Chapter 9 - Finding His Wings

“What the hell do you want?” I said into my cell phone, playfully answering it after seeing the “Call from Little Buddy” blinking message appear on it.

“We’re,” David replied. It was the only word he could muster, before crying uncontrollably into the phone.

“David, what’s wrong, talk to me buddy.” I pleaded to him. But it was of no use. Whatever was bothering him had made him inconsolable. I continued to listen to the crying on the phone, while letting my boss know I had to leave early; every now and then trying to get him to speak and every now and then hearing him make the attempt and fail. All he could do was cry.

I didn’t even know where he was. As I drove home, my mind assaulted me with nightmare scenarios – car crash and badly hurt and trapped; his mothers church friend “Edward” kidnapping him and tying him up in a dark room somewhere. I prayed; during one of the few “foxhole” moments I’ve had - when being a non-believer doesn’t matter anymore (fuck it, just throw up a prayer anyway) that he was in my house and at least safe and physically uninjured.

I pulled into the driveway and saw David standing in the doorway. He closed his phone and put it away as I did the same, and walked towards the house.

“Thank you Lord.” I half heartedly said, then ungratefully muttered, “and Zeus” to myself, after realizing that David wasn’t being slowly constricted by a giant Python or any of the other horrible visions I had suffered on the drive there.

He was still crying but had slowed down enough to smile at me as I walked into the house. It wasn’t the smile of a happy fourteen year old. It was just a small admission that perhaps he was overreacting to whatever it was that had upset him.

“Oh buddy, what’s wrong?” I asked while coming inside and grabbing him close for a hug. He sniffled a bit; managing to slow his jerky, winded breathing down once I was holding onto him. I guided him towards the couch and set him down. I sat down next to him and held both his hands in mine, waiting for him to speak.

He spoke slowly and carefully, trying to control any further squalling that speaking the words might cause.

“We’re,” David began, taking a deep breath, in preparation for the next word.

“Moving!” He finished his sentence and broke down again, sobbing. It was an awful cry; complete with sweating, chest holding, red ears, snot; just plain frightening. At one point during my attempts to calm him down, I was sure he was going to pass out.

“Buddy, it’s going to be alright, really.” I told him. I actually kept myself together, well. I didn’t cry or even feel like crying. He was fourteen and although I had just spent the best four years of my life with him, I was ready to move our friendship out of the passionate, always together state, it had been in, and into a state of just being in the background more; letting him find his wings while always being there for him still, if he needed to land again.

I wanted him to have a girlfriend; not just the crushes he had had up to that point. I wanted him to experience what it was like to go without me for a week or two so he wouldn’t become dependent. I wanted him to gain more experience in living his life without me always there to steady him when he lost his balance. It was necessary and wouldn’t likely happen without him moving, I felt.

I had spent the better part of four years preparing him for this very thing, and I believed he was ready; ready to step out on his own; ready to fly away and leave me on the ground, left to witness the beautiful moment when he realizes he’s airborne and is too excited about it to even look back down and wave to his friend.

But I was mistaken; he wasn’t ready to fly off on his own and no amount of consoling him eased his fear about living away from me.

“How far away are you guys moving?” I asked.

Still sobbing, he answered, “An hour away.”

“I asked if I could just live here and she said no.” David told me, regarding his question to his mother.

“That means you’ll have to change schools.” I told him, which brought out more tears.

When I first met David, he only had a couple friends, and they weren’t the good-natured, well adjusted friends that he had gained since then. He was smoking weed with them, ditching school with them, hip-hop influenced and ready to fail at life over respect, all at ten years old. Now, at 14, his new friends actually cared about making good grades, had parents who invited David to theme park trips, birthday parties, etc. I knew David would miss them just as much as me and at this point in his life, they were likely more important for his continuing development than even I was. I didn’t want him to lose that and have to start over at a new school; that could have sent him spiraling backwards. I just couldn’t allow it to happen.

I called his mother and explained to her the situation clearly and managed to get her to agree to let me pick him up every morning and take him to the high school near my home that he currently attended, then in the afternoon, have the school bus drop him off at my house, where we could work on his homework and spend the evening together and I’d drop him off at her house, before ten o’clock. It was going to be a lot of driving, but without her agreeing to just let him live with me, it was the best option we had.

“Alright bud, I talked to your mom and,” I said to him and watched him perk up with a look of hope on his face, “I may pick you up from your new house every morning and take you to school, then you can get off the bus here in the afternoon, and I’ll take you home in the evening.”

“You can’t do that; it’s too far, that’s,” He said and paused to do the math in his head, “four hours or more driving everyday” He finished.

“I know bud, but what else can we do?” I asked, hoping he’d have another idea because that was a lot of driving…

“I just wish she’d let me live here.” He replied.

“I know bud, me too.” I told him and sat down to hold him while he finished his cry.

“But look on the bright side; in less than two years, you’ll be driving and then you can just drive yourself to school. I’ll make sure you always have the gas money for it.” I told him.

He was interested in cars long before he could drive; the result of spending a week with an uncle he admired who was a mechanic and car nut.

“Mom isn’t going to let me use her van to come here, you know that.” He told me, not aware yet of the savings I had started for him, shortly after we met, for when the day finally came when we could walk onto a car lot together and drive away in separate vehicles. It was something I had never done for a young friend, but always in my mind thought it’d be a great experience; something a dad would do.

“Buddy…do you really not know? I always assumed you knew…” I said to myself, shaking my head.

“Know what? No way; you’re going to give me your car for my sixteenth birthday?” He excitedly asked.

“Um, no David, I’m not.” I replied.

“Come here, buddy…” I told him and took him into my bedroom.

I pointed to the big plastic toy car that I used as a piggy bank, which sat in the corner of my bedroom.

“What? I can’t fit in that thing?” He said, jokingly.

“See the little slit in the top of it?” I asked him. He walked over and looked.

“Yeah, I see it.” He replied.

“Buddy, I’ve been putting a fifty dollar bill in there every week, since you were ten years old; so that when you turned sixteen, you could go out and buy yourself a car.” I confessed to him.

“I thought you knew because you have seen me do it before sometimes when I didn’t think you were watching.” I said.

“I don’t even remember.” He answered.

“No way…” He said while bending down to peer through the little slit.

He got up and walked over to me, crying again, and asked, “Why are you so good to me?”

“Because I love you, bud. It’s just that simple.” I replied, ending with a big hug which turned into a wrestling match, an attempt to improve his mood, which turned into a nap; a much needed nap, after his episode earlier.

And that’s how life became for us over the next year and a half. It became our routine. Every morning, I’d drive an hour to pick him up from his house, then drive back to drop him off at school, and then drive myself to work. He’d get off the bus at my house and when I arrived home from work we’d carry on like normal until it was time to take him home. His curfew was ten o’clock and he never wanted to be home a single minute early, which put me getting home at around eleven o’clock every night.

I had always imagined how I’d feel when he approached driving age; figuring I would be terrified of him being out on the roads without me, but the closer he got to sixteen, the more I was looking forward to it, because it meant I wouldn’t have to spend so much time in the car, everyday.

The first driving lesson I ever gave him, I remember like it was yesterday.

“I got my Learners Permit, today!” He yelled into the phone at me.

“Nice! You ready to go driving?” I asked.

“Yes!” He replied.

During the weeks leading up to the magic day when he got that Learner’s Permit, I numbed myself to the fear I had about it. I didn’t want to let him drive my car. It terrified me and yet I knew that I couldn’t allow anyone else in his life to step in and offer to teach him how to drive. I don’t like relinquishing control. I can hang by one hand from the top of a fire tower without being afraid, but being a passenger in a car scares me. I can’t say what it is really, but me and the passenger seat have just never been friends; maybe it’s my control issue. This innate distrust had to be put aside, for David’s sake.

And so that day finally came.

“Alright, don’t kill us!” I kidded to him as I walked around the back of my car, handing him the keys as we passed each other. He couldn’t stop smiling.

He sat down in the driver’s seat and I got into the seat he normally occupied.

“How’s it feel to be sitting in the masters chair; you feel the power? Think you can handle it?” I jokingly asked.

“Yes!” He excitedly burst out, gripping the steering wheel and looking straight ahead. He hadn’t even started the car yet though and he was already staring at the horizon, imagining that he was tearing down the highway.

The home he was living in at the time, sat next to a pond. And I parked my car so that the rear of my car was pointing towards it.

“Alright buddy, start it up.” I told him.

“Okay, here I go.” He nervously replied then started up the car.

I leaned towards him to whisper, “Seriously buddy, don’t kill us.”

“I won’t don’t worry!” He impatiently told me.

“Alright then, let’s go! Drive us home!” I demanded, with a laugh.

“Just put it in Drive and pull off easy.” I instructed.

I should have been watching better. David put the car in reverse by mistake, then stomped on the gas pedal, not realizing how little pressure you needed to use to get the car moving. We spun gravel and sped off backwards towards the pond.

“Buddy, brake, stop!” I shouted.

“Ahhhhh!” He screamed, while frantically searching for the brake pedal and slamming it down when he found it.

Luckily, he got the car stopped before we went for a swim. It was a good first try because it created a memory that I’ll most likely never forget.

“I’m sorry!” David shouted. I looked over at him and he just sat there looking defeated, like he had just done the unthinkable and his one chance at this was about to be taken away from him.

I couldn’t help but laugh; it was actually hilarious and seemed like a scripted movie-moment of a boy’s first attempt at driving.

Eventually he rightly assumed my laughter meant that all was well and joined me, laughing too.

“Alright buddy, try that again; nice and easy,” I told him, giving him a few encouraging pats on the back before finishing my advice, “And forward, this time.”

“Alright, no problem, I got this.” He replied, calmly putting the car into Drive and gently pressing the gas pedal. Forward we crept.

My fear was misplaced because I quickly learned, after our first few drives together, once he got a good feel for everything, he’s a really good driver! And hell, now he’s better than me, with only a couple driving years under his belt – not that I consider myself a good driver, just a very cautious one.

It soon became a treat to let him get some driving practice, with me just napping or playing my uke or whatever. He was damn good and even made this passenger seat pussy feel pretty comfortable.

Eventually, to his delight, he turned sixteen and his Learner’s Permit morphed into a full-fledged Driver’s License. It was time to break open his car bank.

“Alright buddy, here you go.” I said to David, handing him a knife. “Cut her open and count it up. Then we’ll go to the bank, get us a joint checking and savings account, and you can deposit all your fifty dollar bills into it.”

He deftly cut a hole into the top of the plastic car, handed me the knife back, then lifted up the car over his head, turning it upside down; a few hundred fifty dollar bills fell out of the hole and onto his head, covering the floor in a carpet of money.

“Ha!” David exclaimed. “That was too cool!”

I put down the video camera I was filming the moment with and agreed, “Yeah that was, buddy.”

“Now clean it up, count it up, and let me know how rich you are.” I told him, walking away and into the kitchen to eat and to let him have his moment with the money.


I wasn’t surprised as I’d been keeping track in my head for years. Whenever times would get a little tight financially, I have to admit to being tempted of taking some out, but at that moment I was so happy that I never did.

“Awesome. Damn bud, you have more money than I do.” I told him, and wasn’t joking.

We put the money into a bag and headed to the bank. I brought along the video camera to share the moment with the lady there I knew. She was literally in tears, laughing at the ridiculous bedroom scene.

“Alright, so you want ten thousand in checking and four thousand, four hundred and fifty in savings, is that right David?” She asked him as he sat there, unable, even for second, to wipe the smile from his face.

He thought for a moment, then told her, “No ma’am, put just five thousand in checking and the rest into the savings.”

His first bank account…where did the time go…

As we were leaving, he confessed to me that he didn’t want to spend as much as he did at first, on his first car. He wanted to save most of the money and buy a cheap car instead, saying he thought it was better if his first car was a cheap one and to wait until he is a little older to get something nice for himself. I agreed and was pleased with his restraint. I don’t have that kind of restraint.

Today, David is careful with his money – most of the savings he put into his account on that day, is there still. He’d rather eat ramen noodles than spend money on a cheeseburger. I don’t know where he got that from, certainly not me, but maybe being so spoiled had something to do with it. The value he placed on things was lessened because he didn’t want for them the past few years. Whatever has caused him to be responsible with money, I’m happy for. Maybe it’s just how he naturally is or maybe my carelessness with money was simply an example he wisely chose not to follow.

I didn’t go with him to pick out his first car and instead let his mother have that moment with him, what with the need to be on her insurance and whatnot. I also didn’t want David to end up like me, and have no relationship with his parents, so more and more I had been recommending to David that he spend more time at home. I knew our friendship was solid, either way. Eventually, he even took it upon himself to locate his father and start a relationship with him.

One day soon after the crazy bank trip, I was called to the window by the loud honking of a horn. It was David in a beat up, dinged up, and ugly as hell Thunderbird, he had bought.

“Do you like it?” He hollered over to me as I walked out to take a look.

“Hell yeah buddy, that’s great.” I replied.

“I LOVE it! It’s so nice!” He told me.

“Get in, let’s go for a ride!” He exclaimed.

He drove me around the town for a little while and I did a lot of letting go, that night. Beside me sat my little buddy but he was really a little man, just about ready to face the world armed only with whatever skills he had picked up during his sixteen years on earth.

Like always, he sensed my mood and when he dropped me off at my house so he made sure to tell me before I stepped out of the car, while looking me dead in the eyes and grabbing my hand,

“Thanks for this and everything else that you’ve done for me over the years. I know I would be so messed up right now or dead, if we hadn’t met. I feel like I owe you so much.”

I thought that was overstating things, but it’s nice to know that even if it is, he believes it.

“Buddy, everything I’ve ever done has been my pleasure. We are even, perfectly even, and I know you know that I mean it. You owe me nothing, you are your own person, and you have no obligation to me, whatsoever.” I said before leaving.

Those were words I’d told him often; always wanting to be sure that every moment he spent with me was because he chose to, without guilt, and without it feeling obligatory to him.

I watched him drive off, waving his hand through the open window, then forming the “I love you” symbol with his hand.

Off he drove, signaling correctly and driving conservatively, tail lights disappearing into the bustle of town; like a new eagle flying out of the nest; the success of his flight depending largely on the choices I had made during our times together. I had little reason to worry, but of course I still did.

Just to be sure (I mean what’s the harm, really) once again, this rigid non-believer said a silent prayer into the lonely air; hoping it and whatever of me had rubbed off on David, would be enough to keep him safe and happy, out there making his own moves, soaring out in the wide world without me.