Yvette and Bobby

At school I was the boy who never spoke, the shy kid, and a target for taunting, which only made me quieter. Our family’s church, though, was a fifteen-minute drive from home, which meant that the kids in Sunday school and the midweek youth group didn’t know I was a loser weirdo. I talked more there, made friends, even got in trouble sometimes for being a wise ass. I passed for normal.

Being accepted by other kids was the only thing I ever liked about going to church. Other than that it was usually a yawn. Even at 11 or 12 years of age, religion was boring to me.

One Sunday afternoon, the church had organized a picnic after the services, and everyone gathered at a park several miles away. My father, being very religious and literally an elder of the church, volunteered to drive parishioners who needed a lift, and that day he made two round trips in the station wagon. I knew Yvette’s family would be on that second ride to the park, so I accompanied my dad back to the church, to pick them up.

Yvette was a girl from my Sunday School class. She’d only been coming for a few weeks and I didn’t know her, only her name, but I was … intrigued. First, she was cute. Second, she was kind of outrageous, at least for an 11-year-old, with a confident attitude that may or may not have been faked, but hey, I was faking it, too. That morning she’d smiled at me and said “Hi, Doug,” so she remembered my name! Oh, and she had boobs. Not much and maybe stuffed, but most girls my age were basically boobless, and Yvette was not.

We packed the car full of people, Yvette’s family and some other family, and Yvette and I ended up in the flatbed part of the car, way in the back. This was OK with me. During a ten-minute ride to the picnic, I tried to be clever, and Yvette and I talked and giggled, and about halfway to the park, she leaned over and whispered in my ear, “You can kiss me if you want.” I wanted, and did, and that was new and nice.

Everyone else in the car was facing forward and ignoring us, so we kissed again, and we were clenched by the time Dad caught us in the rear-view mirror. He yelled, and everyone in the car glared at us, and I probably turned ketchup-red, but Yvette just thought it was funny.

At the park, everyone got out of the car, my dad yelled at me more, and Yvette sorta shrugged and walked away. I was “picnic-grounded,” ordered to stay in the car for fifteen minutes and think about what I’d done. I thought about it, all right.

I’m sure Yvette was just trying out her awesome new superpowers, and I could’ve been any boy, but boy, it was a good day to be me.

For a few months I dressed extra nice for church, and didn’t grumble about having to go. Yvette continued smiling at me, and we kissed in the corner at Sunday School when we thought we could get away with it. We were never again caught, and I was pretty dang happy for a fifth-grader, at least on Sundays.

♦ ♦ ♦

That summer, the church had a camping trip — a weekend at Mount Rainier, 60 miles south of Seattle. No climbing the mountain, of course, but we were twenty families with twenty cars full of tents and sleeping bags, all there for what the church called ‘fellowship’ and extra sermons from the pastor. 

Our family went camping every summer, and I liked camping, but wasn’t much interested in going group-camping with everyone from the church. At that age you don’t get any choice, though. The family was going, so I was going.

When we got to the mountain, Dad and my older brothers started pitching the tent, and I wandered away and saw that Yvette was there, with her family. Hey, maybe this weekend wouldn’t be so bad.

After supper at the campfire, we took a walk together, and kissed, and she offered me a cigarette. I took three puffs and vomited, had to go back to my family’s tent, and felt like crap the rest of the night.

Next day, after I’d recovered, Yvette was unavailable, doing something with her family. As I walked away from their tent, her kid brother was complaining to their parents about being bored, and he said to me, “You wanna do something?” 

Kid’s name was … damn, I thought I remembered, but now it’s gone. Let’s call him Bobby. He was two or three years younger than me and Yvette, and he and I already sorta knew each other from church. I remember instantly calculating that I might pick up points with Yvette if I took care of her kid brother for a while.

So we walked around the campground together, then wandered away to throw rocks and climb trees, and followed a trail toward the river. The river was as wide as a freeway, with angry whitewater rapids. Very cool to look at.

We were walking along the river’s edge, talking about dumb kid stuff because we were dumb kids, and the next step I took, the dirt under my shoes crumbled away, and I went tumbling into the water.

Holy Christ it was cold — fresh-melted glacier water. And it was moving fast, and taking me away. I was grasping at tree roots and low-hanging branches, but couldn’t get a grip, and downstream there were rocks, lots of big rocks in the water. I was going to be bashed against those rocks, and damnit, I was going to die. Those are the thoughts I remember, that and the cold, the cold.

And then Bobby’s hand was there, and I missed and slapped his wrist but then clutched his hand, “for dear life” is the cliché and it was true. An 8-year-old boy somehow pulled me mostly out of the water, and I was able to hoist myself the rest of the way, grasping at branches on a tilted tree, to drag myself onto the dirt. Immediately I rolled myself a few feet further from the edge, because fuck all, the dirt had dumped me into the water.

I said thanks to Bobby a hundred times as we walked back to the camp, and then I changed into dry clothes, and of course got yelled at by my parents. “Jeez, Mom, I didn’t jump in or somefin! The dirt crumbled under me!” Well, you shouldn’t have been so close to the water. What if Bobby hadn’t been there to pull you out?

That's what Mom said, but I already knew it. My own mortality had been revealed. 12 years old, and I could’ve died. It shook me up, and bad. For a month I had nightmares, and sometimes slipped into a daytime daze just thinking how damned dead I could’ve been if Bobby hadn’t been there, and if he hadn’t brilliantly thought to run ahead on the trail, squat down, and reach for me. Kid was eight years old, had his wits about him, and saved my life.

That afternoon, when my dad started packing everything up, I went over to Yvette’s family’s tent, and of course Bobby had told her everything. “So my little brother saved your life,” she said, and laughed. Instead of going up in her estimation for babysitting her brother, I’d become a joke, and I guess she saw through my pretense of not being a loser and weirdo. Never again did she kiss me. Never again did I smoke tobacco, though, so I can thank Yvette for that. And also on the bright side, I was alive.



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  1. I'm glad Bobby was born. Maybe you should've kissed HIM next.

  2. You said some days you work hard on the writng and somedays you dash it off, this was a work hard day i bet. It's beautiful.

    I am curious know what happenbed to Yvette and Bobby.

    1. Yeah, that one took some time, and kept me from going shopping this morning.

      Yvette and Bobby's family continued going to our church, so I saw them on Sundays through the early 1980s, when I stopped going even rarely. Bobby worked for Burger King, last time I saw him, when he was 20 or so. No idea what became of Yvette.

      As with almost everyone in my misfiring memories, I wish them well.

  3. If my dad had seen me kissing a girl at age 11, he would've wept for joy. My dad was terrified that I'd be gay. When I was sitting around playing Atari at age 13-14 with my guy friends, my dad would ask us: "don't you think you boys should be out looking for girls?" We'd shrug and try to ignore him. There had been times when I went out to meet girls at that age, but I always ended up watching an older friend of mine make out with them while I pretended to be fascinated with the afternoon sky.

    1. Your dad sounds not at all like my dad. He'd want to believe I'm a virgin to this day, like my mother believes.

  4. This was moving. Thank you.

  5. If Bobby hadn't been there, you probably wouldn't have been walking by the river.

    1. Ha — truth, sir. Should've said that to my mother.


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