Monday, May 3, 2010

Sometimes a light surprises


Dean and Dizzy were the best of friends. Friends from the cradle. In a small-town like Hennessey Oklahoma, everybody knew everybody else. Knew them, their parents, grandparents, cousins–second-cousins. You name it. You saw the same folks every day. One big extended family.

Dean and Dizzy went to the same school, the same church, the same A&W–where all the local kids hung out.

Sang in the choir. Played on the same football team.

Of course, that was no great distinction. In a small-town like Hennessey, Coach Brawler couldn’t be too finicky. It was all he could to do just to fill the positions. But they had heart. And great camaraderie.

Of course, “Dizzy” wasn’t his real name. But that’s what everyone called him for as long as Dean could remember.

They were best friends in grade school, junior high and high school. Well, until their senior year of high school.

That’s when they both fell for Anita. Anita was a cheerleader. And the homecoming queen. Voted most likely to succeed. By all accounts the most eligible girl in town.

Dean and Dizzy loved each other like brothers, but they also loved Anita, and they couldn’t both have her.

Anita dated both of them at one time or another. When she dated Dean, that made Dizzy jealous. When she dated Dizzy, that made Dean jealous.

But that was bearable. Their friendship could withstand a dash of jealousy. At first they even enjoyed the rivalry. They’d always been a bit competitive. Daring each other. Upping the ante.

It was all good fun until Dean found out from one of Anita’s classmates that Anita and Dizzy were engaged.

Dean felt betrayed. Felt that Dizzy had stolen her away from him. And, what is worse, Dizzy didn’t have the guts to tell him to his face. Of course, his reaction was why Dizzy didn’t break the news to him in the first place.


Dean had always been a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. He had a short fuse, but he didn’t hold grudges.

Forgiveness came easy–as long as there wasn’t much at stake. But this was the first time in his life that he was deeply hurt. Try as he might, he couldn’t bounce back. He maintained a chipper façade–as best he could–but underneath it all, something very different was brewing.

Dizzy sensed a change. All of a sudden, Dean was moody and aloof. And he suspected the cause. But he was afraid to ask. Afraid to bring it out into the open. After all, what could he say? He hadn’t done anything wrong. But trying to defend himself wouldn’t make Dean feel any better. Indeed, it might make it worse. Rub it in.

Of course, there was a part of Dean that knew his resentment was unfair. He knew deep down that Dizzy hadn’t stolen his girlfriend. She made her own choices.

But what he thought and what he felt were two different things. His head told him one thing, but his heart told him something else, and–right now–he went with his heart. If Dizzy hadn’t stabbed him in the back, then why did he feel that stabbing pain in his back every time he saw his old friend? And why did the stabbing pain multiple every time he saw his old friend with Anita? He just couldn’t get over it.

Hennessey didn’t have a whole lot going for it. Anita was the best thing that every happened to him–while it lasted.

He deeply resented Dizzy’s glib indifference to the pain he was causing him. Not that Dizzy meant to be callous. Dizzy was so bowled over by Anita that he didn’t even notice the effect that had on Dean.


But if he couldn’t get over it, he could at least get even. This was a new experience for Dean. An act of self-discovery. He wasn’t a naturally vindictive kind of guy. He didn’t know until now that he had it in him. It put him in touch with a side of his personality he never knew existed. Was that stranger there all along, just waiting to come out of the shadows? He could scarcely recognize his new self. Or was this his old self? Was this the real Dean?

He decided to frame Dizzy for a crime he didn’t commit. It wouldn’t be hard to do. Dean knew Dizzy inside and out. Had access to all his personal affects. Could predict his every move.

Planting evidence was easy. Making him show up in the wrong place at the wrong time was easy to orchestrate.

Dean knew it was wrong. Unchristian. It’s almost like he was watching stranger in action. Could this really be him?

Sitting in church, with murder in his heart every time he caught sight of Dizzy out of the corner of his eye–over there in the next row–where he always sat with his family, year-after-year, since they were both toddlers–made Dean feel like a hypocrite. Because he was.

As for the sermon, Pastor Joe might as well have been reciting the phonebook for all the difference it made to Dean. His ears were brass.


The hallway was abuzz when Dean went to school that day. Nothing very newsworthy ever happened in a place like Hennessey. It gave him a grim sense of satisfaction to hear the fervid rumors about Dizzy’s arrest last night. Revenge was sweet.

Of course, he had to feign surprise. Utter disbelief. Shake his head on cue. Feign ignorance. Play dumb. Ask questions he knew the answer to. Layer upon layer of deception.

He was especially curious to find out how Anita would react. He sought her out. Was she going to see Dizzy in jail? Rush to his defense? Stand by her man?

As it turned out, Anita dumped her fiancé at the first sign of trouble. Hearing from her own lips how she broke up with Dizzy gave Dean yet another grim sense of satisfaction. He’d have her back. The plan was working. Or so he hoped.

Only she didn’t fall into his waiting arms. Indeed, after graduation, she moved to Oklahoma City and tied the knot with some enterprising young oilman. Married up. That’s the last they ever saw her. She moved out of their lowly orbit. The wedding was an invitation-only affair, and her old friends from Hennessey didn’t make the cut.


Dean’s satisfaction lasted for a day or two. But the sweet taste of revenge had a bittersweet aftertaste. At least for him.

He felt torn. His very success triggered misgivings. It was fun to plot and scheme. It was fun to imagine the outcome.

But when it really happened, there was a concrete finality to the outcome that bothered him. The sharp, hard-edged aspect of reality.

He felt betrayed. But to use his intimate knowledge of Dizzy, acquired over a lifetime of daily companionship, of confidences shared in mutual trust, to use all that to trap him, to turn friendship against itself–what was that if not the Judas kiss?

He’d been hurt, so he struck back. He hurt the person who hurt him. But after the initial satisfaction wore off, he was still hurting inside. He set out to do as much harm to his best friend as he could get away with. But having succeeded, the ugliness of the deed he set into motion slapped him in the face.

It stung when he had to bluff his way through a conversation with Dizzy at the jail. Of course, Dean had to go. That was part of the act. That’s what friends are for. Visit your best friend in jail.

And, really, how could he blame Dizzy for being smitten by Anita when Dizzy saw the very same thing in her that he did? They were both smitten by Anita.

Yet even if he wanted to, what could he do at this point to undo the damage? Turn himself in? But to frame someone for a crime was, itself, a crime. He didn’t want to take Dizzy’s place in the jail cell. He still resented the fact that Dizzy got the girl. On top of that, to then be imprisoned for Dizzy’s sake while Dizzy went free and lived happily ever after was a bit much.

And even if Dizzy chose to drop the charges for wrongful imprisonment, Dean would be a pariah once the news leaked out–as it was bound to in a gossipy small-town–of Dean’s complicity. He’d never live it down. He’d be shunned by one and all. What was he to do? What do you do when you know the right thing to do, but the price is too high? Sky-high?

Was it too late to turn back? Too late to recall the irrevocable deed?


Dizzy was stunned when the sheriff arrested him. He was innocent. And he never imaged that his life would take such a fickle turn.

He didn’t think anything more shocking could possibly happen. That’s until he found out that his best friend was the culprit. His best friend set him up.

Now he was the one who felt a surge of steaming hot vengeance bubbling in his veins. To be betrayed by his best friend. His friend from as long as he could remember. He wanted his pound of flesh. Wanted Dean to get his comeuppance.

And for some unfathomable reason. So he paid Dean a visit in jail. He had a one-word question: “Why?”

When Dean explained the situation, Dizzy could have kicked himself. How could he miss anything that obvious? What would he have done were the tables turned?

Mind you, he was still smarting over the public humiliation. The arrest. The interrogation. The time in jail. His parents’ unspeakable shame. Not to mention losing Anita forever. Part of him still wanted to retaliate.

But it hadn’t dawned on him that both of them felt betrayed by the other. Felt as though each went behind the other’s back. He considered what it took for Dean to fess up. How hard that must have been. How much that cost him.

In a roundabout way, Dean had done him a favor. If Anita was that quick to leave him in the lurch, it was better that he found out now–before they tied the knot.

Now it was up to Dizzy to choose between vengeance and forgiveness. Would he press charges or drop the charges?


Dean and Dizzy moved to Davis Oklahoma. With Anita out of the picture, there was nothing much to keep them nailed down in Hennessey. So they went into business together, renting boats and horses for sun-parched tourists drawn to Turner Falls.

There they met their wives–two nice college girls from Edmond on spring break. Dean and Dizzy’s boys frequently went horseback riding in the Arbuckles. Their two families often went on picnics together at Turner Falls Park. Dean and Dizzy both sang in the choir–with their wives.