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Dog whiskers pulled out of the side of his mouth, I was sure he was about to tell me something. Something I would never forget.
Instead, he turned the volume up a notch and sang out:
I said 'You gotta be kiddin', I ain't gonna run. I ain't gonna run.
I said I won't run, I ain't gonna run. I won't run.
No I ain't gonna run.
He belted out every line and then slowed down a bit as he got to the chorus. When he hit the final line he looked over at me and said, "You like that?"
"It's good," I told him. "Do you do this all the time?"
"Every day. I like to sing. That's all I do when I'm not working. I like to sing."
He told me that every day, at 6:00 a.m., when he woke up and went to get ready for work. He'd put on the same old songs he was singing now and it gave him something to do, even though he never took lessons or anything like that. He just loved the music and the lyrics and the feeling it gave him, even if he could never do what the singers on those songs could do.
He laughed and said, "No, man. You can't sing. You can't do that." He said that it was too hard and he said that I'd never be able to do what they did. But I told him that wasn't the point. I told him that I was happy just listening to him sing.
He smiled and told me, "You've got it wrong, my friend. You don't have to do anything. All you've got to do is be there."
A week went by and it wasn't until he came back from work one night and walked into my living room that he said, "Well, I guess you've been listening to me."
He said that he had no idea that I'd heard him and that I was probably one of the only people who'd ever heard him sing.
He said that he liked what I'd said and he was glad that he'd been able to share his songs with someone. He said that he felt like he'd been part of the music for most of his life and that was a great feeling for a man his age. He said he never wanted to go anywhere else and that he was happy. And then he started to cry.
"It's not the same, though. It's not the same." He was sobbing. "It just isn't."
He told me that he had always thought about going back to school when he was older, but that now he wasn't sure what he was going to do. He said that he didn't want to stay in town for much longer because it didn't feel like he belonged anymore. He said that it was like he wasn't good enough and that it was better to be a good, well-rounded man. He said that his life would be better in the small town of Derry Falls and that he'd be happier there.
I told him that I understood. And then I told him, "The only thing I can tell you is that you should just keep singing. Because you're good at it and I don't think there's any place you'd rather be than there."
He thanked me and he went away. And then I went away too, to college. To the University of Wisconsin in Madison. I graduated with a degree in education.
The rest of my life, I lived in Madison and in Derry Falls too. It was hard to tell, but it seemed like Derry Falls had grown up a bit. I knew that, by the time I got to college, it would be a real town. I knew that they would build a library and a bank and all sorts of other things. I wanted to be there when they were all finished. But I never went back.
There were still times when I'd think about him, though. Like when I heard his voice at the church or when he'd come in to sing at my uncle's restaurant and I'd listen to him. I wondered what it would be like if I'd seen him more. I wondered what I'd have told him.
I wonder if I'd have told him that I used to hear him singing all the time, in his kitchen at night. I wonder if I would have told him that he wasn't as different from us as we thought. I wonder if he would have let me tell him that.
And I wonder if he would have let me tell him that I think that he's still there, and that he's still singing.
**A** few years ago, I was working at a music store, the kind where you can rent out guitars and drums and ukuleles and make some extra money. I was selling a book called _The Road to Derry Falls_ to the customers. I would tell them about how it's a great story and how it was the inspiration for this book. I would tell them how it's the story of a guy who had an imaginary friend who was invisible and it's not a typical story and how it's the kind of book that a person can pick up on the subway and carry around in their bag and take home with them. I would tell them about the people in Derry Falls and how they had an imaginary friend too. I'd tell them that my friend's name was Bill.
Most of the customers would listen to me, nodding their heads. But sometimes a customer would interrupt.
"What's he like?"
"What do you mean?"
"What's his character like? What's he like in real life?"
"I don't know," I'd tell them. "He's just a friend. I mean, he's imaginary. He's just in my book. He doesn't exist. But people have friends, right?"
"What kind of friends do you have?"