I showed up to a nine-year-old’s birthday party. I was with my friend, Chubbs. I felt strange being there.
I knocked on the door.
A blonde boy answered only to find me and Chubbs standing on the porch, singing an energetic rendition of “Happy Birthday,” while doing the Tango.
Before we finished dancing, Chubbs said, “Quick! Dip me!”
The crowd went wild.
We came bearing gifts. Nothing fancy, it was a T-shirt with Andy Taylor and Barney Fife on the front, with the words “Nip it in the bud!” in bold print.
The shirt was an extra-large because that was the only size the novelty store had in stock. And it was either the Andy T-shirt, or a shirt which read: “F.B.I. Federal Bikini Inspector.”
A few months ago, Bailey’s mother emailed to tell me that her son likes me. She told me he listens to my podcast each week, and reads my stuff even though some of the words are too big.
I was touched.
Bailey removed the T-shirt from the gift bag and held it against his shoulders. The thing hung down to his feet.
“Look, Mom!” he shouted. “It’s a shirt with weird guys on it!”
“Sweetie, that’s Andy and Barney,” his mother explained.
“Barney?” The kid frowned. “But, where’s his purple dinosaur suit?”
His mother asked me not to share too much of their story, and I won’t. But I will tell you that Bailey’s parents divorced last year, and it was traumatic. The stress has made Bailey sick. He has developed medical problems because of the anxiety.
“He internalizes everything,” his mother told me. “It’s been a rough year.”
Anyway, the party was nice. I sat on Bailey’s back porch with his friends to watch a talented husband-and-wife magician duo from Birmingham. The magicians dazzled the crowd.
During their performance, they selected Chubbs as a special assistant from the audience.
The magician asked Chubbs, “Sir, do you have any objections to being sawn in HALF?”
“No,” said Chubbs. “Not unless you’re friends with my ex-wife.”
“Okay then,” the magician said. “PLEEAASSE crawl into the MAAAAGGGICC BOX!”
The kids oohed and aahed.
The man strapped Chubbs in with steel bracelets. They placed duct tape over his mouth and an execution-style bag over his head.
“MAY GOD HAVE MERCY ON YOUR SOUL!” the magician shouted, then laughed crazily.
The magician’s wife pull-started a gasoline powered chainsaw and held it high. And I believe Chubbs ruined that nice man’s magic box.
After the cake cutting, the kids ate large amounts of refined sugar. Lots of screaming. Lots of running indoors.
Bailey was wearing his oversized Andy Griffith T-shirt. He pointed to Andy’s picture.
He asked me, “Mister South, who’s this guy?”
“My last name’s not South, it’s Dietrich,” I pointed out. “And that’s Andy, he’s my friend.”
“You mean, you knew them?”
“Knew’em? They practically raised me.”
Well, I’m glad you asked, Bailey. When I was in fourth grade, my life was a mess. I won’t go into details here because they don’t matter.
Let’s just say that my father was becoming more mentally ill by the minute. It was only a few years before the disease finally claimed him.
His outbursts and throes of depression were destroying our lives. And I’m sorry, Bailey, I know this is heavy stuff to hear, I know you’re only nine. But then, so was I.
During that same year, my mother took me to the doctor because I was throwing up a lot. I couldn’t keep meals down. The doctor said I had an ulcer. My stomach was bleeding, I was losing weight.
For treatment, the doc prescribed wax suppositories.
Suppositories, you will note, Bailey, are not taken by mouth. They are administered by your mother in the bathroom while you touch your toes and recite the 23rd Psalm.
Then I would lie on my side for several hours. My mother would turn on The Andy Griffith Show. And I would laugh, and get lost in the world of Mayberry, U.S.A.
I would fly far away from Earth. Andy became my family. Barney became my favorite uncle.
“Wow,” Bailey said. “That was a super long speech you just gave, I kinda dozed off.”
Then he ran away and joined his friends.
So Bailey will probably forget I ever came to his birthday party today. In fact, he will probably grow up and forget all about me.
But maybe someday he will read this. If he does, I hope he knows I love him. And I sincerely want to say something else:
Bailey, I hope you grow into that T-shirt one day.
Also, please thank your mom for loaning Chubbs a clean pair of pants.