by Jonathan Hutchison
Jake, a friend of mine, called to ask if he could come to my house later that morning. He hinted he needed to talk to someone. For as long as I have known Jake, I have always been the someone Jake called when he needed to talk. His voice sounded tentative, weak, and desperately needy. Within an hour Jake was at my door. I will never forget how sad Jake looked. We sat down at the kitchen table and began to talk. This is what I remember Jake shared with me.
Jake began, “I’m the last of three kids in my family. My brother Tim who you’ve never met, always saw me as unworthy of his time. Tim was born with an incredible IQ and used that gift like a weapon to attack those he judged as not measuring up. To his credit, Tim also used his intelligence to be of real value to the think tank for which he had worked all his life. But whenever I was in his presence, my brother used his brain power to crush my spirit.”
Jake then spoke of his sister Clare, “She was just about as kind and considerate and caring as any person could be,” Jake said. “She was gifted and warm. She could act, sing, play the piano, and in general, she lit up any room she entered. There were always friends nearby. Clare and her friends included me in almost all of their activities, even though I was at least six years younger than most of the group.”
For some unknown reason, Jake wanted me to know that Tim and Clare both had their lasting effect on him. He had been the kid brother who was either welcomed into Clare’s group or who was tormented by his brother Tim – the forces of good and evil, or at least, good mental health or bad.
“And of course,” Jake said, “my parents weighed in with their own assessment of me.” Jake said he remembers his mom saying more than once, “your father and I weren’t expecting much from you and that’s just what we got.”
I listened and I wondered what Jake was leading up to. Jake and I had grown close over the years but this was the first time he talked so freely about his family and their effect on him.
“My brother’s treatment of me, and my parent’s opinion of me, caused me pain that was always with me, gnawing away at my self-confidence,” Jake confessed. “But I also grew to understand that my sister’s abilities and her kindness to me had also affected my development. She was so good, so perfect, that by comparison I seemed insignificant. No matter where I turned or who I turned to, I came up short in comparison to those around me. As a kid, I was pretty miserable.”
Jake went on, “When I was about eight, I had the first hint of how life would probably play out for me. The day started abruptly. My mom came into my bedroom. She never came upstairs to my room. Without any extra conversation, she announced she was taking me to a new school that day.”
Just then, Jake stopped talking to me and in the quiet I sensed a deep sadness had come over him. Staring past me Jake just sat there unmoving. After a few minutes, Jake continued to recount the bedroom conversation his mother had with him. As if in a dream, Jake recalled his mother’s words, “Jake, I start a new job today. And you should know your father and I aren’t married anymore, but I assume you know that out already. Who do you want to live with? That’s how she handled me that morning.” As I listened to Jake recall that morning, I wondered what eight-year-old kid could process all of that.
Jake’s mom dropped him off curbside at his new school. He found his classroom and opened the door. As he entered, Jake was met with stares and whispers of “look a new kid.” Jake’s teacher, without any words of welcome, instructed him to take a seat on the floor by the wall. There was no desk for him. Jake’s teacher assured him that an extra desk would be moved in after recess. Recess came and went. No desk appeared.
Jake recalled it was just then that Sean, the class bully, made initial contact with Jake. Jake was still sitting on the floor when Sean slid his chair over to Jake and whispered down to him, “Hey new kid, even the school doesn’t want you here. There’s no place for you. Don’t come back tomorrow. Stay home.”
Jake did come back the next day and not surprisingly, the bully pounced. Those scars everyone would see. The fight was over and done in an instant. Once again, Jake found himself on the floor. Glenn, a kid Jake had talked to the day before at recess, pushed the bully away and told him to leave Jake alone. Sean backed off, but Jake knew this was just the end of round one.
As he turned to Jake, Glenn said, “I’ll be your friend. I’ll watch out for you.” That was the first time someone other than his sister had shown Jake any kindness. Glenn would be his first friend. Glenn had come to Jake’s rescue. It wouldn’t be the last time a friend rescued Jake.
Jake shifted in his seat at my kitchen table, “That day in third grade is when I realized that the scars the bully left on me just added to the scars already growing inside me. I was pathetic. I couldn’t even defend myself. I was weak and useless. Someone else had to protect me.”
“As I look back now,” Jake said, “the unintended result of Glenn’s intended kindness to me was the beginning of my realization that my scars had always been forming. My brother’s insults, my parent’s indifference, my sister’s social skills, and my powerlessness to protect myself, all affirmed the fact that no one ever expected me to amount to much.”
While sitting with me at my home, some twenty-five years after Jake first experienced his third grade epiphany, Jake’s emotional dam burst. His words just kept flowing. I listened as I always did, wondering what had caused Jake to show up at my house today. Finally, after about 90 minutes or so, I had to stop Jake.
“Jake, why did you come here this morning? What’s bothering you? What do you want?” I asked. I admit I might have been a bit more abrupt than I intended. For the second time that morning, sadness seemed to crush Jake. With tears starting to form, he began to talk again, “they say that time heals all wounds. I thought I’d always have enough time to get around to healing those wounds.” Again Jake hesitated before continuing, “Just about two hours ago, I got a call from Tim’s wife telling me that my brother had died unexpectedly. Tim and I had just talked with one another four days ago. I had called hoping to heal some wounds. It turns out after our conversation, Tim had written me a note as his response to my opening up to him. Tim’s wife asked if she could read the note Tim had written.”
Jake shared that he took a deep breath and told Tim’s wife it was OK and to go ahead and read the note. The note read, “Jake I know I have been hard on you. It must have been difficult for you to call me and open up as you did. You probably think I don’t respect you or care for you. Jake, I am sorry to say, you’re right. As long as I live, I will always be disappointed that I didn’t have a brother that was half as worthy as his sister was.”
Jake took off his glasses and put them on the table. He rubbed his eyes, half from emotional exhaustion and half to cover up his tears. Then he looked me straight in the eye. “You have always been kind to me and helped me when I needed a friend. So friend, now what do I do?”
I haven’t seen Jake in a long time. I’ve wondered from time to time how he was doing. Soon after that last talk we had at my kitchen table, Jake moved away. About two years ago, he wrote me to let me know that he had married and was doing well at his job working for a well-known auction house. His old life never really worked for him. I guess he finally figured that a complete change was all that was left for him to try. You know what they say, nothing ventured……. Maybe Jake has found a way to heal some of those wounds after all.