Misfits. It takes one to know one, and that’s how Ward knew that Morey was a misfit too.
Morey was a year younger than Ward, and Ward rolled his eyes whenever Morey followed him down the school breezeway. Ward wished he knew a way of being friends WITH Morey without being embarrassed BY Morey.
Decisions that their fathers made haunted both boys. Ward’s dad stood 6-foot tall, a spit-polish insurance salesman; Morey’s dad owned a gravel pit, smoked a cigar, and looked as wide as he was tall. Weeks apart, each father had taken his son for an awkward lunch to explain why he was leaving the family.
Ward remembered his dad’s excuse for leaving: Staying married to Mom would subject them to living in a home with constant quarreling. Ward figured that Morey’s dad said something like that too.
Within a few months after Ward’s father left, Ward’s mother gained 20 pounds, and the last black streaks in her hair finished turning gray. Reacting to her own family breakup, Morey’s mom began chain-smoking, though she could barely hold a Winston between yellowed, shaky fingers.
Like their two misfit sons, the two women became friends. They often met for lunch, while Ward and Morey sat together on the stairs outside one house or the other, frowning at their tennis shoes as their mothers cried or discussed want ads for housecleaning jobs.
School wasn’t a safe haven for misfits either.
During PE, jocks gathered around Morey to one-up each other pointing to peculiarities in his ungainly topography. He bumbled through dodgeball, and even the coach thought it was hilarious when Morey “caught” the ball with his face. Dimples cratered on either side of Morey’s tearful grin. Snot drizzled from a “bump” on his face nearly too small to be called a “nose.”
Morey’s teachers unconsciously joined the dysfunctional pecking order set by his classmates. Morey struggled to get Cs, and impatient instructors mistook his grin for “attitude.” Their tirades slammed him full in the face, like the dodgeballs.
When Morey changed schools, Ward was relieved to see him go. He lost track of Morey, except that he saw him occasionally when their mothers visited. In time, Morey quit high school altogether and began to spend time with his father who owned the local rock quarry.
One evening Ward ran into Morey at a carnival. He had gained a few inches in height, but his arms were still stringy. His face was tanned, and he wore bell bottoms. Morey’s hair had grown long and wavey like it had discovered rock and roll.
“I been workin’ with my dad!” Morey crowed. “Drivin’ heavy equipment. You know, bulldozers and stuff.”
“Man, that’s great, Morey…”
Ward was truly happy for him, but uncomfortable too. Being around Morey reminded him of his own image that felt like half-shed snake-skin.
Morey droned on and on, describing how he loaded boulders into a hopper to grind them to gravel.
When Ward’s chums and their girlfriends began shuffling toward the cotton candy concessions, he interrupted Morey. “Gotta split. We’ll catch up later, okay?”
Morey’s eyes reached after him, like a toddler holding out empty hands. Ward hesitated but knew that his companions would make Morey miserable if he invited him along. Ward promised himself that he would hang out with Morey—later.
But Ward never saw Morey alive again.
Not long after the carnival, Morey’s father left him alone at their rock quarry, and Morey fell into their rock crusher.
Ward’s conscience stung him at the funeral, but it wasn’t helping carry Morey’s closed casket that etched him into Ward’s memory forever. It was Morey’s mother’s words:
“You were Morey’s only friend, Ward. Thank you …”
I’ve camouflaged elements and names in my story, but like Ward, my friend was killed this way during my strange childhood. “Morey” was a misfit like me, and he would have treasured an evening at the carnival with a friend. I’ll always regret that I made the wrong choice that day.
A misfit doesn’t hand out a brochure explaining why he is the way he is, although it would be easier for everyone to understand him if he did.