00. This was way before I-75 was constructed and it would take all day for us to get home. I was a mess the whole trip. I didn’t want my family to know of my feelings because they would tease me unmercifully. I suffered in silence. The morning of the next day I wrote her a letter and told her how much I missed her. A week later I got a letter from her, and she told me how much she missed me and how she would do anything to see me again. That sealed it. I began planning a trip to Boyne City. I would hitchhike there. I began getting things together. I had fifteen dollars saved up. I had a small back pack and filled it with a change of clothes and other things that I needed and hid it in the garage. I would tell my mother that my friend Curt had asked me to spend the night which was something that we did often and then would hit the road. I should be a full day out of town before they knew anything. I realized that I would be in big trouble, probably the biggest of my entire life, but it would be worth it to see her again. Everything went according to plan. The last thing that I did before leaving for Curt’s house was to stick a switchblade knife in my pocket. My uncle Ed had lost it and I had found it near the cot where he sometimes slept.. Uncle Ed was my dad‘s brother and was a bar tender at the local honky tonk. He was a drunk and figured that he must have lost the knife in the taxi that brought him to our house one night when he was all lit up. I never thought at the time that the knife would be the reason that I am here today. I went out to the garage, got my pack, and headed for the highway. I had a map that I had studied and knew the route. I would tell each driver that I was only going to the next town to see my grandma so that they wouldn’t wonder why a boy as young as me was hitchhiking long distances. The last thing I wanted was for the someone to report me to the police as a possible runaway. The trip would normally take about six hours. I had done a little hitchhiking and knew that I would be on the road longer than that. It took me eight rides and twelve hours to get within twenty miles of Boyne City. I got dropped off at a cross road out in the country and went in to the small restaurant to get a sandwich and a coke. I sat at the counter and placed my pack on the floor in front of me. A fairly large man sat down beside me as I was eating and ordered coffee. He asked me where I was going and I told him that I was on my way to see my grandma in Boyne City and was hitchhiking. He said That his name was Bob Robertson and that he was going to Boyne and would be glad to give me a ride. Looking back I find that there was nothing abnormal about this man’s appearance at all. His brown hair was in a brush cut, and he had a small mustache and I guess that he was probably my dad’s age about forty. He was friendly and smiled a lot. We left the restaurant just as it was getting dark and got into his green 57 Olds two door. I tossed my pack on the floor in front of me and sat back. He said that he was on his way home from a business trip and that he lived in Boyne. His wife and kids would be waiting up. We small talked for the next few miles and then he told me that he had to turn off down a side road. He needed to drop a package off at his friends house and that It wouldn’t take to long. I said okay and he turned down one of northern Michigan’ famous sand roads. We had gone about a mile when he reached over and laid his hand on my knee. He asked me if I wanted to have a little fun as he slid his hand up toward my crotch. The look on his face suggested that the fun would be all his. I told him to stop touching me and to please turn the car around. “Okay.” he said “no hard feelings.” and he slowed as if to make the turn. When the car had almost stopped he grabbed me, called me a dumb little bastard and said that We were going to have a little fun. I was terrified, and tried to open the door but he pulled me to him. I don’t know how I thought of what I did next but as he pulled me to him instead of resisting I leaned toward him and bit down on his nose with all my strength. He screamed and both of his hands flew to his face. I pulled the door handle and the door opened. I felt him grab at my shirt as I fled the car. He was screaming obscenities. It was pitch dark as I fled into the bushes. I could hear him behind me. He was coming fast and screaming that he would kill me. I had no doubt that he would too. He was certainly big enough to do it. I dove into some tall grasses and tried not to breathe but my heart was racing and screaming for oxygen. I knew that he would have to hear me breathing. The switchblade! Get the switchblade I thought and I got it from my pants. I snapped it open and laid as still as I could. He was near me. He had a flashlight! Dam! The beam of the light was swinging back and forth. “I’ll find you you little prick!” he said. And then the light flashed on me then off me and then immediately back on me. “There you are you little bastard! You’re a dead son of a bitch boy!” I hid the knife in my hand. He reached in and grabbed me as I started to run and pulled me to him. Blood was all over his face. He let go with one hand and reared back to slap me when I shoved the knife into his stomach with all of my strength. He screamed and let me go. I grabbed my pack and ran into the darkness. This time there was no flashlight following me and no screaming either. I ran for awhile the brush tearing at me as I tripped again and again until I could run no more. The moon was out now and I could see a little, enough to see where I was going if I walked. I knew that I was safe now, and that he wouldn’t be coming after me, but I was scared, and lost. Thoughts of what would happen to me if I was found worried me almost sick. I sat down and leaned against a tree, and decided that I would spend the night there. I spent a fitful night swatting mosquitos and dozing off now and then. Finally exhaustion got me and I slept for several hours. I awoke the next morning and looked at my watch. It was 7:00. The sun was shining and there was nothing in nature that indicated that it was anything more than just another beautiful summer day. I hurt all over, and had scratches on my face and hands. I looked at my clothes and found that my shirt and pants had blood on them. I knew that I would have to change into the other clothes that were in my pack but I wanted to get cleaned up first. I walked east toward the sun. I figured that I wouldn’t be walking in circles if I did that. A half hour later I came to a stream and washed and changed clothes. I can still feel the cold that was in that water as I washed my face and arms. I dug a hole with a stick and buried the knife and bloody clothes. I walked east for another hour and then heard some traffic. Finally a road appeared and there was a sign that said , six miles to Boyne City. I couldn’t go there now. I needed to get back home. Linda was not as important as she had been a few hours ago. A black 54 Buick picked me up. The radio was playing some Hank Williams. The news came on after a few minutes and the newscaster was talking about the murder on route 614. They had found John Bauer one of the local guys dead in the woods. His wife said that he had no enemies and couldn’t understand who would have done this horrible thing. John was a deacon in the First Baptist Church. It hadn’t been robbery as his wallet and money were in his pocket. He had been stabbed in the abdomen and also had sustained severe wounds to his nose. There were no suspects and the police wanted anyone with any information to call the office. I was sick to my stomach. I had killed a man. I wanted to throw up. I had done what I had to do to stay alive but that didn’t make it easier. Eleven hours later, after many rides, I was back at my house. My parents were frantic. They had called Curt when I hadn’t come home and found that I hadn’t been there at all. I told them that I had run away but had changed my mind. I lied and said that It was because they wouldn’t buy me the Cushman Eagle motor scooter that I had coveted. Two of my friends had them and they knew that I had wanted one also and wouldn’t buy me one. They were to dangerous they said. I said that I realized that I had been wrong and was very sorry. I cried hard for a long time. And I wasn’t faking it either. It’s just that it wasn’t for the same reason that I had told them. Linda faded into the past. I discovered alcohol shortly after that and later marajuana. They helped to quiet the terrible nightmares. I got hooked. Eventually I got help with my addictions and have recovered, however it took many years. I went back to Boyne with my folks one more time when I was a high school senior. I was wearing my varsity jacket and went to Linda’s house. There were three high school girls sitting on her front porch. None of them looked like the Linda I still remembered. I asked if she was home and one of the girls said that she had just left with her boyfriend. I asked them to tell her that Tom Reynolds had been there to see her. They said that they would tell her. I never went back again. The woman who owned the house where we had stayed died soon after and the house was sold. I never told anyone until now what happened that night. And am not really sure why I am telling you now. I guess maybe that it is because I want to leave you with something that nobody else has. Something just for you.
copyright Thomas Neiger