The Friend’s Threesome Breaks Up

Happy New Year

Being the middle child, Ansel Head was used to being in the middle. Since he knew no other arrangement, he tried to make the most of it. That was the situation in which he found himself with his two friends at the Birmingham University School.

Henry was an Achiever in sports and academics. Wilbur was interested in cars and guns. And Head liked both boys and they liked him.

Unlike the other two, Head was at home in both worlds. With Henry, he was a mischievous achiever, serious enough about sports and studies to be accepted in Henry’s world but adventuresome enough to bring amusement to their lives. With Wilbur it was the opposite. As an amateur misfit, Head enjoyed the good times together, but offered a small example of achievement and was always cautious about exceeding limits. Being in the middle allowed Head to mirrow each boy’s strengths and gain an education in both fields.

The three friends did things together in school and enjoyed each other’s company. But out of school, it was one on one visits to Henry’s house or to Wilbur’s place on Smyer Lake.

Head spent one New Year’s Eve at Henry’s. Things were formal at Henry’s house, more so than at Wilbur’s or even at Head’s. But Henry’s mother was kind and attentive without being intrusive. Before she and Henry’s father left for the evening, she gave the boys party favors to ring in the New Year – horns and bottle shaped devices that would blow out confetti and streamers when one pulled the string; his two older sisters were also out on dates. Unsupervised, the boys shot off the bottle poppers in the sun room. They then put themselves in bed before the adults and sisters came home. Having had no courses in bad behavior, this is the best the boys could muster on their own.

The following year, the Christmas tree in the sun room caught fire igniting the nearby drapes, rugs, and furniture and filling the house with acrid smoke. Henry’s father, mother, and two sisters got out. The father went back in to get Henry and made it partially up the stairs to Henry’s room before collapsing. Firemen brought both out. The father was taken to the hospital.  Henry was dead.

Henry’s mother was eight or ten years older than Head’s mother; but through Henry and Head’s friendship, they had developed a bond. In many ways they were much the same – from aristocratic families and both leaders in ladies’ civic affairs.

Head’s mother awakened him with tears in her eyes, something Head had never seen before. “Henry died last night in a fire at his house,” she whispered.

Rubbing his eyes, Head was uncertain about how to respond. His education to date had failed to include death. He knew no one who had died, except his Aunt Roy, but he really didn’t remember her. He supposed he should act sorrowful because his mother was crying, but he didn’t know how to do that. The best he could do was to put on his vacuous stupor face, the same one he and the other boys had worn on their first day at Birmingham University School. This was easy since it accurately reflected his knowledge in these matters.

On the way to the funeral, Head asked his mother, “Wilbur got to go see Henry’s body, why didn’t I get to go? I’ve never seen a dead person.”

“I wanted you to remember Henry the way he was,” she replied.

“Did you go?” Head asked. His mother nodded but said nothing. He noticed tears again.

“Wilbur said he had a dead look on his face,” added Head trying to bring some levity to the trip. His mother didn’t answer. The tears disappeared, replaced by an inhospitable countenance and a nasty stare. Head reinstalled his vacuous stupor face and remained silent until he was returned to his house. His mother left immediately to join other adults trying to console Henry’s mother.

Two days later, Henry’s father died. Head was not invited to that funeral.

Head’s brain neurons failed to record anything about the funeral. There had been an education there, but Head missed it completely. Apparently the vacuous stupor he had employed was so absolute that all input circuits to his mind were closed. That and the overflowing sanctuary and audible sobs made seeing or hearing the unfolding play next to impossible.

Henry’s death broke the friend’s triangle and set Head adrift. Without his Achiever comrade as a worthy competitor and example, Head spent more time in the amateur misfit role and his grades reflected the glide. He continued playing sports but without Henry’s goal setting standards, the formal education offered by the Birmingham University School became less and less important. He did not descend anywhere near the bottom where the Big Mule heirs played but was stuck firmly in the middle and showed no interest or inclination to be anywhere else.

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