I can’t use his real name, it wouldn’t be right. So, I’ll call him Alex, since that’s a strong name.
Alex and I grew up together, we played on the same ball team, drank from the same Coke bottles, climbed the same trees, shared our first beer, fished in the same boat.
Once during a Sunday morning sermon, we borrowed his mother’s car from the church parking lot. We drove that thing all over town, speeding down dirt roads, kicking up clouds of red dust.
We stopped at the gas station for peanuts and Coke. He talked about how his father left before he was born. And I’ll never forget the kind of look Alex wore when he asked, “Do you think I’m a bastard child?”
I did not.
And when we hit sixteen: girls. Alex and I spent hours talking about the darlings who made us heartsick. Alex was smitten with a girl in his math class. I had the flutters for a dark-haired beauty who mistakenly thought my name was Shane. I wrote her anonymous poems, using high-minded lyrics like:
Dark black, forevermore,
Reminds of Sadie Ann,
Who is my Labrador.
Some of my best work.
And then, one summer night—the kind of night when katydids scream bloody murder—Alex, who’d worked up a good beer-glow, told me he’d done something unmentionable with this dark-haired girl.
All my pals fell silent. Which meant it was true.
My chest started to hurt, and my face swelled. Bobby Wallace, the peacemaker, put his arm around me and said, “Now, let’s just calm down…”
But I couldn’t even hear him. I shouted ugly words. We fought. Alex won. That fool busted my upper lip with one lucky punch. I never spoke to him again.
Thus, we grew up without one another. I moved away. He joined the Army. He made something of himself. I kept writing about Labradors. We became two strangers, and I probably couldn’t pick him out of a crowd today.
A few weeks ago, I received an envelope in my mailbox with sloppy handwriting that looked a sight familiar.
Alex is a teacher now, he’s got a wife, two kids who play baseball, a full life. His note was impersonal, and I don’t blame him. After all, we’re two strangers now. He apologized for busting my lip. Then, he asked if I wouldn’t mind writing him a letter back one day, if I had the time.
This is that letter.
Please forgive me, Alex.