Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
Children never know what’s going on with their parents. Behind the scenes.
Case in point: My mother received a call from Dad in the middle of the day one day in, oh, probably March of ‘68 or so. He’d just found out he got the big transfer he wanted and we’d be moving to Newport News, Virginia. Mom was excited and told us kids all about it when we got home from school. She was clapping and jumping up and down, and I realized I’d never seen her that happy before.
Before we knew it, school was out and we were packing up the house to move to the east coast. It was a vague place in my mind, as a Midwestern boy — a blur of New York City, Washington, DC, and Florida. Newport News I had never heard of before, but they said it was near the ocean, so we’d be able to go to the beach a lot. Awesome.
We made a road-trip detour to Long Island to see my mom’s sister, and I’d just as soon have been moving there because my aunt and uncle had a great old house and the water was never far away. We had fun there, but then it was time to move on, and the next time I paid any attention we were driving on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, an amazing feat of engineering that had us under water in two mile-long tunnels in the middle of a the twenty-mile bridge. Awesome.
Life was going to be a thrill a minute in Virginia.
After staying in the Holiday Inn and then with a colleague of Dad’s for a couple of weeks, we finally rented a house with a huge stand of woods behind it, complete with a running creek, and I knew I had arrived in Boy Heaven. My new friends and I spent most of our waking hours out there, building forts, climbing trees, fishing, and playing strange hide-and-seek games that crossed into Lord of the Flies territory on occasion. When we weren’t in the woods, we were playing pick-up football on any open patch of grass we could find. We towed one another on skateboards pulled by Stingray bikes. I fell into an idyll that made time either stop or scream by too fast, living a Huck Finn existence and feeling like I’d never grow up but would instead remain this intrepid forest creature who only went inside to sleep or get out of the rain.
Once in a while I detected something going on between Mom and Dad. Little scraps that seemed innocent to me. Nothing startling. Dad sometimes came home late in the evening and spent inordinately long periods in the bathroom, releasing all the beer he’d had with the boys. He traveled on business a lot too. A lot. Seems like he was gone a week a month, if not more, but I abided in my woods and knew that things would work out eventually. Now and then we went house shopping, but all the houses we looked at had no woods out behind so I wasn’t in favor of them.
Then, probably within a few days of the end of the school year, Dad announced our vacation — a drive back to St. Louis, where, as it turns out, we still hadn’t sold our house and there were some loose ends to tie up. It had been a year. I thought it sounded fun, to be able to go back and see some of my buddies and show them what a cool kid I had become. I’d made the Little League team, after all, nailing the tryout with a spectacular infield play. I could tie all kinds of knots now and catch foot-long catfish with nothing but a little Zebco rod and reel and half a worm.
It didn’t take long, back in St. Louis, to realize something was going on. After a week there, the word came down from on high that we had moved back. This wasn’t a visit. We’d moved back for good, into our old house, and Dad wasn’t going to be living with us anymore. After getting our stuff in Newport News, he’d be moving out to California on another transfer, but what this meant to us wasn’t clear yet.
I’d never see my Virginia friends again. Or my woods. And we’d only been to the beach one time.
You can imagine how this might affect a young boy on the verge of puberty. Life was dull again, and whatever sense of adventure I’d had back in Virginia was gone. My dad became a static-sewn voice on the phone.
Eight years later I drove back to the old Virginia neighborhood with a buddy of mine, discovered that the woods had been torn out and filled in with a subdivision. One of my old pals was home and talked to me for a little bit, said everyone wondered whatever happened to me. Long story, I said. But I never forgot this place, or you guys.
As we said goodbye for the final time, I realized that this was really not a story about me at all. It was about my parents, and I had no idea what the plot was.
All I knew was how it ended.