This is the draft of my first fiction piece for my Creative Writing course:
I can't remember how or why Jerry and I became such good friends. It was like he was always there, a part of my life. Often a sad part. We met in Mrs. Johnson's 4th grade class. My family had just relocated to Conway from Charlotte. My dad was, as Jerry liked to say, "a hot shot, big city lawyer". The Davis family had a small truck farm out on Highway 90, just southeast of Conway. Jerry was the oldest of, I never really figured out how many kids. His dad was not a hot shot anything, but a very prolific inseminator. I don't think I ever saw Jerry's mom without a baby in or on her. Though not prosperous, they were hard working people, eking out a living on the same piece of land that Davis kinfolk had occupied for generations. Jerry's dad was mean as a snake and didn't care much for "city folk", like me. Jerry, being the oldest was the focus of much of old Cletus Davis' wrath. We never talked much about that.
Jerry and I could not have been more polar opposites. Where academics seemed to come easy to me, Jerry struggled through school, but what he lacked in "book learnin'", Jerry more than made up for in life skills. While I could diagram a sentence or solve an equation for x, Jerry could rebuild a discarded outboard motor or rig a trotline that attracted the biggest catfish in the Waccamaw river. I never acquired the skills that seemed to be imprinted in his DNA. But we always had one thing in common; our love of the river.
Jerry was totally at home on the river. We used to laugh that mosquitoes and noseeums would eat me like a gourmet meal, but not even land on him. He knew more about snakes, cooters, and alligators than anyone I had ever met. He had no fear of anything that inhabited the river. He sometimes used my inherent fear to amuse himself. But I also was certain that he would offer his life to save mine. We did not have to talk about that.
Jerry also cherished bourbon, particularly Jack Daniels. That love affair began sometime early in high school. I would share a drink with Jerry, but never developed the penchant for it that he did. That usually resulted in me being the designated driver and though I was nowhere nearly as skilled on the water as Jerry, designated boat captain. Alcohol became the sad part of Jerry's life. By the time I graduated from Conway High School and Jerry would have, had he not dropped out after our Sophomore year, it had totally taken him over. We still enjoyed a great summer on the river before we went our separate ways. Or rather, I went away. "Some people are meant to stay put".
All of my best memories of Jerry are on the river. We spent a lot of time fishing, swimming, talking about girls who would have nothing to do with either of us, and sometimes just floating and enjoying the serenity of a sheltered cove. One of our favorite places was Pitch Lodge Lake. Jerry was particularly fond of it because it was water that "went nowhere, just like me". We laughed a lot, though I could sometimes see pain in his eyes that betrayed the joyfulness of the moment.
When I departed for Duke in the fall, we had a tearful goodbye. Though I was only going to be a couple of hundred miles away, I might as well have moved to another planet. Jerry would have been as out of place on campus as me on the river without him. We stayed in touch, but a full course load, a girlfriend, and later on law school and a family, made my visits to Conway less frequent each year.
Several times through the years dad would represent him as a favor to me in some minor scrape he had gotten into with the law. Misdemeanor transgressions gradually escalated: Drunk and disorderly and DUI eventually became breaking and entering and assault. Jerry was only at home on the river and never obtained the skills that society required. He never married and lived mainly in a small apartment that I rented for him above dad's office. He would disappear for long periods of time and when dad reported that to me, I told him not to worry. He was somewhere on the river. He would be back, if only to sleep it off.
He was there when we buried my mom the same year I passed the bar. He was a husk of the Jerry that I knew. He had aged like a carved pumpkin. His year-round tan had turned his childlike, round, face to leather and the years of drinking had clouded the clear blue eyes and etched lines into his face. He was excited and animated at my suggestion that we take a trip to the river. We both knew it was just what I needed at my time of mourning. It is hard to feel sorrow on the river. Yet, by the end of the weekend, I felt a sadness in Jerry that even the perpetual optimism of the Prothonotary Warblers could not enliven. We did not talk about it. That was the last time I saw Jerry. It was five years ago.
I slowly hung up the phone after dad told me about "the boating accident" that had taken Jerry Davis' life. My eyes drifted from the view of Central Park that my 40th floor law office afforded me, to a picture on the wall of two adolescent boys struggling to hold up a string of fish. Jerry could have navigated the Waccamaw with his eyes closed in a hurricane. There was no accident. In spite of my tears, I managed a smile. Jerry had simply come home.