Danny was the one who told me about sex. He swore it was true but refused to confess the source of his information, instead repeating all the necessary steps in order, none of which involved kissing. That’s the reason I called it a lie. Everybody but an idiot knew you got babies by kissing.
But then Danny said, “Swear to God.”
That gave me pause. You didn’t go around saying something like that willy-nilly. Swearing to God was more than a promise, a lot more and maybe the most more there was. I took a step away in case the playground broke open beneath us at that moment, spewing hellfire.
He turned, looking to make sure Mrs. Harrison wasn’t around, and raised both hands. One became a circle, thumb resting across the nails. Danny made the other look to be pointing at something—a chubby forefinger caked in eraser shavings and dirt and what may well have been a booger. He shoved that finger through the circle made by his other hand and sort of wiggled it around in there.
“Like that,” he said.
“That’s just about the grossest thing I ever heard” is what I told him, which it indeed was, and I followed that with a lengthy dissertation concerning human anatomy and body function, namely that the two parts in question were meant for a variety of things but never THAT.
“Swear to God,” Danny said.
Maybe you could say right there was when a bit of my childhood ended—that tiny corner of the third grade playground where the slide emptied out and where two discarded tractor tires had been sunk into the earth to make a crude playhouse. Because Danny swore to God, and that’s something you didn’t do unless you were absolutely certain. And because if babies came from an act that disgusting, then the entire world was upside down.
It turned out, of course, that Danny was right. And like a lot of things in life, what I started out thinking was gross actually turned out to be anything but. For me that was proof learning can come from just about anywhere. Even an elementary school playground. Especially there.
Danny proved himself a fount of further information in the years following. Most all our classmates were good for learning something from, whether it was what I should do or what I shouldn’t. When you come up in a small town you come up with all the kids there are; I walked across a high school stage near a dozen years later to be handed a diploma and looked down to the same people I’d known for as much of forever as I could reckon. You can’t help but form bonds.
And then life happens. We all scattered. Some to college and others to work, and some who all but disappeared. I still see a few of my classmates around town. Others I haven’t seen for close to thirty years now. That’s how it goes. There are some in life who come along and stay in some manner or another, and ones who make only a brief appearance across the stage of your days and then exit, never to be seen again.
I received news of Danny’s death early this week. “Work related” was all the information I could gather. I found a picture of him online. He hadn’t changed much except for the beard, trimmed tight in high school but now long, a hybrid of an Amish man and Willie Robertson.
It’s funny how you can go years without thinking of a person and still feel a little hole left in you when he passes. Like a link in the chain that holds your yesterdays to your today has been broken, leaving a part of you to twist in the wind.
The rough and tumble boy I knew Danny to be back then became a man of deep kindness in the years after our graduation. He married and settled into living. Got washed in the blood of Jesus. Life can harden some as it moves over them. For others, it softens. I am glad to know it softened him.
I’m glad, too, of all the lessons he taught me. Even that gross one.
If you’ve a mind at some point in your busy day, do me a favor? Say a little prayer for Danny’s family. I’m sure they’d appreciate it. I wouldn’t bother saying one for Danny, though. Because he’s good now.