Sundowner West had been this trailer park we lived in for about 2 and a half years or so. I can’t remember the timeline for certain, but I do know we moved there after I finished 3rd grade and left right before I started 6th grade. This is a place where I have formed some definitive memories.
I distinctly remember the weekend before we left Sundowner to move back to Miltonvale. We had already packed everything into boxes and were sleeping on the floor in the living room for our last night before we moved. Our cousin, Danielle, had been living with up until earlier that summer. We were still adjusting to her no longer being in our lives. I must admit, I was quite sad when she left. Her and I were starting to become very close. Fortunately, life would give us a second chance soon enough but that comes later, down the road a way. I’ll get there. Trust me she’s still in my life. In fact, she’s the only one of my cousins out of dozens who accepts me for who I truly am. I love you Danielle I hope you read this.
We bookended our move to and our final move away from Miltonvale the same way. It was sort of a family tradition. When we moved we’d spend the last night in the old house sans beds, then the kids would get to spend the first night in the new house alone while our parents finished up the packing. Our goal was to have a night to ourselves, each respectively of course, and ideally for us kids to start getting the place set up and livable for when mom and dad arrived.
It’s strange to think about how long we spent in that dusty old town. Partially because that last time we lived there was one of the longest stretches for us not only in the same town, but also in the same house. Part of why this particular town holds such a grip on our imaginations is for us, it was so unusual to stay put for so long. In a way it gave us hope we finally found our home. That kind of helps explain why it was so heartbreaking when we left. To this day I have never had a group of friends like the ones I had there. Sure I’ve had friends, and I’ve had social circles come and go, but this was different.
I wanna dig into how I became friends with each one. I will start with Daniel.
He was the first of the group to extend me a warm welcome. Unfortunately for me, and him, I was so scarred by bullies I failed to interpret his kind gesture and look of openness. Instead I read it as judgmental.
It was during recess day one of school. I had already begun the ritual of being initiated by the bullies. They could smell a kid who they could push a mile away. It didn’t help I rarely bathed properly so I was always an easy target.
As we lined up for recess I was already prepared to wrap my fingers around Jared’s throat and squeeze the life out of him. Daniele picked up on this. He was the kind soul. Moved here from California. Had a sorta hippie family. He was the spiritual one. Not Christian, not religious. But he had his beliefs. He extended me a friendly welcome and gave me a sympathetic nod. I later learned he was just trying to be my friend. I wasn’t having any of it. I retorted with my usual “what the F— are YOU looking at?” to which he said something I fail to recall exactly. It may have been a gesture of woah slow down or it may have been something sarcastic, I can’t be sure, but in my mind, it was all I needed. I jumped on him. I started punching and kicking this kid. I grabbed him by the neck and began banging him into the wall.
After a few seconds, he was in tears saying it’s cool man I’m sorry. I stopped and asked, “why aren’t you fighting back?” He shrugged and said violence isn’t his thing. I was instantly disarmed, fell to the ground in shame and cried publicly for the first time in my life.
Somehow, he forgave me instantly. He sat next to me at lunch and asked how I was doing. I said I was sorry for attacking him. He said he understood. He could tell I was having a hard time and wanted to be my friend. I walked with him to his house after school. We climbed a tree in his backyard and from that moment on it was like it never happened. We never spoke of it again. He never threw it in my face, not even when I stole his girlfriend but that comes later too.
Daniel became one of my best friends during my time there. We used to sit on his computer and he showed me how to write computer code. We played AD&D Eye of the Beholder II Legend of Darkmoon, Duke Nukem (the original side scrolling one) and eventually he taught me how to play AD&D for real.
I used to run to his house first thing every Saturday as soon as I was awake. We would ride our bikes to the park and play D&D adventures. Sometimes the other guys would join us and we would reenact Mortal Kombat fights. We were nerds after all. But our favorite game to role play was X-Men. Daniel was the kid who introduced me to comic books and comics collecting. He also started my trading card obsession. That first day, I don’t know if it was penance, a sacrifice or a gesture of good will but he gave me a binder with all his loose duplicates. Just gave it to me no strings attached.
I still wake up in the middle of the night and cry tears for how I behaved that first day. I will never forgive myself for violently attacking the first person in my life to ever be kind to me up front without a motivation other than a genuine good soul. This is why even my fond memories of my life are tainted with the sting of my early trauma. To this day I often go back in time in my mind and relive those fond memories. It’s been 26 years since I saw this guy. I will never forget the kindness he showed me even when I truly didn’t deserve it.