His voice gnawed across three thousand miles of ratty telephone lines in the days before Skype took away the novelty. He expressed kindness to a kid, never knowing how his natural equanimity gave this kid the courage to perceive chaos as a harmless Keystone Cops piefight. All you needed to do was duck or throw a rhubarb. But the kid didn’t know that then. It had been the middle of the night, and the kid was weeping. Weeping over the rushing flush that overcame him when that cute smiling girl two grades higher — a veritable Leslie Burke in the flesh — stayed inside his heart and head and he didn’t know what it all meant and could do nothing other than weep. So the man, who should have been this kid’s father, said, “No problem,” after winning him over with a benign Billy Crystal impersonation and then suggested to the kid that he give his crush — for that was what this feeling was all about — some chocolates. From where? With what money? “Don’t worry,” said the man. And a little more than two decades later, the kid still wouldn’t know where the seven bucks came from, or what the man had said to the kid’s mother to get her to pony up the nonexistent dough.
Two days later, the kid was sauntering around the sandy track stretching around the outside of his elementary school. His crush accompanied him and he quietly gave this girl the box of mints. And she smiled, an apparent cougar-in-training touched by an inexperienced young buck’s brush forward. He took in the adorable goosebumps on her arms, the freckles dashing across her pale skin, her sorta strawberry blonde hair, her ecstatic cheeks, and, of course, her smile, and she gave him a kiss that he would always remember. And they shared this box of mints on the rattling schoolbus that took them to the other school, where allegedly smarter kids got together for a day to be told that they had some hidden genius. But life, as it turned out, was about pretending that you knew what you were doing. And it was just as applicable to the heart as it was the head.
But he wouldn’t have known any of this, had it not been for the distant man’s kindness. He wouldn’t have known that a childhood crush would linger deeper than any of the casual carnal conquests that came later. The man’s kindness had planted a sapling that would burgeon into redwood effrontery. And if, by some chance, the man had decided to stay, maybe the kid might have grown up calmer and saner. Maybe he might have been installed in a safe and harmless job. Of course, what if games are for the parlor. Only self-absorbed fools look back and blame it all on how things might have played out. But kindness begets kindness. And it wasn’t a surprise when the kid grew up and picked up the phone to reach out and touch someone more times than you’ll ever know.