A Slingshot in Heaven

My built-in antennae went up. There was a secret, a big one. My parents were whispering together at the front window. My Mom, her forehead creased with worry and Dad with an angry frown were huddled together in frantic conversation. Mom kept looking out the window. Something was going on, something big, and I wanted to see. I ran upstairs to look out from a higher perch. Big secrets never included me.

There was a huge house in the middle of the street. It didn’t look anything like our house or any of our neighbor’s houses. This was an inner city house, a shabby profusion of wood that looked very out of place in our middle-class neighborhood. It was tall and narrow and seemed to lean. The scarcity of windows and peeling grey paint added to its severe appearance, giving it a destitute look. It was moving down the street at a snail’s pace. It’s final destination was the empty lot at the end of our street.

Pine Valley Way was a pleasant dead end street. Many of the houses had natural stone porches and a congenial air. They were houses that invited neighbors for a friendly chat, not like this forbidding house that looked very unapproachable. I got the distinct feeling of unfriendly eyes watching from the narrow windows. Ours was a small neighborhood where everyone knew everyone, friendliness abounded and traditional families made their home: traditional as in two parents, a couple of kids, and no skeletons in the closet or basement or anywhere else. It was a neighborhood of families with hardworking parents and carefree kids who played up and down the street without a worry in the world.

The Calvin family was not a traditional family. If there was a father I never saw him. I remember hearing the word jail in reference to him. I never saw a mother either. The words drunk and race track were whispered about her. I don’t know whether these were rumors or facts. Being a kid such things weren’t important. The only matter of importance was the kids and whether they were potential friends or potential bullies.

The only Calvins I ever saw were eleven year old Deb and her siblings, and there sure were a lot of siblings. I never did quite get their number straight nor learn all of their names. Deb was the oldest, the resident adult in the Calvin household. She could be seen walking up the street with either a laundry basket or a kid riding on her hip, and a crowd of younger kids surrounding her. It was an uncommon sight, this gaggle of unkempt youngsters with dirty faces and snotty noses. Deb appeared to be in charge of cooking, housekeeping, laundry, and the full care of her brothers and sisters. She was eleven years old, the same age as me. She seemed so much older.

The Calvins didn’t have a chance. The neighborhood adults were up in arms because they had knocked a few thousand dollars off our property values with their inner-city house and squalid lifestyle. The boundaries of the city were slowly creeping outward threatening to encompass our middle-class neighborhood. The kids didn’t like them because they were different, not like the rest of us. We called Deb the vampire though I don’t remember why. Maybe their old house conjured up visions of ghosts and goblins and haunts. But the most unpopular of the Calvin clan was Mickey, the second oldest.

Mickey was a rambunctious boy with shaggy blond hair and mischievous blue eyes always searching for an unpopular diversion. My Dad didn’t like him because he swung from our little tree out front and broke it.

Mickey was reputed to steal the bulbs out of the Christmas tree lights that adorned everyone’s front yards in December. The Calvins were the only family that didn’t decorate an outdoor tree. I don’t think Mickey was ever caught in the act but who else could have done such a dastardly deed?

The name Mickey Calvin became synonymous with broken windows, flat tires, dead chipmunks, stolen fruit and other such evil deeds though I’m not sure if the deeds actually happened or existed only as deeds he MIGHT do someday. Our broken tree is the only event I can actually attribute to Mickey because my father saw him do it.

Kids have much shorter memories than adults and before long I became fast friends with the two oldest Calvins, Mickey and Deb. Mickey turned out to be one of the best friends I had. Being a bit strange for a girl I much preferred toads and snakes over dolls and these were a commodity that Mickey could provide in ample quantity. Their house was at the end of the street at the edge of the woods. Trails snaked thru the woods down to a swamp.

Another service that Mickey provided was that of protector. I was small for my age and the bullies liked to pick on me and chase me home from school. That stopped when I made friends with Mickey. Suddenly I could go anywhere without fear of bullies. There was no such protector for Mickey, however.

One day Mickey went down to the swamp with two much older boys. Like Mickey, these boys were not of our ilk. He must have known them from his old neighborhood because they carried guns, an unheard of thing in our neighborhood. Three boys went down into the woods and only two returned. We never saw Mickey again and the neighborhood adults gave a sigh of relief that the terror of the neighborhood would bother us no more.

Whispered rumors said it was an accidental shooting, that one of the guns just went off and shot Mickey straight through the heart while they were walking. Being a kid I never heard the official news version of it, not that it made much difference to Mickey. Dead was dead. The hows and whys and wherefores wouldn’t matter much to him.

I often wonder how many people actually stop to remember this wayward boy with a hint of fondness, of kind remembrance, of wistfulness. Somehow I don’t believe there are very many. But I remember Mickey. He was my friend. And if there’s a heaven I hope he’s in it, with a slingshot in his pocket and a tree to swing from and a swamp to explore.

* * * * * * * * * *

I am the narrator for the audiobook version of Broken Butterfly, and I’ll tell you, this is one of the most heart-wrenching stories I’ve read. I actually had to take breaks from narrating to cry, this story was so powerful. It’s an incredibly inspirational story, because it so eloquently demonstrates the power of the human spirit to overcome adversity. Stephanie Finell was brain damaged from the bite of a mosquito. If you know anyone who lives with a brain-damaged person, or who is struggling to live with severe injuries or illnesses in a child, or anyone that just wants to read how blessings can surprise you in the most unexpected ways — Get This Book.

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