My Kinda Different

I reach and sweep leaves of gold and amber and green all around and on top of me. I pile them layer upon layer, higher and higher upon me. I press my back against the tree. I look up into its bare and bifurcating branches. They’re all backlit in blue. They tell me the truth. I have everything I need. This crisp and sunny fall day. The growing warmth of a blanket of leaves. And, my friends. They are off hunting squirrels. I should be doing the same. But it’s my first time hunting and I don’t know how to use the rifle that’s lying beside me. Anyways, I’m too tired and sore from playing in our football game just hours before. So, I rock my shoulders back and forth and nestle deeper and deeper into the leaves. I fall asleep. The best sleep. The safe, belly-full, no-concerns sleep of a baby. I sleep for an hour. Maybe more. I sleep until I hear the sound of crunching leaves. I crack open an eye to the sight of my friends wearing shit-eating grins and standing around me.

“Hey Hump” they say.

“Hey” I say.

“Did you shoot your gun?” they ask


I brush off some leaves while standing to leave.

“You have to shoot your gun” they say.

“Sure, why not” I say.

They gather close behind me as I press the stock of the rifle into my shoulder.

“See that bird, shoot that.”

“I’m not gonna shoot a bird.”

“Come on” they press me.

I relent and line the rifle’s sight on the bird’s blue and white stripes.

“Hold it steady and take a breath” they say.

I breathe in…

My high school friends and I were different.

Not totally different.

And, none better than the other different.

Just different here and there.

We didn’t enjoy all of the same things.

But I didn’t matter because I enjoyed being with them.

They’d go play pool at some dive bar in E-Town and I’d go along. They’d hand me a pool cue. But I was nowhere near good enough to hold a table. So, I’d just sit at the bar, listen to the jukebox play some Hank and watch them hustle the smoke-filled night away.

They’d go fishing on the banks of the Great Miami and I’d go along. They’d hand me a rod and some bait. I’d cast my line. But pay it no mind. I was there for them. Not the fishing.

I was also there for the river. Because, at some point, late-in-the-night, while lying on our backs and leaning against some rocks, the raging rapids of our teenage existence would fall into rhythm with the steady and uninterrupted deep-time flow of the river. We’d fall into quiet. Just a bunch of boys soothed into silence.

Of course, we didn’t speak about it that way. We didn’t have those kinds of words at that time in our lives. At least I did not. And, if others did, they didn’t say them. Maybe they felt they couldn’t say them. I know I felt that way around most. But not with them. With them, I openly struggled to put into words my understanding of things.

I was the serious one. Not always serious. But serious more often than not. Still am. Not sure what that is about me. I was always searching for the meaning of things (still am). But they found something worthwhile in that part of me that was different. And, in a world that does not always welcome different, I didn’t have to hide that part (or any part) of myself with them. With them, I got practice being my kinda different. And, let me tell you three things: (1) being who you truly are takes practice, (2) you only get that kind of practice by surrounding yourself in difference (not likeness) and (3) when you’re teenage young, when things feel and in fact are mostly out of your control, when there’s an undeniable pressure to conform, most of us do just that. We conform and live a splintered existence. I know I did. But, with my high school friends, I started my movement towards wholeness; that is, an honest alignment of who I was with how I showed up in the world. And, let me tell you, that kinda movement was only possible because of these three things: (1) they held me in my difference, (2) they sheltered me from the larger world when I needed it (and at times I did) and (3) they loved me. I loved them. Still do. We couldn’t say that to each other then. But we can now.

I breathe out.

“Shoot” they say.

I pull the gun wide left of the bird, press the trigger and shoot into the empty woods.

“Come on!” they exclaim while shoving me.

I smile and hand them the rifle.

We laugh and jostle our way back to the truck.

That right there was part of the practice.

I was who I was with them.

I am who I am because of them.


PS Don Williams “Good Ole Boys Like Me” kept playing in my head while writing this post. Now, we weren’t southern. But some of my friends were good ole boys and in some ways I was a bit too. Just a different kind of good ole boy.


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Thanks. – shawn