I moved home to work and attend college the summer I turned twenty-three. One sultry night I heard glass shattering followed by squealing tires. I stepped outside, gingerly approached the street, and saw a heavy-set man with a flashlight investigating the rear window of a parked car. It was P.T., our neighbor across the street, and the damaged vehicle belonged to his son. He blinded me with the light as I approached, but pointed it down to the ground when I said, “It’s me, Dennis.”
I asked him what had happened, and he said, “Some punks came along and threw a cinder block through the window. They’re after my son. He owes them money for drugs.”
I said, “Are you gonna call the cops?”
P.T. said, “I might. Right now, I’m gonna hide beneath this tree and wait for them to come back.”
“Come back?” I said.
“They’ll want to inspect the damage, and I’ll be right here.”
“Are you sure? What are you gonna do if they come back?” I asked.
A car approached slowly with its lights off before my neighbor could answer, and we stepped back into the shadows. The prowler idled close and came to a stop beside the cinder-blocked car, and P.T. dashed out and shone his light on the license plate. The punks hit the gas and sped away, but P.T. had them.
I crossed the street, and P.T. cried, “Got the plate! Now I’ll call the cops!” But before he did, he bent over double and took several deep breaths. He was an out of shape man in his fifties, and I wondered if a heart attack loomed.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Sure, sure. I’m fine,” he gasped.
I never saw him again. A few weeks later the whole family moved to a small town in Wisconsin. They hoped to find a place where the population of cows outnumbered drug dealers and addicts. P.T. still hoped to save his son.
I forget the boy’s name, so let’s call him Sam. Sam had always been a big mouth, a kid who liked to challenge older boys. He told me, when I was thirteen and he ten, that he could tackle me. I said, “Go ahead and try,” and he ran and hit me at the waist. I swayed but didn’t fall. He locked his arms around my middle and tried to throw me to the ground, and we staggered in a circle. He finally gave up, but still swore that he could take me.
When we played touch football in the street, he’d miss blocks, run wrong routes and let players rush by him untouched. But the constant flow of trash-talk never ended. He acted like a tough guy even though he had it softer than the rest of us. I assumed that his giant ego meant he didn’t give a damn about anyone else.
One day, right in the middle of a game, his father drove by in his Cadillac and waved to his boy. Sam’s face lit up, and he ran down the street crying, “Daddy! Daddy!” We saw him jumping up and down in his driveway as Pops unfastened his seat belt. They gave each other a big hug and went inside.
We stared at their house and wondered where the devotion came from. When our fathers came home, most of us felt the weight of oppression more than the lift of affection. My father could be a harsh disciplinarian, and I feared his wrath. I never once felt the urge to run after him and call out his name, and hugs were rarely on the list of events even on holidays.
I said, “What’s the matter with Sammy boy?”
Freddie said, “That kid sure loves his Daddy.”