Scenes from a Life: The Bet



Sometimes the only consolation when you are going through a trying, heartbreaking experience (like accidentally hiring a painter with advanced Parkinson’s disease) is telling yourself, someday this will make a great story, when I’m far away from it, when I have perspective, when I’ve scraped all the paint off the carpets.

Actually, it wasn’t too long after the incident of The Bet that I had some perspective, but things had become torn that couldn’t be mended, including a best friendship and a budding romance, and I wasn’t entirely guiltless in the rending process.

I first met, shall we call him Bruce, when I was a toddler. He lived across the street in housing for the submarine base at Gales Ferry, and his dad looked like the Gingerbread Man in his khaki Navy uniform. For a couple of years I trailed around worshipfully behind him and his older brother until both families moved away. We were reunited in San Diego around third grade, and it was soul-buddies at first sight. We went to church and Sunday school together, ate grape jelly bread and Lipton soup afterwards. We read his Peanuts cartoon collection on our stomachs and watched monster movies. I was allowed to walk the mile to and from his house alone (those were the days!) and we took toothbrushes and hiked deep into Kate Sessions Canyon to scrape fossil scallop shells from limestone cliffs. We fantasized about our imminent dinosaur discovery. Storybook stuff, that lasted for three or so years, till Bruce’s family moved away to Virginia.

Bruce and I wrote letters back and forth for sixth and seventh grade, and I joined his family for a couple weeks of summer vacation in Cape Cod. More storybook stuff—young teens swimming and sunning and sailing up and down the river at South Yarmouth, giggling and digging up clams, falling in serious like. By the time I left, he’d gathered the courage to twine our feet in front of the TV, which to an eleven-year-old girl was heady stuff.

After another two patient years of exchanging letters, we dared call ourselves girlfriend and boyfriend to our friends. The summer post-ninth grade, I planned to go out to the Cape again, and everyone speculated on what would emerge when we childhood sweethearts reunited. I didn’t know the speculation on his side of the relationship involved a specific goal--shall we call it second base?--and a token financial bet--something like five whole dollars? Until the moment when his friend spilled the beans (definitely on purpose and to cause trouble) we had a wonderful romantic time: hand holding, arms around each other, moonlit strolls on the beach, me being carried in his strong arms and tossed into the water.

And then I found out.

I was shattered, confused, angry, embarrassed—no doubt as I was meant to be. I left for home without acknowledging Bruce’s stumbling, red-faced apology. I was thirteen and na├»ve about “boys will be boys.” I think the money bothered me more than the goal. When his turncoat friend began writing me love poems, I realized how I’d been duped into rashness—but by then it was just too awkward. From three thousand miles, I had no idea how to patch things up or if I even wanted to. So I was left with the loneliness and the heartbreak of losing my best friend and first boyfriend for no good reason.

These are the kinds of raw emotions that make for strong stories and real characters, even if we squirm as we inject a little bit of ourselves and our memories of pain onto the page.