Larry Rankin, an experiened writer, enjoys creative writing in all forms, from literary to mainstream.
Andre's New Best Buddy
So as the semester drags on, Mr. Wade becomes part of my “go-to” rotation. He becomes a person I visit when I need help and quickly becomes one of my best friends. Of course he doesn't know this. Most of my good friends don't. You see, people are just too much of a wildcard on their own. They inevitably let you down, so when I find someone I like pretty good, I talk to them in my apartment, but they aren't there. I put in the words I think they would say, and even if we argue, I usually win; plus, this way my friends only stay pissed off as long as it takes me to need them again.
With all the stories Mr. Wade has shared with me in his class, he becomes a fairly complete person and a very interesting one to talk too. I can pretty much guess a lot of the things Mr. Wade would say when I talk to him, and they seem pretty accurate. I just find a philosophy he portrayed in a story and attach it to the subject we're talking about.
He manages to give me a lot of good advice about just about everything, and he likes my stories most the time, though sometimes he thinks they are a little on the vulgar side and starts quoting scripture. That is when I usually tune him out—all in one ear and out the other. I don't really care to have Mr. Wade, Jesus Christ, or anyone else sensor my work.
Me and Mr. Wade are getting along real well. I go to class with my head down and listen to what he has to say. Then I come home and discuss it with him all evening. The beauty of it is I never have to say a single word to anyone.
Mr. Wade's Betrayal, Volume I
It was nearing the end of the semester when Mr. Wade came in, happy as always. He begins talking about how he and Jonathan love to watch Andy Griffith together on video tape, and for about the ten-millionth time he tells the story of how he found God in the hospital after he got his transplant, but this time he adds a bit of information to the end, something he had failed to ever explain before.
"People don't realize, but transplants only last about seven years. The immunosuppressant drugs, and a body that genetically isn't right for the organ just work it too hard, and it gets destroyed fast."
Then there is a pause in speech and someone in the class asks, "How long have you had yours?"
"About eight years."
Man, I was crapped off at Mr. Wade, one of my best friends in the whole world, and he had waited almost an entire semester to tell me he was living on borrowed time. So after class I got back to my apartment, took a seat in my recliner, and just fumed about the situation. Why the hell was he teaching us?
All he had to do was concentrate on staying alive as long as he could, and he could spend time with his family. He had a chance to make things right with all the people that were close to him. Instead he was running around touching new lives. Why in the hell did he have to touch mine? It was nonsense. He was only complicating things. All those loose ends to tie up. And he was just making more, so many he would never have time to attend to them all.
Mr. Wade's Betrayal, Volume II
The next time we had class Mr. Wade came in like he always did, with his outwardly chipper attitude, his "Good afternoon scholars," and all his other staple idiosyncrasies of behavior, but something about them seemed off, inauthentic, like he was just phoning it in for class today.
Then he began his stories, and it really started to show that on this day something was definitely different. He was being bitchy, cynical, not how he was, or how I ever would have imagined him. The way he spoke he was a contradiction to his own existence. He talked about how he got sick of standing in front of classes and academics. He was sick of having to spend his time with so called intellectuals talking about the same old stories and grading student papers.
I was already pissed at him, and now he was being a big phony, not true to the friend I had defined him as. This man that taught me was not my friend; he never could be my friend. And if he didn't like teaching, why in the hell was he there? He didn't have any reason to be—not that I could see.
A Recurring Theme
The last time I ever attended Mr. Wade's class was on a Friday, but it was not the last day of the semester. There was still a week of regular school and then final's week left. I was pretty indifferent about Mr. Wade by that point.
You know how you get when you've thought too much about something to care anymore? Mr. Wade's existence was frail. Why should I care about his stories? What is the point in eating a cracker when you’re starving to death? Too much misery to be appeased with such a tiny bite. I just wanted to get on with my life and get some new friends that I could pretend to talk to.
So the only thing standing between me and being rid of Mr. Wade were a few weeks, a few more weeks of stories that weren't much different than the fourteen weeks of stories prior. Seeing this, I should have been happy when Mr. Wade came in totally different, not wanting to talk about things, no smile on his face, just quiet. It should have been like a day off, so I told myself it was.
He assigned us to write in our journals about how we cope with writer's block, and then we could leave. "I'm Tired," he explained and that was part of what made this day so strange, the way he just said he was tired.
He was human. He had been tired before, but he had always elaborated, "I'm tired because I had to drive fifty miles to see Jonathan play baseball last night, and I didn't get back until one this morning.” “I'm tired because I helped clean up after my church had a dinner last night." I'm tired because of whatever, but never simply that he was tired.
When I finished up in my journal, and it was time to leave, I really didn't feel like going. Everyone else had already finished. I figured I should go, and told myself again, "Be happy no stories."
I slowly placed my notebook into my backpack, as though for some reason it had to be put in neatly, like I had some kind of order to the way I placed things in it, and then I zipped it up and began to walk out.
Mr. Wade sat at his desk in front of the room by the door, and seeing him beaten looking like that, I didn't want to care, but I did care. A part of me wanted to make sure he was ok. It seemed wrong all the evenings he had helped me and kept me company that I should leave him like that, with that distant expression on his face.
There was the time we were washing dishes together, and he told me I'd done a good job on my literature test, and the time we discussed the fine points of modern creative writing on a fishing trip, or when we talked about the significance of the title The Catcher in the Rye over Mexican fast food.
He had done all these things with me and a thousand more never knowing; now he looked like he could use a helping hand, and what good was I to him?
I stopped for a moment by the doorway before I left and stared at my friend. I wanted to ask him about his wife, about church and God. I wanted to ask him about Jonathan. I wanted to hear about all the interesting people he had met in life. I wanted to tell him how much he mattered to me, that he was my buddy, and that I loved him.
"My persuasive essay is coming along nicely. Would you give it a look?"
"I'm sure it's fine."
"But I'd really like your opinion."
"Andy, I'm sure it can wait."
That is when I saw it in Mr. Wade's eyes, my best friend that didn't even know my name—a firsthand look at this fearful absence which had once been described to me. Mr. Wade loved most in this world God and family. He enjoyed fine literature—to write and tell his stories, to lend a helping hand, to educate.
When a man looses all passions in life that is when you know he is going to die, and he died that very night.
This is the 3rd and final installment of a short story I’m breaking into 3 parts. If our main character seems to encompass the angst of youth, it is because this story was originally written in the angst of mine. Like most all the stories from my early years, this one has been held onto and I have tried my best to improve upon it over time.
I am especially partial to this work because it is a tribute to a teacher of mine at Southwestern Oklahoma State University named Keith Long. He inspired me and is the only person to have ever succeeded at making me feel like a real writer.
Mr. Long, thank you for having given me that little bit of hope that has fueled this life of misery and disappointment. I truly wouldn’t have wanted to live it any other way.