Saturday, July 22, 2006

Pay It Forward.

The summer I was 19 I was taking classes at the University of Hawaii. My father called to tell me that one of my high school boyfriends, Keith, had been killed. He had stumbled drunk out of a bar on the side of a two lane highway and stepped in front of an 18 wheeler.

Yeah. Pretty horrifying.

2 years previously when we had only been dating a few weeks, I stopped by Keith's house to drop off something that he had left in my car. I hadn't been to his house before. It was a small run down place in a poor neighborhood. I stepped up to the front door that was open. Through the screen door I could see Keith's father sitting in a lounge chair in the dark watching TV. I knocked but he didn't move. I could see that he wasn't sleeping so I knocked louder and said, "Excuse me. Hello." Very slowly his head turned. I knew something wasn't right and a shot of fear ran through me. He got up even more slowly and staggered to the door. I instinctively stepped back as he approached. It was clear now that he was very very drunk.

It was 3:00 in the afternoon.

I mumbled something and left quickly. when I told Keith, he was mortified and asked me to never come by his house again. He wouldn't talk about his father, but the whole time we dated I never saw Keith drink. Not even one beer. When I went away to college Keith and I broke up and I never saw him again. Sometime after that I suppose he found his way to the bottle that so many parents leave for their kids.

I was too far away to attend the funeral, but when I got back Keith's best friend Robert came over to give me some letters and songs Keith had written about me. I became very upset. My mother came in to see what was wrong and asked Robert to leave when I wouldn't calm down. She comforted me, but I never told her what had upset me so much. In one letter Keith had written this:

"If I died tomorrow, my life would have been worth it because you believed in me. Even when I messed up. You believed in me. It would have been worth it because someone like you, someone so good, loved someone like me."

Over the years I have reflected on the unfairness of life that time ran out for Keith before anyone else could believe in him. He was a sweet boy with a generous heart and a gentle nature. He didn't deserve the life his parents gave him and I didn't deserve the feelings he had for me.

I can't honestly say that everytime I was faced with the choice of doing something right when I really wanted to do something wrong and I did the right thing, it was because of Keith. I can't say that every time I helped someone or volunteered or tried so hard to be a good wife and mother that it was because of Keith. I can't say that. But I did think of him from time to time, feeling like I needed to live up to be the kind of person that he believed me to be.

That 17 year old girl who was just a silly fun girl who liked a very cute boy, didn't deserve his admiration. But, my greatest hope has always been that this grown woman just might.