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Posted on April 1, 2015

Decisive Magic is just as much about the budding romance between two adults as it is about the childhood events that shape them. While the main narrative alternates chapters between the two romantic leads, much like We Three Meet, every couple chapters there's a chapter showcasing a key memory they shared from childhood. The first few are from the point of view of Lucas, while later ones will showcase Renee's perspective.

I have a confession to make: many of these memories will be ones from my own childhood. Case in point: chapter eight below really happened. The only embellishment was that Renee wasn't there for the incident. I felt it reads better to have her in attendance.

I still feel a weight from this incident even as an adult. I wish I had spoken to the parents and told them how sorry I was that I had hurt their son. I've always wanted to write about this accident, cathartically expose it to the world so my shame could be examined and I could feel a little sense of closure. I have no idea whatever happened to Benji other than he got his stitches out, and we never spoke again.

As I delve deeper into this new book, the overriding theme of how we make decisions in life is resolving itself more and more. Choices we make as children often mirror how we handle adult issues. I find this topic fascinating and provoking.

Here's the rough-cut of Chapter 8:

Chapter 8

Screaming Benjis

Benji Landstrom. Two years younger than me and Renee. He was always scampering around behind us, eager to play with the big kids. Not that at eight I was of any significant stature. Still skin and bones, maybe a foot taller than the small-for-his-age six-year-old.

Benji had the best climbing tree in his back yard. Plus, the empty field behind his lot featured an uneven landscape of dirt dunes that made a great battle arena for tag and other chase games. And his basement opened out to the back yard. I didn't know why that felt cool to my younger self, it just did. My own basement at the time was completely subterranean and always flooded badly with any soaking rain. While it had a pool table and TV in it, the musty odor that lingered in the carpet, kept us from using it too often.

With Benji's house layout, we could watch TV in the basement one minute and then burst out the flimsy screen door directly into the wilds of his yard without trekking up any stairs and checking with his parents to see if we could go outside. Tiny freedoms defined an easygoing childhood.

We did practically everything together until the arrival of the Landstrom's rock garden. Benji's mom had worked most of the summer landscaping the sloping area to the side of their carport, sprinkling it with shrubs and flowers and three or four large rocks that she insisted they not climb all over, an edict we respected whenever she was outside. When she ducked in the house to take care of adult responsibilities like fixing us sandwiches and lemonade, we'd crawl all over the oversized strata.

She worked long on hard on her beautification project. It was with the arrival of the rock garden's final feature that things went horribly wrong. She topped it off with a series of large flat stepping stones that meandered throughout the design.

I couldn't recall who had the idea to play superheroes, but that really didn't matter. I had strong-armed myself into taking on the mantle of the Hulk, while Benji happily took on Spider-man, leaving Renee to be who? I couldn't recall. Probably not a heroine. More than likely another Hulk or Thor, someone with strength to be certain. No Catwoman or Scarlet Witch for her.

We roved through the garden, dashing across the mulch, hopping off of the large rocks¯Benji's mom must've been inside during this¯in general a wild romp.

I don't know why, but I really wanted to impress Renee. Benji was crawling around on all fours as only a Spider-man can, running tight circles around me as I recall. Maybe we were doing battle. Often, while we all assumed the roles of heroes, one of us pretended to be overtaken by an evil influence, thereby creating a strictly temporary adversary to face down. None of us ever played outright bad guys. No one wanted to be Doctor Doom or Lex Luthor.

So Benji was scampering all around, and I foolishly reached down and picked up one of the large stepping stones. I swung it upward far too quickly. Momentum got the best of me, and it went up and over my head. With my spindly, decidedly non-Hulk-like appendages, I couldn't maintain control of it. As the rock lurched behind me, well past the point of no return, I let go rather than hurt myself.

Just my luck, Benji, Spider-man, was underfoot right behind me, crabbing across the mulch and firing off imaginary webs.

I didn't see it happen, but immediately heard the horrible outcome. The rock dropped onto Benji's head, and he let out a scream I will never forget. I spun around and everything moved at superspeed. I know Benji rushed into his house clutching his head. I just didn't see it. All I could hear was his long, drawn-out keening, one constant, even-pitched scream that didn't end when he burst inside.

I freaked out and ran home, not even checking with Renee, much less Benji. I was a coward, running from the scene of the crime. Halfway home, Mr. Landstrom, a tall man who always scared me a little, gave me even more reason to be intimidated by him.

He grabbed me by the shoulder and spun me around in the Breckerman's front yard and launched into a rant. I know he said more, but all I recall was one awful phrase: Don't you ever play with Benji again.

And I never did. I went home and hid in the bushes. My father was mowing at the time, and I hid my anguish whenever he'd swing by with the push mower. For all he knew, I was playing in the dirt with my Matchbox cars, something I often did in that particular hiding spot.

Renee never came after me. In fact, she stayed away for a whole day. As joined at the hip as we always seemed to be, that had never happened to us before. Without her advice, I decided not to tell my parents. Weak and spineless, I know.

When Renee met me the next day after school at the Little Store¯the non-franchise equivalent of a Sheetz or Seven-Eleven with what seemed like an overstuffed aisle of candy and comics¯we didn't speak about the incident. I know she wanted to, but I somehow radiated a vibe that told her to hang back, not to offer judgment or any noble course of action to undertake.

I avoided capture for a great deal of time. I don't know how long it actually was, but to me and the guilt I harbored with not going to Benji and apologizing, it felt like weeks. I thought avoiding seeing him would make things easier, help me to distance myself, but it didn't. I felt worse and worse the longer I left the issue unresolved.

Finally, fate dragged my crime out into the sun. My mom returned from a bike ride, visibly upset. She had run into Mrs. Landstrom and through the course of idle chatter been told that Benji's head wound was doing better and that he'd be getting his stitches out soon. I can only imagine how my mom must've felt. She knew nothing of the incident. I didn't press her for what she said, but looking back, it must've been an incredibly strained position to be in. What do you say to someone who tells you your son hurt theirs and you know nothing of it? I'm sorry. My son never told us. We had no idea Benji was hurt. Please forgive us.

No matter what she did manage to say, what I did made all of the family look bad. My dad exploded about the incident, saving most of his bluster for decrying the poor choice I made in hiding such a thing from them. I couldn't remember the punishment, but I know it must've been bad.

They never asked me to go over and apologize. Later, I assumed the reason for this is that Benji's parents were so upset with me that they didn't want to ever see me again, not even if I came with a sincere apology.

Even as an adult, I still wish I had sought the Landstroms out and shared a proper apology. I never did.
I can still hear his long, drawn out scream. When it replays in my head, it never feels like it will stop.

Not a good memory, but one that shaped me just the same.

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on THURSDAY, APRIL 2, 2015...
Wow, that's a powerful chapter! Even more so with the knowledge that it's based on fact. As terrible as you must feel about it, the paving slab incident itself was just an unfortunate accident; like you said, it's the running away part that paints as you as the bad guy. But you were a kid, and you panicked. I'll wager you learned a life lesson from that mistake, and it made you a better person, and I'm sure Benji (and maybe his parents) forgave you for running away. He would have known it was just a wild game gone wrong. His parents probably wouldn't have understood that, being all protective and everything, hence why you never got to play again... but I'll bet Benji would have shrugged it off pretty quickly if he'd been able. A shame all round. Did you ever look for Benji in recent years? Have you sought him out on Google? Sounds like you could do with a reunion!
Comment by BRIAN CLOPPER on THURSDAY, APRIL 2, 2015...
Nope. Haven't mustered the strength to contact him. Yet. This story is one I have told to each of my classes of students I've had over the years. It's couched as a lesson of what not do do and is one that resonates with them and helps me forge a connection that is authentic.

If you think this one is a powerful chapter, wait until you read the chapter about Fritz, a neighborhood dog who really terrorized me as a kid. Who gives their dog such a harsh German name anyway?

This book is really good therapy for me. :)

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