“That was my problem,” he sighed looking down at the dusty highschool diploma. “I was never a good kid, never would have been, that wasn’t my scene. But,” he paused running his hand over the aged leather that gathered its years in a forgotten box in a basement. “I tried to be a good kid, tried too hard in fact. Now I was no narc, I wasn’t that extreme, but I always tried to be a good kid. I was terrified of messing up. I was terrified of my mother. Her affections were mercurial enough as it was if I messed up- even a bit, the maternal love I so longed for would have been totally taken away. “

I looked at him, his face had aged like the leather of the diploma. We had gone to the same high school, decades apart. I too tried to keep up the front of a good kid, I just was subversive in my own, albeit mild, ways. 

He shook his head again. “When I got out of that dungeon of a school I went a bit buck wild. I guess I had all those years of terror to send down the drain with a healthy dose of every drug I could get a hold of and every woman who was willing.” He laughed. “Especially that last part, if she passed the most basic physical and was willing, I was obliging. Oddly enough I have no regrets, though I still get some shit from my buddies all these years later.” He smiled at the thought. “I ended up going overboard. I got caught up in a ring, did a short stint in club fed. I got minimum security which was lucky for that day and age and how much booger sugar I was caught with. I guess in the end, being a kid that was afraid of even one detention paid off.” 

“That’s one way of looking at it,” I said with a laugh to fill the silence and lift the weight of time off his shoulders. 

“Actually it was the best thing that ever happened to me. If they ever invite me to this place,” he pointed at the diploma, “to give an alumni talk, I’d love to say just that.” We both laughed. “I learned that it is ok to break the rules, hell in prison if you followed every rule chapter and verse you’d go crazy. The guards don’t even expect that. It was a matter of knowing what rules could be broken when necessary, when getting caught wasn’t a big deal, and when it could be beneficial to do so. In my quest to be Mr perfect when I was young caused me to miss out on a shit load of life. It took prison to teach me that lesson. That and,” he trailed off. In a beam of sunshine coming through the small basement window, illuminating the dust that was lazily floating by, I saw tears well in his eyes. 

“I went to a halfway house my first couple weeks out of the joint. I was let out for good behavior; I was sent there until I could get a steady job and a place to live. Plus I was broke and didn’t want to ask the ‘rents for money, but I went to meet my parents at Church the first Sunday out of the slammer. I’d met them the day I got out and they seem barely able to hide their disappointment and shame. Now at this church, the main entrance walks you in right by the front of the crowd. I walked in and everyone in that damn place, my fucking parents chief amongst them, had this horrible look of disgust and disappointment. Of course they’d all gossiped about it, being the insular community it was. Those fucking people. I stopped and looked out over the crowd.” 

The tears now ran down the creases and wrinkles of his skin. “I looked out and my mind was consumed with one thought: Fuck it. I turned around and walked out. Fuck those people. Fuck their judgy looks. Fuck that whole damn community. I’m glad I’ve lived long enough to see them six feet under.” 

He paused and sighed. 

“Na, I take that last bit back. Their shallow little lives were punishment enough. If only they could have wallowed in them forever, that’s as bad as any hell I can imagine. “

“What did you do after you walked out?” 

He laughed. “Well, I really walked out man. I never spoke to my parents again. I totally cut this place, this family, this shitty town out of my life. I knew a few friends like your Dad, I’d call to keep up the relationship and hang out when they came to my part of the world, but this is my first time back. I never saw my parents again. Two weeks ago when they said my mom was dying, I just,” he looked at me with pain in his eyes, “I just hung up.” 

Silence fell on the basement. “Now I’m here to go through all this shit from a life I’d buried long ago.” He looked around. “And honestly, If I could change anything, any decision, even that last one, I wouldn’t. I still think now as I thought then: Fuck it.” 

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